Amsterdam I Am so Damned in Love With You. Is it possible for a heart to beat so strongly for a place that they’ve never been before? I think so. It was love at first sight.
Coming from a 13 hour flight, all grimy and feeling like hell didn’t even dampen my spirits, nor did the HOLY MOLY 10º windy and rainy weather. (This is big deal, when I left home it was at the high 30ºs). I’ve never seen anything so green. The air was crisp and fresh.
I arrived at 7am. I should’ve been jet lagged. But no way was I wasting a single second of my time in this beautiful country. Rembrandt, Van Gogh and all the artists that came from here? I feel you. How can you not be inspired.
From Schiphol Airport, we drove for about an hour to get to Amsterdam. I stayed with my Aunt Annie in her old place in Jacob burggraafstraat which I murdered during immigration as Jacobburgerfriestrat. The cute immigration officer (who was a ginger) shook his head and said no. Well, what did he expect. The Dutch do love their vowels.
As much as I want to come up with a really detailed guide on how to get around, I think I got carried away with a lot of things to take note of my itinerary (alright, if we’re being honest here, I never had an itinerary to begin with). Here are some facts that might help:
How to get there: Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific fly from Cebu to Amsterdam.
Where to stay: I was lucky enough to stay with a relative because Amsterdam is quite an expensive city but I recommend Booking.com and of course Airbnb cos you can choose to stay beside the canal or even on an actual houseboat.
How to get around: Get an ov-chipkaart for the trams and bus, you can always top off at your local grocery store.
Of course, this blog post might still be somewhat useful ‘cos in Jeepney Stop fashion, I`ve come up with a list of 10 must-not-miss-stuff to do, see, eat, drink and experience in Amsterdam.
1. Stroll along the Canals and check out the Architecture
The canals of Amsterdam are one of the most splendid sights in the city. Declared as a UNESCO heritage site in 2010, there are about 165 left of these historic canals still being used for transport. If you don’t have much time to kill, you can hop on a boat and take a canal tour and take in the awesome architecture around the Canal Belt, 4 main canals forming concentric semi-circles that loop around the City Center. But if you have all the time in the world, like I did, go ahead and take a stroll. Awesome things await along the way. Have some coffee, smoke a blunt, eat some ice cream, take pictures, make friends, go shopping. So much stuff to do!
I also believe that Amsterdam can be perfectly described by its buildings – beautiful, charming, quaint, colourful traditional yet modern and just a mishmash of design. Since I’m no architecture expert, how about some photos instead?
2. Gawk at the sights in De Wallen
Amsterdam’s Red Light District, also known as “De Wallen”, is not for the prudish. You’ve gotta admire how organised and clean Amsterdam’s sex tourism scene is. There are red-lit glass windows up and down the area where prostitutes primp and pose and beckon wide-eyed passer-by’s. They’ve got women of all shapes, ages, colors, sizes, costumes, themes – from the sexy cheerleader to the 90 year old grandma in lingerie. It’s a sight that cannot be unseen. Police officers line the blocks. Picture-taking is not allowed and they strictly enforce that rule.
Ironically, the Oude Kerk (Old Church), which was established in 1306, is right across the Red Light District. No biggie. That’s how chill everyone is. The sex workers aren’t the only thing to gawk at in De Wallen. You walk by shops selling dildos, condoms, leather & latex, naughty lingerie, kinky items, flavoured underwear not to mention the establishments advertising live sex shows and dungeons for the BDSM lifestyle. You name it, they got it. An eyeopener for sure.
I wanted to buy novelty condoms from the Condomerie het Gulden Vlies in Warmoesstraat, the first specialist condom shop in the world with condoms of every size, color, texture, flavour, special effect. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford them.
3. Chill at a Coffee Shop
Coffee would be the least exciting thing on the menu. In fact it would be the last thing you’ll order. For those who have no idea, Amsterdam is one of the rare places where you can score some reputable quality weed (Marijuana, Cannabis, Hash, Mary Janes, Pot, Ganja, Dope, Herb, Joint, Reefer, you get the picture) in public and not be thrown in jail. Almost half a million tourists come to Amsterdam yearly just because of its cannabis coffeeshops. You may think that the city is just a den of depravity with sex-crazed, pot-smoking locals running amuck; far from it actually – for the cannabis connoisseurs, Amsterdam coffee shops are very laid-back. You can relax, smoke a joint, have a cup of coffee, share a “space cake” or “magic muffin” with friends.
If you are having some serious munchies going on, feel free to order a full post-smoke meal. I really liked the relaxed feeling of just buying a couple of packs of weed in different varieties and being able to smoke it after without worrying about being a criminal. The old guy dispensing the marijuana at the Bulldog was really nice and I left him a magnanimous tip after he recommended a particular pot strain and showed me to the RP and Lighter vending machine. I dropped some 50 euros trying everything on the menu. I emerged from the establishment to discover my aunty Cora (whom I left outside since she didn’t want to get high from all the smoke) having a very animated talk with the Bouncer and posing for some tourists (yeah, she waited while I had a joint, she’s cool like that). We left the establishment and passed for a baguette on the way home because my aunt was suddenly hungry. Hahaha so much for keeping away from the smoke.
Did you know that Cannabis Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell liquor? That’s to keep customers from smoking pot and drinking at the same time, which is definitely NOT a good combination as we all know. They also have bouncers inside the premises at all times to take care of those who cannot handle the after effects of weed. Plus, only those 21 and above are allowed to purchase marijuana legally. The more conservative citizens of the world would definitely look down upon this with disapproval but as this Dutch Tour Guide told our group (okay I wasn’t really part of the tour group, I was just tagging along for free)
“ I don’t believe that any of your countries does not have sex and marijuana. Here in Amsterdam, we accept the things we cannot control to keep people safe and secure and happy. That way the government can protect its citizens. Legalize. Tolerate. Regulate.”
Amen Ms. Tour Guide. Preach!
4. Have a drink or two at the Brouwerij aan t’ij
Being in the Netherlands and all, it’s impossible not to spot a windmill or two but the Brouwerij ‘t IJ is special because it’s brewery in a windmill. How awesome is that?! This former bath house is just one of several small breweries that are scattered all over the country. The perfect cap to a wonderful day of sightseeing, find a spot in the outdoor terrace, settle in and choose from the many home-brews.
A favourite local spot, you’ll find all kinds of people from mothers with groceries, construction workers having a glass before heading home, students destressing post-class and even fathers with their toddles. It was definitely one of the best places in the city, just so much love from the locals. Not a fan of dark beers, I had a light sweet-ish Zatte. Occasional vandal that I am, I carved my name into one of the picnic tables while soaking in the 8pm sunset and enjoying my first of many chillax days in Amsterdam. Fun fact: It’s named Ij after the nearby body of water that makes up Amsterdam’s waterfront.
While walking in some part of town that I forgot – Leidseplein most probably – I also got to taste another amazing Belgian beer that was pretty intense – La Chouffe
5. Soak up some art and culture at the Museumplein
The Dutch, being super awesome, have always pioneered the fine arts for centuries. So you can’t visit Amsterdam without dropping by the Museumplein to check out some of the world’s best artworks by Dutch masters Rembrandt, Van Gogh and their other homies. Of course, my advice is not to put yourself in an art coma by trying to fit all museums in one day. Pace yourself, take in the scenery, talk to the locals and enjoy.
I visited the Rijksmuseum (State Museum) first. This huge structure, that dates back to the 17th century, houses Rembrandt’s greatest work – Night Watch. The Dutch sure love their classical art: dark colors, landscapes, melancholic-looking people and a whole bunch of ships. The library was massive just books upon books.
My next stop was the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s most-visited museum. Most of his greatest works are housed here. I’ve always loved his work – colorful, bold strokes, vibrant, in-your-face and lots of selifes. Sadly, no pictures were allowed though but the Museum did not disappoint.
Finally, the Stedelijk Museum of Contemporary Art. My favorite place. Traditional art ain’t really my thing so I spent the most time here. Of course masterpieces by Picasso, Pollock and other contemporary greats were an added bonus. Graphic design and modern creativity. Typography and photography. Design heaven!
Can you guess these greats? Mondriaan. Picasso. Pollock
6. Stop and smell the Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens
Of course, your trip to Holland is not complete without visiting the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, the world’s largest flower garden. Here you get to see over 7 million flowers including the pride of Netherlands – the Holland Tulip in all colors and sizes. I’m no flower fan but holy shiz, this was some amazing stuff. Rows upon rows of blooms and grass and plants and everything green (except the green that I like which can be found elsewhere).
Take the bus from Schiphol Airport, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour. The best time to go is in Spring, from March – early May.
7. Visit Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum)
The Scheepvaart is a museum dedicated to maritime history with a lot of exhibits and artifacts associated with shipping and sailing. Since the country is surrounded by bodies of water, the Dutch were among the first to really have a big naval operation. You can find paintings, scale models, weapons, old stuff from the past centuries and world maps. The best part of the museum was a real honest-to-goodness replica of an 18th century galleon that used to sail the seas of Netherlands and East Indies. The ship was so legit that I couldn’t help but channel my inner pirate captain. Ahoy, mates! Swab the decks ya mangy cur. Arr!
8. Eat, eat, eat
If you’ve been to my site more than once and read my previous travel posts, there’s always a section about food. While not as famous or glamorous as other European countries, Dutch food is homey, hearty and still awesome. Of course, you’ve got your standard bread, cold cuts and cheese but there are also great eats tucked away in the canals of Amsterdam. Here’s a list within a list. (Blog Inception)
• Poffertjes – mini pancakes topped with powdered sugar and butter
• Bitterballen – savory deep-fried meat tasting balls that I am not particularly a fan of. Especially when my aunt sad “never mind” when I asked what was in it. However, it does go down well with a cold glass of Le Chouffe beer.
• Stroopwafel – a super sweet and gooey syrup waffle cookie thingy. Brought home a couple of packs and well seems like people back here love it.
• Goudse Kaas – otherwise knows as Gouda. Nutty, cheesy goodness in every bite. Did you know that the proper way to say it is “GHAW-DAH”? Now you do.
Aside from these must-try traditional food, I was able to taste their famous rookwurst sausage at a Hema store at Schiphol as well as some of the popular Drop candy (licorice sweets). They were okay. Not really something I’d go back for. Anyway, not all traditional Dutch food was really something I personally liked (let’s not get started on that weird raw-ish fish thing) but there were some stand-outs.
• Dutch Kwark – The one thing that I miss and will probably always miss. It is a dairy product that cannot be defined. It’s like a sweet milky yogurt cream hybrid. It’s the bomb.
• Fresh Berries – I’m from a Tropical country, the fresh berries we have are freshly frozen. The moment I tried fresh berries, the heavens opened to a chorus of small fat baby angels playing the harp and singing Hallelujah.
• Ramen – I’m not kidding. My first meal in Amsterdam was a bowl of 10 Euro Ramen at Le Fou Fou. A pop-up ramen place on the top floor of an Asian Grocery store. Their Ramen could give other Ramen places in Asia a run for their money.
My aunt made me taste their super delicious Dutch White Asparagus (that come in huge stalks) swathed in Hollandaise sauce…um…right…no. They call it the rich man’s white gold, okay then, but I have to say, when they mixed that white asparagus with cream and made it into a rich soup with a side of buttery crusty bread? Well, it became a staple meal for me. All hail the white asparagus.
On my last day, I headed over to De Negen Straatjes or “Nine Streets”, a small neigborhood that consists of well, nine little streets many small and diverse local shops and restaurants set in buildings that go way back to the first half of the 17th century. I had lunch at Brix, an award-winning quaint resto in Wolvenstraat. I loved the decor and food was good! Of course I had the Cream of Asaparagus soup.
And okay, I may not like Asparagus stalks but creamy Asparagus soup is the bestest ever.
9. People-watch at De Dam
Probably one of the most touristy areas in the whole of Amsterdam, De Dam or Dam Square lies right smack in the middle of the city’s historical center. To one side is the Royal Palace of the House of Orange, the Dutch’s royal family. On the opposite end is the National Monument, a white stone memorial of World War II victims. Also around the Plaza is the upscale department store De Bijenkorf plus other expensive restaurants and hotels. The Square is just brimming with people. If you have time, sit down, relax and enjoy the crowds.
10. Get lost
The best plan is to have no plan. There are so many things to see, do, eat, experience. There are so many places to explore. Let your feet take you to wonderful places. For example, I decided to kill time hanging out at the museum and met someone interesting instead.
I didn’t visit the Anne Frank house because the line was too long and a cold beer seemed like a better idea, in turn I was able to join a Tour Group by the canal and learned so much more about the city. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. There’s not enough time in the world to explore and discover everything. I could probably live there and still be surprised every day. Walk around, talk to people and just do whatever you feel like doing. It’s a vacation and not a field trip.
I’m gonna end this post the way I started. Amsterdam, I AM SO DAMNED IN LOVE WITH YOU. The trams, the roads, the canals, the houseboats, the cold, the beer, the Dutch, the buildings, the flowers, the stores, the coffee shops, the cafes, the college students, the weed, the museums, the art, the parks, the fruits, the hipness, the kwark, the streets, the monuments, the graffiti, the alleyways, the windmills, the novelties, the crowds, the rain, the red light district, the ships, the history, the aunt, the Gouda cheese, the cold cuts, the vegetables, the diversity, the Jacoburgerfriestraat (I’m sorry for murdering your house address tita annie), the scenery, the vibe, the bridges, the designs, the terraces, the crazy language, the vowels, the sunset, the hotels and even the airport. I’ll be back.