Amsterdam always seemed like such a cool place to visit….well until the time I actually visited it. Don’t get me wrong, I mean the city has everything that you read and hear about; the coffeeshops, the infamous red light district, the canals, the museums, the parks and the bicycles, but unfortunately it lacks soul.
We reached Amsterdam after bidding a heartbreaking goodbye to Prague and were welcomed with torrential downpour. The drive from Schiphol airport to Fagelstraat; where our airbnb was located was long. After much struggle with getting 4 suitcases 3 floors up the narrowest winding stairs i have ever seen, we were finally ready to explore what the city had to offer. The airbnb we stayed at was quite luxurious and even had a beautiful terrace, which unfortunately we couldn’t use because of the consistent rain. The only disadvantage was the location, it was a completely residential area with no cafes or nice restaurants nearby, and was pretty far from the city center and public transport in Amsterdam is not cheap at all! Well nothing here is cheap at all, so it’s important to plan your finances well.
The closest attraction was The Anne Frank House, for which unless you book tickets online and in advance you have to be prepared to stand in queue for atleast 2 hours. 2 months before the trip when I had tried to book these tickets online, they were already sold out and standing in queue meant losing out on the entire evening. So we decided to skip it and go for a canal cruise instead, but first a quick stop to experience Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops was on the cards. Smokey’s at Rembrandtplein was where google maps took us and it felt like a proper seedy bar from old Hollywood films. The atmosphere inside was something else, literally and figuratively!
A few minutes later we caught the tram back to Prinsengracht where our canal cruise was scheduled to start from. Now while the movies have portrayed these canals as picture perfect and romantic, in reality it was far from that. Murky water with garbage and plastics, I was shocked to see the real state of these famed canals. They looked nothing like the heavily edited pictures you see on the internet. That made me a bit sad to be honest.
Forget romance, the water in the canals grossed me out and how! The canal cruise itself was quite boring, there was absolutely nothing to see except the West Church and the typical narrow houses that lined the canals, I think I even took a power nap in between!
After an hour long dreary cruise, we decided to head to De Wallen or more famously know as the Red Light District. Disneyland for horny travelers from all over the world, the Red Light district felt too gimmicky, I mean they even had walking tours of the district. Things you can expect to see here: Window displays of prostitutes (don’t click pictures, or risk having your camera taken away), live sex shows, seedy coffeeshops, lots of men (and lots of Indian men) and random 2 roomed houses calling themselves museums. We went to one; it was called the museum of prostitution. For 8 Euros, it was quite a sham and can be easily avoided as there is nothing here to see.
After a walk for an hour around the area, we got bored and decided to get a few beers at Dam square nearby and by the time we decided to go back home it was around 2 am and that’s when I realized that i had lost my phone! After a frantic dazed search along the pavement, I decided to give up and just go home and eventually not enjoy the rest of my trip.
Day 2 was supposed to begin with a day tour to Giethoorn; a small village some two hours away from Amsterdam which was connected only by canals and cycle tracks, but thanks to our late night we obviously missed the tour van. I was still pretty upset about losing my phone and just to get closure I decided to visit the Lost & Found center. Without any hope I went there and told the kindly old man about my situation. A few questions were asked regarding my phone, and a minute later he was back with it!!! All of the boredom I had felt the previous day and the feeling of being let down by the city just vanished! I thanked the guy profusely, he was pretty sweet and told me that this is a common occurrence here. Must tell you that I was pretty impressed by the system and how honest the people were. You don’t expect to find your phone so easily the very next day in a city of this scale. There is a plus side to every place and Amsterdam’s was it’s people. Until now I was so let down by the city that I had failed to acknowledge how helpful everyone had been from the start. From our host leaving us a bottle of wine and stroop-waffles as a welcome gift to the girl who patiently googled the directions to The Anne Frank House using her own phone, the restaurant owner who helped us with directions twice and the man at the Lost and Found center; the Dutch were simply a nice bunch of people. The rest of the day was spent shopping at Dam Square because every friggin store was on sale! Armed with bags from H & M, C & A, quirky memorabilia and Dutch cheese we stopped Amsterdam’s most famous coffeeshop – The Bulldog Palace for a bit before finding ourselves at an outdoor pub somewhere in Leidseplein where we drank some fine Dutch beer and had some delicious apple strudel. Leidseplein is a pretty cool and lively place to hangout, people watch and sip some beer on a cold rainy evening. Finally I was beginning to enjoy myself. We ended the night at this cute pub called The Gin close to our airbnb where the friendly waiter served us some delicious cocktails and craft beer.
Day 3 was obviously the best out of all the three days I spent here. I was optimistic and decided to have fun instead of just lamenting about how boring the place was. I was in no mood to spend a day at any of the museums, especially since just a week back I had just visited the mecca of all museum cities; Paris. Fortunately there was a Bansky exhibition on during our stay and we decided to go look at that instead. I am a fan of Bansky and his guerrilla art and it was pretty cool to see some of the pieces in person.
A photo stop at the IAMSTERDAM letters was a must. We barely managed to secure a spot to click a half decent picture as the area is full of people. It’s located at Museumplein right opposite the famous Rijksmuseum. The vibe is cheery and bustling with people from all over the world. Spend some time just sitting here and people watch. If you have the time and haven’t been to the museums in Paris, then a visit to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum should definitely be on the cards.
A few pictures and some waffles and coffee later we made our way to the Heineken Experience. The Heineken experience is an interactive tour of the history of Heineken with a tasting session afterwards. Amongst all the things Amsterdam has to offer, I guess this could be one of the things you should try and do if you love beer. The highlight is the 2 free beers you get at the end of the tour.
Luckily while walking back from the Heineken Experience we spotted the first clean and pretty canal and I was happy to find one on my last day here.
Given a choice I wouldn’t really want to visit Amsterdam again, it’s not my cup of tea, but then again I would have probably had a better time if I hadn’t just returned from Paris and Prague which set the standards pretty high, and sadly Amsterdam didn’t come close. Maybe it wasn’t the best city for me, but let that not stop you from finding out if Amsterdam is the city for you.