Expat Magazine

Amsterdam: The Land of Canals, Clogs, Cycling and Coffee Shops

By Mint Mocha Musings @nicoledwebb

Visit Holland

To be honest, we chose Amsterdam for a quick adventure because it was close. Close to the UK that is. Less than an hour’s flying time and there you are, voila, in an entirely different country, complete with a different culture and language!

Mind you, we all know about those one hour flights that tease you into thinking it’s going to be akin to getting in your car and driving around the block, not half a day trudging through airports, stripping down for x-rays and waiting for your bag that’s having its own strip search because you forgot to put your Blistex in a clear plastic bag.

Anyway, we made it… and the minute we stepped foot into Dutch territory, I was blown away by how friendly this nation of people is. The normally sullen, slightly intimidating Customs folk you come to expect at airports were anything but, wishing us a great trip in Amsterdam before sending us on our merry way. Say what.

It only got better, the taxi driver from the airport insisted on carrying all our bags, calling us Sir and Madam and even gave us an estimated time of arrival. And the cab was a Merc! 

Typically, we didn’t have much of an itinerary mapped out for our brief three day visit, but the city centre was pretty much our starting point. We caught a tram/train in, which was also a ridiculously easy and smooth ride and popped out of the underground station into the middle of a European wonderland.

The Netherlands

So picturesque was this little slice of Europe, I was completely taken aback. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting but those childhood images of Holland and an abundance of windmills, clogs and tulips weren’t too far off the mark (except for the Tulips which are only in Spring).

But what surprised me the most was that the Dutch capital is set on a maze of canals winding through the city like silk ribbons. 

Nicknamed the Venice of the North, Amsterdam is nothing short of charming.

It’s enchanting atmosphere was clearly hypnotising because we immediately boarded a boat, which may well have been any boat. It was the first boat we saw that seemed to be piling excited tourists on, so we followed suit, eager to join the fray.

Canal tours Amsterdam

In hindsight having later seen a number of other boats cruising the canals, we may have been wiser to wait more than a split second before saying ahoy, because we saw some sleek open top vessels gliding down the canals with cheese laden tables and bars bearing buckets of champagne on ice. Next time.

Nonetheless, we still managed to get a good glimpse of Amsterdam in all her glistening glory. 

In a nod to the Renaissance style, it’s fascinating architecture is a mishmash of tall, skinny, multi-coloured, slightly crooked buildings with white framed windows, like something out of a fairytale. 

pretty amsterdam

Apparently, they built them extremely narrow back then, given the cost of the house was dependent on its width. Hence they also have steep narrow staircases making it next to impossible to move furniture in and out. Because of this a metal hook has been fixed to the top of each building to hoist heavy items in and out through the windows. Genius.

True to form, everyone in Amsterdam cycles. It felt like we were the only ones who weren’t on two wheels. I was desperate to try out a Bakfiet, the bikes with the big wooden carts on the front, but with just three days, we were pressed for time. You can do bike tours though, that give you the full Amsterdam experience! 

Cycling Amsterdam

Once off our canal cruise and on dry land, we wandered the Old Town – a magical labyrinth of cobblestoned laneways, flanked by shops laden with cheese, enormous pizzas stuffed with mouthwatering toppings, waffles and poffertjes. 

Old Town Amsterdam

And, of course those other cookies you can get your hands on in almost any retail shop. Whether it’s cannabis cookies, space cakes, marijuana brownies or chocolate cannabis, it’s all there amongst the Dove chocolate bars and Brie Cheese.

Amsterdam Coffee shops

If you’ve heard anything about Amsterdam it’s probably that the city is renowned for its ‘coffee shops’ where you can partake in a little Mary Jane action. My imagination ran away with pictures of people puffing away in every cafe, restaurant and bar, but it wasn’t quite that obvious. 

To my surprise, despite the profusion of coffeeshops, marijuana is not actually legal in the Netherlands. It is, however acceptable under gedoogbeleid – meaning a ‘policy of tolerance’ and the authorities will turn a blind eye to those in possession of 5g or less. 

Coffeeshops are allowed to store a maximum of 500g of cannabis on the premises at any one time.

Marijuana Amsterdam

To have or not to have….?

Either way, roaming around this part of town was definitely a mind boggling experience.

The other thing Amsterdam is known for is its famous Red Light district or ‘de Wallen’ and it’s set right there amidst the bustling shops and restaurants. Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands since 1811 and is a thriving industry today.  

Prostitute Windows Amsterdam

Skirting one of the city’s splendid canals, rows of buildings with shop front windows each divided into the size of your average shop fitting room is lit up with neon red lights and occupied by scantily clad women, known as ‘Window Prostitutes.’

It’s not until after around 9pm when the district really comes to life. Of course, it had to be seen to be believed, so we sidled past the ‘windows’ for a sticky beak. 

window Prostitutes in Amsterdam

Note: This image was not taken by MMM

It actually didn’t feel sleazy. Most of them were young and gorgeous women who I discovered (upon my stealth like investigations) each hire their own (fitting) room for the night, charging around 50 Euro for 15 minutes. The price and ‘activity’ is generally negotiated with a knock at the glass window, which is actually a door that opens. Once the deal is done, the red curtain is pulled shut, locking out the prying eyes of tourists! 

Whilst waiting, many of the girls were on their mobile phones, others were doing a little jig in the window, while some were just shooting the breeze with the girl next door. 

Mind you, we did see a lot of drunk tourists knocking on the window for a chat. As a prime tourist spot though, everything is super laid back and it’s definitely one of the safer Red Light Districts in the world. 

Dam Square City Centre

Not too far from the hustle and bustle of this laneway precinct is Dam Square, the city’s historical centre surrounded by some spectacular buildings.

Holiday in The Netherlands

And pigeons! Lots of them! Beware the man who gives you rice to feed them.

Of course there’s so much to do in Amsterdam it was nigh on impossible for us to tick everything off in three short days.

From the Anne Frank Museum (which I recommend booking in advance) to the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt’s House and the Rijksmuseum, The Jewish Museum and the Corrie Ten Boom House in Haarlem, also known as the Hiding Place which saw the Ten Boom family provide a hiding place for Jewish people and the resistance members during World War Two. 

Oh and don’t forget the plethora of magnificent windmills dotting the city.

For more on what to do check out the Trip Advisor Link here

Until then, when in Amsterdam…..wear clogs!

Kids in Amsterdam

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