Five nights and six days in Amsterdam will have an effect on you. How you choose to use the city during your stay will greatly vary the different effects that are left upon you. Choose to spend your time in the many museums, libraries and galleries the city has available and you will expand your knowledge of the world while altering your view of life. Visit the Anne Frank house and you will feel the pain of an era not too long ago while recounting the life of an amazingly insightful 15 year old girl. Try out the abundant amount of cafes (bars) and feel like a local while sampling a few beers for a little liquid courage when chatting it up with your fellow man. Frequent the coffee shops and relax to some music while reflecting on the cosmos. Or spend your days aimlessly strolling around the red light district window shopping and it will definitely have an effect (whether that be good or bad is up to the beholder… and the quality of the product on display 🙂). Lucky for us, we had time to explore so we can accurately give our take on the many different and unique activities, sites and experiences that Amsterdam has to offer.
Let’s start from the beginning. To Aaron’s utter joy, we finally were able to camp. The tent that he has been lugging around for the past 5 weeks got some much overdue action as it was at last erected in north Amsterdam within a hostel style campground. This place was a cool alternative to the hostels we have stayed in previously during on our trip. It is called Camping Vligenbos and it has bunkhouses and teepees for rent or you can pay a small amount and set up your own tent anywhere available within two open fields. Public bathrooms and a kitchen are onsite so it was easy living. It was a packed house for the week as a large music festival was being held nearby so there were plenty of other free spirited campers alongside us to keep us company.
The camp site is located just outside the city center so every day we would walk around a mile to the River IJ (which is technically a long lake and not really a river) and hop on a ferry to get over to the city. Amsterdam is unique in that it does not have a means to get over the water by foot. Instead, ferries constantly run back and forth to shuttle all the pedestrians and bikers across. The locals express a love-hate relationship with the ferries. Marianna just expresses a hatred for them (especially on cold and rainy days with whipping wind that no amount of hairspray can combat). Once off the ferry and in the city, there is one thing and one thing only to remember – keep your head on a swivel! There are things coming at you from all directions and they are coming at you fast: bicycles, cars, buses, trams and the most deadly of them all – mopeds. The drivers of mopeds are reckless, inconsiderate and travel at no speed except full throttle. Keep an eye always peeled for them and stay out of the bike lanes, the car lanes and the tram tracks and you’ll be all right. We almost got flattened on multiple occasions before learning the system to navigate the city safely. Also, if you hear a bell, move out of the way fast or the thing that bell is attached to will cause you much pain if you don’t.
It took Amsterdam for us to start feeling that we were a long way from home. While there are endless similarities, we could really sense the cultural differences here. The 800,000 bicycles that fill the city probably had a lot to do with it. It is a fascinating thing to witness thousands of bikes, pedestrians, buses and trams moving about in seamless motion. The flow of traffic is amazing and they have it down to a science. The architecture is very pleasant but different here as well. Lots of interesting buildings, statues and art work fill the city. The city has a fine balance as it keeps it’s old time charm while also being extremely modern and retro.
We try to take walking tours in any city we visit. For us it has been the best way to learn our way around while also getting a history lesson (90 percent of the fun facts we provide in these posts we get from these tours). The tours also usually come with good insights from locals on the spots to avoid and the must sees. We always opt for the free walking tours. There are a few different companies available that offer free tours in most major cities. To name a few, we’ve used: Strawberry Tours, NiceDay Tours, Can You Handle It Tours and 360 Amsterdam Tours. The tour guides solely work for tips so they tend to put on a good show. Want to know a fun fact we learned on our Amsterdam tour? Okay then, did you know that the city is 5 meters below sea level and is managed by several dams? The water level has to constantly be monitored; too high and everybody drowns, too low and the 20 meter support beams that hold up the structures of the city will be begin to rot causing the buildings to lean and eventually collapse. Tilted and leaning buildings can be spotted all over Amsterdam because of the one time the water level dropped. It was during WWll and the people in charge of monitoring the water were in hiding from the invading Germans.
In Amsterdam, it was the second time during our travels that we encountered a friendly face from back home. A former colleague of Marianna’s and his girlfriend were on a work trip/vacation to the city at the same time. We both were happy to have a little company other than each other. Aaron had a coffee shop friend in Shane and Marianna had a friend in Lori to tell the boys there is more to see than just coffee shops. Coffee shops beside, the biggest surprise of the city was pancakes. We thought we knew a thing or two about pancakes. We knew nothing. A pancake in Amsterdam is like no other. Some may argue it is more of a crepe, but be it in the crepe family or pancake family, it is in the delicious family for sure. Go get yourself an apple or banana pancake from Cafe de Pool and then thank us later.
Amsterdam was a great experience. The city is beautiful and was a nice view into a different way of existing. We rank it very high on our list and absolutely recommend it as a destination to block off some extra time to explore. It’s now only a couple of days until we head back to the States for a short week to see our good friends Austin and Tina tie the knot. But first it looks like we’re going to hop on a train headed for Heidelberg, Germany. A German we met it London said it is the most beautiful city in the country. We’re going to see if you were telling the truth or not, Martin.