Saturday, March 26, 2011


As I mentioned, it was my friend Stefan's photos of Amsterdam's quaint "off-kilter charm" (his words) that made me want to visit the city so badly. I found Amsterdam's canals, bridges and architecture so alluring, I absolutely had to go for a walk along them while I had the chance, living in Europe.

We stayed on a canal boat! This was a serendipitous find, as when planning out trip in January, we had no idea you could stay on a canal boat. But as soon as we discovered we could stay on a boat, we had to. Staying on a canal boat was an awesome experience as canal boats are such a part of the city. Not only was the boat quiet (booking a hostel in Amsterdam, we were worried about the quality of sleep we would get staying in a dorm with potheads), but the Oosterdock was centrally located and we were able to walk everywhere. My only complaint was the plumbing; it was difficult to regulate the hot and cold water in the showers--but that's why they call it a Dutch shower, right? Overall, when planning a trip to Amsterdam, I highly recommend staying on a canal boat.

We flew into Amsterdam from Geneva, and arrived into the city just as dusk was beginning to fall. After checking in, Jacky and I meandered in the general direction of the Nieumarkt, where we were told there were lots of food options (it was 8:00pm by that time, and the Dutch eat much earlier than the French). Suddenly we ended up in the Red Light District. I was a bit surprised, not at the prostitution, but that it was so easy to stumble into; I would have thought it would have been harder to find. Nevertheless, as the men were looking at the women in the windows, I was mesmerized by all the swans swimming in the Red Light District canal (over the next few days of our stay we noticed they seemed to only swim in that particular canal).

For dinner, we ended up going to Dwaze Zaken, a cool café and had veggie lasagnas with chickpeas in it (a delicious idea I'm totally adopting!). And as the rhyme goes, it was so nice, we went back twice. We returned the next night for a cheese fondue dinner and the jazz show that we had seen announced.

A word on nomenclature in Amsterdam. I had totally been ignorant of the difference between a café and a coffee shop as cannabis was not my motive for visiting Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, a café is a restaurant/bar, whereas a coffee shop is an establishment where one can buy and consume marijuana. Then there's the Starbucks-esque coffee chain, Coffee House. Apparently, many a confused tourist wander into the wrong kind of coffee establishment. Fortunately we did not, as Jacky was aware of the differences.

There is so much more to Amsterdam than pot and prostitution (which, oddly, very few locals partake in, but seem to encourage tourists to). Our first day we did a great walking tour of the city. We learned that the reason for Amsterdam's crooked charm is that that the foundations of many of the seventeenth century townhouses were made from tree trunks plunged deep into the mud. With time, a pocket of air forms and rots the logs, shifting the house any which way. As such, Amsterdam homeowners have to get their doors and windows custom fitted, as well as repair their homes' foundations.

Amsterdam is also a city of amazing museums. While we were there were went to the Van Gogh Museum. The museum traced his development as an artist, his influences and well as contextualized him within the Impressionist movement and among his contemporaries. There was also a really interesting temporary Picasso exhibit charting his first years in Paris from 1900 to 1907, ending with sketches of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

We also visited the Rijksmuseum, which could probably be compared to the Dutch version of the Louvre. It is a huge, beautiful building (currently under renovation). I had read that it has a collection of more than 20,000 pieces, so I thought it would be an overwhelming visit, like when you try to see everything in the Louvre. Instead, it was really well curated. There were fifteen rooms, starting with an explanation of the the Dutch Golden Age and ending with Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age painters.

Amsterdam is a lovely city. If I went again, I would definitely go in spring as we unfortunately we missed the tulips.


Andrenne said...

excellent post, girl! makes me want to visit!

Vanessa said...

Thank you ma'am:-) You should, it's a great city.