Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Travel: Amsterdam - Impressions of the City

Last week, the boyfriend and I took a trip to Amsterdam to have a look at the city we are planning to reside in. Mike is no stranger to Amsterdam, however, this was my first time in the Netherlands and I was eager to see what the city had to offer.

It is a different experience visiting a city knowing it is going to become your new home. We were especially interested to see supermarkets and how the selection and costs compare to South Africa. You take in more details of daily living rather than just focusing on tourist hotspots, though of course visited those too.

Because Amsterdam is a relatively small and condensed city, it is very possible to see a lot in a short period of time. Most attractions are within walking distance from each other and I really do suggest, if you plan to visit, that this is the route you take.

There is an abundance of bicycles. This is the first thing that I found fascinating. To the Dutch, this is a cheap and popular form of transport as the ground is very level and there are dedicated cycling lanes everywhere. I loved seeing residents starting their day by unlocking their cycles and hitting their commute to work or school.

This does pose a new problem as a pedestrian, however. Not only did I have to look in the wrong direction when crossing streets, but I also had to factor in cyclists as well. And there are none too friendly when it is their right of way!

I loved the canals. Walking along one of the major canals provided me with plenty to see from old Dutch homes to all sorts of odd boats.

Some of the touristy things I was able to do included the following:

  • Anne Frank Huis - I was not able to go in as you need to book in advance, but it was amazing to just stand outside such a historic place, especially having read about Anne Frank as a child. I will take the time to do the tour once we have settled that side.
  • De Poezenboot - This I was able to see and I love that it seems to have a steady trickle of visitors. This is a houseboat that has been converted into a cat shelter. They rely on visitors to buy merchandise and give donations to stay in operation and they assist with the sterilisation of feral cats as well as homing those who are able to adapt to domestic life.
  • Vondelpark - This is a huge, beautiful park situated just south of central Amsterdam. It has flat paths ideal for a stroll or a cycle. There are plenty of dams and some places to get a drink or bite to eat. It was so green and I will definitely go back to explore it further. I have heard, however, that one should avoid walking there after dark as, like any city, Amsterdam does have its homeless and it is not very safe.
  • The Fault in Our Stars bench - Ok, so I don't do conventional tourism. I had to see the famous bench from the film and enjoyed the challenge of finding it. The bench is not the original one from the movie (that was apparently stolen by rabid fans) but there is a replica and it was really cool to sit where Hazel and August did.
  • Red Light District - A mix of parting and prostitution, this is also the safest area to go out at night in Amsterdam. The red-lit windows might hold titillating attractions for some, but I felt pity for the girls who work there. Prostitution is very regulated and the girls protected in the city. They work for themselves and rent their window for the night, but this is a profession that has a limited shelf-life and I wonder where these girls end up when they are no longer able to attract customers. I do recommend going to some bars here though, as there is a great party vibe.
  • Albert Cuyp Market - This is the largest daily market in Amsterdam and is well worth a visit. Here you can find fresh stroopwaffels, a huge selection of souvenirs, fresh fish and much more. The market is visited by tourists and locals alike and it was a fun look at this slice of Dutch life.

Of course, there is no shortage of museums to visit, but we did not have the time and felt this would be fun to do when we are living there. We did see plenty of them from the outside and the Rijksmuseum is particularly impressive from the outside and has lovely gardens surrounding it where visitors can relax and enjoy the flowers and sunshine.

There are small restaurants everywhere offering any cuisine you can think of. Mike and I tried a few and didn't have anything less than wonderful. In a city this busy where competition is tough, I suppose one cannot survive serving mediocre food.

In short, I love this city. It is rich with culture and I cannot wait to explore further. Everything is this mix of modern and historic that just works. The Dutch are friendly yet firm and live by rigid rules that keep their city in check.

I hope you enjoyed this summary of my experiences in Amsterdam! I am going to do a companion post covering Dutch bookshops and my impressions there as of course this is important for any book lover wanting to relocate!