Amsterdam for 1st timers

Tripoto
1st May 2019
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 1/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
The lazy fishing village of Volendam
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 2/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
A flowery grave
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 3/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Moody skies of Amsterdam as shot from the FREE FERRY service run by GVB
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 4/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Volendam at its best
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 5/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Quintessentially Netherlands
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 6/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Postcard view of Maarken
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 7/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
The big, the small and the fallen
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 8/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
Just another canal
Photo of Amsterdam for 1st timers 9/9 by Sourav Chaudhuri
A dream sequence at the floating flower market in Amsterdam

For the first timer, the sheer experience of coming to Amsterdam can be an overwhelming experience what with all the technology flying around. It takes a little time to get used to that environment but take your time and enjoy the whole challenge of it all

Getting to the hostel is the first issue. The first pointer, is buy a raincoat or a cheap poncho and keep it in your bag. Luckily, there is a train that operates from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Central. The cost of a one way ticket is 2.4 euros. The train starts from the airport and its in the basement of the airport. Don't hesitate to ask for directions as a surprisingly large number of Dutchies speak fluent English and are helpful. Buy a second class ticket as the train journey lasts at best a mere 20-25 minutes. Exit the central station.

FINDING THE HOSTEL. The trams are the best way to shuttle around the city. A 1 hour GVB(the service provider) ticket costs 3.2 euros and can be purchased at the station or when you get up on the tram. Mind it, the payments are strictly by card and cash isn't accepted so have your forex card ready(hit me up for more details about this and more). Its all contactless and please do not forget to validate your ticket on the device thats in the tram, as not validating a ticket attracts a penalty and I need not tell you about the exchange rates of Euros. Also, if your hostel is in Noord, you have the FREE FERRY SERVICE run by GVB(gotta love the Dutchies).

GOOGLE MAPS - the navigation works like a charm in Europe as pinpointed routes to your location are given by maps.

MAPS.ME- another app which is amazing because it doesn't need any data connection, and works on gps.

Day 1

Book a hostel that has free breakfast, or breakfast can be pre-booked. Also, always book on the hostels' site than a third party app as the rates can be much cheaper and breakfast can be added on for about 3 Euros. However, should in case you decide to head out to hunt for food early morning, then head to the Albert Heijn store at central station or elsewhere and feast yourself on some sandwiches that are freshly made and a cup of coffee. A combo would set you back by about 5 euros. You want cheaper stuff? I got your back. How about 3.5 euros, and a platter fit for a king. Five items for a breakfast along with a glass of juice and coffee and please take the coffee. Silly me, the place is the cafe in Bibliotheek, thats the Amsterdam public library. Yes, you heard that right, a library that serves breakfast. WAIT!!!! its on the 7th floor, so thats a cafe with a view of the wide flowing canals and the city underneath. YOU'RE WELCOME!! Since it was the first day, and my flight reached at around 3:30 and I reached the hostel at 5:00, I just took it easy and went for a stroll to the nearby Vondelpark(its the largest park in Amsterdam, with lakes and walkways and very friendly ducks, such vast expanses in the heart of a city is endearing to a first timer like me.

SIM - A sim would cost you a bomb, as data in the EU is pretty expensive. For instance, a 12GB pack would set you back by 44 euros for Vodafone which has a pan European connectivity. There are some other options also but I haven't explored them. There is Lebara and Lycamobile which offer very competitive rates for voice and data but whether or not they work in all member states of the EU is an issue. Don't use data. Be a miser and refrain from posting updates on social media till you get free wifi(yes judge me for all I care!!!)

TRAVELLING IN AMSTERDAM AND REGION - There is a concept of a 72 hour pass which can be bought from the Central station in one of the counters of NS railway(the company that operates that service). I bought a 3 day pass which costed me 36 euros which entitles me to travel by any bus, tram, metro and train as long as the coverage area is within the limits of the ticket. Don't worry, the ticket includes a map of the coverage area, so you are good and its very detailed.

Day 2

KEUKENHOF - Now, one of the most visited sites in Netherlands(its pronounced ko-ken-hof), these fantastic tulip gardens are a visual delight and just amazing to see. 32 acres of pure horticultural delight awaits you. The tulips will amaze you with the sheer brilliance of the colours and hues. One of the caveats of the place is, never ever buy the skip the line tickets. These wonder tickets, are apparently all about expedited entry to the park whereas there is never a queue thats large enough to test the patience of an Indian(yes I am stereotyping and for good reason). A normal ticket can be purchased, from the park windows and the park is yours to explore. While the park may be mesmerising and all that, but the real delight is in the fields surrounding the park as you are treated to endless queues of shades of colours normally seen in Adobe Photoshop or the screens of UHD TVs in electronic shops. Getting to Keukenhof is easy. Just follow the map on the region travel ticket as stated earlier. Time passes freakishly fast at Keukenhof and before you know it, its already 4 in the evening. I went there at around 11. Also, there are conduct tours to Keukenhof but they cost 3 times as much as the ticket to Keukenhof. For the lazy bums, get to this is holland, just across the river from Central station and get your tickets. A round trip via bus is included and you will end up paying 40 euros for what could have been done in 18 euros. While on the way back, explore the town of Lisse, which is the town where Keukenhof is located. There is a small castle called the Keukenhof castle surrounded by tulip fields. The return trip takes you via the Schiphol airport and plane spotting is something which in that amazing weather is one experience you should try.

Day 3

VOLENDAM and MAARKEN- The fishing village of Volendam and Maarken, is located to the north of Amsterdam and a 35 minute bus ride takes you there. The bus stop is a 3-4 minute walk from the pier. Mind you, its pretty cold and windy in Volendam, so dress in layers and carry that poncho because it rains every now and then but the rain is momentary and followed by great sunshine. One speciality of Volendam is waffles and poffertjes(small fluffy pancakes). Try the one with butter and powdered sugar and I assure you, that will be nothing quite like what you have ever tasted. If heaven had a taste, that would be pretty close to it. They are small snacks available for 4 euros, with a black coffee combo, which in that windy climes is a welcome drink. There is a ferry that operates from Volendam to Maarken, and back. If you book round tickets(12 euros), you can avail any ferry that goes there and comes back. The ferry ride in itself is an experience and lasts about 20 minutes and the best views are the ones enjoyed from the open deck above the seating area. Maarken is where you experience that idyllic countryside European appeal with houses almost out of a movie, tended backyards, green meadows, cattle grazing. Take some time out to idle away and enjoy that stillness of life. A little distance from Maarken there is even a lighthouse by the sea. There are some very authentic cheese farms in these villages, which aren't that pricey as the touristy places.

DELFT - A 35-40 minute train ride from Amsterdam is the sleepy town of Delft. The specialty of Delft is the Delft pottery thats done in a unique shade of blue. Its really pretty and you have to see it to appreciate it. Don't be a troglodyte and start to appreciate art because you will find a lot of interesting things to see and experience in Europe once you start learning to appreciate art. Apart from the museums in Delft, there is the old church and the new church. The churches issue a combined ticket and there is a very nice tableau of William of Orange, the royal family of Netherlands and how it all began. The history, the downfall, the challenges and the evolution of the times of the dutch royal family. The stained glass works on the windows of the cathedral is what draws maximum attention. They are best viewed when there is sunlight outside. But even without the sun the scenes are full of the New Testament. If anything, they would inspire you to google about them to better understand what they are depicting. The new church is at a distance from the old church, and the bell tower is where the fun is. You have to climb a very narrow staircase. It would seem never ending and views are amazing at the top. People with vertigo like me would definitely feel light headed, especially because at the top expect a very strong wind that would make things very adventurous and worse, but every bit worth the effort. Buying souvenirs on an impulse would be the last thing you wish to do because the prices are high. The same can be obtained from non-touristy places at a discounted price. In any case, ask for a discount should in case they offer one. The tickets for the new and old church come with a complimentary beverage that you can get at one of the designated shops in the ticket. 

HAARLEM - This is the town after which the American town of Harlem is named. Haarlem is best viewed in the evening, when the sun is about to set from late afternoon. This can be easily covered while returning from Delft. The streets give off some of the most relaxed vibes that you will see. One of the main features is the architecture. The turn of the 17th century architecture, with houses placed closed to each other, and elevated residences near the canals. A stroll down the lanes, adjacent to the canals is enough to take you back to the time when these houses were built. Its history built right in front of your eyes. It was Sunday when I happened to be in Haarlem and it was the day of mass, so the local church had organised a choir and might I suggest, that you have to attend one if you can. Its a surreal experience. From Haarlem, you can even visit the Amsterdam beach or the town of Zaandvort on Sea. The beach is a wide wide stretch of sand and surf. This beach isn't like the beaches you will find in postcards. This is absolutely a barren beach with a strong surf. An interesting thing you may find is people KITEBOARDING. Its amazing the way they set up the kite and gear themselves up and then ride the waves. Beware, don't get in the way of the kit as the line is sharp, and can cause fatal injuries. The bus stop, however is a long way from this place so be a ready for a long walk. Nearby, there is also a race track where racers come to race their custom cars. Witness an organised drag race. Its freakish how fast these modified cars are. Its need for speed, just that this time its all real.

ZAANSE SCHANS - This is near the town of Zaandam and best known for its collection of historic and if I may add very well preserved windmills. Its too crowded though because of a near mad influx of tourists and photo-ops are rare because someone is bound to walk in the frame. There are very well maintained museums and a very interesting clog museum cum workshop cum retail outlet where they display and make wooden clogs. Clogs are shoes made out of wood!!! Yes wood. As unbelievable it may sound it is one of the best ways to experience a small part of the Dutch culture first hand. If you do plan to buy one, mind it that they are really heavy. Ornate yes, exquisite yes, but heavy too. The museum entry is free so feel free to go through the shoe making tour. Also, there are boat rides in the canal adjacent to the windmills. The rates are openly advertised. A cruise would set you back by 10 euros. Towards the end some windmills are there which are not frequented by the tourists. Check them out. Zaanse is one place where you can spend a whole day and not be tired. The whole place has a walkway which has barns and animals and ponds and agricultural fields and likes of greenery we yearn to see but never find. Add to that the overbearing sky full of clouds on an endless horizon, you have the setting for a full scale sound of music. There is a bakery museum also that got its name from the bread it makes. Mind you, the scent of fresh baking will completely break all resolve of healthy and thrifty eating in Europe. The baked delights in the shop are too much of a temptation to avoid. I say that from experience.

Day 5

MUSEUMS OF AMSTERDAM

1. Rijksmuseum

2. Van Gogh museum 

3. House of Anne Frank 

Each of these take quite a while especially the first two because, the sheer number of art pieces and their inherent beauty is unparalleled. And some of the pieces are huge and although you can explore it on your own, but an audio guide is worth the extra money it charges. During my visit, the Rijksmuseum had a Rembrandt collection on display. And, while I am not an art person and certainly didn't appreciate art or anything related to it, that one chance encounter with Rembrandt and Rijksmuseum changed it all. The whole period of Renaissance and how it spread through Europe and the work of the masters. The intricate brush strokes, the colour, the meanings, interpretations all worked in tandem to make me fall hopelessly in love with art in its different manifestations. If Rembrandt gave the spark, then Van Gogh just poured fuel into it. I strongly advise people to definitely go for these two museums if not anything else.

WALKING TOURS - The whole city of Amsterdam is not that big and can be explored on foot as well. Mind you, no heels or sandals. Only comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. The churches near central station or the Nemo museum and the pier, or the Bibliotheek building or the organised tours to Red Light District. This city is a walkers paradise and once day needs to be kept aside to explore the city and its parks and alleys on foot. If thats too far fetched an idea, you can even try renting a bicycle and get the local feel. Note, the traffic here is on the right side of the road so initially you may even feel confused. All in all, there is one thing I can say about this place. It will make you fall in love with itself, it will make you promise to come back, it will evince some measure of a strong reaction from you. Why wouldn't it when the city boldly claims " I AMSTERDAM"

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