Welcome to Amsterdam! The naughty corner of Europe – the city I fell in love with as soon as I stepped foot on it’s 400-year-old cobblestone streets. Lot of highs, little low’s, everyone is here to have a good time, not a long time. For us? Both.
I have to be honest, Amsterdam was never on my list of top places to visit, nor was it a place that I ever thought I would love so much. The classic pictures of bikes chained to bridges crossing canals never really did much for me. I knew nothing about the place except that it was full of canals and cool looking houses everywhere.
Yet there I was, standing on one of the many bridges, staring out into the canals with heart eyes for this city. There’s something about the narrow brick roads running along either side of the canals, the arched bridges and the colourful, leaning buildings towering above that keeps me wanting more.
Picture this. You step out of your hostel into one of the most famous and busiest streets of Amsterdam. Kalverstraat boasts top end shops, mouth watering delicacies and beautiful architecture dating back to the 17th century. Take a walk down the brick roads and your senses are overwhelmed. The crowds are buzzing, the air is fresh, your nose can’t help but smell the highs that everyone around you is on and your eyes slowly turn into heart shapes. A few hundred metres later the road takes you into Dam Square, home to the Royal Palace of the King and Queen, the New Church where royalty are crowned, street performers, food vendors and even more masses of people. You think nothing else can beat this cobblestoned square, but then you walk down Damrak to the ‘Golden Bend,’ a curve in the ‘Lord’s Canal’ and one of the most prestigious parts of Amsterdam. And then you walk further south, passing endless rows of leaning apartments, café’s, coffeeshops, gift stores and museums. You’re now walking along the canal belt. Perhaps what Amsterdam is known for most, these 4 canals form a semi circle around Amsterdam’s centre and terminate in the IJ River which cuts the ring in half at the top and flows out to sea. From here on out, good luck navigating the intersecting waterways and narrow brick roads, but there’s certainly no better city to get lost in than Amsterdam.
Amsterdam alone has a total of 165 canals, stretching over 100km and passing under 1500 bridges. You only have to look at a map to understand that The Netherlands is a country built on water. 26% of the country is below sea level, and most of the major cities were all reclaimed from water. The name alone, Amsterdam, is derived from the name of the Amstel river that was cut off into a Dam, coincidentally, right where Dam square is situated today. It’s a city that was built on wooden stilts, only 220km2 with 780,000 residences, yet it pulls in a massive 14 million tourists each year. I don’t blame them.
Since moving to Amsterdam just over a week ago I’ve stayed in 4 hostels, with 2 couchsurfing hosts and at one friends house, taking me to 5 different neighbourhoods in the east, south, west and centre of the city. There’s really no picking favourites here – Amsterdam is my favourite, as a whole. The whole city is walkable, and while every corner may look the same as the last one, each neighbourhood has its own charms and character. Centrum is a tourist frenzy, but it also has the best shopping malls, the best architecture and the craziest party atmosphere. Home to the Red Light District, Jordaan, the canal belt, Rembrantplein, Nieuwmarkt, Leidseplein, Dam Square, The Anne Frank House and many more museums, Centrum has no shortage of diverse attractions. Noord (north) and the IJ islands in the north east are a completely different look and feel. The whole area is undergoing renovations to create a high-end, modern city within a city, only a free ferry ride across the IJ river. The rivers are wide, the roads are wide and the same medieval architecture found in Centrum is reflected here as well. Artis Zoo can be found here, and Oosterpark is a smaller version of Vondel Park. The eastern neighbourhoods are also the most culturally diverse in Amsterdam. Oud Zuid (old south) is situated just outside the Singelgracht canal in the south, where the city walls used to surround Amsterdam. Home to Vondel Park and the Museumplein – Rijks, Van Gogh and Stedelijks – Oud Zuid is the arts hub of Amsterdam. And finally, Westerpark in the west is a huge neighbourhood where many Amsterdammers reside. It’s lively, green, cultural and diverse, yet in comparison to Centrum, it is a quiet neighbourhood only a short walk away from the frenzy.
Amsterdam, really, is one of the best places I have been in. There’s a lot of cool places in the world that I have been to so far, but this one is a really cool place. One of the biggest pros to this city is the lifestyle and culture of, not just the Dutch, but even the tourists and travellers who come here. Here, everyone is accepted. Old, young, guys or girls, guys and girls, girls and guys, straight, gay, tall, short, dark or light. Take a walk through the park and you’ll see people doing their own thing, and whatever they’re doing, its accepted. There may be a flamboyant guy walking around in a loud dress, but he’s doing him, and you’re doing you. And that’s ok here. Everyone to themselves, but everyone for everyone. Sex workers aren’t looked down upon, druggies aren’t condemned. There’s no social standards, no ‘normal’, and nothing to conform to here. I like this. It works. People work together this way, and the rest of the world has something to learn from this.
Amsterdam, I’m keen for the next few months. Becoming an Amsterdammer is quite nice I must say, and to know that I’ve been lucky enough to live in this city when this year comes to an end – that’s REAL cool.