Amsterdam is by far the most beautiful city I have ever been to; pictures just can’t do it justice. The streets glisten and sparkle, reflecting the red lights strung between buildings high above the walking paths. It is definitely a youthful city: 20-year-olds chat in cafes, bike along the canals, and smoke outside of buildings, making Amsterdam vibrate with intensity and excitement.
We had a longer visit this time because we all flew in on Thursday and stayed until midday on Sunday. This gave us plenty of time to explore everything we could, starting with a very roundabout tour of the city to find our hostel, which ended up being only five minutes from the train station and in the heart of the Red Light District. The central location put us at the center of all the nightlife and socializing, but the most important site near us was the amply named Waffle and Crepe Shop. I had the best waffle of my life there and we went back multiple times thanks to our discount from the hostel.
One of the first things we did was take a really great walking tour of the city that also happened to be free. Our leader, Geert, was extremely knowledgeable and pretty hilarious. He was Dutch but was raised in the United States so he thoroughly enjoyed mocking us Americans. He gave a phenomenal tour – the kind where you cannot repeat any sort of trivia, but you get a very strong sense of the place you are visiting. He took us to the Anne Frank house, the Red Light District, and a famous coffee shop called De Dampkring where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s Twelve.
Geert explained that Amsterdam was originally built on drained land so the buildings are slowly sinking back into the water. As they sink, the buildings tip sideways and resemble a city from a Dr. Seuss book. The lean houses also tip forward because they are so tall and skinny that large objects cannot be transported up the stairwells. Therefore objects, such as pianos, must be pulled up outside, so each building has a hook at the very top where a rope is looped through and used to hoist up whatever furniture is needed. The buildings lean forward to prevent these objects from scraping the walls on the way up.
On Friday night we trudged a mile and a half in biting wind and snow to make it to the Van Gogh museum. Apparently Friday night is party night at the Van Gogh because when we arrived at 8:30 there was a live band playing smooth jazz and classy young couples were milling around, sipping cocktails. Because it was late at night there were fewer tourists and we moved through the exhibits quickly. I never knew that Van Gogh had so many different artistic phases – I usually think of grainy, one-eared self-portraits in bright, unnatural colors, but he also has some beautiful landscapes and sketches. I definitely gained a new appreciation for his work.
Most of Saturday we walked around and took a canal tour, which offered a very different perspective of the city. We floated down a maze of intersecting canals to view rundown boathouses, famous historical homes, and seaweed-covered towers. We ended up in the bay outside of Amsterdam looking at the same view that merchant ships would have seen centuries ago.
Our last stop on Sunday was a classic tourist destination – the I Amsterdam sign. We climbed on the massive letters and snapped pictures whenever there was a break in the throng of tourists. It was probably the least interesting part of the whole city, but tourists must be tourists!
We never made it to the Anne Frank museum or the Rijksmuseum, but that is just one of many reasons for me to come back to Amsterdam some day.