A lifestyle expat travel blog about culture, history, Brexit, the Royal Family, travels around the world, Europe, and being British in Berlin!
UPDATED JANUARY 2021!
At last, the story of my solo weekend in Amsterdam!
Just a day after the New Year, I started my international travel adventure for 2015, and my very short trip to Holland.
When people think of Amsterdam, their ears immediately prick up, and their eyes bulge intensely at the exotic-ness of that city of sin….
However, people live in Amsterdam. I mean, people people.
Real people. Ordinary people. People who have to get up in the morning and work in an office, take the train, or in this case, ride their bicycles. But you don’t want to hear all about that, you want the other stuff. The stuff that “decent” people whisper over….
So you think you know Amsterdam. Let’s see.
Amsterdam is a small capital city in Europe. It’s one of those places steeped in history and glory.
Indeed, as a 12th century fishing hamlet, it’s done rather well as a naval trading giant in the 17th century hunting for spoils and riches, before Britain came and took away such treasures as New Amsterdam (from Amsterdam in Holland), that later relegated to New York (from York in England). We also know of the conflicts and tribulations that Amsterdam had to go through in order to keep the water at bay, and the canals safe.
It’s been quite a few years since I’d last been to Amsterdam and I wanted to refresh my memory by going on a historic walking tour. You know how I like alternative walking tours, free walking tours, and walking tours in exotic places!
I quite fancied being guided through 800 years of history and culture, important events, monuments and curiosities. But it wasn’t to be, as the tour guide didn’t turn up!
Perhaps he had a long night…!
It was rainy and wet so I decided to do a walking tour of my own. After all, I knew some of the city and I was surprised that I could still remember, but did you know that:
The last time I was in Amsterdam was in 2006. I didn’t stay the night and only came over for the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt van Rijn, as I had missed the exhibition in Berlin!
A few years earlier, I had stayed at a very dodgy hostel, in the heart of the red-light district, and not far from the river. I was in a shared bunkroom, and that is all I can remember…!
Nine (9) years later, I wanted to stay in a clean calm hotel, within reasonable distance, but safe. I started scouting around and contacting hotels. I couldn’t find any for love or money. Well, actually I could, but I couldn’t afford €355 per night so I started begging! I even went as far as contacting an Amsterdam PR person on Boxing Day!
At last, a lovely boutique hotel found me a double room at a price I could live with, and an included breakfast. With free WIFI!
That small lovely boutique hotel was called NL Hotel Museumplein.
Update 2016: Sadly, the NL Hotel Museumplein is now closed. However, it’s sister hotel nearby – NL Hotel district Leidseplein – seems to be just as good!
The NL-Hotel Museumplein in Amsterdam was in a historic, residential trendy part of town and just 5 minutes from the Museumplein, Museum Square or Museum Quarter, where all the greats can be found! The hotel is also in a part of the Amsterdam Fashion District. My hotel was on a quiet side street with upper-middle class families and children strolling around, a small historic church around the corner, and trendy cafe’s and high-class Korean BBQ restaurants not far away, as well as a farmers’ market very close by.
Note: NL Hotel district Leidseplein is in the same area!
p.s If you’re booking hotels, houses and apartments, use this link to save 20% or more, between 5th January and 31st March 2021!
Now that was sorted out, I went to the I amsterdam office. Those ladies were amazing! I had hassled, begged, and interrupted their Xmas festivities looking for help to get a hotel within a week, help for information, and generally, help all around. They were lovely. Not only did the press office send me some hotel names to try, but they generously also gave me a complimentary I amsterdam 48 hour city card too.
Thank goodness I had it, as the amount of rushing around that I encountered, and in the rain I might add, would have cost me a fortune!
Thank you so much!
Anyway, after picking up the city card, almost next to the Amsterdam Central Train Station, I went for a stroll on the old Highstreet called Damrak. It’s right in front of the station, on the opposite side, after the traffic lights, near the fancy hotels. You can’t miss it, and if you do, just follow the crowds. Everyone’s going “that way!”
I had breakfast. I arrived at 04:00 on a Saturday morning you see so I couldn’t really check in.
Oh didn’t I tell you. I came by coach (bus) and then it was too dark to roam around, and I didn’t want to take any transport that early in the morning.
You know why!!
I was wearing my fancy cashmere coat and had changed into my “nice” clothes so once I got into Amsterdam proper, I picked a random 5-star hotel and had cups of tea in their lobby until about 07:30!
So I had breakfast, and then took a 100 Highlights Canal Cruise on the river. I used my I amsterdam city card and got the canal cruise for free (normally €15.50). It highlights the waterside and takes an hour. You can also take the public ferry service that goes to Amsterdam-Noord about every 10 minutes.
I just so love rivers. The waterside tells you such a lot about a place and it’s people. The buildings, the bridges, and the houseboats. The dykes and the street corners where condemned criminals were once hanged for all to see. The canals are so exquisite that the canals in Amsterdam have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Fancy that!
I’m not the best cyclist but I like places that worship the bike. In Europe, we love our bikes and use them, and you can’t go far wrong if you want to ride your bicycle in Amsterdam! Even Dutch Royalty are known to go about on their very own bicycles as Amsterdam is enormously flat and quite honestly, was designed very much with 17th century horses and carts in mind!
After the river cruise I decided to go for a leisurely stroll down Damrak.
I bumped into cheese.
Dutch cheese is quite famous.
Everywhere you look is cheese.
If you love cheese, you can pretty much go into any of the cheese shops and get to know all about the flavours, aroma, and quality of an enormous range of cheese. I went into a place called the Cheese Inn Museum. That’s right. Amsterdam has a museum. For Cheese!
It’s free to go in, and they give you a little tour, info, and a cubes of different cheese and sauces to taste. I was impressed so I bought some Dutch waffles and biscuits, some very, very, very Old Amsterdam Cheese, and for my husband who is a connoisseur – Dutch Farmhouse Cheese with Italian Black Truffle. And let me tell you.
It was worth every penny!
After all that, I was rather peckish, so I tried my hand at a batch of Dutch chips or fries with mayo.
First of all, I don’t like chips and mayo, or chips and tartare sauce, so I said “no sauce please.” The chip girl looked quite disgusted, so she encouraged me to try it with “a little sauce” for free. So I did.
And it was quite tasty!
After a few hours break in the sanity and quietness of my boutique hotel, I decided to venture out into the night.
Amsterdam by day is delightful, but by night all the sleezeballs come out. This night was no different, and I tossed and turned between taking a private tour guide at 22:00, or joining in a group of jolly people at 20:00.
I decided to join the group.
I did some research and found a free Red Light District Walk with a company called 360amsterdam. No previous booking was necessary, you just turned up at the starting point which was on the Dam Square at the corner of the Royal Palace, near a local church.
We were about 20 odd people from Britain, Canada, America, Germany, and Singapore and our guide was a tall blond Dutch chap called Karel.
As you can imagine, it’s difficult to take photos in the Red Light District but there’s safety in numbers, and it was perfectly OK to walk around.
The issue of sex for pay, prostitution, and even sex itself is controversial. Europe doesn’t have a problem with sex in itself.
Some countries are conservative, but a large number of people are pretty liberal. Unlike the UK (where sex is a dirty word and everyone is deprived and therefore perverted), and the US (where sex and morality are considered to be one and the same thing).
Sex in Europe is discussed, prostitution is a regulated profession and taxed, nudity is freedom, and sexuality is private and tolerant. I mean, being straight and not kissing someone of the opposite sex in this town, is considered to be quite boring!
In fact, I once went to a sex show myself.
I saw an article in an expat magazine that I picked up, outside an English-speaking comedy show!
It was about an erotic place called Casa Rosso. I thought it would be a laugh so I decided to go and see for myself.
It’s on the riverside and I went for the first show.
It was summer and perfectly bright outside. I hung around for quite a while as I was nervous about going in on my own, and I would never have gone there with a friend.
Far too embarrassing!
I was about to walk briskly away when a crowd of Japanese tourists turned up. Most of them in their late 50’s and in couples.
I mean, if old people were going in, it couldn’t be that bad could it?
I followed a Japanese couple, paid (in those days 50 Deutsche Marks), and got a ticket and two glasses of champagne!
At first, it was rather funny with ping-pong balls and beads, some fake S&M, and strip tease performances that were so lame, that a shampoo advertisement was distinctly better!
Then a male and female couple came on dressed as James Bond on a twirly board. Then some very distinctive twisting, turning, and grinding, which I thought was hilarious as the board kept twirling around, and all you could see were quick snatches of view.
And then I saw something.
It looked real.
It couldn’t be real.
I looked around.
I had only paid 50 Deutche Marks, the bouncer was in a nice suit, I chatted to some of the Japanese tourists, and for goodness sake, I was drinking champagne!
I turned back.
I was so shocked and utterly unconvinced, that I watched it again.
It was real!
You’re in Amsterdam baby!
Well, after all the excitement of our night-time walk we went to a hipster arcade bar called The TonTon Club for a couple of drinks. it’s slap bang in the middle of the heart of the Red Light District and is a haven for artists and game developers. The drinks weren’t cheap (I paid €4.50 for my Dutch-original-organic-6.5%-hipster beer), and you get a free token to play on the pinball or SEGA arcade games!
After a refreshing breakfast at my boutique hotel, it was time for some culture, and this is where the I amsterdam city card came into it’s own. I had a list of places that I wanted to go to:
I actually went to:
By 21:00, it was time to leave. It was clear that I had a fascinating time.
My blog is not about what’s right and what’s wrong. If you look deep enough you’ll see that it’s all about what’s different, the other, the edge. It’s also all rather tongue-in-cheek!
And Amsterdam is a perfect example. It’s a lovely quaint city with an exposed diverse edge. It’s cosmopolitan, and at the same time Dutch in style. It’s romantic and beautiful, but tolerant and diverse. It’s rich and lively, but quiet and authentic. It’s charming and also like any other capital city, beautifully flawed.
Go see for yourself.
I amsterdam city cards are €49.00 for 24 hours, €59.00 for 48 hours, and €69.00 for 72 hours. If you intend to go to museums, attractions, canal cruises, and use a lot of the local public transport like I did whilst in Amsterdam, then well worth the price.
This article is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary 48 I amsterdam city card, and a discount from my hotel, all opinions and the delicious Dutch cheese, and tasty Dutch organic beer that I happily consumed, are my very own!
I have so much to share with you, so next week it’s the glamour and suspense of THE WYLD in Berlin!
If you’re not in Berlin in January, you’re totally mad!
January is going to be alive and kicking!
Watch this space!
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