A couple of months ago me and my lovely girlfriend decided to go somewhere for the October bank holiday, and we had a few options in mind: London, Lisbon, Porto, Paris and Amsterdam.
London is one of those places that I shamelessly didn't visit, it's so close, just 45 minutes of flight that you always think "I can go whenever I want, but another time is better", you simply don't go because it's too close, and the day I'll move somewhere else and then it'll be too far I'll regret about it. Lisbon and Porto, and Portugal in general I think it's a great place to go, I still have find one single person that says it's an awful place, or even an okay one, all the people I know that went to those cities they always report that they are simply beautiful. But in October, on a bank holiday weekend, it was hard to find a decent flight without taking an extra day off, and as the both of us started a new job recently, we simply don't have that extra day, so we had to turn this option down, at least for the moment.
Paris is Paris, some people love it, some other hate it, I'm kinda on the fence but I have plenty of pressures from my lovely girl to go to visit it one day that I'll have to do it at some stage of my life, but again prices were too high, for both the flight and hotels, that we have to turn down this options as well.
Then we were left with Amsterdam. I have to say it: I don't smoke and I don't drink that much, and I'm not even that much interested in the type of trade you can get in the Red Lights District, so this city it might not be as much as attractive compared to some other people with different interests, but, it seemed to be a very interesting city to visit, the canals, the history, the art, and all those things you can do it without taking any substances that can alter your perception of the world, the cost of the flights were a bit cheaper than the other places we considered and the flight times were very convenient that we say "why not?".
Now, I as you probably already have clear, I started with some pre-concept about this city, and while some of them have been confirmed, and actually they were a bit underestimated, some others were completely wrong.
After our arrival in the city we had to confrontate with what was our "ideal of Amsterdam" and what was the "reality of Amsterdam", as far I could see in just a weekend.
In my mind Amsterdam was a city without a car, where bikes and trams were the only ways to travel into the city.
The reality wasn't half right, and half, terribly, wrong. The city is full of bikes, possibly more than what I saw in Copenhagen, but while in the Danish capital they have specific lanes and most of the times bikers strictly stay on them, in Amsterdam is the complete anarchy. You can expect bikes coming from any directions, from any lanes, at some stage I was so terrified that I thought they could jump out of the canal to try to kill me, and more than once I saw the fear of some other tourists while some locals tried to dodge them in a very scary and dangerous way. You probably get used to it if you live there long enough, but for those 3 days I wasn't prepare for that.
Also the trams pass very, very, very close to pedestrians, especially in the city center, and I wonder what the death-by-tram ratio is in that city. Plus you have to add the cars, that yes, despite the fame of being a bike-friendly city, it's full of cars, which add an extra layer of danger to the streets of Amsterdam. To be honest, it was so messy, that I would hardly think to live in that city, at least in the city center.
On top of that, I have to add the smell of weed. As I said, some people like it, the same people who probably loves to go there and spend most of their time in coffee shops, and I've nothing against that, you can do whatever you want with your life in my opinion. Unfortunately I'm not one of them, I don't smoke, I don't even understand why people smoke, I think it's something rather silly, and the fact that every 10 meters I walked, I was invested by this intense smell of weed, while it's funny the first 2 or 3 times, it gets really annoying after that.
I know, I probably sound like an old fart and super grumpy, and probably that's what I am, a grumpy old fart, but walk at 8am in the morning, trying to find something to eat for breakfast, and smell continuously the smell of weed, for me it's really, really annoying. Jaysus, take a break, even at 8am you want to smoke?
So, at this stage, if you are from Holland, you probably already hate me for such bad press, and if you are a smoker you probably think I'm the most boring person (and maybe you are right), so it's probably time to redeem and talk about what I liked about the city.
The canals are simply beautiful, the architecture is impressive, from that point of you it's a very peculiar and beautiful city. If you can go to the Amsterdam Museum, it's not huge and if you are not a fan of museums in general go anyway, you can do it in half an hour if you want, but it will give you a nice glimpse of the history of this city, why it's made in that way, and it will make you observe those little details about its architecture that otherwise you will not notice.
We also went to the Van Gogh Museum, and it's totally worth a visit into that place, not going there is like to not go to the Coliseum if go to Rome.
Walking on the streets of Amsterdam in the morning is something magic in my opinion, not many people around, or at least in October, not many bikes that for some goddam reasons want to kill you, but wandering in those street it's simply beautiful, especially when the sun is still low and you get the best light you can ask for a photographer.
Then stop to some random restaurant, or maybe a croissanterie, something that sounds very french, but that are filled with very dutch pastries, and after visiting Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, I have a clear idea that in that part of Europe they clearly know how to bake a good pastry.
If you have half an hour to spare, also go to the Bloemenmarkt, the flowers market of the city, full of tourists, but one of the most peculiars places of Amsterdam.
Another thing you need to try there are the chips. They call them with their proper name: Belgian Fries (yes, in fact we call "French Fries" something that was actually invented by belgian, but because some lazy english or american couldn't understand the difference, they called it "french"). They are absolutely the best "French Fries" you can possibly eat. Put on top a kilogram of mayonnaise and get ready for a liver transplant.
Going back to what my mind thought about Amsterdam, I have to say that I was totally wrong about the Red Light District, I thought was a nasty places good only if you wanted to have casual sex and smoke weed in coffee shops, and while in part is true that you can go for those two reasons, it's possibly one of the nicest areas of Amsterdam I've seen on that weekend, with plenty of beautiful views, of the canals, of course.
To close off, I just wanted to share with you a thing that it didn't really convinced me. The I amsterdam card: it's quite expensive, considering the cost of the life of the city, it costs as much as the Copenhagen Card, but while the latter one give you the access to ALL of the museums for free, ALL the public transports for free, and a good discount to plenty of restaurants in Copenhagen, the I amsterdam card gives you free access only to some of the Museums, while in other they give you only a discount on the price, and it gives you free public transport only with the main transport company but it's not valid for the train to the Airport. Also you can get discounts only on a few selected restaurants, which are not exactly easy to find, and in most of the cases only if you take some specific menus. I don't know, compared to the Copenhagen card I didn't really feel as it was a good bargain, probably it's still worth it to buy rather than pay everything full price, but I'm not sure you save that much at the end of the day.
Anyway, after this very long post, I'll leave you with some of the photos I took that weekend. Being honest with you they are nothing special, apart the mornings, the light was crap for the rest of the days, and maybe I wasn't in a great mood, but I hope it will give you a nice glimpse of the city.
You can find the full set here.