LookNookHook Travels to Amsterdam, Netherlands (Part 1)
Can i just say that I really love Amsterdam? No seriously, i really do. It is a lovely, romantic city – the people are friendly and there’s a certain energy about the place. Or perhaps i was just a very excited tourist! 🙂 English is widely spoken, so that helps a lot and the people there are just wonderful. Contrary to what some people may believe, Amsterdam is very safe. I’m not entirely sure about the rest of the Netherlands though. As a tourist, I still think the onus is on you to take basic safety precautions like not walking around with an open bag and keeping your belongings tucked away out of sight. Unlike other places in Europe, you don’t find yourself always on tenterhooks having to avoid people who come around begging for money, forcefully trying to sell you something or asking you to sign a ‘petition’ of sorts to distract you.
As a holiday destination, i would recommend it to anyone and everyone. There’s lots to see and do, be prepared to walk a lot and take in the sights as you go along. The husband and I were there in end March, the weather was cold (~12-15 degrees celsius) and it rained quite a fair bit. But it’s always cold there; I was told that even in the summer it never gets really hot, just warm. Amsterdam is a pretty densely populated city, and only about half of the population are of Dutch ancestry, with the remaining half made up of foreign ancestry. According to Wikipedia, the first mass immigration in the 20th century were by people from Indonesia, who came to Amsterdam after the independence of the Dutch East Indies in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s guest workers from Turkey, Morocco, Italy and Spain emigrated to Amsterdam. After the independence of Suriname in 1975, a large wave of Surinamese settled in Amsterdam, mostly in the Bijlmer area. Other immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, came from Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. In short, Amsterdam is a melting pot of diverse cultures, and you can definitely see that in the various types of cuisines available.
In terms of getting around, we took the easy way out and took a cab to our hotel in Vondelpark since we landed at Schiphol around 7am. Thereafter, we just took the tram, train or simply walked everywhere. You’ll see a lot of people riding bikes around the city centre and you may want to rent a bike and ride around too. But because it is a common form of transport, you’ll have people ringing their bells at you if don’t observe the rules in the bike lanes. They ride quite fast too, and i didn’t want to cause any unnecessary accidents due to my clumsiness so we decided we definitely should avoid that. ;P
If you ask me, what are the 3 most distinct memories i have of Amsterdam? My answer to you (in no particular order) would be the:
3) Canals & architecture
We visited 2 museums while we were there – the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum is a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and the Van Gogh Museum is an art museum in Amsterdam in the Netherlands dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries. If i’m not wrong, these are among the more famous must-see ones out of the over 50 museums in Amsterdam. To be very honest with you, i’m not someone with deep knowledge of the arts in general. I like to look at the art, but i have no idea what they are, or the story behind it. So sometimes, walking around in museums can be a rather boring experience. So if you intend to visit the art museums, I’d recommend reading up on it beforehand and getting to know some of the various artists whose works they feature. I was very fortunate to have my husband with me as he knows quite a fair bit about these artists and their famous pieces. He was even able to relate certain stories of which pieces of artwork were created at which stage of the artists’ life and how the various styles of brush strokes depict a certain era and mood etc. All that information made it a very fun and interesting experience for me. Trust me, it truly made a difference in giving some sort of meaning to these pieces of art.
Pictures are not allowed in almost all areas of the Van Gogh Museum, but this famous Sunflower painting by Van Gogh was one of the rare few that visitors were allowed to photograph.
We passed by Museumplein on the way to Rijksmuseum, and it so happened there was a demonstration going on. Talk about being at the right place at the right time! 🙂 It was a peaceful protest against racism and discrimination.
And this here is the famous ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt. Everyone was rushing forward to take a photo, and poor short me was standing behind attempting to take one as well!
For the uninitiated, ‘Coffeeshops’ in Amsterdam aren’t actually cafes you go to for a caffeine fix. They are legal establishments that sell small amounts of cannabis and are strictly regulated and taxed. These are very common in Amsterdam, and you will know for sure when you pass by one. The smell is very distinct, they don’t really smell like normal cigarettes, but stronger and definitely more vile. We didn’t patronize one because we weren’t interested in trying. We didn’t try any ‘space cakes’ or ‘space chocolates’ (if I’m not mistaken that’s what they’re called) as well. I have nothing against anyone indulging in these experiences, but we just weren’t particularly inclined to try them. It is a big part of the local culture (above 18 only), with about 200 coffeeshops spread across Amsterdam, and it has been so since the 1970s. Smoking marijuana or cannabis out on the streets in public though, is punishable by law.
Here are some pictures of coffeeshops in Amsterdam (from www.amsterdam.info)
While in Amsterdam, it is nearly impossible to miss a canal. Almost half of the original water in Amsterdam was lost to landfills, but a full 25% of the city’s surface still consists of navigable waterways. With 65 miles of ancient canals, Amsterdam is still the most ‘watery city’ in the world. The Amsterdam Canal Cruise is very popular with tourists (though we decided to give that a miss); it’s now the most popular tourist attraction in the country, with over 3 million passengers a year.
The old centre was formed by rings of canals with unique mostly 17th century residences of wealthy merchants, financiers, craftsmen, doctors, lawyers, politicians and artists. Because of lack of space, these houses were mostly narrow, and not more than 30ft wide (9 meters). They are usually characterized by big narrow windows, decorative gable tops, very narrow stairs inside and pulley outside to transport larger objects to upper floors.
Amsterdam is also one of Europe’s foremost architecture and design city, not only because of 17-th century rings of canals. Amsterdam is where modern architecture developed organically between facades of historical buildings. Since it is not a very big city, all sites of interest are within acceptable distance, and that’s part of the reason why Amsterdam is so popular with lovers of architecture.
While planning for this trip, i really wanted to experience staying in an apartment housed in one of these buildings. I did a lot of research on AirBnB and found several apartments in various locations. However, there were usually no lifts so luggage was an issue. Furthermore, hotels are usually in better locations and offer a more competitive rate. So we went the hotel route this time, but if i were ever to visit again, i’d definitely choose to stay in someone’s apartment just for the experience (will just remember to travel light!)
More coming up in Part 2 – stay tuned!