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.
I checked the thermostat and saw it was 30 degrees in the room. I tried to fuss with the A/C but could not get it to work. After a call to the front desk, they politely offered to send up a fan. The fan arrived and I went for dinner.
Unfortunately when I came back it was just as hot, so I checked with the front desk and learned the hotel does not have air conditioning. Stunned, I explained that we needed to do something, and the sympathetic clerk agreed. The only rooms left were in the basement, so off I marched, down the stairs, around a few corners to the end of a hall.
The room looked nice and certainly was cool and there was a window with a beautiful view of a canal and houses. I went back up to the sauna room, packed my luggage, and they brought it down. Now that I was settled in my new room I pushed the sheer curtains aside and realized the beautiful view of the canal was actually a construction site with a large mural of a canal scene positioned outside my window. Thankfully I did not plan to spend much time in the room anyway.
It was getting late so I settled in and turned my IPad on to watch a little Netflix. Well, that didn’t work, as there wasn’t any Wi-Fi. The front desk explained that unfortunately, there was no Wi-Fi in the basement. It’s a good thing I speak Dutch, so the TV in the room was not wasted.
There are some great sights around Amsterdam, such as the traditional Dutch village of Volendam, where people still dress as they did hundreds of years ago. If you are looking for cheese, visit Edam and be prepared to taste some of the best cheese in the world. Windmill viewing is best done in Zaanse Schaap, an area where more than a dozen windmills have been resurrected in a natural setting.
Another great town is Giethorn, which is made up totally of canals. Every house is on an island and boats are the only transportation available. This Venice of the north is well worth the visit. Lastly is of course, Keukenhof. Thousands of tulips and other flowers bloom brilliantly in the spring, scenting the area with fragrances beyond your wildest imagination.
Amsterdam is amazing and once there, you will want to become a resident. Remember the old proverb, ‘If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.’
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com