At the beginning of May, my friend Caitlyn and I went to Amsterdam. We had talked about going away together for such a long time, and as there are about three bank holidays in May it seemed like good a time as any to get out of Paris and explore a new city. We took the train from Gare du Nord on Friday afternoon, that stopped at Brussels, Antwerp and Rotterdam (quite a handy train for future getaways) before reaching its final destination, Amsterdam. We got the metro to our Air Bn’B to meet up with our host, who was about our age, and a bit worse for wear. It was Kings Day the day before (27th April) which is a tradition where the city comes together to celebrate the King (or Queen). He was very kind none the less and left us to dump our stuff, change and head straight out to explore.
The Van Gogh museum is open until 10pm on Fridays, and due to the hour of our arrival, that was our first stop, and it got our trip off to a wonderful start. It was 17.50€ to get in (weirdly, we found that most things in Amsterdam cost us 17.50€ ), and though that may seem a bit steep, it was worth every cent. The story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life is told through his paintings, and letters to his brother and his peers. What I hadn’t appreciated, was that while he was living in Paris in his early twenties, he lived on Boulevard de Clichy at the bottom of Montmartre, and while he was living with his brother Theo, he painted a landscape of it, which was a lovely surprise to see amongst his more well-known works. The museum takes such care over the telling of his story, and helps you understand the reasons why his talent developed in the ways that it did, and why the later years of his life took such a dark turn. By the end, we both left feeling reflective, but mostly grateful that his family saw the importance of his talent and relentlessly promoted his work.
As we left the main body of the museum, we saw that there was an exhibition on at the same time called ‘Prints in Paris’ that was made up of posters from the 1900’s, our ticket was valid so of course we went in, and were thrilled to see such iconic prints as ‘Le Chat Noir’ and ‘Le Moulin Rouge’, along with many others. It was laid out as if it were a quintessential Parisian apartment with mahogany floors and pale green striped wallpaper.
We left the Museum and decided to go take a look at the iconic ‘I AMSTERDAM’ sign, take a series of pictures, before setting off for a walk along the canals (the first of many). We started to wind our way further into the city where we stumbled across a series of coffee shops. After walking around the Rembrandt district, we chose one which looked like a Hawaiian luau (naturally), and before too long, we needed food. We found a local pizzeria and got two slices of possibly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, and then we decided to head home to watch Clueless, stopping first at the convenience store at the bottom of our building.
The next morning we watched RuPaul’s drag race while getting ready and left to get brunch. We got off at Waterlooplein by the Opera House, it’s really to navigate the metro in Amsterdam, and getting to our apartment outside of the city at Spaklerweg (we pronounced it ‘Sparklewag’) was incredibly easy. A good tip to bear in mind when you’re first taken aback by the prices of hotels and Air BnB’s in the centre, is that even if you’re further outside than you’d like, it really won’t take you more than 15/20 minutes to get to the centre.
After walking around looking in a couple of vintage shops, we found a couple of cosy seats on the terrace at Puccini Espressobar, where we ordered tea, coffee, and homemade sandwiches on rye bread, I chose grilled vegetables with pesto, and Cait went for the smoked salmon and cream cheese. While we were talking, a man who was sat next to us, asked where we were from, why we were in the city etc. After making small talk we then got into a lovely, and really helpful conversation with him and his wife about politics, the problems our generation are facing, and the best things to do in the city. They recommended that we take advantage of the ferries, go to the Climate March which was happening that day at four, and also see the Palace of the King which was decked out especially in honour of his birthday. So after thanking them about a thousand times for their recommendations, we set off towards the Palace, which took us through the more commercial streets of the city. The palace was covered in purple drapes, and was indeed, very impressive.
From there we headed towards the ferry port where they come and go every two minutes, we crossed the water and headed to the Amsterdam Lookout Tower for some first class views of the city. I have to say it was a bit overpriced (12.50€), which got us a ticket to the top, a photo and a ride on a very brightly lit elevator. The views were fantastic and we were so lucky with the weather, but the most exciting thing of all, was that we found a bean bag. That bag was the best thing either of us had ever seen and we didn’t leave it for about 45 minutes, Caitlyn even had a nap on it. Afterwards, we went down to the bar and had half a pint of cold beer and watched the boats come and go on the river below us.
We realised we had about an hour before the Climate March started, so we got the ferry back to the main part of the city and headed towards the Rijksmuseum, where the protest was going to be starting off. There was a huge turn out, and while we didn’t understand much of what the speakers were saying, we understood ‘f***’ and ‘Trump’ so we got the gist of it. This was a sister march to the one taking place in Washington D.C., where Caitlyn’s little sister was also marching and after reading what we could understand from various protesters and promoters, we headed towards the Rijksmuseum, but it unfortunately closing much earlier than we thought, and it was also another 17.50€ each which we couldn’t really justify for the amount of time we would spend in there, I however, got a kick start on my Christmas shopping in the museum’s gift shop.
We planned to out to dinner that night at a cocktail bar I found while doing some research the week before, so we headed home to freshen up before going back out. The bar itself, Tales and Spirits is on the left side of the main city, hidden down a narrow road next to the canal, and I’m so glad we went there. As it wasn’t possible to reserve, we arrived at around half 7 to be in the running for a table, and as luck would have it, we bagged the last one. The place itself had beams in the ceiling, huge terracotta tile floors chandeliers and a whole lot of liquid nitrogen. The service was incredible, the servers had an encyclopedic knowledge of every cocktail and so we asked them to surprise us. We ordered three each, I couldn’t tell you what exactly was in them, but I had one gin based cocktail which was delightfully citrusy, another gin cocktail that was named ‘What If…’ and had an elderflower tanginess flavour to it, and finally to round off I ordered an old fashioned that was the best I’ve ever had. Along with our cocktails we ordered traditional Dutch appetisers called bitterballen, which are deep fried balls filled with a vegetable purée of some sorts and it’s delicious.
After we felt that we’d made the most at Tales and Spirits, we decided to head back through the Red Light District. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, the streets were heaving with tourists (which of course, we weren’t), and the window frames saw into the brothels where the women were either making eye contact with the customers, dancing to music, talking to each other, or on their phones. The bit that bothered me however, was the way in which the men were looking at them, like they were literally picking out their piece of meat from the butcher. At one point I heard one guy say to another, ‘Nah, not that one, her loss, there might be better ones further along.’ This made me laugh but also angry, because 1) I was reminded about how crappy people can be, and 2) who the hell do they think they are? They should be so lucky! Did he honestly think that that particular woman would fall over herself to have the honour of fulfilling this needs? The nerve of his ego truly and attitude was embarrassing, and he was just one out of hundreds who I’m sure were thinking the same thing. This also sparked a conversation between Caitlyn and I about the pros and cons of legal prostitution. The bottom line we came to was that it’s a lot safer for the women to legally be working in this line of business.
On Sunday we decided to leave a little earlier than the day before and get breakfast at a café that Caitlyn had seen the day before called Stach, where we got pancakes, waffles, a smoothie which was truly terrible, and lots of coffee. This hearty breakfast set up quite nicely for a day of… cycling! We walked to Mac Bike and rented two for a reasonable price and went on the hunt for windmills.Cycling in Amsterdam is very easy, everything is well signposted and we agreed at the end f the day that it was easier to cycle than walk around the centre. The one ‘oh shit’ moment we had was cycling alongside Central Station, that was stressful, apart from that, oh, and getting lost on our way to see the second windmill, it was such a great way to see the city. Our first stop was the De Gooyer Windmill which was right next to a brewery (yay) called Brouwerij ‘t IJ, it was a lovely cycle down along the riverside and we had a half pint of their ale each, both of which were very citrusy. During our cycle to the windmill we tried to find the Zero Waste Lab but we failed miserably, if anyone knows more about it’s location, please let me know!
The more we were on our bikes, the more we realised just how easy it is to get around the city, so after we finished our drinks at the brewery we decided to head towards the Anne Frank House, just to see it from the outside and also to judge use the queues as the decision maker as to whether or not we should go inside. That probably sounds like a heartless thing to say but honestly, going to her house was not a huge part of our goals when we were planning our trip to Amsterdam, but we were happy enough to at least see it from the outside. Also, needless to say that the queue was quickly growing with still another hour and a half to go before the next slot opened.
After failing miserably to find De Otter windmill, we chose instead to just cycle around the perimeter of the main city before giving back our bikes. We were starting to get a better feel for how long it would take us to walk from place to place, so we then set off to the Nemo Science Museum, not to go in as we were on the wrong side of the Sunday afternoon, but to go to its rooftop terrace and enjoy the view from yet another bean bag (and let the wind dry our sweaty backs). From the top of this gorgeous building we people watched, boat watched, talked and chilled until our legs had relaxed enough for us to set off again in search of cheese. The Amsterdam Cheese Company has stores all over the city and we both bought very, very aged Gouda, their speciality, Gouda with truffles, and of course a tote bag which I now use every time I do the grocery shopping.
After walking around the canals we started to get really hungry so we stopped off at a lovely looking pub just off Nieumarkt where we got a glass of wine and some dinner. We sat and watched the world go by before the food coma set in and we decided to head home, where I lost my metro card for the third time that trip and had to buy a fourth. In the morning we packed and headed to the station where we stopped and had breakfast in an Exki by which point it was time to catch our train home.
Our trip to Amsterdam was exactly what we needed and I cannot wait until my next visit!