Monday, March 14, 2011

a m s t e r d a m

This weekend (March 12-13) I boarded a flight at 6:35 in the morning to get to Amsterdam. No longer am I going to book an early flight like this… particularly after drinking and staying up the night before! Anyhow, that is already done. Getting to Amsterdam took about no time though – 45 minutes was all it took to land.

Schiphol Airport

Now, Amsterdam is a city that is an enormous tourist attraction throughout the entire year. This was my first time but I feel like I had experienced the city just from hearing the numerous stories from so many other people. Even with these stories in the back of my mind though, this was an experience that you just don’t get unless you see it for yourself.

My first thought was, “holy cow, do all these bikes belong to people??” I have never seen so many littered around in a single place but over there, it is just a way of life. Everyone bikes around. It is cheap, convenient, and the city is small enough that this form of transportation is practical than in any other city. Most of the bicycles were aged and dated but it did the job. As a tourist, you could rent a bike and roam around the city as well (apparently it is the best way to see the city) but I wanted to walk it so I could get in as many photographs as possible. Ah the sacrifices that are made in the name of taking pictures!

Amsterdam is also known for its mixture of old and new architecture and its canals. The canels almost serve as dividers in the city, much like a street or train track would. They were everywhere and it made the city even more photogenic. I can imagine this place in the summer as being a beautiful place to just sit back on a boat and cruise through the canals and enjoy the view. Needless to say, I took loads and loads of pictures of the canals in Amsterdam, I just couldn’t help it. People who have seen my flickr stream will know that I like bicycles as well so I pretty well stopped every 5 minutes to take a photo… or ten.

For people that have never been to Amsterdam, there are a number of attractions. If you are like me, then you’ve heard stories about the drug and sex culture here. To be honest, it is true. But instead of seeing it as dirty, I think it represents Amsterdam in some way as a more free thinking place. People just do what they want to here without much reservation. I think the newer generations are starting to change that but for now, it is a haven away for people who want to come here and enjoy those things that are considered illegal just about everywhere else. There were multiple weed shops with everything you can think of to get you on your way in smoking a bud. There were also special cafes where you could just walk in and freely smoke in doors and eat other treats like space cakes and chocolate mushrooms. If you think legalizing drugs is the way to go… I think Amsterdam might change your mind about that.

The sex scene is a living industry here in Amsterdam as it is legalized. The red light district is something that everyone should see. While people associate this type of scene with lots of negativity, in contrast to most people’s expectations, the area is very safe (so long as you are out of there before 10-11pm). My friends kept telling me that it is a place where girls stand in windows and display themselves. I didn’t think that this was true but how wrong I was! Girls were in little display windows and coax you to come inside. It really is something completely unique to Amsterdam. Needless to say, the word discrete does not come to mind at all haha. It was in the red light district though that I met a local senior though and we chatted about the history of the area and he explained how he thought of it. Apparently a lot of these girls are from Eastern Europe and come over here to work. He also reminded me that taking pictures of the girls was taboo and not to do it. I took his advice. 

Other sights that I saw while in Amsterdam included the Dam and the National Monument, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank Huis. The rest I just walked by and took pictures of since I didn’t want to spend hours inside museums when I had only 2 days (and believe me, I could spend days inside a museum! I’m a bit of a nerd that way).

Foodwise, Amsterdam isn’t very well known for its cuisine. But I did get some tips and went to a bunch of places. Pictures are below but I had some great comfort food I took in while I was here. The first place I stopped at was Vlaams Frites Huis who served the fries with spicy mayo. At home I would probably refrain from eating this heart attack wrapped in news paper but I had to give this a try. It hit the spot alright! But when I came back in the same area later on in the day, the line up was already around the corner! I also tried some raw herring at the Albert Cuypmarkt (a market that sold just about everything including some reasonable prices for Dutch favorites). When people hear raw herring, they probably think sushi. But this was hardly that. It was gooey and the texture was very interesting… I didn’t like it very much in particular but it wasn’t bad either! The pickled onions and pickle helped to contrast the soft texture of the fish nicely. For dinner that first night, I went to China town and got a seat in this restaurant called Nam Kee. This is a place known locally for some of the best Chinese food in all of Amsterdam. All I can say is, it tastes just as good as those restaurants at home in Vancouver :) The next morning I wanted to find a place to try out some Dutch pancakes and found it in Pancakes. I had the apple crumble dutch pancakes with whip cream. It was delicious but I was also sick I was so full. The coffee was notably very good as well though it was in the unexpected European size. 

Well, sorry for the essay! This was just a quick summary of what I thought about Amsterdam but it was fun while I was here. Lots to see and experience. So if you’ve heard the stories but want to experience the actual thing, go for it! Be sure to sit back and enjoy the canals (and have a Heineken while you are at it). Just be sure to make it worth while and go to other places in Europe while you are in the area! 


  1. You make Amsterdam look and sound amazing. I think I am going to have to add it to the (ever growing) List! And the tones, the tones! Heh.

    Can't wait to see your post on Paris! (assuming you are going to do one, that is).

  2. Oh man! Great photos Kelven! Great memories! I'm glad you said that about being told about Amsterdam. I tell people all the time..especially about the red light district. People can tell you, but until you are there, looking at her, looking at you, looking at her. You just can't know. :)
    I got to take a tour of the Heineken brewery there, and that was FUN! Then we got on a canal tour and learned all about the city and how it was sinking, and how they're taxed on the width of the building at street level, hence the need for those hooks up in the A frames, to pully and shove your furniture in thru the window!! LOL I loved it there!! :) So glad you went!

  3. Beautifully shot and described!

    Amsterdam has been on my must-go list for a long time. I really want to visit the Van Gogh museum. And two things you mentioned was a surprised

    One being that a person would think change their mind about legalizing drugs after visiting here and second you said the new generation of Amsterdam is changing the already existing free-spirit ? Those two were surprises.

    You must love all the bikes there! Again, great pics!

  4. oh wow love the pictures + commentary. you captured the city so well!

    if i'm ever across the atlantic, i must hunt you down for a food/photo adventure!

  5. Natalie - Definitely go! It's a quick trip but definitely worth while to see

    Kelly - Lol... I laughed hard at your description of the interaction between girl and you. I couldn't stop laughing / smirking... I was so immature but I couldn't help it.

    Alice - Thanks! Definitely do, I'm sure you could tell me what good coffee and good eats should taste like :)

  6. Man, you've sold me on Amsterdam. Looks like a photographers paradise! When I was in Kyoto I wanted to rent a bicycle too, but didn't for the same reason you describe here. My feet paid dearly for that=P

  7. Your photos makes me want to visit Amsterdam now!! Definitely a great blog that compliments the photos. Your blog has a wealth of information that is definitely educational and fun to read!

  8. Reading your Amsterdam post brings back a lot of memories for me. Thank you! I love Amsterdam and I totally agree with you about the city. The photos are gorgeous as well.

    By the way, if you happened to go back to Holland for another trip, do visit Utrecht (about 30 minutes by train) and visit the canals there because it's the only canal (in all of Holland I was told) where you can take a stairs to go down to. They have little what used to be warehouses along the canals which are now turned into restaurant or homes. Very very pretty!

  9. gorgeous photos! love what you wrote about the city. the architecture looks fantastic and i love how residents and tourists get around on bikes! it's gonna have to be on my must-visit-place list.