I have been lucky enough to visit Amsterdam three times in the last 6 months, each time with a different friend, and a different set of eyes. Each time in a different season.
Whilst I do not travel enough to be able to call this a travel blog; the cons of a student life, having been to this beautiful city so often it has given me a unique perspective of it. I intended to write about each visit I took there individually, after each time I had visited but found myself lacking in the time to be able to do so. As a result I decided to amalgamate all three of the experiences into one blog post divided into three parts encompassing everything I got up to, the experiences I had and and recommendations I might have for the future, for myself and for any other budding Amsterdam visitors who may read this.
Each time I have visited the well named, City of Freedom, I have done so on the P&O Mini Cruise travelling from Hull to Rotterdam overnight. There is then a coach journey into Amsterdam city centre, and each time we chose to stay for an extra night in the city in a local hotel. These mini cruises, especially if you live in the local area are an absolute must, enabling you to have 32 hours to explore the city and see all it has to offer. It is reasonably priced, at £40 per person until March and then £80 during the spring and summer months. Even at this increased cost you receive two comfortable night’s sleep in a bunk dormitory on the ferry and an inclusive coach journey into Amsterdam city centre and back to the ferry. I have never once been disappointed with Amsterdam, or the way in which I have travelled there. If I had one recommendation it would be to pay the extra £50 between you each way, in order to upgrade your cabin. I have only done this on my most recent trip, and should I go again I will be looking to do the same thing again then. For the £50 you are moved to a much larger cabin, with a full sized double bed, as well as complimentary Clarins toiletries and my personal favourite feature the four free miniature bottles of wine and two of beer as well as a lot of soft drinks.
The first time I went to Amsterdam was as autumn was beginning to turn to winter. Cold, at around 4 degrees, lots of layer and some durable boots were required when navigating the city primarily on foot. Nevertheless there was plenty to be seen.
Vondelpark; one of the city’s primary attractions, while desolate in the season was spectacular. Vast in its 120 acres, scattered with lakes and statues, this urban park is a beautiful location to walk in the fresh air and take in much of what makes up the city itself and the dutch culture. The omnipresent ring of bicycle bells, the tourists with cameras in the air, the occasional smell of marijuana and the smiles of the locals who have an obvious pride in their home. After an hour passed walking around this parkland in the blink of an eye, it is easy to get disorientated, amongst all of the uniquely similar houses which line its outskirts.
However one can easily be guided out into the city you had almost forgotten by following the tourist signs to the Rijksmuseum. This imposing structure forms a gated entrance to the park at its north, with the IAMSTERDAM sign (which has since been moved to Schiphol Airport after a series of accidents by the public) and, at this time of year, a magnificent skating rink bearing down in the foreground. As this season was my first trip to Amsterdam, much of the rest of this day was spent in and out of souvenir and antique shops, as well as hopping on and off the trams to see the various districts of the city that form the circular structure. This was then followed by an inevitable trip to the famous Sex Museum to laugh, and in many obscure cases learn from the bizarre memorabilia that is housed within its walls. As well as the obligatory photograph with the giant penis statues.
This time of year also sees the return of Amsterdam’s world famous Light Festival. Theyhave many festivals throughout the year; the Tulip Festival in January and the King’s Festival in April, but this one was particularly aweinspiring. We decided the best route by which to take all this in, was on one of Amsterdam’s 8,100 leisure canal boats which take part in the tours and circulate many of the 100+ km of canal which gives Amsterdam its name as the Venice of the North. The canal boat journey
lasted around 90 minutes and took us around the entire circuit of the light festival enabling us to see all of the sculptures and artwork in the best way possible. We chose to sit outside on the back of the boat, which while considerably colder was definitely better as we got to see everything without the negatives of windows and other passengers heads ducking in and out of photos. This expereince is one I would definitely recommend. The theme of this years festival was technology and there were a variety of sculptures specifically depicting this, illuminated figures sat on benches on their phone and huge towers made of home appliances and lit with neon lights from the inside, it really was incredible. Amongst these pieces there were also some specifically dedicated to Amsterdam itself, Van Gough’s ‘Starry Night’ made up of lots of tiny little lights, and tens of floating dandelion seeds hovering above us on the canal.
We then made our way back to thehotel on the outskirts of the city in Sloterdjik, the hub for transport going in and out of the city to other areas in Holland as well as further out across Europe. This was easily done, even in the late evening, with the help of Amsterdam’s truly amazing transport network. Just €8 gets you a GVB 24 hours ticket of unlimited use on all of the city’s trams, busses and Metro system, which run every 2-5 minutes between 5am and midnight and once an hour after midnight. They are clean, regular and incredibly efficient and if I had one thing to say about Amsterdam it would be how wonderful and accessible its transport is. It made seeing lots of the city’s sights inifinitely easier, and quicker and it was so easy to plan a route across the city, or even to our hotel on the outskirts, and get there within 20 minutes.
The next morning we woke early andhelped ourselves to an included all you could eat continental breakfast at Holiday Inn Express Sloterdjik, and then set off back on our adventure into Amsterdam city centre itself. We only had until 5 that day when we
would have to make our back back to the coach stop to go back to the ferry and I wanted to make the most of it and see more of what Amsterdam has to offer. However as is always the case when travelling with someone else, you have to compromise, and my partner on this particular trip wanted to experience Amsterdam’s more illicit side. The night before we had walked through the Red Light District on our way to one of the Metro stops and I had been astounded by just how normal it seemed in the middle of this bustling city. Aside from the tourists and customers who had come to look around and in some instances use the services here, I was most interested in the hundreds of people who were just going about their daily lives in the Red Light District, or walking/ cycling through it in order to get to their jobs. We stopped off at one of the bars here, imaginatively named the Red Light Bar and had a beer on our way home. We headed back early because we had an early morning the next day but I made a mental note to find out more about this unique aspect of Amsterdam culture on another visit. However, on this morning’s agenda was to find one of the city’s infamous coffeeshops; differentiated from their Cafe’s which do not sell marijuana products only actual coffee and cake.
Having had no experience of this particular kind of experience I had no idea what to expect, but the coffee shop we went into was warm, and reassuring and full of people all chatting and sharing tables with strangers. It was a welcoming place and I felt slightly at ease. You could buy an “Indica Space Cake” from this particular coffee shop for as little as
€5 and reefers for the same price, with it increasing in strength as it did in price. As an anxious person in another country I chose not to try anything, as I am aware of the negative consequences that can come with partaking in this experience, and decided this would not be the best time to try it- especially not when we had a bus to catch in 5 hours time. My friend did however, and she could not have spoken higher of it and really enjoyed herself while I took in all that was going on around me. Whilst marijuna is not technically legal in Amsterdam these coffee shops are widely accepted, and inclusive for all cultures and methods of consumption. I was struck with just how friendly everyone was, and ready to help or advise you in literally everything you did, and this even applied in the coffeeshops. Whilst you can smell it in the air throughout most of the city there are designated areas like this coffee shop where it is meant to be smoked, out of consideration of the other residents of the city. Between this and the legalised prostitution in the Red Light District, which is monitored by police and has strict roles, it is clear the City of Freedom has harnessed this essence by legalising, and therefore controlling what many cities have allowed to run wild and become negative and instead made it into part of its lucrative tourist industry.
After this we decided to enjoy a final meal in Amsterdam, at a small independent pizzeria, before heading back to the coach pick up point. Again this was efficient, and although somewhat tiring in its 2 hour duration due to traffic, it brought us back nicely in time for our return crossing back to Hull. Arriving back into Hull at 7:30am and after another pleasent crossing I had the rest of my day free to shower and unpack and mentally process the last few experience packed days. But of course I what I actually did was begin mentally planning my next trip to Amsterdam!
In part 2 of my Amsterdam experiences read about: Artis Zoo, Red Light District Continued, Antiquing and the Ice Bar…