Sometimes you visit a place and feel instantly at home. You wander the streets within two days of arriving and already feel as if you know where you are and where you’re going and can get wherever you want to go.
This was Amsterdam for me.
I dropped in on a Wednesday night with absolutely no idea of what to expect from the city of the famed Red Light District and “coffee shops”. Nor had I even looked at a map of the city.
Cobble-stone streets and bicyclist after bicyclist whizzing by on the left and trams whizzing by on the right is the first image that pops to mind. I had about a day of wandering the city where I just felt my senses buffeted from all angles. The shock of open prostitution and the smell of legalized “soft drugs” combined with the tight streets where you must dodge bikers, cars and trains left me in a bit of a dazed state. After a canal boat tour and wandering around the city for a good couple hours, however, I regained my senses and started to feel at ease. The city feels a bit hectic at its heart, but once you allow yourself to relax everything seems copacetic.
Being fairly small and flat - Amsterdam is a walking and biking kind of city. Arriving on the train, I was amazed to see the gigantic bicycle parking structures but seeing as how the majority of the population utilize bikes to get around the city, it makes sense. I quickly learned that the bike lanes are almost as wide as some of the streets and there is no forgiveness for the inattentive tourist that does not pay attention to the bikers.
Amsterdam is a city for the explorer. It is a city for the person that relishes in finding the tiny, obscured alley that leads to a completely different world than the road you just stepped off of. The city is jam-packed, and as such every twist and turn affords a new surprise, a new smell, a new site. Amsterdam is also not for the weak at heart. Prostitution is legal. The Red Light District is real and marked on the tourist map. Drug dealers whisper different vices into your ear as you slide past them in the red-hued darkness at night. Various smells of other more recreational, legal drugs drift past your nostrils as you walk the streets. No, Amsterdam is not for those lacking a sense of adventure.
Perhaps a few of my favorite experiences. Restaurant Savini, located just steps from the hotel I stayed at, is a fantastic Italian restaurant. Stepping in flooded my mind with memories and good friends, who I then text messaged a quick hello from Amsterdam. I ate here one other time in my short stay and it was well worth it.
Cafe Pacifico - the first restaurant in Amsterdam to sell Mexican cuisine. Despite the absolutely terrible service (“That’s where our waiter was, flirting with girls at the bar.”), the food was excellent and living on a regular diet of beer and bratwurst the past week, a much appreciated change.
The beer tasting cafe I stumbled upon while wandering the city, called Cafe Gollem. Although I didn’t get a chance to step inside, the signs outside had me hooked at the mention of 200+ beers, 95% of which were Belgian. A cozy joint in the style of what are called Amsterdam “brown” bars, I could easily see losing myself in there several nights a week.
Finally, Begijnhof. A courtyard located just off the center plaza in Amsterdam that offers an amazing barrier to the hectic pace of the city. Quiet, surround by typical Amsterdam-style homes, with a church in the middle that was unfortunately closed to the public because of a concert.
It was a fun trip, even with the additional train adventures. ;o)