At the age of 28, I finally went to see Amsterdam, the city with more bikes then inhabitants, the city of tulips, legal prostitution in Red Light District, legal marijuana in numerous coffee shops and delicious cheeses.
Since I was going with my mom to Costa Rica, this should've been a little father – daughter weekend trip. We booked a hotel Camp Inn (Willem de Zwijgerlaan 350) in the neighbourhood Bos en Lommer, east of the city center and as close as we could find for an affordable price (little over 50€ per person per night, breakfast included). The prices of accomodation in Amsterdam, unfortunately, are extremely high and we had to book our hotel two months in advance. The hotel was pretty strange, run by Arabic family and everything was placed on the ground floor – rooms on both sides and a canteen in the middle. Although the rooms were small and with a view of the corridor, the neighbourhood area was nice (charming cafés, shops, bakery Bread Pitt and darts bar, where we grabbed a beer on our second night during the darts tournament :P) and the breakfast was the best I've ever eaten on the road – it was a bufé with various types of cheese, eggs, ham, pastry, even different types of milk, yoghurt, cereals and SMOKED SALMON! Yummy!
I arrived on Friday morning from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Central Station, where I should meet my dad. Although everything was well written in English, I somehow had problems finding a train station at the airport to lead me to the Central Station. When I finally found it, I bought a 3-day transportation ticket Amsterdam Travel for 28€, which includes every transportation option in the city (metro, bus, train) and a ride to and from the airport (without it the cost of the ticket is only 19€). It's more affordable and practical to buy integrated ticket, although you have to remember to always, in every ride, check-in and check-out with your card. Pretty annoying, if you ask me.
The first impression of the city was great! I found myself in the square in front of a huge Central Station from 1880 in Neo-Renaissance style by P. J. H.Cuypers (the architect of the most popular Amsterdam museum, Rijksmuseum, as well) and A. L.van Gendt. Ahead of me, the view of the famous Amsterdam canals, a few cupolas of churches and a line of Dutch red brick buildings, historical building that were hiding a modern interior, was spreading out (for example, the Central Station where around 1400 modern trains passes daily).
The first thing that I always do when I arrive somewhere new is to get a cup of coffee. We went to Café Restaurant Loetje in front of a catholic Neo-Renaissance style St. Nicholas Church (protector of sailors and patron of the town) and were surprised how the coffee, pastry and the restaurant food was not so expensive, considering that it's on the Central Station square and it's also an information center.
After our morning buzz, we continued our walk through the small streets along the canals heading to the Old Church (Oude Kerk) and the Red Light District. We passed numerous narrow brick houses and my dad explained it to me that the hooks on top of the buildings are used to tag along the furniture to the top floor. Since the houses are so narrow, a new couch or fridge won't fit on the small staircase...
The Old Church (Oude Kerk) is the oldest church in the city. It was built in a place of a modern chapel from the 13th century that burned in a fire. Her today's look is of a Gothic basilica dedicated to St. Nicholas, a saint protector of the city. The church interior is interesting because of the stained glass windows, magnificent organs and decorated pillars and chapels. In 1566 the town became mainly Protestant and it was a time of iconoclasm when the decorations, paintings and statues of a few of the city churches were removed. The Old Church was one of them. If you're interested in the church interior, the entrance fee is 3.50€.
Next to the Old Church, you can see red windows where in the evenings prostitutes offer their services. Everything that you've heard about the Red Light District is true, and even more. The Red Light District is full of red windows with prostitutes standing annoyed and bored, smoking a cigarette (or even weed) and waiting for their customers, it's full of sex shops with a variety of sex toys and theatres offering a sex show, a great place for a bachelor party. The prostitution in closed area, women offering themselves in the windows, is legal in Amsterdam. However, the prostitution on the streets is illegal, as well as the use of hard drugs and promotion of marijuana. Small amounts of marijuana are legal in this open-minded city and there are places where to smoke it, called coffee shops. In the evening (we went there the second night) the streets of the Red Light District are crowded with young people, but there is also a possibility of getting robbed – beware of the pocket thieves while walking the neighbourhood!
The interesting fact is that the red window lights you can find literally next door to the Old Church, as well as the statue dedicated to sex workers on the other side of the church. We turned into Damrak, once the busiest city canal, now a shopping street. We stopped at Beurs van Berlage, the innovative building constructed by architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage as a commodity exchange between 1896 and 1903.
H. P. Berlage was a pioneer of modern Dutch architecture and he influenced many modern architects, especially the functionalists and the Amsterdam School. The commodity exchange was moved to the building next door and the work of art is used today as a venue for concerts, conferences, exhibitions, as well as the permanent exhibition of the history of the commodity exchange.
Passing the nice square in front of a luxurious shopping center de Bijenkorf, we continued towards the main square Dam, where the King's Palace, National Monument, The New Church and Madame Tussauds museum are placed. The Dam Square is the heart of the city, it's a place where everything began. In the 13th century here was a dam on the river Amstel called Amstelledamme (the origin of the city name). In the past the square was a fishing settlement from where later on the whole city expanded. Until the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, the square became the center of political and commercial life of Amsterdam.
The impressive King's Palace (Koninklijk Paleis) that dominates the square is a Classicistic symbol of the city power made by architect Jacob van Campen at first as a city hall. Today it's still used for the state events and ceremonies, for example, the reception for the wedding of crown prince Willem Alexander and Máxima Zorreguieta in 2002. The 22 metres high National Monument celebrates the memory of Dutch people killed in Wold War II. Inside his walls the urns with lands of Dutch regions are built.
A rich sailor and businessman Willem Eggert gave his land and financial resources to build the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) on Dam Square. It's dedicated to St. Mary and St. Catherine, but it's called New to differentiate it from the Old Church that we passed. Since the King's Palace has been transformed from the city hall into the palace in the early 19th century, the New Church is used as a national church for the coronation of Dutch reigns. The church treasures are also the organs by Jacob van Campen, the architect of the King's Palace, and the pulpit by Albert Vinckenbrick. Today the Dam Square is a meeting place, it's full of pigeons and mascots of skeletons with marihuana and similar ones. It kind a reminds me of different mascots around Old Town Square in Prague (at the moment are very popular pandas and polar bears, who knows why)...
We made a typical tourist „mistake“ and sat on a big terrace of the Majestic bar on the main square and ordered two mulled wines. A bit pricey, but we were prepared for it. It was a cold November day, but the terrace and wine were heated and the excitement of a new city kept me worm, too.
After a short break, we continued walking down the Rokin street, in the 19th century a wide promenade for rich people, now an interesting mixture of old and new – a modern monument of woman's head blowing up, a modern narrow striped blue and beige building in between two typical old red brick houses and, at the end, on the Amstel river, one of Amsterdam diamond shops in a form of an old mill.
In the later 16th century, Sephardic Jews introduced the diamond cutting industry to Dutch people and since then Amsterdam has been one of the centers of diamond production (next to Belgian Antwerp). There are few diamond factories in the city (for example, Coster, Gassan Diamonds, ...) that offer free guided tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to witness the diamond production. At the end of the tour you can stop in a museum shop where you'll have the opportunity to buy a nice original diamond ring, earrings or a necklace for your girl – because, hey, diamonds are a girl's best friend. 😛 We didn't go to the diamond factory, but a whole Chinese group that took a canal cruise with us went there. Instead, we visited a small shop on Muntplein Square that sells recognizable Delfts porcelain and ceramics in a blue and white color and bought some magnets imitating the famous ceramic pattern.
We crossed Singel, the first canal from the city center and walked along his waterfront, smelling the colorful tulips and browsing through all kinds of souvenirs in Bloemenmarkt. Singel is 1,6 km long and once was a fort separating the old Medieval town and the new settlement from the 17th century. His middle part is dominated by a beautiful Neo-Gothical Krijtberg Church from the end of the 19th century with a richly decorated interior.
It was time for lunch and since we didn't want to eat fried food from a 24-hour vending machine in FEBO, we started to look for some typical Dutch restaurant.
Our search resembled a search for a needle in a haystack, because the whole town was full only with Italian restaurants, Argentinean steakhouses and kebab stands. Finally, we found a Dutch restaurant called De Molenwiek (Korte Leidsedwarstraat 95A) near the Leidseplein Square, a touristy and noisy center of the city with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, clubs and street performances in the summer. A nice and lively neighbourhood where we went for a drink later on in a beer bar Café de Spuyt with over 50 or maybe even 100 different beers. But our Molenwiek (The Mill) restaurant had a nice ambience and I had fish fillet with mashed potatoes and hollandaise sos for 14€.
A typical Dutch cuisine? Only in part. Though nothing special, the Dutch cuisine consists of dishes like hutspot – a stew made of beef, mashed potatoes and carrot, stampott – a stew made of mashed potatoes and cabbage with some bacon served as a side dish for a smoked sausage or a snack bitterballen – fried meatballs served with mustard or other dip and accompanied by a glass of jenever, a Dutch gin.
In Amsterdam, the home of some of the most important museums in Europe, the working hours of museums are prolonged and most of them are open until 6, 7 or even 8 in the evening. This is why we decided to explore them later in the afternoon, thus leaving us time for sightseeing during the daylight. The first day the plan was to visit the Van Gogh Museum and the second I wanted to see the exhibition in Moco, a newly opened Museum of Modern Art such as graffiti art of Banksy and Icy & Sot, and my dad went to the Stedelijk Museum, a city Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Design with collections of the 19th and 20th century artists.
I bought both of my tickets online a week or two in advance (but, unfortunately, I was too late for the Ana Frank's house – everything was already booked L). I found a Van Gogh Museum interesting and educational – you get to know more about painter's life and you can see some of his greatest peaces. The entrance fee is 19€. The Moco Museum, on the other hand, is a much smaller museum on two floors with always crowded narrow staircase. At the moment it was showing an unauthorized exhibition of artworks from private collections – Banksy's and Iranian artist's Icy & Sot works. At the end of the museum, you can enter into a 3D version of Van Gogh's bedroom in Arles, a work of Roy Lichtenstein imitating the famous painting. The regular ticket costs 14,50€, but you'll get a discount of 2.50€ if you buy it online and reserve your visit for the less crowded hours, before 11 a.m. or after 17 p.m.
We both missed the most popular Rijksmuseum, a huge national museum with almost 7 million works of art (not all are displayed) of the most important Dutch artists like Rembrant, Van Gogh, Vermeer and a rich collection of foreign artists as well. In the museum, that was opened at the end of the 19th century, you can also find many examples of Delft ceramics. The Rijksmuseum is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and the entrance fee is 20€ (19€ if you buy it online, which I recommend because of the big interest).
We started our second day in Amsterdam with a big breakfast, of course, and a visit to Albert Cuyp Market, one of the biggest markets in Europe with more than 300 stalls lining both sides of a long street in the neighbourhood De Pijp. The market sales goods since 1904 and it's open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Sunday. Today you can find here fresh fruits and vegetables, a huge offer of fish and seafood (which I extremely miss in Czech Republic ), meat, Dutch cheese, spices, but also many stalls with clothes, cosmetics, bedding, souvenirs, etc. In between the stalls you can find small coffee places with the cheapest coffee in town and in the market, you can try another Dutch speciality – raw herring accompanied by a large amount of onion and in a bread (if you want it). Yummy!
After the market, we walked to the Heineken brewery on Singelgracht (a different canal than the central Singel). An impressive brewery building from the 19th century is now home to a Heineken beer museum and an amusement park in addition to the museum. The Heineken Experience is open every day from 10.30am until 7.30/9pm and the entrance fee is 18€, including two glasses of beer at the end of the guided tour.
We couldn't miss a ride on Amsterdam's canals, the Amstel river and „Amsterdam's sea“ Ij, so we spent our early afternoon canal cruising, learning about a life on the water and taking photos of interesting sights.
In the evening we wanted to take a walk around western Amsterdam's canals and the hew hip neighbourhood Jordaan. I've read somewhere that this neighbourhood is becoming more and more popular, mostly amongst young people, and I wanted to check it out. We passed the Anne Frank's house, that, unfortunately, was not meant to be, and the West Church (Westerkerk), a Reformed Protestant church from the 17th century in Dutch Renaissance style. In front of the church, we took a photo with a small memorial statue of Anne Frank, a diarist who was hiding with her family in the back part of a house in Amsterdam for two years during the Nazi persecution during the World War II.
We expected Jordaan to be a lively neighbourhood with charming cafés and restaurants, but we saw only a few people walking the biggest street Rozengracht, two or three restaurants (and lots of kebab fast foods) and one café. We didn't get it. Only months later, when I was reading some articles about Amsterdam, I understood why we didn't see anybody and what was so special in Jordaan – hidden courtyards called hofjes. Hofjes are cute inner courtyards constructed by wealthy benefactors to provide housing for poor people. They are usually nicely decorated and are still used as a home for students, artists or older men and women. The most famous hofje you can find in the city center behind the Begijnhof commodity exchange, but in Jordaan there are 19 of them! You can visit most of the hofjes during the day (they have opening hours), but be considerate towards their residences.
I've read somewhere that in Amsterdam you can find the best Indonesian restaurants outside of Indonesia, so we wanted to try it. Unknowingly, we went to an overly priced restaurant Long Pura in Jordaan, we barely found a place to sit (you have to have a reservation) – the only free table was next to the scary Indonesian masks and bamboo trees. The gay waiter in flip-flops came to recommend us a meal (while trying to sell us additional appetizers). We took a mix of plates for around 40€: spiced beef, extra spicy egg, chicken in mild sauce, which tasted like a chicken soup, different vegetables, coconut salad, etc. All in all, I wasn't impressed.
he last thing that is left unwritten about Amsterdam is his nightlife. In our short visit, we came to a conclusion that the most popular neighbourhoods to have some fun are around Rembrandtsplein and Leidseplein (and, of course, the Red Light District). The mentioned squares in the evenings are filled with young people smoking marijuana on the terraces of coffee shops with a beer in their hands, getting ready to hit the clubs later on. Amsterdam's nightlife is rich and diverse and you could say that Amsterdam, too, is a city that never sleeps.