the city with many faces, amsterdam
Flowers and the inner hippie
Waking up at 3.30am to get to the airport will never become easy. That strange feeling of being half awake and struggling to understand how your legs can transport you from A to B. The thrill, however, makes it worth it. The excitement of going somewhere new, to leave all that is normal behind. I practically ran out of the door.
The journey was an easy one, 50 minutes on the plane and I’m in Schiphol Airport, (it takes me longer to drive to work), a quick ride on the train and I’m stood in central station. This long weekend away came from talking over a coffee with a friend and finding we both needed an escape. That afternoon we booked flights to Amsterdam... (spontaneity at its finest). A couple of months later we are dropping off our bags and walking out into a sunlit city. Now show me the way to a coffee.
After a much-needed caffeine top up, the Rijksmuseum was in our sights. The national museum stands proud in a magnificent building, packed with art and history of the Netherlands - it’s definitely worth a visit. We were lucky to also see the Rembrandt Retrospective and ‘Everyone’s a Photographer’ exhibition. A bonus for any art lover. Leaving the museum with our heads full of knowledge we went and found lunch. Sitting in the sun drinking Heineken and watching the world go by (I could get used to this), the afternoon turned into a chilled one, moving to another bar to make the most of the sun before heading to the Air B&B. Although located in a beautiful city the Air B&B was not so. A small room with bunkbeds and just enough room to move, complete with a fridge that took over half the floor space (I still don’t understand why it was there) but it was clean and cheap. We couldn’t argue. Heading back out we met up with Dutch friends and proceeded to drink Heineken, laugh and confuse waitresses with contrasting languages.
The next day, unsurprisingly, had a slow start. Heading into the centre I had forgotten it was Saturday and wow was it busy. Stag and hen parties amongst the crowds, arriving for weekends of drinking that would lead to untold tales of, what happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam. Intrigue and curiosity to learn more about this side of Amsterdam lead me to the Sex Museum, which we had to queue for - it’s clearly popular. With its creepy outdated mannequins, it was gimmicky more than anything. What I did struggle with was the red-light district at night. Walking with the swarms of people as they meandered through the streets, as girls behind windows tried to catch the eyes of potential customers. It felt like an amusement park for adults, ‘choose the one you wish to ride’. It all felt a little sad, desperate and over touristy to me.
Sunday in contrast was a day of the national flower – Tulips. Heading for the Keukenhof, which is easier said than done, but after some confusion and two buses later we arrived. Along with many, many other tourists. I thought it was going to be slightly unbearable, but it wasn’t. The brightly coloured flowers seemed to bring out the best in people (the warm weather and sunshine were also major contributing factors to people's upbeat moods). The theme that weekend was ‘flower power’ and we fully embraced it. Given the opportunity to make flower headbands from daffodils we embraced our inner hippie. The Keukenhof ticked off other tourist points, such as clogs and windmills. Yes, I did get a photo of me in a giant clog, with a windmill in the background and flowers in my hair. Tourist 101.
Leaving Keukenhof and our inner hippie we headed back to Amsterdam. Stopping in at a coffee shop we readjusted our eyes to the dark. The smell of weed hung in the air and the people inside were either tourists keen to get high or old regulars whose experience was evident from the premature wrinkles upon absent faces. Having never been in one before I was fascinated, the quiet hum of reggae music complemented by people so relaxed they sat in silence. Time to see what all the fuss is about. Purchasing a brownie, which tasted surprisingly good (you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference) we ate and drank a coffee before heading to join the locals in Vondelpark, catching the last of the evening sun. We decided it was time to leave and find food after we were almost hit by a rogue frisbee. Food Hallen (Food Market) left us spoilt for choice and left me marvelling at the underground bicycle park. Only in the Netherlands does a market have speciality bike parking. The effects of the brownie were kicking in and I felt myself zoning out; we would find ourselves in hysterics about something and then just like that completely forget what it was. The short bursts of laughter followed by nothingness was a strange feeling. The opposite to drinking alcohol where you laugh and then continue to laugh for the next hour about the same thing. I can see why people use cannabis to numb feelings, you find yourself phasing in and out of reality, before falling asleep.
Monday was a day for taking in the pretty city, walking over canals, browsing boutique shops and galleries and sipping coffee from cute cafés. Cycles are everywhere in Amsterdam. At one point we witnessed two girls have a head on collision on their bikes. A clear reminder of the reality of cycling in this busy city. People rushed to see if they were ok and I couldn’t help but think of a film narrative, ‘cute guy helps up pretty girl after she’s involved in a bike incident, they fall in love…’ It would be a pretty good answer for, ‘how did you meet?’ Better than saying Tinder!
I couldn’t leave Amsterdam without having a Stroopwaffel, getting one that had been half dipped in chocolate and covered in speculaas (a Dutch spiced biscuit), was a self-indulgent moment of deliciousness. You can see why the Dutch cycle so much, it’s to counterbalance their love of fries, Heineken and stroopwaffels. I would certainly need to cycle if I lived here!
With the sun creating a happy and relaxed atmosphere it was no surprise neither one of us were quite ready to leave. Boarding the train to the airport, even the driver was jolly; making people smile with his jokes over the tannoy.
Amsterdam is a city that really does have something for everyone. It’s no wonder people love it so much, me included.