- Given the fact that I am 27 years of age, male, and was given a healthy helping of testosterone when God created Colm, once presented with the task of conjuring up an image of Amsterdam, seedy images of narrow windows with red lights and hazy coffee shops would usually spring to mind. But on a recent trip to Mother Earth’s ultimate city of sin, I sternly assigned myself the job of looking beyond the prostitute-ridden lanes and infamous coffee shops to find what else there was to behold in the Dutch capital.
Prior to embarking on a day’s sightseeing in Amsterdam you have to ask yourself if you should rent a bike for a day or simply be content with public transport. Both modes of transport ring in your ears all day long thanks to the constant chiming of their bells. Having spent one day hopping between the jamming doors of the trams, and another throwing my leg back and forth over a bike, I favoured the second option. A day’s bike rental is a mere €7 and by investing in your own set of two wheels you give yourself independence not acquirable by travelling on the trams for a day. But if you don’t feel like too much exertion, invest in a 15-strippenkart which costs €6.40. Valid for 7 journeys, this should easily suffice for two to three days travel around the city.
Going to a museum never proved to be so difficult
You might not think it, but there are more museums per square foot in the Netherlands than in any other country on the planet. Forty two of these can be found in the capital and they act as ingredients which combine to bake Amsterdam into one of Europe’s cultural capitals. There’s only one problem about visiting these museums – you have to tear yourself from the streets to do so. Make no mistake about it; Amsterdam is full of the most eclectic collection of human beings you will find anywhere on the planet. Most of these don’t fall into the threatening category, but instead are of the ‘what is he/she on?’ variety. I thought to myself that these people would be in the same place when I got back and started visiting the city’s museums.
The city’s five big museums are the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Heineken Experience, the Anne Frank House and Rembrandt House. As they are all independently run and not state owned, they all impose admission prices. After much inner debating, I finally shaved this list down to three. First of these was the Rijksmuseum (open daily from 9am-6pm; admission €9), most famously known for Rembrandt’s ‘Nightwatch’ which hangs behind the uninviting face of its own watchman 24 hours a day. With an admission price of €9 and covering only two floors with just 14 rooms, I felt you could possibly get more for your money. In saying that, I found my eyes glued to the snippets of information beside each painting more frequently than in other museums so I probably learnt more.
The other two I managed to squeeze in were the Anne Frank House (open daily from 9am-7pm from Jan 2nd-March 31st and until 9pm from April 1st-Aug 31st; admission €7.50) and the Heineken Experience (open Tues-Sun from 10am-6pm; admission €10). Both are cleverly structured and tell their stories coherently. In each you find yourself looking deep into the next room before your body manages to pass through the doors of the one you have just entered. The former is an extremely moving journey as you learn how a young teenage girl and her family were forced to cocoon themselves in the top of a narrow Amsterdam building for approximately three years. The latter is a far more light-hearted affair but just as grabbing. You also get three free beers and a nice tulip-shaped glass for taking the time out to visit.
The streets are the jewel in Amsterdam’s eye
Amsterdam’s real attractions are its streets and suburbs, something left untouched by the hordes of travellers who pass through it every year. The tree-lined canals and narrow streets in the Jordaan just east of Centraal Station are where you can see how the real locals live. Originally a blue-collared part of town, since the 70s droves of eclectic artists and students plotted themselves at residences throughout the area and haven’t moved since. Egelantiersstraat and Anjeliersstraat, both tucked away neatly in this area, are dotted with quaint brown cafés and restaurants frequented mainly by locals.
Another suburb south of the hazy streets which intertwine around the city centre is De Pijp (‘The Pipe’). Bordered by four canals, it lures trendy twentysomethings with its chic selection of trendy restaurants and bars, many of which can be found on Eerste Van Der Helst Straat. If you find yourself in Amsterdam on a Friday Chocolate attracts a very large crowd.
Both of the aforementioned areas have a good selection of bars but the undisputed heavyweight when it comes to nightlife is Leidseplein, just a short tram journey from Centraal Station (tram #1, 3 or 5). The square here in the centre is always heaving during the summer, while the Bulldog can also be found here. If you are in search of non-alcoholic pursuits, Boom Chicago, the Netherlands’ most successful comedy show, is also resident in the Leidseplein Theatre and is a different way to spend an evening.
Considering its status as one of Europe’s best known capitals, and due to the number of tourists who bellow through it annually, it comes as no surprise that the choices you are presented with in terms of dining are endless. Damrak, the street staring you in the face as you pass through the automatic doors from Centraal Station, is densely peppered a different type of restaurant every three yards. A high standard of food can be found in all, but if you are looking for a quick snack then Ah To Go at the end of Damrak has a good selection of baguettes for no more than €2.50. Across the road from Damrak Ristorante Pizzeria on Nieuwesbrugsteeg has a surprisingly good selection of pizzas, all for only €6. But if it is local cuisine you are looking to fill the gap with then The Pantry on Leidsekruisstraat which runs parallel to Leidsestraat specialises in traditional fare and is served by friendly staff for around €10. For something quick and cheerful small fast food outlets and pizza shops abound every second street.
Every time I come to Amsterdam I feel that it sometimes gets dealt a rough deal by travellers. Prior to my second journey there, an acquaintance told me to prepare myself for the unfortunate experience of being mugged! But I don’t think it is dangerous. Instead, after my fourth time there, I have come to a conclusion. There is no denying that there are some crazy people here, but maybe all the crazy people are too high to bother the tourists, or maybe the tourists are too high to be bothered by the crazy people. Either way this city has never left me feeling threatened. It has, however, left a ringing in my ears. But this is the sort of ringing that I like.
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