Amsterdam is a bizarre place; where scantily clad women sit on stools in shop windows, the smell of pot infiltrates the whole city and a church sits slap bang in the middle of the redlight district (talk about ironic). But here’s the thing: it’s not just about the cafes and sex. And you know what I mean by cafes.
Two weeks back in Uni and it was already time for a quick escape. Luckily, my friend’s family had gone away for the weekend and gave us the keys to their rather swanky apartment in Amsterdam. Jackpot! Speaking of pot…you can buy cannabis lollipops and cookies in a newsagent! No biggy. But for us it wasn’t going to be a hazy weekend spent sitting stoned in the apartment. We were in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and at least had to sample some of what it had to offer.
So we started with Bubble Tea. I’m less and less sure that this is an exclusive Dutch phenomenon, but the guy behind the moustache desk made a good case. It’s less like a tea and more like an ice-blended fruity milkshake with tiny edible balls that burst tropical fruit juice into your mouth. Pretty darn delicious.
Next we hit the sex museum (cultural in its own way), which was…pretty enlightening. There was a giant chair shaped like a willy and some pretty intense pornographic photographs from as early as the 17th century. Who said the Victorians were prudish?
The next day it was pouring with rain so we decided we would see what museums the city had to offer. Turns out pretty much every other tourist in Amsterdam had the same idea. Queuing in the pouring rain wasn’t exactly enticing, so we skipped some of the big names (the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum) and headed to the suspiciously empty, contemporary art and design museum, Stedelijk. Despite the wariness of tourists, the museum is definitely worth a visit and not only because it’s free with the I Am Amsterdam card (well worth purchasing if you’re doing the cultural rounds, see more details at end of post). I’m not usually a fan of modern art (a line of paint on a white canvas is pretty unimaginative if you ask me), but there were some really great installations including a room full of behaviour sensitive lights and ‘The Beanery’ by Edward Kienholz ( a life-size replication of the artist’s local bar, the Original Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, L.A.). It was also amazing to see works by the likes of Picasso and Monet.
Again, the queue outside Anne Frank’s house was far too long (in retrospect, it would have been better to book in advance especially on weekends when the queue stretches right along the canal) so we headed over to Het Grachtenhuis, a museum of the history of Amsterdam’s canals. Yes, I know it sounded unappealing to us as well, but we’d heard good things…. In fact, I can safely say it was one of the best museum’s I’ve ever been too. I often find museum’s incredibly draining and the information too dense, but Het Grachtenhuis’s multimedia tour of the history of canals was inspiring and hugely entertaining. Equipped with individual handsets we were led round the upstairs of the house; each room containing something different (videos, dolls house like models of canal houses, music etc.).
It is also well worth taking a canal tour if only for the sensation and sights (the audio guide blasting through the speakers was hard to hear over the chatter of the tourists), though it’s advisable not to go after a heavy night. The swaying motion of the barge and a pounding hangover do not mix well.
The photography museum, FOAM is unmissable for all photography enthusiasts. The current exhibition ‘Framed in Print’, 40 years of Dutch Magazine photography, was really amazing and the gallery space itself, though small, is maximised to show a number of different works without being overpowering or cluttered. Right at the top of the building (if you climb the right stairs) you find a small print sales room, where you can buy various photographs and also browse a number of photography books. We spent a good half an hour sifting through back issues of FOAM’s magazine and my friend ended up buying three to take home.
Aside from the art and the history, there’s the shopping. Dutch fashion isn’t the most cutting edge and the better of the clothes shops tend to be for those who were more flash with their cash, but the antique shops are a real treat. (Though it’s a little painful knowing that you’re going to have to leave it all behind). There are also a few really great privately owned galleries hidden amongst the shops that are worth popping in to. We went into a tiny gallery to find works by Dali, Picasso, Miro. The city is also home to some really unique cafes (let’s say tea rooms to avoid confusion), our favourite of which was Cafe Brecht, which is reminiscent of a granny’s sitting room and serves a constantly changing menu of fresh teas.
Cafe de Prins was our favourite restaurant (just across from Anne Frank’s House). It’s a very small space and a firm favourite with the locals. The food is exceptional with a small menu, but options to suit most and the prices low including the wine (low enough even for two students on a tight budget). We went fairly early in the evening, but I’d imagine it gets pretty packed after 8 o’clock though you can reserve tables if you’re the organised type.
See, Amsterdam isn’t just the land of Mary Jane…
Getting about: It’s super easy to navigate because of the canal system and the best way to get around if you want to really see the city is to walk or cycle ( the bikes have high handle bars so that you actually look quite elegant gliding along). The tram system is great though if it’s raining or you’re going further afield. Plus public transport is free with the I Am Amsterdam card.
I Am Amsterdam card: If you’re looking to save some pennies and pack in loads in a short amount of time, I would definitely recommend getting your mits on one of these. You can buy a 24, 48 or 72-hour card for 42/52/62 euros and though it seems pretty pricey at the time it saves you a load in the long run as the museum entry fees are high, it also includes a free canal tour, a free coffee/tea at a number of cafes and other nifty discounts. Find out more here: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/experience/deals/i-amsterdam-city-card
All photographs were taken by me/ my friend.