When I ask my friends what they think of when they hear ‘Amsterdam,’ more often than not it’s the red-light district and the coffeeshops (the kind that don’t serve coffee) which come up. While both places were worth at least a visit for first-timers, I also wanted to see something more of the city.
I’ve been having trouble finishing this post, in the midst of less than stellar CFA results and getting mugged (!) yesterday. So in true lazy fashion, I’ll just present you a list of things that stuck in my mind/places we went to on this trip:
(1) Eat fresh herring (Maatjes Haring) – I was intrigued by the poster below of happy people holding up raw fish at the street snack stall. Not really something you see everyday.
Our trusty Top Ten guide said that traditionally, the herring is taken by the tail and tossed whole down one’s throat. Noobs (read: the Fiancé and I) were allowed to take them on a plate or in a roll. The herring is usually served with chopped onions and gherkins.
(2) Amsterdam is a cyclist’s paradise – There were bicycles everywhere–parked on streets, chained to the bridges. Bicycles made for riding solo, made for riding with friends with a pint of beer.
To normal folk cycling would be the perfect way of going about the city. Alas, I never learned how to ride a bike–a little embarrassing really. Every time I see little kids on two-wheelers I feel a wee bit jealous. I guess it’s never too late to learn. But just the thought of me on a rented Barclays bike, decked out in full protective gear while struggling to maintain my balance as little kiddies whizz by, well it’s enough to make me wince.
(3) I like how close Oude Kerk (Old Church) is to the Red Light District – I also like how this statue is right next to the church.
Quite fitting I think; the city’s oldest church side by side with the world’s oldest profession.
(4) It’s amazing how much you can fit in an attic in Amsterdam – We went to two remarkable attics in the city.
Anne Frank Huis is a place I’ve always wanted to visit ever since reading Anne Frank’s diary as a child. The sight of the actual swinging bookcase and the small cramped spaces moved me. The wooden floor was so creaky, I couldn’t imagine having to “stay quiet as a mouse” for years knowing at the other side of the door lay death. Oddly enough, it was the sight of her film star posters on the wall which made me tear up a little. Maybe because it was so strangely normal.
I also appreciated that there was a special exhibit dedicated to Anne’s sister Margot, who kept a diary of her own.
A lot of pointless deaths, really.
We also visited Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic), a hidden church where local Catholics worshiped from 1663 to 1887, when they were prohibited from doing so in public.
It was under renovation when we went, so the painting that’s usually displayed between the pillars isn’t there. The beauty of the place to me though really lies on what it stands for: how human creativity finds ways to make things work.
(5) Indonesia on their mind – It just warms my heart that, in this part of the world, the best place to find Indonesian food is in the Netherlands. Does Spain have a killer Filipino restaurant, I wonder? The Kantjil rijsttafel, which is like a sampler menu of sorts, is highly recommended.
(6) I didn’t like the canal cruises; I liked the canals – Much has been said about the beauty of Amsterdam’s canals and waterways, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. However unlike Paris’ Batobus which was well worth it, a cruise on Amsterdam’s canals leaves you looking up at the streets. The boat was really low on the water.
In my opinion cycling (if one knows how) is still the best way to tour the city.
(7) I didn’t know that tulips had such beautiful and elegant names… – Names like Beauty of Summer, Queen of the Night, Expo 1958, and Parfait Amour.
(8) Appreciating Dutch art – We went to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. I’m not an art expert, but I loved the contrast between Van Gogh’s swirling bold colors and the fine realism of some of the Rijksmuseum’s prize pieces.
Queues were pretty long for the Van Gogh Museum, so best to buy tickets beforehand on the website.
(9) Try everything at least once – My logic. We wanted a story to tell the kids someday. The shop sign on one of the coffeeshops declared, “We don’t sell XTC, LSD, Coke, Heroin, GHB, GBL, Ketamin, Amfetamin, Speed, Prozac, Valium, Xanax. It’s not Disneyland, only Amsterdam!” Ah, got to love this city.
On a final note, below is the shop window of Condomerie, a novelty shop with condoms of all shapes and sizes. Spot the one that looks like Homer.