Travel

A City Full Of Surprises – Three Days In Amsterdam

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I’ve just got back from a three day trip to Amsterdam. What an utterly fascinating place. I’ve still got images of the dreamy canals, quirky cafes and fascinating spots whirling around in my head. This is a city with a mind of its own. It lures you into its clutches and leaves you utterly perplexed. It’s somewhere I’ve heard a lot of good things about, and the reality didn’t disappoint.

One thing I would say though is Amsterdam is certainly a marmite city. You’ll either love it and want to go back time and time again, or you’ll find it hard to relate to how this mesmerising city functions. It is a bit odd, but personally, I found it unusual and refreshing, in a very good way.

Staying on a boat in Amsterdam

I’ve wanted to stay on a boat for ages, and when I stumbled across Bernard’s sailing boat, I knew right away it was an opportunity not to be missed. He basically takes you wherever you want to go on his sailing boat, and you can see parts of Holland and the area surrounding Amsterdam from the water.

The boat is docked not too far from Haarlem. You can stay on the boat there for no extra charge, or pay around 15 euros extra per night to dock it elsewhere. So we ended up sailing to Amsterdam and staying in the marina there for two nights, and then sailing four hours to Haarlem, where we docked for one night.

It was very cozy, but if you use the boat as a base for exploring and come back at night after a day of adventures, it’s comfortable enough.

We actually slept really well in the small cabin bed, which felt a little bit like wrapping yourself up in a cocoon and going into hibernation.

Bernard was a fab host and a great source of information. We basically had an expert guide telling us the best places to visit. I loved listening to his stories about the local area, and learning far more than the average tourist ever could.

Little things like how the locals enjoy a drink called ‘radler’ which is beer mixed with lemonade (like a shandy) in the summer because it’s super refreshing. Or how his wife’s great great great grandad used to work in a windmill. As we passed landmarks he would point them out and explain some handy background info.

It was fascinating seeing The Netherlands from this perspective. Watching people cycle past along the water, passing under several bridges as the roads raised to let us through, and seeing lots of windmills and wind turbines in the distance. Some of the route was quite industrial, but we found this quite interesting and enjoyed watching the enormous cargo ships pass.

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cargo ship Amsterdam river

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The land of bicycles – getting around Amsterdam

Bikes own this city. Before I went I pictured people leisurely cycling around the canals, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the craziness of the bikes which seem to whizz round in all directions.

I mean, you definitely need to have your wits about you, because pedestrians don’t take priority here, cyclists do. Despite some people cycling super fast, everyone seems pretty chilled and workers leisurely go about their day.

Before you hop on your bike, whack on some mom jeans, an oversized jumper and toss your hair in a loose bun, and you’ll fit right in here.

There are other means of getting around Amsterdam. If you don’t fancy hiring a bike, you can walk around the city quite easily, but take some comfy shoes, because you’ll end up walking a long way. In the three days we were there we walked 48 kilometres. I’m hoping this will counteract the shocking amount of food and carbs we ate.

You can also easily explore the city by tram. We got a tram back from the park to the station and it cost about three euros. There are also loads of canal boat trips you can go on which are a fab way to see the city. We also used the free ferry to get from one side of the river to the other. Oh and you can use the buses too, we got a bus straight from the airport (bus 300) to Haarlem.

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The culinary scene in Amsterdam

You will most likely come back from Amsterdam heavier than when you left. Why? It’s pretty hard to resist the delicious smells that assault your senses on every corner. Every two shops there’s some sort of restaurant, cafe or fast food joint.

And there’s so much junk food, from the local speciality chips with cheese sauce to churros, chocolate, pastries and burgers. All I could think about was what yummy treat I could have next – not ideal when I’m on a mission to get in shape for my wedding! If you are looking for traditional cuisine, you won’t find many local eateries with Dutch delicacies in the city.

The restaurants are mainly for the tourists, so you can choose all sorts of different cuisines. 

Bernard recommended a local dish called ‘stamppot’ which is mashed potatoes and vegetables served with ham/bacon. We didn’t manage to find in Amsterdam it unfortunately.

During my time in Amsterdam I reckon I ate in total about two blocks of cheese. Yes. All the calories.

Wondering why? Well, there are tons of cheese shops offering free samples of every single cheese they have – and they’re not stingy.

We basically went into every cheese shop in the city and gorged on tons of flavours of cheese. My absolute fave being the goats cheese they did at the Dutch Delicacy cheese shop – the quality of their cheese seemed better than most others.

You will see lots of people walking round with chips in triangular cones. Arguably the best place to get these is a place called Manneken Pis Chips. 

A few restaurant recommendations –

Vegan Junk Food Bar Amsterdam – This is a bit of a walk to the outskirts of the city beyond the Vondlepark, but it’s well worth the effort.  We both had an enormous vegan burger with sweet potato chips. I’m not vegan, but I can appreciate the appeal of vegan food. And if I’m completely honest, it was one of the most satisfying and tasty burgers I’ve ever had. The chips were also perfectly cooked too. This is food porn at its absolute best.

De Anegang Haarlem – We arrived in Haarlem and desperately needed a bite to eat. It seemed like the world and his wife were gathered at the cafe tables outside by the main square. With no table free we wandered down the side streets a little and found this gem. It’s a bit more chilled and not as busy but you can still sit outside and people watch. We tried a local favourite here, beef croquette sandwiches with mustard. Oh, and they make a mean hot chocolate with lashings of whipped cream. #winning

La Picoletta Haarlem – After eating a shocking amount of carbs in Amsterdam including chips, pasta and bread (which I don’t normally have), I was seriously craving some meat and veg. So we stopped by this Italian and I had chicken in a tomato sauce which also came with a salad and a side of spag bol (oops more carbs). It sounds very basic but it was tasty. Will had a pizza which was excellent value. The atmosphere was great too.

Cafe restaurant Stork Amsterdam – If you want to get out the city a little, hop on the free ferry that leaves near the station, and across the other side of the river you will find Cafe Stork. We popped here for a brunch and the food was pretty good. Will had a crab burger which he enjoyed and I had smoked salmon and caviar with a poached egg. It’s right on the river and very spacious compared to the restaurants which are squeezed into the city centre.

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hot chocolate haarlem coffee shop

Things to do in the city

Oh gosh, where to start. The highlights of our trip included Moco Museum, which celebrates the work of Salvador Dali and Banksy, the infamous street artist. I really enjoyed browsing this alternative museum, and reading all about the background and interpretations of Banksy’s most famous art. Some of his quotes are quite cool too, especially this one…

I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget invisibility is a superpower.

I wholeheartedly agree. It is very odd that we share so much of our lives with strangers on the internet. But for me, it’s part of my job and what I do. Though this quote still struck a chord with me.

We also really enjoyed walking around the Vondelpark, an urban park with a pretty pond and plenty of greenery. We couldn’t believe how quiet and peaceful it was. Amsterdam city can be a little overwhelming at times, so this was a welcomed escape for us to clear our minds. We even spotted a heron perched on the banks of the pond looking for fish.

There are some wicked art galleries in Amsterdam, especially the ones more in the outskirts and down the quieter streets near Negen Straatjes. We stumbled upon the Del Villa Arte Gallery where they had some incredible photography and contemporary art. Oh and there are loads of decent quality independent shops in this area selling everything from clothing to home decor.

Obviously being in Amsterdam we had to go to the sex museum which I think was around 5 euros to get in. It was a funny experience and worth going but I wasn’t exactly blown away ;-) There’s sex shops practically on every corner in Amsterdam selling allsorts of odd and (some) terrifying looking stuff. There’s no harm wandering in a few to see what all the fuss is about.

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amsterdam sex museum

Cafes vs coffee shops

If you are heading to Amsterdam to smoke weed legally, then look for signs that say ‘coffee shops’ rather than cafes. You can’t smoke in the cafes, but anywhere that says coffee shop basically means you can go and buy/smoke a joint. It’s so odd walking round the city and every two minutes getting a whiff of weed.

Normally the smell in the UK feels alien, and that’s why it’s so odd that it’s a common, everyday smell here. Weed is partly why people watching is so entertaining in Amsterdam, because you can spot those who have cleared smoked a few too many.

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The red light district

It can be tempting to spend a long time in this part of Amsterdam, because it’s what you hear about the most. But there are so many nicer parts to uncover, so don’t get swept up in the sea of tourists.

However, I did find this area very fascinating and almost surreal. I’d imagined what it might be like to see women in windows literally selling sex, and the reality wasn’t even close.

You can’t really prepare yourself for just how odd and strange it feels to see this happening in real life.

I couldn’t help stare into the windows to catch a glimpse of the women, and wonder what was going through their mind, or how their life ended up in this direction. One thing I will say though is that I thought this area would be seedier than it was. Because everything’s out in the open, it doesn’t seem quite so shady as it would in a place where prostitution is illegal. So yeah, it was an eye-opening experience.

Overall thoughts on Amsterdam

For me, Amsterdam was a hit. I’ve never felt so relaxed anywhere in my life. The vibe is so laid back, and the people are super friendly and chilled. It kind of has the same sort of atmosphere as Brighton.

People walk down the street in strange outfits and no one bats an eyelid, and there are quirky shops and bars all over the place. It’s so easy to stroll around the city for hours on end simply taking everything in. Thank you Amsterdam for a thoroughly enjoyable and intriguing trip. I will be returning…

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