SUPER BUMPER POST INCOMING. At the end of November, Conor and I boarded a coach and headed out to Amsterdam, for a whirlwind weekend taking in the city (with a trip to Bruges thrown in on the way back for good measure). Our limited time there meant we packed in as much as we damn well could – hence the reason this post is longer than the majority of my University essays. Here’s how we made the most of a short time in a wonderful city in rather rubbish weather…
Coach travel. It’s cheap, but its not always cheerful – and I definitely wasn’t at my usual levels of perkiness while stood outside Great Portland Street at 6am waiting for our coach. Thankfully once we were aboard I spent a good portion of my time either dozing or watching Marvel films on my laptop, so the journey didn’t actually feel horrendous. We had quite a few stop-offs en route, and particularly enjoyed our service station beers (cause I’m a total LAD…) and the panoramic countryside views (…okay, actually really just a country bumpkin).
Upon arrival in Amsterdam at around half past six in the evening, rather than checking straight in to our hostel we hopped onto a boat and took a cruise around the city. It was an absolutely beautiful way to be welcomed; the interlinking canals taking us past our stunning surroundings in all their lit up glory. Despite the weather being bitterly cold and offering up intermittent showers (at least we Brits are used to it) the boat was warm and there were plenty of sights to be seen – from the bustling brightness of the harbour to the houseboats lining the city’s canal network. Accidentally staring into boat windows to see Dutch families eating their dinners was a tad awkward though.
We stayed in The Winston Hostel, located slap bang in the centre of the city’s action – seconds from Dam Square and just a few minutes’ walk from the infamous red light district. It was a pretty cool and quirky place to stay – all the rooms are decorated differently and the hallways are full of art prints. It’s also directly above Belushi’s bar, which is a great place to meet people if you’re travelling solo – we made friends with other travellers from as far afield as Australia. Plus, you get 25% off food and exclusive drinks deals if you’re a guest – and breakfast was included in the mornings.
After dropping our bags and squeezing in a quick beer, our guide for the weekend took us on a walking tour of the district itself. It was a strange experience, for sure. We learnt a fair bit about Amsterdam’s sex trade – all the workers pay taxes, rent their windows from landlords and reagularly undergo health checks. The concept of sex work is a point of contention for many, but a discussion of the moralities of sex work would definitely take up way more post space than I have room for right now.
After the tour, we wandered around a bit more, taking everything in – from the coffee shops to the red-lit windows where I tried to avoid awkward eye contact with the ladies on view. An incredibly surreal experience. With the marijuana culture and the red light atmosphere, Amsterdam has such a different vibe to being out and about in London (even if you’re in Soho), and I found it fascinating to take in the things that are illegal and hidden away down the darkest of back alleys over here. Drinks prices were about equivalent to London, although we did find a couple of bars that were cheaper – these tended to be outside of the busy central tourist streets.
The next day, we got up bright and early for a visit to Zaanse Schans, a living heritage centre, which I loved so much it gets its very own post. When we arrived back, we had the afternoon to ourselves to explore a bit. After managing to successfully avoid being run over by a cyclist (there are bikes EVERYWHERE) we ended up popping our heads in to the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum. Cause when in Amsterdam, right? Although it’s only a small space, the museum has plenty to offer – with audio information points at every artefact display. The displays lead visitors through the history of the drug, from its early use and mentions in historical literature, through to current popular culture and America’s ‘war on drugs’.
One of the places I really wanted to drop into was the Amsterdam flea market – where stalls filled with clothes, household goods and all kinds of bric-a-brac lined the pavements. Some kind of melting pot between Camden Market and a car boot sale, we stumbled across all kinds of interesting bits and pieces. Well-preloved Lee jeans for €10? Fur coats for €20? If you’ve got time to browse and dig deep for vintage, the flea markets could be an amazing place to pick up some fabulous bargain secondhand clothes – or if you’re like us, have a giggle at some of the oddities on offer and pick up a metal sign for the kitchen.
During our wander around the city streets, we found ourselves tempted into a building where an art exhibition was being hosted. First of all, we wandered through a pathway between suspended crops, past doctored magazine cover imagery and into a room filled with weird and wonderful display pieces. I won’t exactly say I’m an art buff in the slightest, and I actually didn’t really understand much of it (I’d like to blame the culture difference and not me just being slow, honest) but it was interesting to experience something a bit different to the pretty streets and tourist attractions. I think that sometimes even when you don’t understand something, you can definitely appreciate the creativity and work that goes into making something – so despite the oddness, it’s definitely something I’m glad we found. Plus, I was totally getting awesome vibes from the 3×3 square of paintings up on one of the walls.
One of our final stop-offs on the Saturday was Anne Frank’s House – a major place of interest in the city. And possibly the most negative experience we had over the weekend was queueing up for it. I’m as British as the next person and usually don’t mind the odd queue, but after an hour of rain beating down onto my frozen toes (wishing I’d bought the furry boots I spotted in the flea market) and the wind a gust away from me into the nearest canal, I was VERY happy to finally make it into the doors.
I wouldn’t exactly say I ‘enjoyed’ my visit – purely because that’s completely the wrong way to describe the incredibly somber and harrowing experience. But I think it’s something that you definitely need to visit if you’re in the city, for its historical significance and importance. Walking through the very rooms where Anne Frank and her family stayed sent chills down my spine. The sense of claustrophobia and detatchment the hideaways would have suffered with still lingered in a haunting way. Despite learning about Anne Frank at school, it was at her house that her history and legacy really came alive – an experience I certainly won’t forget any time soon.
On the way back to our hostel, we stopped off to warm up with some pancake at Sara’s Pancake House. Conor went savoury and it felt like we were eating a very thin but very tasty pizza, and I (obviously) opted for my batter-based treat to be smeared in Nutella. If you like Nutella, Amsterdam’s your place – dessert bars all around, and the smell of the lovely chocolatey nutty goodness wafting down the main streets. It’s like chocolate heaven. Finally, we hopped around some bars before calling it a night and heading back to The Winston.
The fact we only had around 48 hours in Amsterdam made us determined to fit in as much as we could. Sleep was limited for sure, but with the amount we packed in over the two days it felt like we’d definitely got our money’s worth sightseeing-wise. The culture and overall feeling of Amsterdam is definitely very different to London, despite it definitely rivalling my home city’s busiest areas when it comes to volume of people. I’m pretty lucky to have visited a fair few cities this year (including Barcelona and Dublin), each with such distinct qualities and their own different vibes. Here’s to more of the same in 2016 !
Have you been to Amsterdam? What were your favourite parts?