Amsterdam, the city of …
Sex, Drugs and
Rock ‘n’ RollBicycles!!
God created the world but the Dutch created the Amsterdam. Why, you may ask? Well, this is because a large percentage of the Netherlands is either built below or near sea level, Amsterdam was built on reclaimed land. In fact all the houses, buildings and bridges are carefully designed and built on wooden poles that go at least 10m below the wetland and clay surface to reach solid ground for support. Interesting isn’t it?
This is why, when you look down the street, many of the buildings are lop sided, caused by the poles shifting slightly over time, moving the foundation! As to why the houses lean forward, I will get to that later..!
We have visited this quaint, picturesque city twice, first in April 2010 as part of a tour group, and more recently in July 2015 doing it independently. This post will focus on our most recent trip. We planned and booked this trip some 9 months ago when we noticed some cheap summer flights on one of our spare weekends, so we booked the flights immediately!
What to see:
Red Light District
This is probably the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of Amsterdam. After all, it is what makes this city famous. The red light district is located in De Wallen, south of Amsterdam Centraal Station, you can either walk or take the tram to Dam Square and walk from there, probably around 5 minutes (east side of the city). If you go at night, you can’t miss it – just follow the crowds and you will soon find yourself in an alley filled with red (and the occasional blue) lights. If I’m honest, it is like walking in to a butcher looking to pick the perfect piece of meat!
The whole concept is quite odd, and whilst you simply cannot help it, it feels wrong walking through the alleys, the woman forever tapping on the windows to grab you attention, seeing the odd customer as they enter (or leave) in a less than discreet way. We must have walked past a couple hundred windows, honestly, there is something on offer for anyone, no matter what you may be interested in.
…considering prices start at €50 for an average of 15 minutes, working in 8 hour shifts, they certainly have the potential to make a good living.
The profession has been in Amsterdam since the 14th century and whilst some do frown upon it and others make note of the trafficking and woman working against their will, it certainly doesn’t look like a struggling industry and I doubt we’ll see the red lights disappearing from the streets of Amsterdam. We were once told, the girls in this profession (in Amsterdam) were respected and that it is considered a good job, well-paying and secure with a protection at hand.
In a way, if women wish to be in that profession, it is probably the place be, there is a large customer base with plenty of foot traffic, the women decide on whom they’ll offer their services to, there is plenty of protection to keep them safe, and because it is regulated, the girls have health insurance, ensuring they are fit and healthy to continue working, reducing the risks associated with the profession.
The red light district may seem dodgy, but in general the area is safe to walk through, the crowds of people and the level of protection around, both the ‘pimps’ as well as police officers roaming the alleys certainly give you a great deal of comfort. We were fortunate enough not to have experienced this, however I would certainly recommend zipping up your bags and watching out for pickpockets, you are often pressing past people, especially in some of the narrow alleys!
The Old Town by foot
We jumped on a Sandemans Free Walking Tour. We’ve done a lot of these throughout Europe and can highly recommend them. The tours are absolutely free, you can pre-book for around €3 to guarantee you a spot on the tour (not a bad idea if you’re going in summer!!) and if you decide to book a paid tour, you get that €3 discounted off the price. The tour covers the main sights of Amsterdam and in my opinion, definitely worth doing. At the end of the tour, you tip the guide what you can afford based on what you think the tour was worth to you! This way, the guides have to work for their pay, making it an enjoyable tour! Check out our Trip Advisor Review.
Amsterdam outskirts, by bicycle
During the lunch break on the free walking tour, we decided to book the bicycle tour for the following day. We booked it as a joint ticket which included a canal cruise. Cost was €30.10 per person, the ticket is valid for any day, any time so if the weather turns, you can jump on the next tour … We were incredibly lucky, after a day of intense storms, the weather for the bicycle tour was perfect and we were the only two people on the tour!
The bikes included in the tour are from MacBike, stored inside away from the elements and well looked after (and super comfy). The tour is advertised as being around 2 hours, however our guide Silvia was great, the entire experience was very relaxed and ended up lasting for around 3 hours, we stopped at many sites on the outskirts of the city, away from the sites covered by the walking tour and had plenty of opportunities to learn more and take some photos!!
The best part in my opinion was the ride and stop in Vondelpark. The park was filled with people exercising, attending boot camp or dogs playing around. It was so relaxing and something that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when going to Amsterdam.
As part of the bicycle tour, we booked the canal tour. This will only have a brief mention as after we completed both the walking and bicycle tour, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing the canal tour, you do have a different perspective and it is quite relaxing, however you generally pass along similar sights and the pre-recorded audio guide is less informative than having a discussion with a tour guide in person! The canal tour lasts an hour and the ticket was valid on a few canal cruise companies (not run by Sandemans) but I would save your money and spend it on something else!
We booked some tickets to go to the Ice Bar. We paid €15.50 per person from a ticket office (more expensive online). I thought the cost was just for the entrance!! But, that included entry in to the Ice Bar, one cocktail while you’re waiting to go through and then two more vodka drinks when you got inside the Ice Bar. You need to be there 20 minutes prior to your session start time, and you can have up to 30 minutes in the Ice Bar. It is -9.5 degrees so try to remember to wear some closed in shoes!! The drinks inside are served in an ice cup so that’s pretty cool! If you’ve got an evening free, it might be worth checking it out! Check out our Trip Advisor Review.
In 2010, as part of our tour group, we went on a day trip to Volendam which is located in north Holland. While we were there, we visited a cheese factory and a clog factory as well as an old working windmill. It was interesting to see how they make the clogs and the hard work that goes in to them. We stopped in at a traditional Dutch restaurant for lunch and the women in the town (particularly the restaurants) wore traditional dutch clothing. It made us feel like we were actually in a different country. The most fascinating part of this area is that it is below sea level! If you have a spare day while you’re in Amsterdam, it might be worth picking up a day tour to Volendam to experience something a little different and perhaps more traditional.
Where to (and not to) eat:
Our first night, we arrived late, dropped our bags and by the time we got back to the city centre, it was too late for a meal and most of the kitchens at the restaurants and bars were shut, so we decided on some of their famous chips (frites) from a extremely popular place called Manneken Pis, advertised to have won the best fries in the Netherlands with over 20 sauces to choose from! Given the line up I thought to ask for a recommendation and were told we couldn’t go wrong with the local style mayonnaise, and let me tell you, these guys do not hold back on the sauce, the chips were covered in mayonnaise! I cannot say that these were the best chips I have ever had, but if you’re looking for a casual bite, it is absolutely something you should have when you’re in the area!
Cafe Proust: We had lunch the following day at Cafe Proust, stumbling across it after our walking tour. The weather turned and it was pouring with rain, it felt like cyclonic winds and we just needed to get under cover. The café is fairly small, which is what I really enjoy so was quite pleased when we walked in. I ordered my usual double espresso macchiato and it was honestly the best I came across, we also ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, smoked salmon sandwich on fresh farmers bread and a beef burger with a side of chips. The storm continued so rather than venturing outside I talked to the waiter and she recommended I sample the locally brewed Zatte ‘tripel’ beer – all delicious and the service fantastic.
It is slightly out of the city centre, but if you’re around that area, I would recommend stopping in there! Check out our Trip Advisor Review.
Cinema Club Cafe: We had dinner at Cinema Club Cafe, it looked busy so we thought it must be okay? Wrong!! The staff were friendly and helpful, but unfortunately that’s where it stops. The food, admittedly quite cheap, wasn’t very good and completely lacked in flavour. But in saying that, I don’t think they specialise on food, the menu is quite limited so if you head here, it might just be for a drink or two …
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Mercure Hotel Amsterdam Centre Canal District. It is about a 30 minute walk from Central Station, however you can take trams 16 or 24 from Centraal Station and get off at either Keizersgracht or Wetering-circuit, both of which are around a 5 – 6 minute walk to the hotel. We booked a privilege room, which was lovely and spacious, came with a lovely welcome gift, chocolate, a nespresso machine as well as a free mini bar which was a nice bonus. The hotel is in the canal district, away from the hustle and bustle, but there are still quite a few nice pubs and restaurants close by. The only negative would be the breakfast. The cost is €19.50 per person per day, not very exciting and quite limited to the breakfasts we’ve had at other Accor hotels.
Coffee Shops / Cafes
These two should not be mistaken for the same thing! In fact, they are two very different things. A cafe, is a regular place to get a coffee and some food. A coffee shop on the other hand, is a place where you can go and legally buy and smoke marijuana. You often get given a menu with the different things on offer, such as brownies, cookies etc. When you’re walking through Amsterdam, it is pretty obvious where the coffee shops are, mainly by the smell. Particularly in the evening, you can walk up and down the streets and only smell marijuana. There are strict rules about where you can and can’t smoke a joint, so if this is something you’re wanting to do, make sure you do a bit of research on what is allowed!
Getting to and from Schiphol airport:
Getting to and from the airport and Centraal Station is very easy. You can either take the express train, which is 13 minutes, or a train which had 3 stops and takes less than 20 minutes. It cost us €10.20 for two people one way. It might be worth pricing a taxi, as we heard it only costs around €15 for a taxi …. might be easier than taking the train and then walking to your hotel, but then it depends on the time of day and how much traffic may be around!
Why do the buildings lean forward?
Now, a quick explanation of why the buildings in Amsterdam lean forward? Houses back in the day were taxed on how wide they were, hence the narrow house fronts. It didn’t necessarily matter how deep or high they were, just the width. Because of this, the internal stairs are extremely narrow and not easy to get furniture or spices (as it were back in the day) up stairs. Therefore, each house has a hook on the outside, which they used as a pulley system. This still doesn’t explain why the houses lean forwards, does it? Well, the reason is, if the houses were built straight up, when they are pulling the goods up the outside of the house, the windows would obviously get broken. Glass was very expensive back in the day.. so the houses were built leaning slightly forward meaning the glass didn’t get broken on the way up! Makes Perfect Sense!
Life is like riding a bicycle: you don’t fall off unless you stop pedalling – Claude Pepper