A city where art, heritage, modernity and natural beauty co-exist in such a beautiful harmony, Amsterdam surprised me with its whole package. Art museums, Windmills with their heritage windmill beer, Canals, a Legal Red-light district, and an exciting night-life. Amsterdam has it all. I loved my short stay in this truly unique city.
I was on a study exchange program at Lille. My friends and I decided to visit Amsterdam during the first weekend of our stay in Europe. And that’s how our Euro trip started! Amsterdam is an amalgam of so many things that every person finds something that interests him. Amsterdam is 6 hours away from Lille, with a train change at Antwerp (another nice city in Belgium). We reached pretty late in the night at Amsterdam, took a tram ride to our hotel. Due to the high number of student-tourist population, Amsterdam houses a lot of backpacker hostels where you get good accommodation at affordable price. We had booked our hostel through hostelbookers. Our hostel had a comfortable atmosphere, with it being near to the Rijksmuseum.
After a good night sleep, we set out to explore Amsterdam with the city map and some travel brochures at our aid. Our first stop was Rijksmuseum. Outside the museum building is this beautiful “I AMSTERDAM” logo in 3-D Letters. It is a beautiful sight indeed. Rijksmuseum is a must visit for the art-lovers. It has an extensive and beautiful collection of arts from Master painters dating back to 15th century.
Then we decided to take a guided walking tour of the city. Amsterdam offers some walking and cycling tours of the city and nearby places. The tours start at different parts of the city. We chose the one starting at Dam Square. It is one of the oldest parts of the city, built as the town center. The old palace belonging to Queen and a very old and beautiful church stand around the square along with newer buildings and restaurants. Beautiful sculpture dedicated to the memoirs of World War II serves as a good place to hangout and meet people.
At Dam Square, we met with Geert, our guide for the next few hours, and started off with a group of around 20 people to explore the oldest part of Amsterdam.
The first destination was the Red-light district. Being one of the oldest parts of the city, it has beautiful buildings, cobbled streets, and some ancient churches. Amsterdam is one of the few cities where prostitution is legal and regulated. So, we were surprised to see windows with scantily clad women on display. But, it gradually sunk into us that there was no hyperactivity or over-exaggeration going on there. People were doing their normal business; people were mingling with each other normally, saying out hellos to their known ones, sharing small talk. Life is normal here, and a visit to this place definitely opens up your mind.
I had always known Venice to be the city of canals, well, Amsterdam is nowhere behind. The entire city is built in and around pretty canals. Our next stop was Anne Frank’s house. We did not go inside, but if you are interested to visit make sure to visit in the morning time as tourists start flooding in towards the later part of the day. On the way, our witty and very friendly guide also showed us the first building of the Dutch East India Company and provided us with some good anecdotes about Dutch and their way of living. Let me share a few with you all. For starters, Dutch are simple and straight forward people. Cycling is one of the most common forms of transport. Do not get on their way of cycling, or they will swear at you really bad. Crooked houses in Amsterdam is a common sight. It somehow saves the land used and hence results in less tax.
At the end of our tour, we friends split up. Some wanted to stay back and see the old city more. But I wanted to see a windmill, and why should I not when I am in the land of windmills. So, I along with one good friend who agreed to accompany me took a bus ride to Browerij’t IJ. It is a pub in a windmill and is famous for the locally brewed Windmill beer. Oh, the landscape! It felt like I was in some old world Netherlands, sipping beer in a windmill. Even though Heiniken which originated in Netherlands has become world famous, Windmill beer is a class in itself. If you are in Amsterdam, it is a must-try.
Our day was coming to an end, but the night was yet to begin. Amsterdam is the place to party and party wild. We decided to rock it with a “Pub-crawl”. The pub-crawl is a nice way of experiencing different pubs and making new friends. They took us to 4 pubs and finally a disc. The drinks included with the package are not that good, but you can always buy your own. The pub-crawl included a night-time walk in the red-light district. The canals and the houses present an even more beautiful sight at night.
By the morning, we were all spent out and dragged ourselves to the railway station. I said a difficult bye to this unique city. But what stayed back with me are the beautiful memories of this place and my “Amsterdam XXX” sweatshirt. My Euro trip had started with a bang.
This trip was originally published on Travel with Swagatika