Amsterdam: quaint streets, 1 million bikes, and 'those' windows

amsterdam-lauren-macneish-027.jpg

May 26th 2017: I’m sitting in ‘The Bistro’ in my hometown with my 2 friends, Paula and Heather. We’re drinking Long Island Iced Teas and having a chat about how much we would all love to go to Amsterdam. “Let’s just book tickets now!” Someone says… I can’t remember if it was Heather or Paula.

2 days later I had a flight booking confirmation in my inbox and an airbnb booked for July 13th - July 16th. It was pretty whimsical!

On the lead up to our impromptu city break, everyone I told about our trip would make a remark along the lines of “Oh, you better behave” or “Are you going to try the cakes?” or “Are you going to go to The Red Light District?”

I was so insulted. Not really… isn’t this what everyone assumes when someone mentions Amsterdam? Everywhere has it’s stereotypes, I guess. While Edinburgh has a castle, bagpipes and tartan; Amsterdam has ‘legal-ish’ hash, a bunch of sex shows, and a lot of red lights… and I don’t mean the emergency services kind… although…

Anyway, I think we were mostly excited just to get away for a weekend and see what all the fuss was about with an air of curiosity and a level of sensibility.

July 13th 2017: We arrive in Amsterdam after a ridiculously delayed flight - thanks EasyJet - and it’s around 11:30pm before our Uber driver drops us off at a construction site. We were off to a wonderful start, our airbnb was on a road that was currently undergoing ‘works’ but, really, it just looked like a massive sandpit.

We decided to crash for the night and start afresh the next day… see?… sensibility!

July 14th 2017: We started our 45 minute walk to the city centre from our airbnb… not because we felt like a brisk morning walk… but because the ‘really easy’ tram service in Amsterdam got us beyond confused - although, in our defence, I’m not sure they were running on our neighbourhood due to the big sandpit.

After I complained for the full 45 minutes about how hungry I was due to only eating a panini and chips the previous day - being hangry is a real thing, people - Paula and Heather gave in and we decided to stop at a place for breakfast. Pancakes with banana and chocolate sauce curbed any further hunger complaints from me, at least for a while.

We spent the day walking 9 miles, give or take, around the city centre of Amsterdam - this included a much needed stop at Primark for me to buy comfortable shoes since the new Nike trainers I’d bought for this trip were hurting my feet.

Bikes, Bikes everywhere! We couldn’t believe just how many bikes there were - apparently Amsterdam has around 1 million bicycles and I think we were almost knocked over by every single one them! I’m so envious of this method of transport being the norm, I do wish there was more of that where I live. It was very cool to see girls dressed up in evening wear cycling their bikes to wherever their weekend antics were beginning.

Canals and bridges were also in abundance, which lead to us getting lost every so often and tested our coordination skills more than enough times. Did you know that the blue dot on Apple Maps can sometimes take several minutes to actually move before you realise you’re going in the wrong direction? Incredible.

Paula and I remembered that a lot of the movie ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ was filmed in Amsterdam and our inner romantics decided we needed to find the bench that was featured in the movie. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know how significant that scene is; if you haven’t, it will just look like another bench to you… complete with padlocks and engravings due to the movie’s popularity. And also… why haven’t you watched it?

Our leisurely day ended with a ham and pineapple pizza near Dam Square before we headed back to our airbnb to get ready for the evening’s shenanigans.

Now, you know me… I go to most places to seek out the photo opportunities. But when in Rome and all that. We were a few ‘Edinburgh Fizzes’ (prosecco and gin) into our ‘getting ready’ phase and anticipated our evening that we had planned in The Red Light District. We weren’t going for seedy reasons… but curiosity gets the better of you, right? It’s like our inner giggly school girls came out to play.

I’m always less than serious after a few too many gins so we passed a few of those windows and I happily gave a little wave and a Cheshire cat type smile. I’m such a wise arse at times. Turns out, the ladies are super-friendly and happily waved back with their own - slightly more provocative - Cheshire cat smiles.

We often hear people talk about ‘eye-opening’ experiences, but this went beyond my realm of imagination. I assumed the ladies would be on some sort of podium in some sort of club behind some sort of window. But they are literally on street level on the other side of a glass door. It’s completely bizarre. We heard a tour guide nearby explaining that the girls are completely legal, run their own business, and pay their taxes - kudos to them, who are we to judge? 

For what it’s worth, we had an amazing night in the bars in this area of Amsterdam… it was nowhere near as seedy as people make out - in fact, it wasn’t at all - we found that it was mostly other city-breakers out for drinks, just like you’d find in any other city’s nightlife. I mean, besides the obvious stuff going on behind the curtains… but that’s up to you how you want to react to that.

Our ‘night’ ended at 7:30am the following morning when we arrived home from a bar called ‘San Francisco’.

July 15th 2017: After sleeping a full 2 hours until 9:30am, Paula and I got ready to meet up with a work friend of mine (who lives in Amsterdam) in a cool little hang out spot called ‘Hanneke Boom’. We began our walk but soon realised just how far away the place was so decided to do things the proper way and hitched a lift in a hire-bike’s cart. It was hilarious. But totally scary. The guy sped along and the rough turns and bumps on the road was doing our hangovers no favours whatsoever.

We got there in one piece - barely - and had a lovely lunch with my friend. We mentioned to my friend that we were hoping to visit Anne Frank’s house - she quickly laughed this off, explaining to us that the queues were always ridiculous and that we should spend our time doing other things.

After we left my friend, Paula and I decided we would give Anne Frank's House a go anyway. Lots of people had told us that it was really interesting and we felt we best do something culturally educating while we were there; plus, I think Anne Frank's Diary was the first non-fiction book I read when I was a kid so I had a personal interest. We almost fell over when we seen how long the queue was, and after hearing an American lady get super pissed off at someone on the phone for leaving her waiting in the queue for THREE hours to not show up, we decided we’d give Anne Frank’s house a miss this time and promised to return to Amsterdam again soon to visit.

By this point it was around 6pm and the tiredness from last night’s antics was settling in. We walked back to Dam Square for a Pina Colada from ‘Majestic’ before heading for some dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We made our way back to the airbnb at 9:30pm for a good night sleep before our 8am flight the next morning.

Amsterdam is charming with it’s intriguing architecture and unique style. It feels clean, safe and offers a perfect combination of quaint streets and trendy bars. Amsterdam somewhat reminded me of Paris but on a smaller scale; the people are friendly, there’s a lot of canals and bridges; and they love their bakeries. There’s a bunch of ‘coffee shops’ where you can devour whatever ‘cake’ takes your fancy - although, not as many as we assumed there would be; another stereotype - and to answer your question… no, none of us went to any of them or tried any of the ‘sweet treats’ on offer. Not through being on our high-horses, I just don’t think it’s our ‘thing’.

This was a fantastic weekend with friends, but of course I was armed with my camera and managed to capture a few frames to sum up our time in Amsterdam. It was a great few nights and we will be back… with better shoes and a proper map!

Check out some photos from this trip here.