Holland - Amsterdam

by Chris Thompson & David Sutcliffe

   

To be honest Amsterdam was not in my top ten cities to visit in Europe. I think due to the geography of a northern city overlooking the North Sea, with a close proximity to England I felt it lacked a certain glamour.  However, after bidding at a charity auction, four of us became proud owners of a weekend in Amsterdam and tickets to the first night of the Dutch ballet's Romeo and Juliet.

Amsterdam is, and always has been, in my top 10 cities.  I absolutely adore the place.  I am proud to be a northern European and feel an affinity with cities in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Russia etc.  When I was 18 four of us set out for a weekend in Amsterdam without any thought of ballet in our heads.

Amsterdam set out to impress with clear blue autumn skies and sunshine from dawn until dusk.  The perfect weather to discover Amsterdam - and discover it we did!  Staying at the Dylan was a great decision; the location is impressive set in a 17th Century mansion on the beautiful Keizersgracht canal. After checking into our quirky rooms we set off for lunch at De Kas restaurant a five-minute taxi ride from and twenty minute walk back to central Amsterdam. Housed in a combination of an old 1926 greenhouse and modern glass extension surrounded by glasshouses and gardens growing much of the produce for the kitchen this was a perfect introduction to modern Dutch cuisine.

On my most recent visit (I've been 4 times) we arrived into Centraal Station and made the very short walk to the Bellevue Hotel, a very clean, well-located hotel which I have sent several clients to.  It is within perfect walking distance of almost everything you could wish for.  Sorry to say I haven't tried any modern Dutch cuisine, but I did taste the best steaks I've ever had in some of the several Argentinean restaurants in the city centre.

The following day dawned bright, dry and sunny again - thank goodness, as we had reserved bicycles for the day.  After reacquainting ourselves with these machines, and the highway protocol i.e. bicycles rule the road except for the trams, we set off to discover Amsterdam.  On the same day the canals and sea played host to a rowing race - all sizes of boats with mixed and single sex crews could be spotted at every turn, making for a very friendly atmosphere as spectators cheered from bridges.  Everyone who visits Amsterdam will visit Dam Square, the Jewish Quarter along with Anne Frank's house and the great museums/ galleries.  However, new areas with contemporary spaces for art, music and food can now be found on the outskirts of this central area in particular the eastern docks and Jordaan.  We discovered interesting retail spaces for interior design, clothing and jewellery run by friendly English speakers, eager to chat and offer advice on local restaurants and bars.

Of course the brown cafes and red light district are two of the main tourist attractions I have not mentioned!  We did not try the first and did walk around the second!!!  To me it was clinical and a little sad, however, I think David's account may be more informative!!

Cheeky! Brown Cafes and the Red Light District......an 18 year-old boy's equivalent of being in Disneyland.  This IS Amsterdam.  You simply cannot believe that somewhere like this exists so close to England.  The brown cafes are spread out in the very small city centre, mainly round the side streets off Damrak and around Centraal station.  The red light district is surprisingly large and operates 24 hours a day. Given that Amsterdam is a small city and people live in the centre  it does seem odd that children can walk to school through this area.  At night, however, it is an entirely different place - full of mainly British tourists, the majority of whom it has to be said are simply witnessing what it's all about.  There is a slight seediness to it, but who's to say that this isn't a better way of dealing with such issues than the ones we use in the UK? - by the way it's 50 euros in case you're wondering (and no, I don't know that from personal experience!)

I guess you really can try anything in Amsterdam from highbrow to low.  For a short hop you really should give this city a visit and be as pleasantly surprised as me.

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