So Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe and whilst many, many people visit this famous city, it’s often for one reason and one reason only… those infamous coffee shops! Partaking in coffee shop specialities was never really mine or my friends’ thing and yet Amsterdam was one of (if not the) favourite place of mine that we visited in Europe. So if we weren’t sitting in coffee shops, smoking ourselves into a stupor, what on earth were we doing you ask? Well I’ll tell you.
When we first arrived on a boiling hot summers day after travelling since about five that morning we were grumpy, sweaty and lost. However after a small hunt and getting terribly ripped off by a taxi driver we finally found and settled into our hostel right on the side of the river which made for a perfect view.
The first thing we wanted to do was explore our new surroundings and find food and water to help ease those long-day-of-travelling grumps and so that was what we did. It didn’t take us long to find the local supermarket, wander around a bit to get our bearings and realise that Amsterdam is absolutely beautiful. The city is laced with glistening rivers with huge green trees running down both sides, quaint, ornate bridges and interesting architecture. The abundance of bicycles attached to the railings everywhere we looked made for an aesthetically pleasing sight and really added to the peaceful, friendly and welcoming atmosphere. There were also many second hand bookshops complete with that old-book-shop smell, which just can’t be beaten. We truly felt relaxed in Amsterdam sitting by the river and taking in the views. It just seemed the perfect place to wander and get lost in (I’m open to the possibility that the sense of relaxation was caused by the ever-present pungent smell of weed 😉 but I think it was just the city itself!)
However we were surprised by how different Amsterdam can be when you cross over to the red light district at night. It starts with just a few sex shops slowly appearing until before you know it you’re surrounded by them, with queues for peep shows everywhere you looked and scantily clad women attempting to entice passers by into their place of work. What a difference to our sleepy English villages where walking into an Ann Summers felt naughty! Yet for all that it was fun and quite thought provoking to see such a different, liberal attitude towards sex. I think Amsterdam are onto something being so open with the same things that most of the West are shy about, as everyone there seemed to be quite happy and relaxed (again not ruling out weed..) with what, to us, was strange surroundings indeed.
Another great experience that I would highly recommend is visiting the Anne Frank museum. It gives you an insight into how she must have lived and what she went through, really making you appreciate your life and get your problems into perspective! You also get to climb up into the attic where she spent most of her time, which is really quite humbling and a must do (unless small spaces isn’t really your thing!).
We also took a trip to nearby Rotterdam (mostly because we’d heard of it in The Beautiful South song!). That was all well and good until we got there and realised we weren’t really sure where we were going or what there was to do! After wandering a while and having a sit down and toilet stop at a pub we plonked ourselves by a river, surrounded by grass and trees and had ourselves a picnic before heading back. Our un-organised trip actually turned out quite well as the place we found to picnic in was a beautiful place to sit and watch the world go by.
We also found our way into what is probably the centre of Amsterdam which revealed a whole other side of the city with a buzzing centre, stunning architecture and statues that made for perfect picture posing opportunities! Most of this was found by just walking around with no particular plan and seeing what the city had in store for us, which in Amsterdam is so easy to do and you’ll always be able to find somewhere new to explore and interesting things to see.
We also discovered a small but lovely bit of public park in the middle of the mass of coffee shops and saw regular street performances there. Just by chance we were chilling there one day (eating our bread, lettuce and cheese lunch!) when a parade came marching past singing and chanting in an unknown language and after some investigation we discovered it was to praise the Dali Lama. It made for some great pictures and colourful sights but I’m still slightly unclear to this day why they passed through the centre of Amsterdam!
Many of our evenings were spent sitting by the river, taking in the last few rays of sun and sipping on some warm, cheap shandy. It was on one of those evenings that we witnessed a car happily floating and driving down the river which we were all amazed about! And I know what you’re thinking, ‘definitely the weed this time’, but no I have photographic proof!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my tales of Amsterdam, a place that I definitely suggest you visit even if just to wander around and relax in because even if you’re not enjoying the hospitality of the coffee shops, it’s such a relaxing atmosphere you can’t help but sit back, chill out and enjoy it 🙂 Jess.