It was really strange to be back in Amsterdam. When I told people I was going back on this trip, I actually got goosebumps. Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s complex, it’s full of great art, it’s got a really interesting history. The Dutch are really awesome. It’s got a one of a kind beauty to it. Most of all, it’s an extremely fun place. Perhaps, too fun. That’s probably why I said (after my last visit in 2004) I’d never go back. I’m glad I didn’t hold myself to that.
I was excited to spend some more time in Amsterdam for the first time in 10 years. Adding to my excitement was the fact that I was being joined in the city by my friend Toni, the talented blogger behind Reclaiming My Future, someone who I considered a good friend even though we had yet to meet in person, but had spent many hours discussing travel and life on Skype. It was her first trip to Amsterdam, and I was looking forward to showing her around this fantastic city.
We trained into the city from Schipol airport, and quickly boarded the tram to out hostel out by the museums. It felt so surreal being back in Amsterdam, even though outwardly, the city had seem to change very little. I’m sure by the end of that first tram ride, Toni was already sick of hearing me say “I can not believe I’m back in Amsterdam…”
After dropping out bags in our rooms, it was time to head out and do what I always did best in Amsterdam- take a long walk with only the slightest of actual plans. Our path took us strolling down Museumplein, the long stretch if grass out behind the city’s 3 main art museums- the Stedelijk Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum. The day was only slightly overcast, and in Amsterdam, any time it isn’t raining, you consider yourself lucky.
After 9 years, I still didn’t need a map. We strolled like locals, deftly avoiding trams and bicycles, enjoying the ambiance of the buzzing city. There was a lot of foot traffic on this pleasant Saturday afternoon- more locals than tourists as the crush of the main tourist season still being a few months away.
After a walk up on one of the busiest streets, Leidestraat, we found ourselves at the entrance of the Flower Market. The area is more touristy than it is local, but I still enjoy a stroll through the area each time I’m in town.
Toni and I were able to stop off in a cheese shop and do some taste-testing of this most Dutch of commodities.
Our next stop was at a small food stall famous for it’s Frites (french fries) and many sauces known as Vleminckx Sausmeesters located near the Munttoren (Mint Tower). There are many places to get this popular snack in Amsterdam, but, from all I read, this was the place to stop. They had quite a number of sauces available- I elected to go with plain mayonnaise. Before I tried it on my previous visit, I couldn’t imagine this being a good combination, but after trying it, I couldn’t get enough of it. (I still don’t eat fries with mayo in the states often- there’s something special about the mayonnaise in Europe.)
Fortified by out little snack, we strolled through the square known as Spui into the Middle Ages-era courtyard known as the Begijnhof. This remains one of my favorite spots in the city. Amid all the chaos that modern Amsterdam contains, the Begijnhof is a space of serenity. These type of courtyards, which were originally constructed to allow the devout women of the church to care for the women and the elderly, are common throughout the low countries. (A full photo essay on the Begijnhof is coming soon.)
Continuing on, we came to Amsterdam’s central point, the main square known as The Dam. Built on the sight of the River Amstel’s original dam, many of the city’s signature building are located here, including the Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam (Royal Palace) and The Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The square has an energy all it’s own. Tourists and locals strolling about, street performers entertaining them, food vendors, screeching trams, and bicyclists all share the space in a frenzy of activity.
We walked down the street that connects the Dam with Central Station, Damrack. We passed by the city’s former stock exchange, Beurs van Berlage, on onward to the boat docks, where we boarded a boat for a canal tour.
There is something uniquely Amsterdam about seeing the city from the water. It’s a perspective that emphasizes the influence water has had on, not only the city, but the country as a whole. (A more detailed post on our boat tour is coming soon.)
After a short rest at the hostel, I headed back out to check out a local bar that had come to me highly recommended by my beer friends, Cafe Gollum. I enjoyed a couple of great beers, both Dutch and Belgian, while having an enlightening conversation with the affable bartender. (Read the full post on Cafe Gollum here.)
Toni and I met up after I left Cafe Gollum for a short walk around Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district. It was much as I’d remembered it from past trips. Even though I had walked through the area on previous visits, it still was a shock to my American eyes to see the prostitutes lounging in windows, sex clubs with gaudy neon advertising, and marijuana ‘coffee shops’ intermingling amongst the crowds of tourists and locals.
I returned to Cafe Gollum after dinner for a nightcap. It had been a great day in one of my favorite cities. It felt like seeing an old friend that you hadn’t seen in many years, one you could pick right back up with like no time at all had elapsed.