If I were to write a letter to Amsterdam, it would definitely begin with an apology.
You see, I'm not the kind of person who doesn't usually like places. And one which is such a hot destination around the world, no less. So I'm partly disappointed with myself for failing to conjure the mind to really appreciate Amsterdam for what it is.
But to me, the city was nothing beyond ordinary. I didn't hate Amsterdam; but it absolutely didn't blow my mind like I was hoping for it to.
Anyhow, I tried collecting my thoughts about what I felt was amiss, and put them together in this list. So here goes!
1. It's Too Touristy
I can already see you rolling your eyes through the screen, and I understand it isn't my place to make snap judgments considering I visited Amsterdam as a tourist too. But I have to tell you, the city has way too many outsiders. Because it's such a hit with tourists, you barely get a taste of the local life.
And the following two things happen when there are too many tourists in a very liberal city like Amsterdam.
2. It's All About The Trip
So, marijuana is tolerated. And for most of the folks visiting Amsterdam, this is new and exciting. And that's where the low point lies - Everywhere you go, you see scores of people flocking into coffee shops, buying cannabis seeds at parlors, or just blowing away smoke rings next to a canal. FYI, smoking weed in public is forbidden. No one seems to care, though.
This is exactly what makes Amsterdam overrated. The stench of cannabis is pervasive and sort of putting off. And so is the mindless obsession of it. Even if you want to, it's hard to look beyond all that smoke - It clouds your mind, pun intended.
3. The Locals Don't Like You
And I don't blame them either. They're dealing with tourists day in and day out. These tourists blatantly invade their space. Sometimes they throw up in their backyards and plant boxes. Many local shops have given way to tourist-oriented cheese stores and food joints. One can only imagine what it's like to live in Amsterdam as a local.
This dislike towards visitors makes itself most apparent in the demeanor of the cyclists. I saw this guy barge into a tourist blocking his way in the street. The cyclist didn't do so much as even slow down a bit to apologize. And as he zipped by, he shot the poor man the nastiest look. The audacity!
I didn't rent a bicycle, and chose to walk around Amsterdam instead. But a friend I recently spoke to told me about how the cyclists don't like you coming in their way even if you're on a bike. So, nope. Don't tell me that the best way to see Amsterdam is on a bike.
4. The Architecture Doesn't Inspire
Blame on it the fact that I saw the effortless blend of Neoclassical and Baroque styles in Budapest, right before I visited Amsterdam. Or that I witnessed the elaborate Victorian architecture in Manchester. Perhaps because I got to admire a zillion vivid colors in Curacao and Burano this year.
But, to me, the architecture in Amsterdam seemed confused.
Don't get me wrong - I think Amsterdam is a very pretty city. I'm no connoisseur but I even noticed how all buildings are of nearly the same height and width. But there's too much happening - There are crooked facades, way too many roof styles, very narrow buildings, street-level windows, and all the houses feel stacked together. Classic case of architectural overdose, if you will.
5. It's Dirty
The canals, one of the main Amsterdam attractions, are strewn with litter. You'll see bottles and joint buds and all sorts of crap floating away in the water. Half-smoked cigarettes and debris everywhere.
I even spotted a drunk tourist (I'm guessing and hoping he was a tourist) taking a piss in the street in broad daylight. Not a pretty sight, you guys!
6. The History Didn't Do It For Me
I'm from India and I'm currently living in Germany, both with tragic histories of being burnt to the ground and rising from the ashes. Even as a person, I'm instantly drawn to a place based on its past. I think scars tell stories - The deeper the scar, the more enchanting is the story.
From what I understand, Amsterdam has had a fairly comfortable past. The Dutch have always been known to be neutral in their values and alignments, and barring the Resistance, there really isn't any wow element in the history of the city.
Again, this is a prima facie impression and my opinion may be inaccurate. Drop a comment at the end of the article if there's anything you'd like to add to this.
7. The Canals Are Overrated
Amsterdam is often called 'Venice of The North', and the canals are indeed as picturesque as they look on postcards. But having already been to (the real) Venice, I failed to be charmed.
Besides, the water is mucky and has irresponsibly discarded plastic and other waste strewn about.
8. It's So Expensive
Cue shock and horror A dorm bed in a hostel will cost you a minimum of EUR 40 per night (it usually averages at EUR 15-20 at most places otherwise). Even more, if you choose to stay in the city center. Airbnb costs a whole lot more, and hotel prices are pretty much soaring through the roof.
While food and drinks are also priced higher than in most places in Europe, the difference isn't as steep as it is in accommodation. Seriously you guys, if you have a friend or relative living in Amsterdam, be sure to bunk with them and save big bucks.
9. The Beer is Disappointing
You're right: I sound like an arrogant, uppity beer whizz who's extremely hard to please.
And while that's far from the truth, I'll have to admit that Germany has spoilt me. Ever since we moved, I've tasted some of the nicest and freshest brews, and Germany has definitely benchmarked beer in a certain way for me.
I think Heineken and Amstel are decent, and I also tried different samples at a brewery serving 100 Dutch craft beers on tap, while in Amsterdam. But with every sip, I thought to myself, "I've had better".
10. The Weather is a Pain
My Airbnb host gave me a heads up shortly after we met. "In the Netherlands, there's just one season: Rain."
While, ironically it didn't rain as much during my time there, and though I've seen my share of unpredictable weather in the UK, I'm putting this on record on the behalf of the locals: Dutch weather can be quite crappy. Weather Gods, are you listening?
P.S. - I really recommend carrying an umbrella when you visit Amsterdam (actually applies to the rest of Europe, too). Oh, and make sure you get a sturdy one. Winds are strong and a fragile umbrella won't give you cover.
This one from Amazon Basics is a great buy at a great price.
It's easy to see that I had really high hopes before visiting Amsterdam. Perhaps that exaggerated expectation is what made the city fall short.
Honestly, I think the liberality and tolerance of the city would appeal enormously to a younger traveler. Perhaps I'd have loved Amsterdam, had I visited a few years ago. This time around, though, it was nothing more than a glib picture. The whole time I was there, I was just meh.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What was it like? Did you love it/hate it/both?