Browse through all manner of media and it’ll eventually dawn upon you: Europe is arguably one of the most romantic continents in the world. Paris with all its brilliance ensures this designation. Rome and Venice safeguard it. And all the lesser known, yet nearly as lavish cities—from Lisbon to Prague—do their part in sustaining the continent’s allure.
Europe is the dream destination of those who already live in dream destinations. And there we were—my husband and I—a couple touring the continent in our honeymoon, and the place was starting to lose its charm.
We were on the last leg of our journey. Twenty days have passed since we started and we began to reach our saturation point. Each church, castle and museum was starting to look the same. With the need to salvage the last few days of our experience, it was high time for something different. We needed to see Europe in a different light. We needed not Venice but the “Venice of the North.” With several days left to spare on our Visa, we decided to extend our trip and explore the famed city of Amsterdam.
Upon arriving at the Grand Central Station and stepping out into the streets of Amsterdam, we immediately felt a distinct vibe, something we’ve known previously only through the retelling of friends or magazines. Right then and there, we already knew that the place would not disappoint. It evoked a different experience compared to the larger European cities of Paris and Madrid. There, massive avenues, historical monuments and buildings greeted you with grandeur. But in Amsterdam, we were greeted with something else—the chaos of crisscrossing trams, buses, bikers and hundreds of pedestrians on the streets. In this city, Europe loses a great deal of its refinement for something that’s a little harder to devise: charm. With its patent energy, youthfulness and vibe, Amsterdam just has a way of making everyone feel right at home.
Low-rise decorative buildings, quaint house boats that line up the canals and the cobblestone steps all contribute to the village-like, laid-back ambiance of the city. Albeit being smaller than the likes of London and Rome, the capital of Netherlands can be seen as one of the few cities in the world to have four kinds of transportation lanes that go around the city: the Tram Lane, the Bus Lane, and Pedestrian Lane and the Bike Lane, all of which crisscross throughout the city. Amsterdam’s public transportation is also quite affordable, thus giving you the liberty to choose from any of the public transportation available. But of course, let’s not forget that biking is the most popular mode of transport, making Amsterdam known to be the bike capital of the world.
It is, however, by walking that we truly enjoyed the sights and sounds of this city. It is in the small alleyways and roads where the character of Amsterdam shines. And we were glad to have taken that detour.
Aside from the multiple land transportation options, Amsterdam can be appreciated by going through small canals that cut through the city. Taking a canal tour of Amsterdam gave us a different perspective of the city known for its shipping prowess and command of the sea. And with the help of our tour guide, we got a lot of nice extra tidbits about the history, culture and surroundings of the city. We were even surprised to know that the canals were only 3 meters deep and that a total of 165 surrounding canals connect all throughout town. The canal tour is definitely an entertaining and unique way of getting acquainted with the city. It is like a journey through the lifeblood of its people and it lets you know Amsterdam beyond the skin-deep perception viewed from afar.
As a tourist, it is amazing to visit a country that will be able to fulfill and satisfy my need for pleasure and culture. Luckily, this holds true for this particular city which is evident in the number coffee shops, smart shops and different cultural attractions found in the area—among them are the museums. Netherlands is known to house more than 70 museums and, interestingly, 40 can be found in Amsterdam. The Rijksmuseum, for one, is a popular destination. The museum had been closed for several years due to renovation, but fortunately for us, it was opened to the public a few months before our visit. As the largest museum in Amsterdam, the place is home to different works of European painters and, more popularly, the world-famous “Night Watch” masterpiece by Rembrandt van Rijn. A whole day could be spent in this museum to soak in the art and culture it has to offer.
We had set aside almost one full day for museum-hopping and our next stop was the Van Gogh Museum. This is probably one of the best put together museums I have been to in Europe as it clearly and deliberately takes you on the life journey of one of Netherland’s most popular artists, Vincent van Gogh. It was a three-story guided tour that narrates the life of the notable artist, from his early years until his death in 1890.
Regrettably, our stay in Amsterdam wasn’t long enough for us to visit all the popular tourist attractions, and The Anne Frank House is one place we did not get to see. Known to be one of the more visited museums in the area, we made a mistake of not booking our tickets in advance. Since we were only in Amsterdam for three full days, we didn’t really have the luxury of lining up half a day for tickets. It would be best to book in advance to avoid the hassle of waiting in line for a couple of hours.
Only in Amsterdam will you find “Cafés” and “Coffee Shops” to mean two different things. Let me explain: “Cafés” serve normal coffee (just like what I, a Filipina, is used to) while “Coffee Shops” serve coffee with a twist. If you want to further your enjoyment and be one with Amsterdam while have your usual caffeine fix, go to the nearest “coffee shop” and order coffee with your marijuana or hash of choice. You’d be amazed at the variety of weed they carry and how ordering them is even more high-tech than some of the restaurants here in Manila.
Red Light District
Known to be the oldest part of town, Amsterdam’s red light district is world-famous for a reason. We somehow gravitated towards the district’s energy on our very first day. Here, you’ll see the locals and foreigners interacting freely and tripping out on the streets. In addition, there are a variety of smart shops that offer unique Amsterdam trinkets. There are also street performers commonly seen in the area. This part of town is also popular for its narrow alleys that showcase a unique display of scantily clad women of different size, color and race. A bit of warning though: taking pictures of the ladies is strictly prohibited and strictly followed. With the distinct dynamism and liveliness in this side of town, a visit is a definite must.