It’s a place sought out by many with a reputation that proceeds. A land of canals, potent grass and red lights, with museums a many and askew gingerbread houses. Travelling to Netherland’s capital and most populated city, I took a quick hiatus from London to have a weekend affair with Amsterdam.
Noses for navigation, our first port of sightseeing was into the greasy cone of Holland frites – topped with simple mayo for me and a curry sauce for Melinda. Feed them to us for supper and tea, because oh my potato, these were delicious. Set back by a twenty-minute wait, we hurriedly took our calories and ran to the pigeon and tourist-infested, 13th century Dam Square. Meeting at the National Monument for our free SANDEMANs guided tour, we spent the next sixty minutes gobbling on chips and hobbling on pebble streets. Braving the trolls under the bridges, we crossed over numerous canals that were decorated with locked bikes and blooming flowers. Fun fact – Amsterdam has over 1281 bridges and 165 canals! Yeah, I listened. We then learnt about Rembrandt van Rijn, legal prostitution, Dutch bike culture, the Jewish quarters and the widest bridge and the smallest house in Amsterdam. And then we ditched. Don’t judge; three hours in the rain with a disengaged and dry-humoured tour guide is a long time. Running from the group, we stumbled upon the quaint boutique district of The Nine Streets; where we marvelled at vintage coats, artisanal antiques and hidden galleries, before wandering through the Bloemenmarkt. Lined on the river and standing on houseboats were stalls bursting with hand-painted clogs, budding sunflowers and colourful bulbs plucked from the tulip fields.
Slightly tired and verging on the danger zone of being hangry, we trudged in puddles and roamed the streets until we found a snug and candle-lit Dutch pub. We clinked gins and indulged in the traditional cuisines of Stamppot and Bitterballen before taking leave and visiting our last stop of the day: Prinsengracht 263, The Anne Franke House. Once a historical hiding annexe, and now a modern museum, it showed the living conditions of Jewish wartime diarist Anne Frank through book excerpts, photos, videos and original items dating back to 1942. After reading the book in 2016, visiting this location was a highly emotional and surreal experience for me. It’s difficult to believe that those are her real bedroom walls and the actual bookcase from all those years back. Finishing the tour at 10pm, we walked out feeling somber and heartbroken, but hopeful and inspired. Taxing it back to our hotel, we sat in the car with Anne’s life and story very close to our hearts.
Lounging in bath robes whilst drinking Earl Grey with creamer, we planned the events for day two. Not the greatest itinerary for a forecast of downpour, we began our morning meeting extended family in the soggy but beautiful grounds of Vondelpark. Existing for almost 150 years, we experienced nature at it’s finest; running along muddy meadows and greeting little ducks in overflowing ponds. Disregarding the heavy droplets, we continued with our list and travelled to the Rijksmuseum and I Am Amsterdam sign. Climbing the sign with one hundred other tourists, we attempted our best to get a solo snap without Sally from Canada in the background. After a quick Van Gogh painting search and postcard shopping hunt, we took a change of scenery to something a little more sensual and taboo – the famous Sex Museum. Not one for the prudes, the Sex Museum is a ridiculously funny, educational and spirited place for human sexuality. Featuring a rich collection of porcelain and marble sculptures (plus the huge erect plastic penis), the place is fitted with speakers that scream, statues that flash and pornographic photographs that refuse to be censored. A must on the Amsterdam list, I’m sure you will giggle your way through the boobs and wieners just like we did. Just be prepared for the erotic torture and fetish chamber at the end.
Out in the fresh air, scented with notes of marijuana, we then took to the docks for an enclosed canal cruise. Despite foggy wet weather, we were still able to witness and appreciate the beauty in the leaning buildings and gable stones of Amsterdam’s architecture and design. Thirty minutes in and Melinda snored on my right, whilst the digital audio voice translated to three different languages with repeated information. It was a long ride. Refuelling our bodies with much needed burgers and whiskey, we then continued on our sexual pursuit to the much anticipated Red Light District. Perceived as sexy, unique and thrilling, when you visit the Red Light District you actually realise it’s infested with greying desperate old men and sleazy cocky young boys. Still a place one must visit if in Amsterdam, I suggest you also take a tour of the Museum of Prostitution, where you’re told stories of murder, money and the inside secrets of the women behind the windows. If a sex show is your thing, then by all means, please proceed. But if you’re in it just for the experience, I would opt on a €2 peep show instead. That’ll scar you enough.
Fleeing from the sex stores, red windows and strip clubs, we then finished our Amsterdam experience with a little chocolate treat. Think what you will, but we simply and innocently visited a ‘coffee’ shop, went back to our psychedelic hotel room, randomly laughed for 10 minutes and then fell right asleep. The next morning we arose with Belgian waffles and coffee, got our train to the airport and settled in for our forty-five minute plane ride home. Flying over the great city of Amsterdam, we said goodbye from the clouds and drifted off to sleep on each others shoulders. This time from actual tiredness…thank you Amsterdam.