I am listening to Goldfrapp – Utopia in my headphones and the airplane is taking off at the speed of 250 km/h. The runway is so smooth that the wheels just glide over it.
It’s a strange day, no colors or shapes, no sound in my head, I forget who I am.
What is Amsterdam like? The first thought in my mind is about the dams and rising sea levels, many channels and mills. And some cheese. Probably, it’s quite accurate.
On the first morning in Amsterdam I breath in the fresh air and I can immediately tell the summer has left. The leaves are just beginning to color and the day is clear, but you can feel the chill in it. It’s a Saturday morning, not even nine o’clock, and the streets surrounding Herengracht are deserted. I slowly begin walking to the pier, passing by Opera house. I have a 48 hour hop-on hop-off bus & boat ticket, which I plan on using actively. A bit pricey, 34 euros, but I want to find out more about the spots I will be passing and Lonely Planet for Amsterdam seems very badly written. I have half an hour until the boat comes and I can already see Chinese tourists gathering in line on the pier, but I decide to walk around a bit and explore the nearby houseboats. It turns out there is a limited number of permits for houseboats in Amsterdam, as each of them is connected to the sewers and drinking water. Living on these boats tends to be even more expensive than in the tiny apartments in the center! These houseboats are so different one from another, many have beautiful flower pots, some are very basic in design, others are architectural masterpieces and are three stories tall. I also see a lot of flowerpots on the stairs leading to the apartments.
Finally I go to the pier, as I am worried that on such a slow morning the boat might show up sooner. And soon it comes, half-empty. It glides past the bridges and canal locks, turns to pass the former city walls. The audio guide talks about the development of the city, important houses and people who have lived in them. It also passes by Rijksmeusum (behind it the famous Van Gogh museum), past Jordaan district and small shopping streets. The first crowds are at the Anne Frank house. Boat fills up quickly and we go to the central station at last.
I walk on the main street and see many fries vendors and souvenir shops. Finally pick out a magnet I like, but they don’t let me pay for my purchase with a card, as the amount is too small, just 2 euros. When I ask the shop keeper where does it say about the minimum amount of 10 euros, she angrily answers „Because I said so”. Then I am headed to by the fries at last, these guys do take cards, but only debit and no credit.
After all the walking I have done, I decide to sit down for a while and go into Starbucks. It’s completely full! Fathers with light-haired daughters sip hot chocolate, black fashion models drink pumpkin spice latte and tourists wait in the line for the washrooms. The weekend is on! And later on, the closer I get to the Red Light district, the more it’s visible. Bachelor parties, guys with eyes no focusing on anything in particular, not even noticing the half-naked girls in the windows, speaking among themselves in Slavic languages. Nearby stores sell tulips and bicyclists pass me by. There are a lot of bicycles in Amsterdam, every bridge has a few chained on them. Big and little, double bikes and kids strapped in chairs, all rushing by. However, the person who decided to include the sentence to the audio guide stating that traffic in Amsterdam is chaotic and you have to watch out for bike riders coming from all sides clearly hasn’t been to India. I just came back from there and in comparison to Kolkata it seems the calmest place in the world.
At times I enjoy exploring the city museums. A popular article recently mentioned that people only go there because of a habit, I do like an occasional two-three hour visit to the museum. My first choice is Van Gogh museum. I see the paintings, read about his tragic life and in the end have more questions than answers. I am lucky to visit it right after the opening, because later the crowds are there. To be honest, the most famous and nicest pieces in my opinion are in New York – Metropolitan Museum of Art and my favorite Starry Night in MoMA. But this museum surprises me with something else – there is a traveling Munch exhibit here and I get to see The Scream and Madonna just few centimeters away. Later I am headed to Rijksmuseum, but feel tired, so just walk by the Rembrandt paintings and have some lunch. Two museums of this size for one day is too much.
Amsterdam is a city of feelings in autumn. Foggy mornings turning into days with bright, clear skies. And some of those mornings with beautiful fluffy clouds turn into dark, clouded afternoons. It’s worth to visit Amsterdam for a weekend, spending two-three nights here and get a feel of what Amsterdam is all about. It worth to see a few places on such a visit:
1. Van Gogh museum is a must in my opinion. Save Rijksmuseum for another day, don’t visit both in the same day.
If you stay for more than just a few days, there are plenty of opportunities to visit The Hague, Brussels, Rotterdam or Antwerp for a day trip. It’s all nearby!
Time to go home. My ride is probably the best car I have ever been in – a brand new BMW, light leather seats and a driver in a suit. Fancy enough for a hotel taxi! If I was going alone and at night I probably wouldn’t have dared to get in all by myself, as it doesn’t have any taxi markings on the outside.
I am waiting in the line for bag drop for quite some time, as there is a man with a dog finishing some formalities to check in his pet. Then it’s my turn at last and after thorough security screening I am inside the shopping area. There are plenty of opportunities to purchase tulip bulbs, cheese and wooden shoes. It’s also extremely crowded and soon I feel annoyed by it all and am headed to the book store. Books make me calm. I breath in, flip through Lonely Planet China (my next destination!) and finally I am feeling ready to write! I take a seat at the Starbucks and write most of this travel story.
Don’t forget to check out all of the pictures at the top of the page!