Friday, 11 November 2016

TNL Takes a Trip: Amsterdam

travel, tnl takes a trip, amsterdam
Kings Palace, Amsterdam
Ah Amsterdam. You smell like weed, you sound like bicycle horns & church bells & your streets are all too easy to get lost in.


After 2 flights, too many immigration & security checks and a lack of quality sleep (seriously KLM, what is up with your concrete-like seats?), I arrived in Amsterdam at the crack of dawn & made my way from the airport to Centraal, Amsterdam’s main train hub. From there I spent close to an hour trying to find my hotel, getting horrendously lost + almost teary in frustration as I couldn’t figure out for the life of me where my hotel was on the map.  After some assistance from an American delivery driver, I found my hotel but my room wasn’t ready, so I dragged my weary arse to Delifrance in Damrak for a 2nd breakfast & a digestion of all the info my hotel gave me regarding tours.

Although I try & avoid those red sightseeing buses for fear of looking like a tourist cliché, they are useful if you’re short on time, or (in my case) really tired & wanting to conserve your energy, as well as get your bearings. I succumbed to the lure & did a €28 hop-on-hop-off bus & canal tour for the day, both of which happened to be worth the price tag. If you just wanted to explore the canals on their own (and let's face it, Amsterdam's famous for them), there’s plenty of canal tour operators around. All tours start & begin around Centraal, so it’s a case of choosing which one you’d like to do & going for it. They all last for around 1-2 hours, which is definitely enough time to see everything.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
The only windmill in Amsterdam
Another thing that Amsterdam is (in)famous for is, as I mentioned above, marijuana. Mary Jane. The herb. Dope. Whatever you like to call it, you will, at some point during your stay, get a waft of it coming your way, whether it be from a coffee shop (where it’s not just coffee that’s served) or from out on the street…or (in my case) on my first afternoon in Amsterdam, as I sat outside at the Hard Rock Café having a very late lunch/really early dinner & watching 5 guys standing near the barrier having a toke.

Take note peeps: If you don’t want your coffee served with a side of grass, I was told that coffee bars are where you get your hit of caffeine. I know the Netherlands has heavily cracked down on tourists partaking in a joint; however Amsterdam is (apparently) exempt from that for now. FYI, I didn’t partake because I hate the smell….and because as this guy once said:

via Meme Generator
2nd day
A splendid & very long night’s sleep later, I arose to a dreary & wet Sunday morning perfect for lazing about in bed, before finally kicking my butt into gear sometime around 11am with a late breakfast & a trip to the famous Rijksmuseum in the Museumplein. If you dig your art & artefacts, then it’s well worth a visit; but I have to confess I wasn’t enthralled with the place. Then again, I only went there to get out of the rain! There are plenty of other museums within that district, like MOCO (a contemporary art museum which at the time of my visit had a Banksy exhibition running) & the Van Gogh Museum, so you might be able to find something that tickles your fancy. The Rijksmuseum is very easy to get to on the trams & just outside you’ll find the famous iamsterdam sign to grab your obligatory selfie/tourist photo with.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
travel, tnl takes a trip, amsterdam

Speaking of the trams, they’re great to get around on, but make sure you buy a travel pass of some sort first. I bought a 3-day pass at Schiphol Airport to use on the train & trams, but some like the iamsterdam City Card come with discounts on popular attractions as well.

That night involved a trip to a local Italian joint called Ponte Vecchio Pizza for dinner. Being in a foreign city = not knowing a good place to eat & this place had good reviews on Trip Advisor. Luckily for me, those reviews didn’t disappoint as I had a pretty nice meal there (the ragu in my lasagne reminded me of my Nan’s, which immediately gave me warm fuzzies) + my first decent conversation in about a week with the kinda cute Italian waiter, who’d lived in Australia for a while. That’s the thing about travelling solo as an introvert/semi-introvert – it forces you to converse with total strangers.

3rd day
Another dreary morning and another round of walking around in circles getting terribly lost. I’d been given verbal instructions on how to get to the Jewish Historical Museum on foot, but fucked if I remembered it all! I got to the 3rd canal from Damrak (where I’d been to purchase a ticket for another tour) & then it all went pear-shaped. Thankfully I later hopped on a tram that was going to the museum & at long last made it to my destination. Whilst I’m not Jewish in the slightest, they had an Amy Winehouse exhibition on when I was in Amsterdam & being a fan of the late singer’s music, I knew I had to go. Whilst the exhibition was small & you weren't allowed to take photos, it reminded me yet again of her wicked sense of humour & just how talented she was. I still can’t believe it’s been 5 years since she passed away. :o(

Post-exhibition, more circle-like frustration ensued when I went to find Gassan Diamonds for their free tour. (Interesting fact: Amsterdam is also a well-known diamond-producing city.) Walking around in the same loop for an hour without a GPS = me giving up & retreating back to Centraal….or more to the point the massive public library to the west of the station. At 7 levels, it’s every literary nerd’s wet dream & in there you’ll find just about every genre & (probably) language covered. Considering I was bored by that stage & over being on my feet, I perused the English language section in the hope of finding a decent book to read. At first I began reading Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but couldn’t get into it; so I picked up Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd & whiled away the next 3-4 hours blissfully, although I did skip some bits that I felt were superfluous to the storyline. On the way back to my hotel, I passed by Centraal again & discovered they have a 2 or 3-level “carpark” for bikes. Yep, that’s right, just for bikes.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel

I knew the Dutch were mad for the bicycle, but it wasn’t until I saw that + a smaller bike park just outside the station that I realised how much. You really need to watch where you're going in Amsterdam because if a tram doesn't hit you, then someone on a bike will. I almost got skittled a few times by bikes myself (and a tram, but let's not go there).

tnl takes a trip, travel, amsterdam

As I was undertaking the Red Light District walking tour that night, I grabbed an early dinner at Burger Fabriek near Rembrandtplein and it was a dinner I’d soon regret, but not for reasons you might be thinking of. People, if you’re going to work in the hospitality business, then you might want to be hospitable yourself instead of (a) being so engrossed in conversation with one another that you forget you have customers who have called out to request the drink they ordered (which didn’t come with their meal because someone forgot) & (b) being all stone-faced & zero-fucks-given that you wilfully ignore the customer standing in front of you waiting to pay their bill whilst you count the till. A little friendliness & common courtesy goes a very long way!

Leaving the burger joint in a foul mood, I went on the aforementioned tour & quite enjoyed it.  These tours generally start around 8pm & you do get to see the famous ladies in the window, as well as gain an insight into how prostitution works in Amsterdam. (For those who don’t know, prostitution was legalised in the Netherlands 16 years ago & “working girls” pay taxes like other Dutch citizens, although any STI tests are completely voluntary. They also negotiate how much their services will cost with their customers before…well, you know.) I found the whole tour utterly fascinating…and yes, I did look at the ladies in the window! (How could you not?) I didn’t take any photos of said ladies as it is illegal to do so – they have signs up outside each window with a camera crossed out.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel

Along the way, we also passed various live sex show venues, as well as….wait for it…the Hangover Information Centre. Yes, that’s right, there’s a place where you can find out how to recover from the big night before. I swear I’m not making this up! Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this place & I’m kicking myself for it.

My tour also included admission to the Red Light Secrets Museum, which has its own red light window for you to sit in & take photos. I wanted to do it, but I was neither game nor brave enough to do so. I just didn’t feel comfortable knowing there were dudes inside the Museum who’d pass as much comment as the ones wandering by outside. Knowing my luck, someone would’ve wanted to know “how much?” for the night! There’s also a booth inside where you can take a few playful sexy snaps + a rather interesting/amusing real-life sex confessional wall filled with people’s secret (or not-so-secret) sex-related tales.
amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
The "red light chair" at the Red Light Secrets Museum
Final day
Woke up, sun was shining, YAY! I headed back to the area near Rijksmuseum early to snap some photos of the iamsterdam sign, plus get my own photo with the “S” in the sign because why the hell not.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel

After my inability to find Gassan Diamonds the previous day*, I decided to go to the Diamond Museum + Coster Diamonds near the iamsterdam sign to get my sparkly fix. Although the Diamond Museum wasn’t free (€10 scores you a visit there + entry to the Coster Diamonds factory & shop next door), it was still fun doing so just to check out some of the bling on offer, as well as going to Coster Diamonds to try on future engagement rings & bling-you’ll-never-afford-yourself:

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel

My final afternoon in Amsterdam involved aimlessly wandering the streets in search of Amsterdam’s famous music venue Paradiso, where so many of my favourite musicians (including – I think – Dutch jazz singer Caro Emerald) have played, as well as a visit to the Albert Cuyp Market in search of “the guy who makes fresh hot stroopwafel”. Stroopwafel is a Dutch specialty & something I was told I had to try whilst there, so I did. All I’ll say is its very sweet and a bit sickly for my liking – and I have quite the sweet tooth.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
Fresh hot stroopwafel from "that guy in the Albert Cuyp Market"
By that time I was getting exhausted from walking around, but I had to take one last walk through Vondelpark, one of Amsterdam’s largest parks & often compared with New York’s Central Park. Whilst I wouldn’t say Vondelpark is quite as big as Central Park, it certainly feels that way after you’ve been walking around for hours. Nevertheless, it's gorgeous to walk through on a warm day.

amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel
Vondelpark
amsterdam, tnl takes a trip, travel

So what's my overall feeling about my time in Amsterdam? Meh. There were some good & not-so-good things there; but overall I can’t say I would like to go back. I feel that I saw everything I wanted to see in the time that I was there & even an extra 24 hours there would’ve tested my nerve. Even now as I’ve sat here struggling to write this post for the last week and a half, I still can’t shift my ambivalence towards the place.

I stayed at Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Centre, which is about a 5-10 minute walk from Centraal & conveniently located right near a tram stop. The street it's in is a laneway of sorts & not well located on a paper map, so you’ll need Google Maps in case you get lost like I did. My room was…well…rather small if I’m honest. It felt like a dogbox at first compared with my large room in Singapore, but eventually I adjusted to it & remembered that European rooms in general are quite small. The bathroom was nice & fairly modern, but the bed was quite low. There were issues with the elevators + some noise pollution out in the corridors (the walls are paper thin) + Esmeralda at reception was an ice queen; but if you don’t care about all that, then this is a place for you.
 

*I eventually found Gassan Diamonds on my final day, but IMO it wasn’t worth the free visit. Skip that & go to Coster Diamonds instead.

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Have you ever been to Amsterdam? If so, did you like it or dislike it?

2 comments:

  1. I visited Amsterdam on Contiki in 2002 and had a great time. It was my 24th birthday so I got pulled up on stage at the sex show and partied in the Grasshopper coffee shop after. Saw the red light district, Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank's house and had a ride on a canal boat. Beautiful city and good food!

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    1. I didn't go to Anne Frank's house for some reason. I'd planned on going, but I think the long lines + comments I'd read about it being overrated or not worth it turned me off. Amsterdam is a lovely city in terms of architecture & the canals & the like, but I guess overall I wasn't that fussed on it, certainly compared to Berlin (where I went after Amsterdam).

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