Amsterdam – bold, quirky and fun

A city that never sleeps.

Amsterdam is full of energy, always bustling with activity, and packed with a stream of tourists in all seasons all days. It’s also a beautiful canal city — numerous canals everywhere even in the heart of the city.

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Damrak canal, centre of Amsterdam

It’s also a city with the most number of cycles I have ever seen. 800,000 bicycles — almost as many bikes as people in the city!! It’s such a pleasant sight – to see families riding their bikes together, chatting away and the elderly riding with so much ease and stopping for passersby. They seem to ride their bikes no matter the weather and there are so many parking spots for these bikes (including a floating parking spot bang opposite the train station, next to the ferry point). In some places, there are no footpaths but there is a bike lane! Apparently, bikes go missing quite often. Some stolen and some if you look hard into the canals, you might find a bike or two submerged in the water!

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a bike-friendly city

Apart from their bikes and canals, Amsterdam is likely more well-known for its red light district and its “coffeeshops“. There’s plenty of these “feel good” shops all around the central area and this is where the local crowd and the weed-starved citizens of other nations throng to. Cannabis is sold in all forms – of course there’s the traditional by gram and the joints but there’s also the brownies, the cookies, the chocolate bars and the lollipops! It is sold in an insane variety of forms. Although it is illegal to smoke in public, you’ll smell the marijuana everywhere and you’ll see lots of stoned people especially youthful tourists.

The whole culture and legality around this and prostitution in Amsterdam still amazes me. While the rest of the world is only now opening their legal doors to marijuana, this city had been the only paradise on earth for decades for peeps hankering after the green stuff. What I admire the most is – the city has a very open, bold, live and let-live attitude. The Dutch folks are also very warm, friendly people. And, they also seem to have  a great tolerance for people from other ethnicities – Amsterdam is swarming with people from all countries.

We visited Amsterdam over our Christmas holidays and spent New Year’s eve here. There were decorations everywhere and the light festival was on — the city looked pretty spectacular.

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just a teeny weeny start to the fireworks that would take over the sky

If you do visit the city over New Year’s eve, you should note that the city shuts off its train system, all public transport really from as early as 8 PM on the 31st and it doesn’t kick back in until 6 am. There are a few night buses but I’d say nearly impossible to make these with all the connections and likely all the crowd trying to get on these. So be warned! 🙂

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people, people everywhere

Amsterdam is so so packed, always. Of course, there were a lot more tourists because of the Christmas holidays and New Year’s eve but Amsterdam is one of those big cities that is always brimming with tourists and there’s always long lines everywhere, so planning well in advance saves you wasted time.

If you are in Amsterdam, you should go on a canal ride. They have all types of boats – we opted for the warm, closed one as the temperatures were terribly low during new year’s eve. We did the water colors evening cruise that was part of the Amsterdam Light Festival (usually takes places from Dec to Jan). The queues were long, extending to more than a kilometer.. but the wait wasn’t so dreadful as we had a DJ entertaining us – people were dancing on the streets, kids and old folks alike. The new year cheer was definitely in the air! It was a pleasant ride cruising thru the waters admiring the light artworks along the way. Some were quite impressive but I think I still have a soft spot for the Singapore night festival which is a somewhat similar display of art thru light (the festival includes lots of other fun events and is an amazing experience). What made the canal ride in Amsterdam fun was our boat driver (who was also our tour guide) and who like a lot of Dutch folks, had a great sense of humor. He cracked us up with witty, cheeky and some cheesy jokes about the local folks, culture and customs.

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boats of Amsterdam

A visit to Amsterdam cannot be complete until you have visited some of the city’s brilliant museums – the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House are a must-visit. The works of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, and other Dutch artists are not only held in great reverence by the Dutch folks but by folks all around the world. The Dutch have produced more than a few exceptional masterpieces in the art world. We unfortunately were able to visit just the Van Gogh museum — Van Gogh and his works left us feeling pensive and simply awestruck. Visiting the museum gives you a chance not just to see his popular works, but also gives you a glimpse into some of his early, lesser-known but equally powerful works. We would have loved to see the Rijksmuseum that displays the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer and also the Anne Frank House — we now have yet another compelling reason for us to visit the city again.

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wonderful bock at the De Bekeerde Suster brewery

We’d also like to visit again to explore the city’s brewing scene. While we visited some fantastic breweries in our short stay there, there was a bunch we couldn’t do. There’s just not enough time to drink all the beer you want to!

We were pleasantly surprised that this land of Heineken could brew some neat craft beers. We visited the De Bekeerde Suster brewery – not only did they have a feisty collection of beers, they also had a great spread for the hungry stomach and a very interesting story behind their name!

We were visiting Amsterdam after a couple of weeks in Belgium and were so glad to see their tourist centre (the I amsterdam centre). No wild goose chase trying to locate it, just visible in plain sight..like you’d expect. The city is well prepared and well set-up for tourists – so not too difficult finding your way around local transport and such. The I amsterdam is not only a tourist centre but possibly more well-known as a catch phrase with both locals and tourists alike. And, you’ll see the I amsterdam letters all around the city. The most popular one is the one right in front of the Rijksmuseum. In front of these letters is usually a small body of water which turns into an ice skating ring come winter. This spot is hugely popular and ridiculously crowded – as you can see in the pic below.. you can barely see the letters!

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Rijksmuseum in the background – the most photographed place in Amsterdam

Amsterdam may appear like just another typical big city with throngs of people everywhere, busy streets, bad traffic etc. but it has an undeniable uniqueness to it. It’s a truly remarkable city – its rich culture, bold attitude, quirky traditions and pleasant folks — will leave you desiring for more.

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