My first step on Netherland soil (Amsterdam Airport Schiphol ) was so unbelievably positive, any previous fears I had about leaving Canada quickly dissolved. As I moved through the arrival gate I was greeted by a hoard of smiling faces holding signs, balloons and beautiful bouquets of flowers (there are flower shops on every corner littered with tulips, daisies, and other cheerful stems).
Of course none of this reception was for ME personally, but truth be told, even though they’ll never know it, the presence of so much welcoming energy made for an incredibly moving first experience in Europe. Little did I know, the next seven days were going to be some of the best of my life – filled with so much history, beautiful people and A LOT of late nights. I wouldn’t change one thing about my Amsterdam experience – here’s a few memories that I will truly never forget…
The look on Kristina’s face when we arrived at the hotel. Maybe it was the incredibly steep lobby staircase that greeted our exhausted bodies, or the 6×6 closet they called a room (literally so small the bathroom door couldn’t open without slamming into the back of the room door), but Id be lying if I didn’t say I was slightly disappointed as well upon arrival. This hotel wasn’t cheap by Canadian standards (could have easily gotten a nice room in a decent hotel downtown Vancouver for the same price). However, the longer we stayed, the more we realized Hotel Sipermann is truly a gem. Spacious; no. Clean; yes. And the location was the absolute best part. Located directly beside beautiful Vondel Park (where we drank wine on a park bench and people watched everyday), biking distance to absolutely everything, and such a fun mix of both locals and tourists in the evenings come out to fill the square lined with coffee shops and bars.
Picnic lunches in the sunshine. And it wasn’t just the beautiful views and absolutely mouthwatering European cuisine and wine (for 3 euros a bottle!!). It was the whole experience; the bike rides to the markets and strolls through the grocery store looking at prices and all the different european products. Amsterdam has free ferries on the backside of Centraal Station that travel back and forth every 15 or so minutes to the northern part of the city (bikes, picnic basket, wine and all). It was surreal seeing the city from this view and then biking back through more of the countryside; I felt more local than tourist.
‘If you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much’. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. Everyone is soooooooo nice and so willing to help. From the man on his scooter who drove at snail speed to chat and guide us to the ferry while we casually biked beside him, to Eli at Elvino Mexican restaurant who insisted we try the spicy salsa and jumbo beers on the house, to the hundreds of locals we flagged down on the daily because neither one of us can properly read a map in this web of a city. All English speaking, all infectiously happy and all in like with Canadians.
EATING cheese like it’s calorie free. One of the foods Amsterdam does very well and relatively cheap. We visited a plethora of cheeseries around town and tried every single sample (lavender polderkaas, spicy pesto parmesan, and the best smoked Gouda I’ve ever eaten). Cheese & More by Henri Willig puts on a cheese tasting every night at 4pm (you must reserve ahead) for 10 euro and it includes two glasses of wine/beer and of course the cheese pairings. Although we never did this tour, it came recommended by many.
Our approach was a little less refined; walking through sampling everything with a 0.43 cent beer in hand and then proceeding to take pictures with the cheesemakers.
Biking EVERYWHERE! It was slightly intimidating at first, but a bicycle (with basket) truly is the best way to get around this city. Know your hand signals before you go though to avoid causing the odd accidental bike traffic jam (oops!) or angry bells from cyclers behind. We were lucky enough to have A-Bike Rental close to the hotel and they have the greatest staff. We got pretty comfortable with the rental shop and we would return several times throughout the day to use their free wifi, expresso machine and just chat with everyone working. They cooked us dinner, biked us around to the best tourist destinations and took our photographs in front of the iamdterdam sign! I still can’t believe they let us keep our beer cold in the stores’ water bottle cooler (our room didn’t have a fridge) because no matter how many times we tried to convince ourselves, warm cheap beer just isn’t that good.
Dude – where’s my bike? After a night of drinking and 881,000 bikes in the city that honestly look exactly the same at 4am! Ahhh. About 60 minutes (and two slightly panicked girls getting ready to walk back to our hotel) they appeared. From that day forward we learned how important landmarking is when locking up. Biking is everything in this city and nothing could have prepared me for the sight of so many parked bicycles in one area. It’s not uncommon to see three or more people riding on one bike, and I’m still in awe of how the girls jump gracefully onto back of bicycles (side saddle). Later we would try this technique without much success – I suppose it will take some time to master.
Canal cruising with Those Dam Boat Guys. There motto is ‘boat like the locals do’ and they mean it. Bring your own food and drink, smoke what you like, and just enjoy this beautiful city from an open top boat on the water. This cruise was one of my best memories of the whole trip; weaving in and out of A’dams 165 canals in the sunshine with an ice cold Gin and tonic, asking new friends on the boat to take photos of us (who needs a selfie stick, anyways?!), and just laughing with our tour guide Amil. The tour was so laid back but also really informative, and no two tours are alike. If you are ever in Amsterdam it’s a must!
Relaxing mid-day naps in Meseumplein. Named after the perimeter of famous museums that surround it, this park is definitely a site to see. So lush and relaxing it’s hard to feel anything but complete happiness.
Some final thoughts….
“Truffle” doesn’t mean flavourful oil. “Smoke” doesn’t mean cigarettes. And that smell that is literally everywhere you go, isn’t a skunk. Bars allow marajuana but no cigarettes inside. Local girls don’t dress “up” or wear much makeup. I didn’t see one cute pair of heels, instead a lot of females in Nike Air Max or converse sneakers. The red light district at 3am is no place for a female tourist unless you are comfortable with a serious amount of male attention.
I’d return to A’dam in a heartbeat – this city is so much more than legal prostitution and smoking weed. The people have depth, the parks are unbelievably beautiful and the relaxed vibe makes everything feel so comfortable. Immediately Im in love with the simplicity of Europe. You don’t need a fancy 5* hotel, a rental car or nice restaurants to have fun. ‘Prissing’ before going out is completely unnecessary and a waste of valuable time you could use to meet new friends.
I’m learning that a bottle of wine, a block of cheese, some plastic cutlery, a gorgeous park, and some inspiring company is all I need to feel fulfilled and full of sparkle.