Landing at the airport in Schiphol with a tingling sensation of excitement, a spontaneous 3 day vacation with friends was waiting in Amsterdam. We boarded the train heading to the central station to meet up with the others who arrived a day earlier. We got a great deal on a houseboat, just 10 minutes slow strolling distance from the center of town. A bedroom and couch bed provided enough living space to be called home for a short time – plus smoking was allowed inside, a big plus I suppose? The boat was surprisingly roomier than expected with high ceilings, another bonus for a big guy.
The first thing I noticed was bicycles everywhere, all the time and at high speeds cutting through the city and up and over canals. The main train station alone had racks with ~4000 bikes chained to a 3 story parking garage, and the city is estimated to have a total of 900,000, yes it’s a lot. I enjoy mountain biking but it seemed a little bit scary to rent a bike and cruise through the city like the others, but in hindsight I do regret not doing it, I think I would’ve seen everything from a different perspective and have experienced more. Next time….
We stopped by a few coffee shops, each having their own flair to them. A lot were packed and noticeably pricey establishments with elaborate decorations or glass floors with ornaments you walk over. Each place offered their own menu of smokeable treats, either in a bag or pre-rolled and ready-to-go. Most locals from what we observed just bought and left, understandable I guess, why hang out with the loud tourists walking around amazed by the relaxed drug laws, I am sure that becomes annoying after a while. Most shops offer a list of beverages and also good food. In the morning you can come for a cup of tea, coffee or breakfast items, in the day and towards the evening the selection widens to sandwiches and other meals when you get the munchies.
Other shops offered a more basic setup and were noticeably cheaper hole-in-the-walls. All they had were cans of soda, seating for 10 people on rundown wood furniture, and a small selection of low grade weed, which are probably top notch compared to what many think is good back at home. We eventually got tired of hopping around between the shops and continued on to stroll and take a bus through some of the streets.
We stopped by the Heineken Brewery, which to be honest just wasn’t worth the money and an obvious tourist trap. I do feel like it’s the best beer in the world now because they convince you of that fairly quickly.
I found the tiny 2 seat cars that fly by the streets and parks extremely funny for some reason. They were smaller than a smart car, built for tight streets and parking spaces, which I can imagine is very handy in this city.
We continued on aimlessly through the canals and walked around in big circles at Vondel Park, where a lot of people were keeping up with their fitness routines; jogging and biking through the area, or couples romantically sitting around the endless benches under the shade of trees.
I found the architecture of the city spectacular; the buildings all had very odd angles giving off a quirky illusion of leaning forward and sideways. At night a lot of the canals are lit with lights decorating the sides and the city is still very awake with a lot of people out and about. I noticed a lot of British people were there on vacation, which isn’t too surprising considering they aren’t too far away from the country.
The next day we stopped by the large Albert Cuyp market, that sells local food and cheap knockoff clothing. We loaded up on some supplies, mostly bread, dried meats and a few cheeses which the Dutch are famous for. After lunch and rest back at the houseboat, we planned our next visit to be at the NEMO Center, I wasn’t too thrilled by it because it didn’t seem like a very unique experience, but I didn’t have any better suggestions so I tagged along. It’s a great place for a couple or with your kids, there are a lot of scientific demonstrations with do-it-yourself devices that play with gravity, mirrors, water, games and sexual information. All spread out on 3-4 floors, in the middle a giant “Rube Goldberg” device that gets set off at certain times during the opening hours.
It took about 2 hours to get through half-heartedly interacting with the displays when it wasn’t necessary to shove away some small pesky kids to have our own turn at childish fun.
After that we went to eat at the Sea Palace, a fitting name for a gigantic 3 story high, floating Chinese restaurant. The interior was very well designed with a lot of patrons at the tables. I don’t know much about the cuisine, but there were a lot of business men speaking Chinese on the table next to you so it seemed to be authentic. The menu was overwhelming with hundreds of choices, and it took a good half hour and a few appetizers and soups until we even knew what we were looking at, and half of our order was unknown until they were served, and even after consumption uncertainty remained. But still a delicious place to eat, although admittedly pricey in my mind.
We took a longer stroll through the alleys on our way back to the houseboat, stopping by some small shops for postcards and t-shirts as gifts. The same night my friend and I visited a Goa party, which for me was obligatory to take advantage of while there, and the couple we were with had an evening to themselves. I stomped through the night in good spirits, with the music and visual projections next to me, until oddly enough the music all of a sudden stopped and the lights were turned on and the crowd clapped enthusiastically and left the building in a civilized manner. I guess that’s it, we were a bit perplexed because I am usually used to the music not stopping until the morning light. So we walked back through the cold night to our houseboat for the last night in Amsterdam.
The next day we started off with some Irish breakfast in a pub, there wasn’t too much more we could think of doing. I was starting to get sick and wasn’t very motivated to do a lot besides walk around and enjoy some of the last hours in the sun of the summer near the canals, listening to the locals talking. Another place that was high on my to-visit list checked off, and I am happy for the experience I had. The only thing I would do next time is get a bike and explore more outside of the inner city canals. Also watch out for the bicyclists, they will run you over if you don’t look in all directions all the time!