After an uneventful, short flight of 45 minutes to Amsterdam Schiphol and a fashion finding the bright yellow ticket m
achines with ‘TICKETS’ glowing on the top, we had the fortune to find our train to Amsterdam Centraal sitting on the platform, so we jumped on and sat in the doorway for the short trip into the centre of town. As soon as we stepped off and started to look lost, a lovely Dutch woman speaking immaculate English directed us towards Oosterdok, where our hotel boat, the Amsterdam HotelBoat, was docked, which we found with uncanny ease.
We had to wait around half an hour for the manager to return from the shops to check us in, so by the time we had sorted out our room and freshened up, it was getting on ten o’clock. A recommendation led us to a rather pricey Indian restaurant, which we forwent for the cheaper establishment next door, the Vijaya Indian and Indonesian restaurant. We didn’t end up getting to sleep until well after midnight on that first night, and then an early rise the next day for our 8:30am breakfast, which was a typical Dutch affair; various bread products with cheese, ham and jam, but of course, after a good helping of sugar puffs (okay, maybe not all Dutch).
The biggest thing that one notices rather quickly in Amsterdam is the presence of cyclists just about everywhere – the only places where people aren’t cycling are the canals! This gives rise to two things: an unprecedented awareness of colours of paving slabs (you don’t want to stand on the cycle lanes if you value your life and limbs) and also an overwhelming feeling of inferiority as a pedestrian. Why aren’t you cycling? This is Amsterdam! Obviously, we needed to sort this out, so the first thing that our Saturday brought us was a trip to the cheapest cycle hire place that we could find. And yes, we did opt for the €2,50 extra for a bike with brakes. After Eleanor being told off by an angry cycle hire proprietor for not knowing how to use the wheel lock, we were off!
Our first destination was the Amsterdam Sex Museum – I was questioned when asking for directions as to why I was taking two young women there. While interesting, this was more of a gallery of pornography from 19th century forward and sexual works of art going back millennia. One observation was the normality, size and variety of the women decreasing gradually over the decades. Once we’d emerged unscathed from the bondage exhibition, we popped next door for a bit of lunch.
We cannot thank Sandeman’s NewAmsterdam Tours for our informative, honest and free tour of Amsterdam. Cornelia, our guide who spoke fluent English, guided us on a three-hour tour of the main attractions of historical significance, along with one or two lesser-known places. Definitely check out Sandeman’s NewEurope Tours if you’re going to somewhere in Europe to see if there’s a tour that you can do with them. A donation is asked for at the end, which we gave, but it’s not pushed on you at all.
If you’re in Amsterdam and wanting some interesting cuisine, I must recommend you find the street called Zeedijk and wander along it. We went to Nam Kee, which had an award for being the best Chinese restaurant in The Netherlands, among many others, and smelt absolutely amazing. Having spent a month in a non-touristy city in China, I can tell you that your standard chicken chow-mein is not at all Chinese [and was, in fact, invented in Great Britain]. However, this restaurant seemed to me to be really quite authentic. Other than the many Chinese establishments on this street, there were Thai, Argentinian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Malaysian restaurants, and others specialising in steak, frozen yoghurt and chocolate. I could’ve spent a good month trying out the food on just this one street.
This morning, Friday morning, has been rather relaxed. We arose for our breakfast as on the previous days, packed up all our stuff, checked out (but left our bags) and took a stroll down to the West Park. Laying down next the canal and reading a book was a welcome luxury after the previous day’s cycling the busy streets and hours of walking.
As we glide through the German countryside at hundreds of miles per hour on the lovely ICE international train by Deutsche Bahn, I can definitely say that our stay in Amsterdam was an absolute success. Yes, we may have blisters, and yes, we may have spend €4 on a bottle of Fanta or ice tea at times, or had a panic that my wallet had been stolen by some random man asking if I was 18 (it was just in the hostel), but we stayed in a beautiful place, with lovely co-inhabitants from all over, had some top weather, visited beautiful sites, ate wonderfully and casually cycled along the canals in the evening sun. We decided to get the last afternoon train to Frankfurt as we didn’t want to leave, and personally, I am more than a little bit in love with Amsterdam.
We shall be uploading photos to our Flickr page soon!