Mention going to Amsterdam, and people expect you to dabble in some drugs or sexual gratifications.
Closest to any legalised vice I encountered during my short 36hr trip was walking down the red light district. Even that, I felt awkward giving longer looks at those young ladies parading their “goods” inside their cubicle illuminated by dodgy red neon lights. Felt sorry/kesian for them that most of the passersby were elderly tourists, not the choice customers with their wives in tow.
I didn’t even managed to step into Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops. Decided against it since I was on too short a trip to get stoned and waste any precious time. Plus to avoid the off chance that UK immigration may prevent me from re-entering the country due to traces of drugs in my system.
Surprisingly Amsterdam do offer lots more for keen travellers. The city is laid-back and open-minded, Netherlands being one of the few countries which has legalised soft drugs, prostitution, gay marriages and euthanasia. What more can you expect from a city which has “homo sapiens non urinat in ventum”, latin for “a wise man do not piss into the wind” inscribed into a prominent stone archway in the middle of town.
English is widely spoken, only difficulty was pronouncing the Dutch words for places and street names. PLUS the city is built for cyclists – most of the terrain is flat and plenty of dedicated bike lanes. Probably the most dangerous thing to happen while walking around is being knocked down by a cyclist since they are everywhere!
(Bike parking plaza near Amsterdam Centraal Station – must be thousands of bikes located in that space)
Spent my 1st day enjoying the vibrant colours of tulips and various flowers at Keukenhof. The garden is world famous for its tulips & spring bulbs and opens only for 2 months (20th Mar-18May). Was lucky to have chosen a great day to visit Keukenhof – rewarded with warmth & plenty of sunshine. The variety of flowers & designs of flower beds were overwhelming – can’t help but to take pics wherever I went. Took nearly 140 shots within span of 6hours, which is heaps for my standards.
Highlights at Keukenhof include:-
– World’s largest tulips
– Interesting art pieces placed all over the garden
– Free walking tour round the best parts of Keukenhof led by a cheerful local guide
(Close up of a beautiful tulip)
(Me inside Keukenhof)
(World largest tulips – Giant Orange Sunset)
(Picturesque view of gardens and pond)
(One of many art pieces dotting Keukenhof – kissing couple)
Spent the evening with Pelita who met me in Amsterdam as part of her European backpacking escapade. After being by myself in a foreign country for a whole day, was glad to have someone to chat and hang out with. Had dinner at De Peper, one of the famous squat restaurants in town.
Squat restaurants are community centers established in abandoned buildings. Not your typical roadside eating experience in Vietnam where one squats whilst slurping up a bowl of noodles. There is no menu to pick from, we paid EUR6 for a wonderful vegetarian 2 course meal set amidst a chilled out atmosphere and EUR1.50 for bottle of organic lager. What else can we ask for?
(Pelita & me inside De Peper – squat restaurant for dinner)
(Pelita showcasing our main course – fried aubergine, cabbage slow-cooked with nuts and couscous)
Was back to being alone again on Day2 since Pelita continued on her european journey. My early morning walk to Albert Cuyp Market didn’t result in much, since most of the stalls were just opening up for the day. However did manage to score a great cup of latte at Coffee Company, a local cafe chain. Perfect caffeine fix to start the day with.
Joined Mike’s Bike Tour for rest of afternoon. The 4hr bike tour was awesome – Sean our guide took us around the city and fed us with interesting stories on Amsterdam’s history, unique leaning buildings etc. It took a while to get used to riding a bike there. Firstly the bike design makes one sit more upright with wider handlebars. Felt like sitting behind the steering wheel of a huge lorry. Then there is the specific overtaking rules – riders should overtake from the left. Not too sure about the right of way – I just let most traffic pass me by before attempting to cross the road or make a turn.
(Group pic of my bike tour – statue of Rembrandt & windmill in background)
The tour progressed further down Amstel river where we visited statue of Rembrandt set against a windmill, a local farm which produces their own cheese and wooden clogs. The cheese was delicious, the owner was even more interesting for his mastery of many languages and bubbly nature. We even stopped outside Hilton Amsterdam, famous for John & Yoko’s 1969 bed-in. Finished the tour with a nice cold white beer with my bike mates at The Blue Teahouse, cafe/bar located inside Vondelpark (largest city park in Amsterdam).
(Entrance into the cheese & clog factory)
(Cheese storage – my favourite was the one with garlic & herbs)
(Bike group stopping in front of Hilton Amsterdam – check out those wide dedicated bike lanes)
Amsterdam is definitely a wonderful city to visit and showcases more than just the drugs & sex. My brief encounter has definitely left me yearning for my return trip in Sept to check out more of the arts museum and soak in some mind-blowing summer atmosphere.
NEXT stop – Porto & Lisbon, Portugal