‘Welcome to The Netherlands!’ our awesome Busabout guide, John, said as we drove into the fabulous city of Amsterdam.
Often known as the ‘Venice of the North’, but more commonly known for sex, drugs, cheese, clogs and beer, Amsterdam is best entered with an open mind and a remarkable ability to dodge anything that may come flying at you. From bicycles to trams, the city whirrs like a cog, constantly moving in a fractured rhythm.
The Dutch take quirkiness to the next level. Long thin houseboats line the edges of the larger canals, complete with gardens, barbeques and bike racks. The narrow houses along the streets are tall and slim, slanting in various directions from the shifting foundations standing in the marshy canals beneath the crooked streets. The stairs inside are so steep and narrow that large furnishings are taken through the windows, the telltale hooks on the roofs blatant evidence of a period in architecture where the idea of ‘pay now and save later’ hadn’t been proposed.
As you wander through Amsterdam, strolling lazily along the countless streets and passages, through the parks, by the shops or along the canals, you are accosted with the warmth and unperturbed nature of the people. They will greet you with a smile and chat with you in English – a welcome change from the frosty Parisians who look down their noses and swear at you in French when you give them too many Euros! Amsterdam is simply friendly.
The countless ‘coffeeshops’ (yes, the Dutch are sneaky) and the occasional whiff of pot as you wander through Vondelpark brings the city alive, infusing it with rebellious spirit for even the most blasé non drug user (such as myself). Whether you make the decision to take drugs here or not, the nonchalant attitude towards recreational drug use provides a refreshing perspective, and immediately immerses you into a culture that is as exciting as it is questionable.
The red light district of Amsterdam takes this notion to the next level. If you’re amused (or disturbed) by the occasional brothel that you find in Sydney, expect your head to be blown off in Holland. The place speaks for itself, and if you can handle some tits and some creepy old men, a walk through the red lights is a must.
If you are looking for something less, erm, tame than simply checking out the window ladies, enter one of the many live sex shows for a full on experience. We went to the Bananabar which offers multiple levels of shows, and, if your lucky, a good old chat with a darling Hungarian stripper whose name I unfortunately didn’t quite catch. The place costs 50 euros entry fee (for an hour) and includes an open bar and a few very blonde and perky ‘exotic dancers’ who will perform a number of tricks for you (yes, this costs extra, and yes, it does involve bananas!). If that’s too pricey, try the Moulin Rouge – 25 euro plus 2 free drinks and, of course, a great show.
If your into culture over cannabis, Amsterdam has some excellent opportunities to expand your mind and captivate your senses, including the Anne Frank Huis and The Van Gogh Museum.
Relatively intimate, the Van Gogh museum is a beautifully put together exhibition of the works of Vincent Van Gogh, following his life as an artist and, in particular, the impact of his personal life on the style and development of his works. If you’re an art lover, a cultural nerd or simply want to look at some very pretty pictures, this place is sure worth the 14 euros they’ll charge you to get in.
I found the Anne Frank Hius particularly special. Having not read The Diary of Anne Frank, I was hesitant, unsure as to weather I would receive the full impact of such a historically significant place. But the place has enough rich and detailed history for even the most ignorant to enjoy this expertly preserved piece of World War 2 history. The museum brings to life the story of a jewish family’s struggle during the holocaust. It walks you through the rooms that the Frank family were forced to hide in for 2 years of the war, before they were discovered and taken to concentration camps, and unfortunately, to their deaths.
Make sure you also check out Mike’s Bike Tours (awesome tour guides and the perfect way to view a city which has more bicycles than people!), Vondelpark (5km of stunning greenery), and catch a comedy show at Boom Chicago (you’ll laugh your pants off!!).
3 days was not enough in this gorgeous little city. But Berlin beckons, and i’ve already eaten WAY too much cheese!