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Around Amsterdam

Travelling to Europe has to be one of my favourite destinations, and I have just had the pleasure of spending a few days in Amsterdam. This jewel in the Dutch crown is one of the best cities in Europe to explore, and I’m not saying that because I was born in the Netherlands.

There are many different things to do once you enter the Dutch capital, and I would recommend a Hop on-Hop off tour, just to get the feel of the place (especially if it’s your first visit). The cost for the service is about 35 Euros ($55 CDN) for a day pass.

I arrived from Estonia, which was great, because both countries are in the European Union. There was no passport control or immigration to worry about. A quick trip to my hotel, which was centrally located by the train station (the most convenient area to stay), and I was ready to tour.

One of the first things I did was visit the Rijksmuseum, the home of Rembrandt’s famous works as well as those of other famous Dutch artists (van Gogh, Vermeer, etc.). After a ten year renovation it is once again open, and simply magnificent. Entry fee is about 17 Euros, but save yourself the money of an audio guide and download the free app (RIJKSMUSEUM). It will guide you on a two hour tour of the highlights of the museum. If you want to spend more time, it probably makes sense to rent an audio guide.

Trams in Amsterdam take you everywhere and are relatively inexpensive to ride. You can get day passes or weekly cards, and if you stay near the train station, you will also be at the central tram station. Coincidentally, this is where the canal boats depart from as well. The boats are three to a seat with little tables for beverages, etc. The commentary is via headset (supplied), and is quite interesting. The vessels are large and hold about a hundred passengers each, so make sure you wait for an empty one to ensure a window seat. If it is nice, venture to the back and sit in the open section. Beware though, if the sun is out, you can get quite a burn.

Amsterdam is a bicycle city with more than 800,000 bikes. Each year about 60,000 are stolen, so, as my cousin explained to me, you buy your first bike and from then on, you just borrow one.

Another attraction, in the downtown sector, is the Red Light District. I won’t dwell on this, as I’m sure many of you are familiar with the area’s reputation. It does make for an interesting tourist visit, but beware, photos are not allowed. I should also set the record straight on the marijuana laws in the Netherlands. Only nationals are allowed to purchase and smoke grass, in the designated cafés. Of course this greatly affected the tourist trade, so now the City of Amsterdam is exempt from the national law.

The hotel I stayed at was about a hundred years old; however, it had been renovated and seemed quite nice. I was given a room on the third floor and after walking through a maze of hallways, I finally found my accommodation. As soon as I entered I was greeted with a wave of heat, which was quite unbearable.