Full disclosure, I am biased, I did my study abroad in International Management while in college in Haarlem, The Netherlands, a large town about 20 minutes from Amsterdam by train, so I love the country, love the people, love
the food, yea actually herring in mayonnaise sauce, not really my dish, but you get my drift.
So, in the continuation of my A Few Days in…series, let me present to you…da da dahhhh…Amsterdam.
Take it away vriend:
A few general tips to start with, since I know it can sometimes add an extra level of intimidation to go to a country that speaks another language, especially one out side of Spanish and French. But not to fear because virtually EVERYONE speaks English and the Dutch are super friendly, so any fears of not being able to figure out their funky language should be put aside. Linguists claim that the ‘germanic’ languages i.e. German and Dutch are actually supposed to be easy for an English speaker to learn, because it has a lot more similarities than the so called ‘romance’ languages, however, in order to even remotely pass Dutch, I had to bribe my professor with a carton of her favorite French cigarettes, International relations at it’s finest.
– They have a really well run train system, more metro type for the suburbs, and trolley type in town but they make frequent stops and go to all the good spots.
– When exploring Amsterdam, you have to get to at least Dam Square, once you hit that area and start going further out away from the super touristy parts, that is the real Amsterdam, don’t just get stuck in the Red Light District and think the whole place is seedy, because it’s not at all. I spent many hours with friends sitting at great little cafes overlooking a canal, fantastically peaceful.
– They are NOT known for cuisine (go to France for that) but they have a lot of excellent cheese as well as a strong Indonesian presence so you can find some good flavors of that, feeling adventurous try some whole pickled herring right down the throat, you will have to channel some sort of fraternity pledging gold fish swallowing animal house feel.
– Relax, Amsterdam is a super friendly, easily navigational city, its great to just walk down by the canals and find little cafes and chill, they serve excellent hot chocolates at cafes
As we all know by now, see anti-Mona Lisa rant here I don’t like to travel with a guide book checking off all of the must see boxes. So, in the spirit of true adventure, I wrote down a few places, that I think make for some fantastic off the beaten track recommendations.
– If you like museum type things, here is what would be on my hit list
1. Rijksmuseum – this one was my personal favorite, it’s more akin to the Smithsonian because it is a National Museum. It has a lot of art but also some history and culture exhibits.
2. Anne Frank House – must see, but gets amazingly crowded, unsurprisingly, I’d recommend going early in the day. It is a real experience, and very hard to imagine what it must have been like, but I think a very important stop.
3. Van Gogh Museum – I’m going to say this one is pretty self explanatory, but if you need a hint, it has a bunch of paintings from Van Gogh.
4. Rembrandt House – when I visited this one, I thought it was kind of cool because its the actual house he lived in, so a little bit of a different atmosphere, than the typical gallery feel you get in a museum.
5. Scheepvaart – he Dutch have a great maritime history and this really showcases it from a historical perspective.
6. Stedelijk – has a lot of modern art, similar to the MOMA, that’s about all I can comment on this one, as I absolutely do not get modern art at all. Apologies to Malevich but I don’t understand how rakes in $60 million at auction.
1. Ajax game – #1 soccer team in the Netherlands, out of Amsterdam, a lot of the members were on the World Cup team and they do play basically August through May.
2. Ice skating – I found it neverendingly cool that the ‘typical’ ice skating over there is speed skating with those long skates, so a bunch of times in the winter months we would go out to the local outdoor oval and rent some skates (they also have ‘regular’ skates), it’s an experience, give it a shot.
1. Heineken Experience – kind of a glitzy brewery tour, when I went they gave you a lot of swag.
2. Canal boat ride – I’m pretty sure everyone knows about the tons of canals in Amsterdam, if you don’t, there are tons of canals in Amsterdam. So you can get on those fun little boats they have and take a tour around, have a Grolish while you’re enjoying the sites for me.
3. Rent some bikes – be like the Dutch and bike around, there are paths everywhere, even with their own little stop lights, it’s far easier to get around via bike than car or cab, there are a lot of little alleys and streets that offer some beautiful scenery that are only accessible on two wheels. Also keep in mind, that the Dutch are statistically the tallest people in the world, so when it was time for me to get my bike, being only 5 feet tall, and unable to actually swing my leg over the seat of most of the bikes, the shop owner took pity on me, and sold me his 11 year old son’s old mountain bike for $15.
A few final tips, Amsterdam is a great city, but if you want to get outside and see the rest of The Netherlands, there are plenty of day trips. About 45 minutes away is Den Haag (The Hauge), which is actually the seat of government in the country, and also the de facto capital of the UN. So it has very much of a Washington DC type of feel. If you’re looking for something shorter, take a 20 minute train ride and head to my old hometown Haarlem. At one time the most powerful city in all of The Netherlands, it has a fantastic mix of history and culture, you can see the organ a young Mozart played, the remnants of a 15th century wall from when the Spanish ruled the town, and it’s still the Tulip center of the country. If you actually do go, swing by the old Hartkerk (church) on Kleverparkweg, that was our dorm, pretty sweet.