People have mixed opinions on Amsterdam. Some think of it as a beautiful city, full of canals and historical buildings. Other think of the legal marijuana and prostitution. Either way, I think both sides blend together to make Amsterdam a truly unique and fascinating place to enjoy.
Because of yet another obscure Catholic holiday, I had 2 days off from school, which of course I used to go exploring. I definitely chose the right weekend to visit Amsterdam, because there are so many fun things to do and experience, and it’s much better spread over a long weekend. I think everyone needs a day in Amsterdam to just take in all that Amsterdam is. The culture shock is… interesting. There is 0 language barrier, because everyone in the Netherlands speaks perfect English. It doesn’t even feel like you’re speaking to someone from another country. The Netherlands has the most english speakers out of any country in Europe (other than G.B.) and they are not slowing down any time soon. Many dutch universities are starting to only offer classes taught in english, to further the learning of the citizens there. Probably smart of them, because not a whole lot of places speak Dutch. After a few hours, I didn’t even think twice before asking someone something in English, and I’m not sure I really liked that. I think an important part of traveling is to experience the discomfort of being out of place. Lucky for me, many other things about Amsterdam quickly made me feel the farthest from a Dutch person.
One thing you will learn very quickly in the Netherlands is that you do not have the right of way as a pedestrian OR as a driver. It is all about the bikes in Amsterdam. I can honestly say I think there are more bikes than cars. Bike lanes are parallel to every street, and bikes line the entire city. But remember, you are a pedestrian. The bikers own you. Do not get in their way.
The lifestyle of Amsterdam is also different from the other places I’ve visited in Europe. Very eccentric. This might have something to do with the legal substances you can buy in “Coffee” shops. Sometimes you’re walking down the street, and a man in a leotard roller blades past you. No one really thinks anything of it. I adapted very quickly to expecting these strange behaviors to become not-so-strange. Amsterdam is definitely full of characters. Tall, blonde, wonderful characters. Some, like below, not so wonderful.
Wandering around Amsterdam, I found myself in some interesting places. For one, I accidentally wandered into Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Oddly enough, it’s easy to accidentally end up there, because when you look around, it’s full of very normal looking people. I planned to mostly avoid this area, thinking it would be the shady part of the city, but actually, it’s one of the safest. The government takes serious precautions to protect the prostitution business in the Red Light district, and this makes it very heavily guarded by the police. Curious families will take their young children through this area, I guess hoping they’ll forget about it? Still probably not the best idea, but very interesting that people find this okay.
Most people will say that the Red Light district is something you have to experience while you’re in Amsterdam. I personally am glad that I saw it for the brief moments I did, but I did not walk away unscathed. It’s a very weird feeling seeing women standing in windows literally for sale. I did not really know how to feel. They were not being harassed or stared at, they were just kind of there. I couldn’t really mentally grasp how this was just a part of the culture there, and how everyone was used to it. I was confused as to how a group of my friends and I could casually walk by a store front selling sex and no one else around questioned it at all. Honestly, it made me sad. It’s definitely a part of Amsterdam that made me feel uncomfortable and out of place, and while I don’t like what’s going on there, I do actually think feeling what I did gave me some perspective on things.
On a cheerier note, something you might not know about Amsterdam is that is has the best cheese in Europe. Probably the world, because let me tell you, its so good. I had no idea that Amsterdam was such an important cheese producer, but it was confirmed when I came across the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. Honestly, if you have limited time in Amsterdam, pencil in a visit to this museum. First off- its free, unlike most things in Europe. Second, there are 30+ free samples of cheese. Gourmet, aged, smoked, wonderful cheese. You like Gouda? They got it. Like weird flavors? How about wasabi? Or maybe a dragon fruit more suites your fancy? Either way, I think you get the point. Please, PLEASE go to the Cheese Museum. Bonus- there’s a free photo booth in the basement.
But, for the lactose intolerant, my second Amsterdam recommendation would definitely be the Van Gogh Museum (P.S- buy tickets online ahead of time, or dare to enter the 4 hour waiting line). This Museum is organized similar to the Picasso museum in Barcelona (see “Barcelona- A Lifestyle”). I am always fascinated to see how an artist’s style progresses over their lifetime. What’s interesting for Van Gogh though, is that his artistic life was only a decade. He decided late in life he wanted to pursue art, and had a crazy ten years of trying to make a name for himself. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam owns some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, including Sunflowers, The Bedroom, Almond Blossom, a collection of self portraits, and Wheat Field with Crows, which is believed to be the last painting from Van Gogh before he committed suicide in 1890. Even if you don’t like art, I think the Van Gogh Museum will affect you. It tells the story of a man’s struggle to discover himself, and the various works from Van Gogh will make you feel with him.
While these 2 attractions were my favorite, Amsterdam has a lot more low-key things to do. Personally, I loved the markets. Along a popular canal is a large flea market, selling almost anything you can imagine. One of the stands there sold US license plates and vintage 80s work out clothes, so think along those lines, and thats the flea market. While the goods might not be the highest quality, it’s fun to walk through and see what the people of Amsterdam have to offer.
Another great market- the flower market. Another random thing Amsterdam is known for- tulips. The flower market is full of beautiful flowers and other gardening accessories. If you just really really love tulips, you can buy some bulbs that have been pre-approved to take back to the United States. But even without the intention of buying flowers, it’s just a beautiful place to be in. The market extends along a canal, and it’s right next to dozens of cafes with delicious food. My personal favorite- the cheese pancake from Downtown Amsterdam. Oh, what I would do for another cheese pancake.
So, if that wasn’t enough to convince you to visit Amsterdam, I encourage you to go for the eccentrics. Go for the confusion. Go for the cheese.