An October 2002 trip
to Amsterdam by MichaelJM
Quote: We wanted a city break that was not too far away. There's a short list of only one: Amsterdam. Guess that's where we're going! And what a great few days, with a few mishaps...
But moving on! Amsterdam has some great architecture to gaze at, either from terra firma or the canals that radiate the city. Watch as you cross the bridges, because many of these are superb structures in their own right. Strolling around Amsterdam on some of the leafy streets overlooking the canal is a pleasant, relaxing, and interesting experience.
Don’t forget the shopping opportunities—there’s a great number of quality specialist shops and very few large department stores, so shopping does feel personal and interesting. I found a great shop specialising in whiskey and associated glassware. Paradise—six whiskey glasses and a couple of 15-year-old malts, and I leave the shop with a broad grin. Doesn’t take much to make me happy nowadays!
If you’re interested in flea markets or market shopping, there are a number to choose from, including a Friday book market, a Sunday art market at Spui, a super-flea market near Stadhuis (everyday except Sunday), and a variety of stalls on a site near Nooderkerk.
The other pastimes to enjoy are the coffee houses. Some will result in a feeling of elation—just breathe in the smoky atmosphere for a free high! Coffee isn’t cheap here, but it really is a cultural experience that you need relish—it will give you a chance to rest those weary legs.
Unlike many cities, Amsterdam doesn’t seem to have many "give-away" deals, but in reality, none of the museums are overly expensive, and the ones we went to offered good value for money.
The city did offer guided walking or cycling tours, but we preferred to wander the streets with guidebook in hand. I’d certainly recommend that you take a decent map, because after a time, one canal street can look very much like another. Indeed, we were singing the praises of a building’s architecture before we realised we’d already viewed it from the opposite direction. Mind you, that doubled the pleasure!
If you want to join the marauding masses on their bikes, then bike hires are easily sorted, but they do warn you that you’ll need to be very careful about bike theft.
Trams are prolific, and a day pass will give you unlimited transport on trams, trains, and buses within your chosen zoned area. The longer the period of your pass, the cheaper it becomes!
If taxis are your preferred transport, these too are readily available, and in all honesty, they’re not overly expensive.
The entrance to this 60-bedded hotel was a little difficult with heavy suitcases, as we had to deal with a few steps, and once we’d struggled to reception, there were more steps to negotiate. Not surprising, I guess, as the hotel has been formed out of a number of 17th-century houses, and conversions of this type will always result in somewhat quirky accommodations.
We were dealt with efficiently at the hotel reception, and despite the fact that it was a busy time, the two receptionists were able to give everyone personal attendance without leaving anyone unattended. A great trick if you’re a hotel receptionist! The lobby is "compact," but there is a small seating area if you need to wait for service. A pamphlet rack provides a host of tourist information, and the receptionist will provide you with a complimentary map if you ask.
A miniscule lift took us slowly to the required floor, and if you are even remotely claustrophobic, this "cage" will reveal it. Our friend could never face the lift, and she could usually climb the stairs quicker than the lift could operate!
The bedrooms were huge but seemed sparsely furnished. Our friends had a small table and chairs in their room, so we tended to join them for a chat and to plan the next day. It was also fairly convenient to reminisce over the day’s activity and share a drink or two before retiring to bed. Our room, on the other hand, looked bleak, as if the removal men had been in the day before! It had the basics: a comfortable bed, a couple of chairs, a TV, and most critically, as far as my wife is concerned, a hair dryer. The view from the window overlooked the busy road, and I have to say that the noise factor in the early hours of the morning was quite significant—trams are noisy, despite what people may say.
The breakfast room is right down in the basement, and again, there are stairs to negotiate. I’m not saying that you need to be a mountain goat to get around this hotel, but you would truly struggle if you couldn’t manage stairs. Indeed, some of the staircases are quite steep and could be hazardous. The hotel only "does" breakfast, but this is a fairly lavish affair. I think seating would be a little tight if all the guests descended at the same time, but there was plenty to choose from in terms of eggs, meats, cheeses, breads, jams, and cereals. There was also no shortage of drinks and a very good selection of "do-it-yourself" teas.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 9, 2005
NZ VOORBURGWAL 272 280
At the other end of the square is the Amsterdam’s war memorial. This prominent monolith is bleak in the extreme, and countless pigeons sit alongside the carvings of tortured souls. It is not a particularly beautiful sight, but it will always be a reminder of the futility of war. That, after all, is part of its intention! But now its secondary purpose seems to be the alfresco diner, as weary tourists sit at its base to eat their fast-food take-away meals.
Overshadowing the memorial is the huge De Bijenkork, Amsterdam’s most upmarket department store. It is interesting to note that when the Germans first occupied Amsterdam, this store proved to be a bit of an embarrassment—it was popular, but because it was a Jewish store and many of the employees were Jews, the Nazis would have preferred to ban the troops from entering the shop. Instead, there was an unusual compromise: "Don’t shop on the ground floor."
There are two things to note about the square. Firstly, it was literally rammed full of cycles, parked randomly on the cobbled square with a total disregard for other users. Many were not even locked, but you just had the sense that there is honour amongst cyclists!
Secondly, the square was full of street entertainers. No special reason—I guess it always is! They really are high-quality buskers, and I presume they are issued with rights to be there. There was a small troop of musicians and an abundance of "human statues" (including Zeus, a roman warrior, and a futuristic spaceman) demonstrating their prowess at remaining still for long enough to capture the admiration and applause of passing tourists. Strutting at their feet are masses of pigeons, and marauding around the square’s centre are tour guides with their umbrellas thrust proudly to the sky. A cacophony of voices assaults your eardrums, but the square is full of character and atmosphere.
In the square, you’ll find Madame Tussaud’s (so popular, the queue seemed to stretch forever) and numerous small, attractive, quality shops in the alleyways near the Nieuwe Kerk. This area is also littered with restaurants, although many seemed highly priced. I’d suggest you eat elsewhere!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 9, 2005
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1012 JS
Attraction | "Flower Market"
Bloemenmarkt is one of the main suppliers of flowers to Amsterdam, and though packed with tourists, it is also frequented by locals (although I suspect that they do not rub shoulders at peak times). The place is an absolute mass of colours, and I was amazed at how much they managed to cram into small spaces. We had to be very careful as we picked our way through some of the stalls, in case our rucksacks demolished them.
There was a staggering selection of bulbs, boasting colours beyond my imagination, for sale in a variety of forms. You could get large containers packed with single-type bulbs, mixed colours, mixed heights–-this was perhaps the cheapest way to acquire your "fresh Dutch bulbs". Alternatively, they came gift-wrapped or set in planters of varying quality and naff-ness. You could buy bulbs in "delft-designed" plastic windmills or plastic clogs (complete with the obligatory delft colours), or go upmarket to buy reasonable-quality ceramic pots. All bulbs came with a valid "health certificate" for export purposes. I have to say that the bulbs weren’t as cheap as I was anticipating, but I had never seen the range or variety anywhere else. There are masses of seed packets, some for plants I’ve never heard of, but generally, I recognised the picture on the front, and they were all legal purchases--no cannabis plants here (or not that I noticed!).
The scent of fresh flowers pervaded the atmosphere, and the brightly coloured blooms just begged to be bought and taken home (just too bad that they wouldn’t last the journey to England!). If you wanted something more durable, you could buy amazingly realistic silk flowers, carved wooden blooms, dried blossoms, or quality plastic replicas.
But just in case you’re not a gardener, the stallholders introduce other purchasing options. You’ll find candles, a range of quality Delftware, and fridge magnets by the hundred (never quite understood them myself), in a variety of designs (naughty-but-nice seemed to be the general theme). There’s an army of garden gnomes and, of course, a range of decorated clogs in a variety of sizes.
And if that wasn’t enough, just opposite the flower market was a Christmas shop--my worst nightmare and my wife’s most pleasant dream. I was instantly deserted as she headed for her shopping paradise, head down, checking out the ceramic Santas and studying the gyrating snowmen.
I just know that the retailers are going to get me for either spring flowers or festive baubles!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 11, 2005
Bloemenmarkt/Amsterdam Flower Market
Singel Between Muntplein and Koningsplein
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1017 AZ
It is an extremely strange experience to walk the world-renowned district that is popularly known as the Red Light District. If you’re shy and retiring or in the least bit prudish, then don’t even think about walking this route, and do be aware that it’s not only sex that’s on sale here—drugs are also "business" in this region. I’m not talking about the "soft drugs" that can be accessed in the local "coffee shops"—this is the area where hardened addicts loiter. It can be an intimidating region. I would not want to give an impression that we were molested in any way, but the whole ambiance of the district is one of seediness. It exudes sinisterness, and we felt that we had no business being there—and in reality, we didn’t. We were there in a sheer act of voyeurism—to people-watch and wonder what brought people, other than the hoards of intrigued tourists, to this part of Amsterdam.
The shop fronts really were not conducive to stimulating eroticism, and we half-expected to see some of the women doing their ironing, preparing their meals, or watching TV. The individual "cells" were unfriendly business units, and occasionally we saw "punters" signing deals from the street through the shop-front windows. The traders ranged in attractiveness, from "not at all" to "not very," and we were all left with an uncomfortable feeling for both the prostitutes and their customers. Trading in broad daylight should have created an air of respectability, but it really didn’t, and we were certainly not sufficiently interested to return at night.
As we moved out of the centre of the Red Light District, the "business units" became more spacious, and there was the merest suggestion that perhaps it was a little less sordid. We saw "ladies" attempting to attract passers-by by cavorting in the large floor-to-ceiling windowed lounges of the canal-side apartments—in our terms, they attracted ridicule, but I guess that their enhanced price tags should have earned our admiration.
What did I expect? Well, I wasn’t expecting cozy streets with five-star accommodations, but I was expecting a well-ordered, clinical type of environment with regulated brothel lodgings. What I saw were a few sleazy back streets with sub-standard shop-front accommodations, set in a sinister and semi-threatening environment. I won’t return—even for a peek!
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
Red Light District
Oz Vootburgwal and Oz Achterburgwal