My main reason for visiting Amsterdam was to see if it were possible to live in the middle of the UK and manage a day trip to continental Europe without having to take time off work. The answer is "yes, it is, but it is quite tiring". Amsterdam was not especially near the top or even the middle of my list of "must see" places, but I did want to tick Holland off my list of European countries not yet visited, so it seemed like a good idea.
I stayed with a friend in Cambridge and we both flew from Stansted airport early one Saturday morning, as it is not too far from Cambridge. The 35 minute flight on Easyjet was probably the shortest flight I've ever been on, and it certainly helps when you're trying to go somewhere and back in the same day. 7am flight out, and something like 7pm flight back. This gives more than enough time to walk and walk around Amsterdam and get very tired feet. The check-in times of budget airlines is still long enough to make this day a 5am wake-up.
The only slight hurdle to get over is the train ticket machines in Schiphol airport. They are not quite as straightforward as they think they are, and do not accept all credit cards as they think they do. Luckily there are plenty of English speaking staff around to sort it out.
The train trip from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam "centraal" station is around 20 mins, and punctual. Amsterdam it self is what I would describe as "quite nice", although how much you enjoy it will really depend on your point of view. I know some people who think that 4-5 days there is barely enough, but one day got me to see all I needed. It's no London, Paris or (presumably as I've not yet been there) Rome. There is some decent architecture and a hell of a lot of bridges, but no really outstanding pieces. Having said that, it's not bland either, just nothing "mega". It really needs something like the Eiffel tower. However, what I said about "point of view" also depends on where you're coming from. Obviously, if you're not European then you're probably going to find it a whole lot more attractive as a place because it will not be what you are used to at all. As it is, we have many brick buildings in the UK too, so they are nothing special..
Most of what I wanted to see was easily do-able in one day, by foot, unless I'd been planning to go into many of the museums, in which case I'd have needed half a day to queue. The Anne Frank house/museum had a very long queue all around the edge and corner of the house, although the house itself appeared quite modern so I can only imagine her wartime hiding place was itself hidden. The Rijksmuseum had a similar sized queue, and to my frustration it also had a lot of scaffolding and panels around it, making photography quite tricky. The Van Gogh museum did not have a large queue for some reason, although I had expected one. Because of this, we went in. I do like some classical art, but Van Gogh's style is not really my favourite. If you do like his work however, you certainly won't be disappointed however. Downstairs in the same museum is a large exhibition of Japanese art which I much preferred. So did Van Gogh, which explains its presence.
There are two things that Amsterdam has more than any other place I have been yet : Bicycles and canals. The cyclists seem to be quite intolerant of pedestrians, so I certainly needed to take care with them. The canals are harmless enough, although each canal-bridge intersection does look much like the next one, making it difficult to get your bearings at times.
There is an area of narrower pedestrianised streets containing many restaurants, and pretty much whatever cuisine I could have wished for was there. As it is I got one of my favourites, Greek Moussaka, sitting at an outside table with a mug of Heineken beer. Not bad at all. I also tried one of the many waffles they have available in the shops, with syrup. Not diet food for sure, but good.
Most of the tourist shops are centred around clogs, tulips and windmills, unless they're in the weed/drug cafe area, in which case anything I might have wanted in the shape of a marijuana leaf or with a marijuana leaf printed on it was available to me. It took me a long time to find/notice the cafes themselves however. I had kind of expected to smell them long before seeing them, but not being familiar with that smell it was a while before I realised the urine smell in some of the areas was actually not urine... The only other district that Amsterdam is famous for is it's Red Light one. At 4pm on a bright sunny afternoon, that area is pretty tame.
That's about all I can think to say about Amsterdam. It's "quite nice".
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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2006