The city I keep going back to

Meditating on the meaning of life on a wall in Vondel park.

Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.

John Green

 

I have been mulling over this post for some months now, ever since I wrote the Berlin one. Last August bank holiday we travelled to Netherlands, both Amsterdam & Rotterdam and while Rotterdam was so easy to write, the other one, not so much. Since then, I had a title in mind (different than this one) and an aspect I wanted to stick with but no other inspiration would come. This trip was my third time in Amsterdam and the love I feel for the city has not changed one bit. So this got me thinking, what keeps me going back?

An iconic representation of Amsterdam - the canal with a bridge and a barge at dusk.
I know this is a typical photo of Amsterdam canals, but it is one of my favourite ones from the trip.

When I say I love Amsterdam, everyone just goes “yeah, I wonder why” accompanied by weed smoking gesticulations. Is it so difficult to accept that someone likes that city because of other reasons? Are drugs and legal prostitution the only reason people go to the Venice of the North? Is this all there is to it?

Not in the slightest; from amazing art history and architecture to the famous bicycles and canals, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Every time I am amazed by the architecture, the wonky houses and massive wheels of cheese in store windows. Every time I see a different kind of view from the same spot on a bridge. Every time I get lost down a different small street that gets me to places I have not seen before. Also, apparently weed has no affect on me whatsoever XD

This time I went with the husband, a first timer who I promised to take to Amsterdam ages ago, and three of our friends. Only myself and one other person had been before so we went through most of the tourist must sees that I have seen on my previous trips. And yet, I still enjoyed them, from all the squares or pleins (more famous ones Leidsplein, Museumplein, Rembrandtplein) to a touristy boat ride down the canals 🙂 One can always find tiny details previously missed. 

This trip has seen me explore more of Amsterdam than before. Maybe it was because this was the first time I came to Netherlands without any agency or trip planner (much easier done now than 10 years ago from Croatia). All the planning done for this trip was my own and tbh, I left most of it to chance; this time I did not feel like planning the details as I realised that, when travelling with others, it is too stressful and, at the end of the day, it is not worth it.

We walked a lot more and further out of the main centre. After our boat ride on the first day we walked all the way to De Gooyer, the tallest windmill in the country, where we had excellent beer. The walk from the central train station took us by the canal through parts we nor many other tourist (literally not a tourist in sight on the way) ever saw before. We even stumbled upon a nice little bar with a beer garden by the river.

The beer garden was completely empty and we had it all to ourselves. From the windmill we took another fairly tourist free path by the canal all the way to Rijksmuseum and the bustle of the centre. It was a perfect day for boat rides and random long walks, the sun was shinning and the signs of previous rainy days were gone.

Boat life

As we have explored the east side of the city, we did the same to the west.

I really enjoyed getting lost through the streets of Jordaan, Frederik Hendrikbuurt and Da Costabuurt and finding cute boat houses along the canal. It even made me start thinking about switching to boat life back in UK, it would make rent so much more bearable!

Among the plethora of boar residences, we stumbled upon the Tulip museum, very close to Anne Frank’s house. It had an amazing shop that was perfect for our souvenir shopping. You can grab some tulip bulbs along with other tulip related crafted items, like pretty little wooden tulips that never wilt! The museum even managed to make the story about the tulip and how it became the flower associated with Netherlands very interesting and kind of fun. 

So, have I found out anything new on this third trip of mine?

Vondel park in 4 photos.

Vondel park seemed smaller than when I visited before, although it is still one of my absolute favourite  places in Amsterdam/ No matter how angry or stressed out I am, it always makes my mind stop racing and just relax and enjoy the green. This time I did see something I found endearing – there was a round “cage”, maybe grid would be a better way to describe it, where people can leave anything they might have found in the park, like a child’s lost toy or a hat. That way the person who lost it has a chance of finding it again! The idea is altruistic and shows the spirit that you feel when in Netherlands.

Teslas are everywhere!! This was the biggest change. Since last time I was in Amsterdam (summer of 2008 I believe) the electric car industry boomed and Netherlands and the Dutch kept track. There are electric charging points almost everywhere and I have never seen so many Tesla cars on the road before!

Dam Square – I kind of remember it looking a bit more grandiose than just a massive concrete square swarming with tourists.

Metro – until this time I was not aware that there was a metro operating in the city! It’s a really good way to quickly get to the outskirts from the centre or from the west bit to the east.

Random art around town – finding space invaders on house step made us all giggle but that’s bound to happen when five geeks travel together.

Red Light District – it might be just me but it seems to have shrunk since my last trip. There were less “display windows” and more tacky souvenir shops.*

DSC_1007
View of the red Light Disctrict from the bridge by The Oude Church

Our nights were spent going to different bars and coffee shops and just chilling after a day of exploring and sight seeing. Amsterdam has a nice selection of alternative bars with music that fitted to our taste (rock, punk, grunge, etc). But even in August, the evenings were quite chilly. I regretted not grabbing an extra hoodie so I nicked my husband’s one.

As far as food is concerned, we went to a couple of restaurants for dinner, but they were nothing that special. There’s so many places to go to eat, just go around and find something you like for a price you like. If you’re not feeling as adventurous, check Trip Advisor 😉

Another new thing we did this time was visiting Foodhallen on our last day before our flight back. It was a tad tricky to find but we managed. It nestled in a more residential area in the west, just north of Vondel park. It reminded me of the Markhtal market we visited in Rotterdam; there were so many different cuisines to choose from!! We had a really good burger and some dim sum.

One thing that is still certain is that, even after the third visit, Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I will try to visit again in a couple of years time. I am even toying with the idea of moving to Netherlands, even more so now with Brexit hanging over our necks like an executioner’s axe.

I found the relative quietness of the “lesser” known parts of Amsterdam soothing, it made it feel more like home than travelling somewhere as a tourist. The husband kept getting confused with the similarity of the streets and the number of bridges. It is amazing how the views can be so similar, yet so different and worth trying to capture it. As a last note from me, if you are going, don’t forget to get Stroopwaffles and Speculas biscuits. They are absolutely the best ❤

Night view of the canal
Night view of the canal

*After doing some Google research it seems that I was correct. The Red Light District is shrinking in an attempt to give more space for business’ and crack down on the overtourism.

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