My visit in Amsterdam was just an afterthought. I had originally planned to fly straight from Dubai to London in the summer and spend the whole time in the UK (and maybe parts of Ireland) but I ended up visiting 4 countries in total…whew.
I decided to pursue a trip to Amsterdam knowing that I could easily get a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam and then on from Amsterdam to London. Aside from simply wanting to visit because I hadn’t been there before, I was hoping that I could be granted a longer Schengen Visa there, as I had been hearing people getting 1-year to 18-month visas after applying at the Netherlands Embassy here in Dubai. I prepared a simple checklist before committing to my plan:
1. The flight from Schipol to Heathrow should be less than Aed 500 (which I got for Aed 300)
2. Accommodation should not exceed 50usd per night (I got a perfect hostel for only 24 euros/night)
3. Visa fee should not exceed AED 350 (I got it for AED 280 )
All items ticked, so off I went!—> and for those who are curious, I was granted a 1-year Schengen Visa…hooothoooot.
Amsterdam is indeed a city for the curious as there are a lot of things which are legal there while illegal in most other places in the world. This thought alone might be enough to encourage or discourage people from traveling there, but Amsterdam is much more than these thing; I had heard so many beautiful stories about the city that made it well worth a visit.
THE VENICE OF THE NORTH
Originated as a dam in the city of Amstel, Amsterdam was a fishing village turned into one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age.
One of the things on my priority list to do in Amsterdam was to cruise along its famous canals. The city is surrounded by a web of interconnecting canals just like Venice, although unlike Venice there is still enough land in Amsterdam to walk, drive and cycle (we’ll come to more on that later). That said, it is still evident that water is a big part of life in the Netherlands’ capital city: the canal ring area of Amsterdam even is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The canals certainly contribute to the charm of the city. Houses along the canals are regarded as prime properties. I don’t doubt it. Imagine, waking up with a view of the canal kissed by the morning sun…whew.
You can enjoy this famous canal ring either by boat or by walking or biking beside them. I saw a lot of locals (and even a few tourists trying to live like the locals) sitting down by the canal reading books, eating, chatting with friends (and smoking you-know-what). I loved how everyone looked so relaxed.I guess that’s the kind of feeling that calm waters coursing through a city can evoke. [ ERMM – it’s also the kind of feeling that smoking you-know-what can evoke..!!!]
CITY OF BIKES
If the canals are all about the boats, the streets of Amsterdam on the other hand are all about the bikes, whether chained up to railings and bike racks throughout the urban landscape or being ridden by a busy local or a tourist appreciating the city.
As a city bike enthusiast, the idea of a city having more bikes than people is heaven. Statistics show that for every 1 Amsterdam resident there are 2 bicycles. Last summer when I visited Denmark, I was overwhelmed with all the bikes that I saw, but Amsterdam can easily give the Danish a run for their money. I have never seen so many bikes together in one city—-> and I have been to China!
Everywhere you look at, you can see bikes bikes bikes..even in the water (yes in the canal!). For everyone living in Amsterdam, THE BICYCLE IS KING!
Compared with other European capital cities, from a perspective of an Asian, I never really considered Amsterdam to be especially rich in culture. Sure it is an old European town but I had initially thought if I wanted to experience a taste of Europe, I should visit Paris, Rome or London instead.
While researching what to do in Amsterdam, I found out that there are multitude of museums around the city. The most popular ones are the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and the Heineken Experience. If you are in the city for a just a few days, I recommend visiting these places.
Not only is Amsterdam brimming with museums, but you could say that Amsterdam itself is an outdoor museum. I mentioned earlier how its canals have been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and everywhere you look you can see beautiful and well preserved monumental houses. (check out the list of historic houses and monuments in Amsterdam)
Of course when talking about visiting Amsterdam, you cannot fail to mention the tolerance for weed and prostitution there. If you are one of those (like me) who are not interested in trying different types of cannabis products you should stay away from establishments labeled as ‘coffeeshops’.
Keep in mind that in Amsterdam a café is different from a coffeeshop. If you are looking to pump up your caffeine level and have some sweet treats you should go to a café. On the other hand, if you are thinking of getting some space cakes or special brownies, a coffeeshop is the place to go.
Consumption of weed (and carrying it) is tolerated in the city but there are a lot of rules that you need to know when engaging in this activity (and you should take time to study them; tourist are subject to the same restrictions as residents when it comes to handling and smoking cannabis products).
In addition to weed, prostitution is also openly available in Amsterdam. In fact the Red Light District is a top tourist attraction in the city. I have traveled around a lot of cities and although I try to maintain an open mind in each culture, I must say I always feel uneasy and sad to see prostitution being offered (whether legal or not). During my first trip to Bangkok my friend persuaded me to pass by the red light district just to see how things happen there; we can put it down to curiosity that I accepted. He recommended it so my eyes would be opened to these real life occurrences. My heart was crushed to see minors being escorted by western male tourists to their hotel rooms.
Since then, I can’t help but pray for an end to this kind of activity around the world.
In Amsterdam, most of the prostitutes are regarded as entrepreneurs, with business licenses and may well have turned to prostitution ‘willingly’ but I can’t help but think that there are still better opportunities out there than becoming a sex worker.
I walked along the Red Light District with the same heavy heart I had when I was in Bangkok. The area looks like a normal neighborhood with mixed-used buildings, except the store windows display no produce or apparel for purchase, but ladies in their underwear. There is no signage to point out that you are entering the district: anyone (even minors) can just roam around the center of Amsterdam and suddenly find themselves in the middle of the Red Light District.
I understand that the Red Light District is regarded as an intrinsic part of Amsterdam and I am just a tourist and I don’t have any right to intervene, but I am still hopeful that we could all do something to change it. (ok next topic!!! ^^)
PANCAKES AND WAFFLES
I don’t know why the Dutch are so fascinated with pancakes and waffles but I am not complaining!
The most famous ones are the Poffertjest which is a mini pancake topped with powdered sugar and Stroopwafel (my favorite), a waffle made from two thin layers of baked waffles with caramel filling in-between.
The best part is, they are available E V E R Y W H E R E!
A BIG PLAYGROUND
With all being said, Amsterdam is a big playground. You can do almost anything and everything there! This is perhaps the reason why Amsterdam is becoming Europe’s fastest-growing tourist destinations.
You cannot run out of things to do in this city: biking (including tandem riding) water activities (such as cruising along the canal, canoeing and dragon boat racing), Ice skating (during winter), horse riding and even tai-chi and lots more.
Amsterdam is a tourist-friendly city and for sure if you are traveling solo (like me) you can easily navigate around it. People are friendly and almost everyone speaks English. My trip to Amsterdam as mentioned earlier, was an afterthought and driven by curiosity, but I can say that if I were given more opportunity to visit the Dutch capital, I would visit over and over again.0