Amsterdam Springtime Adventures
For many Europeans it has become a recurring thing going on extended weekend getaways to the major cities of Europe. Price war on plane tickets and increased short haul trips from e.g. low cost airlines like Wizz Air or Norwegian makes it easy to get away a few days at an affordable price. Thus, in late spring, my friend and I decided to visit Amsterdam, one of the few Western European capitals we have never experienced. We had heard a lot of positive things about the city beforehand and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
Where to stay
An experienced Amsterdam-goer told us that if we just found accommodation within the A10 highway, we would be golden, as the tram system is very efficient and can take us to the inner city quickly. Thus, when I booked the hotel, I used the very convenient ‘map function’ to find a good location at an affordable price.
We ended up staying in Conscious Hotel Museum Square, which is an eco-friendly hotel very close to the Van Gogh Museum – about 10 minutes walk from the city centre. Located in an old, friendly neighbour, it is the perfect place for both couples, friends and families on vacation. The hotel offers organic snacks and other fairtrade & sustainable necessities at the front-desk, and it’s also possible to rent a bike. The personnel is very friendly with great English skills. They helped us by both guiding how to get to a certain location and recommended where to eat.
The tram stop, Museumsplein, is located only 200 meters away, and from there we could take trams to the city centre. Bus 197 stops at the same location, going to and from the airport. The ride is about 25 minutes, and the ticket can be bought in the bus with cash, €2,5 person/ride.
Food and drinks
Before I left for Amsterdam several people told me how Dutch cuisine was not particularly interesting. Yet, it is only half the truth. Granted, if you look for a grandiose, culinary experience, I would go for Scandinavia, France or Italy instead of Amsterdam. While the dinners we got were good, they were nothing extraordinary. However, if you – like me – are a dessert enthusiast, Amsterdam has a lot to offer. Try for instance the ‘pannenkoeken’, which is a Dutch version of crepes or pancakes. At De Carrousel Pannenkoeken you can have them with everything from bacon, ginger whipped cream to apple-cinnamon-butter. If you want it to be even more Dutch, try the poffertjes – basically small, fluffy pancakes – which come with both chocolate, sugar butter and kiwi-whipped cream. Also, their fresh, mint tea is superb.
While pancakes, waffles and poffertjes are great it is too much eating them for dinner as well. Luckily, Argentinian (steaks and more steaks), Tibetan and Ethiopian cuisine thrives in Amsterdam, with lots of restaurants, good food and great prices in the centre. However, we succeeded at finding authentic, Dutch food at Het Stuivertje, in the Jordaan area. The restaurant has existed since 1971, and serves authentic, seasonally adjusted food. A two or three course menu is good value for money. I loved the vegetarian main dish very much, while my friend was overly satisfied with the high quality selection of wine. It is possible to pay with card.
The tram is convenient and easy to take when your legs get tired, or if it is getting late, and a one-way ticket can be bought on the tram or from the machines at the stations. It is also possible to get one or more day passes. However, inner city has a special sense of beauty and it is a shame not to experience it on bike or foot. We mostly walked around, because it allowed us to find quirky shops, alternative trails and strange city corners.
On one of our random walks, we found Peer, a whimsical art gallery, offering great tea and refreshments, free WIFI and chairs outside, overlooking the canals. So if you have the time, please abandon your map or GPS and allow yourself to get lost – you might find a small oasis.
Good food, photogenic city and lots of walks – that is definitely Amsterdam, but the city has more to offer as well. Of course, you could go around with one of the hop-on-hop-off buses, which is both efficient and recommendable if your stay is short, and there are also lots of other traditional activities to do. If you like museums, it is easy to track down the good ones via Tripadvisor, and for many people the Van Gogh Museum is a must. While we usually try to find the peculiar and diverse events and activities, we still did a classic, canal tour, with a hop-on-hop-off boat, which was especially amazing due to the great weather and good value for money. Yet, we also devoted time to eccentricities.
Kattenkabinet is a Cat museum located in the centre of Amsterdam. It pays tribute to cats and all their essence by showcasing all sorts of cat art, in the narrow, canal-side building, converted to museum in 1990. While I had hoped the museum would be bigger, it was definitely odd enough to be worth the visit. Also, four vivid cats live on the perimeters, and it is possible to buy lots of cat curiosities in the small museum shop. If you are a catlover like me, it is worth visiting, and it wont take more than half an hour. Students get in for €4, adults for €7.
Spacecake is another speciality of Amsterdam. While the city isn’t interested in getting hordes of visitors just because it’s legal to consume hash and smoke pot, they have yet to restrict sales. I have never tried to smoke pot or consume anything along those lines, so my friend and I decided to try it, since it’s both cheap, controlled and legal in Amsterdam. A Spacecake is basically cake-mix with some hash in it, and each piece costs €6 or €7. We decided to be cautious, so we shared a piece, but we did not see any effects until three hours later. I experienced irritable gums and dizziness, while my friend had issues not laughing. Later, he got dizzy as well. Since the experience was a great disappointment, we decided to to again the day after, each consuming a piece. Instead of the expected fits of laughter, we both experienced severe dizziness, literally long amounts of time where we both ‘spaced out’ and a nice, long, uninterrupted 12 hours of sleep from about five hours after consumption. So unless you a looking for natural sleeping medication with side effects, don’t bother with the space-cake. It’s odd, but not in an interesting or funny manner.
The tips & tricks
Lastly, a few tips based on our experiences.
The main supermarket in inner city is called Albert Heijn and their logo and general appearance is quite blue (as in the colour, not the mood you get in when you enter). In fact, they have much great, high quality and organic food, but paying for your goods is an issue, as they only take cash and Maestro. Yes, that is right. No Mastercard, no Visa – nothing. So if you, like me, come from an almost cash-less country and expect card payment possibilities, you will be disappointed and frustrated – especially if the staff is as rude as we experienced.
If you are in a hurry, and would like to see the famous areas, the touristy things and the renown landmarks, then get hold of a free map from the hop-on-hop-off buses. They highlight the most famous sightings on their map, and you can, at your leisure, visit them all or a selected few. We did and returned home with a good impression of a city with a lot to offer for every type of traveller.