Netherlands: Amsterdam's City Center
January 1, 1970
by Yiing Zhi
Walkabout in Amsterdam’s City Center
After a long flight that lasted almost 13 hours (I flew from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia), I touched down at the Schiphol International Airport, Netherlands at about 6:40 am. With so many shops, the airport looked more like a shopping complex, albeit a closed one as it was still very early and none of the shops were open. There was also a connecting train station within the airport, and several bus stations outside of the airport as well.
As I stepped outside via the revolving door, the cold air swirled around me instantly, effectively freezing my face. My breath came out as wisps of smoke as I rolled my luggage across the tiled floor to the bus station, as I was going to take the bus. I looked around me as I walked, and a cluster of red and white blocks caught my attention. It was the iconic “I Amsterdam” figure, one of many within the city. Excitedly, I sprinted towards it to have a better look. Hordes of people, tourists by the look of it, wanted to take photos there, so it was crowded, but I managed to capture plenty of nice shots nevertheless.
Bagels & Beans
A little while after that, my bus arrived, and I climbed into it, heading towards my very first destination in Amsterdam: a breakfast café called Bagels & Beans. Bagels & Beans was a well-lit, cozy café that reminded me of a home, and there were several friendly waiters and waitresses on hand to attend to the customers. Greetings rang out throughout the store, and the customers responded back in kind. I settled down at a table, and a waitress brought over a menu and took my order, which included a bagel with cream cheese and jam, and a glass of orange juice. The bagel was scrumptious, the orange juice fresh and not overly sweet, so I really took my time enjoying my first breakfast in Amsterdam.
En Route to the City Center
After breakfast, I boarded another bus, this time towards Dam Square and the Royal Palace. It was only a short ride before I found myself disembarking at what seemed to be a boat-and-bus central, aptly named Centraal Station. People swarmed like bees in this area, hopping on and off the buses and boats. I followed everyone else and descended from the bus. Someone yelled out a warning to watch out for bicycles, as Amsterdam was also known for its multitude of cyclists and they were sometimes impatient. Somehow, I was shepherded to the other side of the road safely. However, my ultimate destination was a short walk away, so I wasted no time finding out where to go.
It wasn’t easy as I tried to look around, enjoy the city, avoid knocking into other people, and figure out where to go at the same time. The city was familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time; the structure of the city itself was similar to the Melbourne city, but the nature of the shops and activities there differed slightly. There were big retail shops, small little shops selling trinkets and street food, and on one corner, a gigantic department store which was one whole building by itself and five stories high. I didn’t realize that I had actually reached the Dam Square and Royal Palace till I was told so. The buildings all looked the same to me anyway.
The Dam Square & The Royal Palace
The Dam Square is actually a real square, and there were different shops surrounding each side of the square. The Royal Palace bordered one side, the department store bordered another, and the remaining two sides were lined with shops. I found out that no royal had ever lived in the Royal Palace before, which was an interesting piece of trivia, and my first impression of the Royal Palace was that it was a really nice building. My second impression? Pigeons. Pigeons everywhere. If they were smaller, I probably would have trampled on the whole lot of them and not even notice. There was also an H&M, a wax museum and a café nearby the palace.
The department store named De Bijenkorf was my next stop, and I just admired the goods from a distance as they were all luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes among others. I took a leisurely stroll through the store without buying anything, then I was out in the open air again, this time at the war monument. I have no idea how long it had been since the monument was constructed, but it wasn’t its original pristine, white color anymore. It looked yellow, grey and slightly black in some areas. It must’ve been a grand sight in its prime, but it looked more like a hangout place for those in the city as the monument consisted of a ledge which also served as a bench.
What really attracted me at the monument were the huge pots of tulips placed around the monument in a semi-circle. I knew that Keukenhof Garden was the place to admire the tulips in their full grandeur, but that didn’t stop me from gushing over the flowers. Judging by the reactions of other tourists, they didn’t care that it was just pots of flowers in the middle of the city either. Bright red tulips caught my eye immediately and I excitedly stepped closer to examine them and take a few close-up shots. These flowers were brighter than any red lipstick I’ve ever seen. Next to these were the softer, more understated pink tulips, full of femininity and grace. They weren’t as striking as the red, of course, but the pink tulips had their own allure about them. The time spent at Dam Square was an interesting experience, especially to observe the locals and tourists and how they behaved differently.
The Best Cheese Fries in Amsterdam!
The walkabout made me rather hungry, so I crossed over to the shops which sold street food, trying to decide on what to buy. In the middle of the row of shops was a line protruding, so I looked up to the signboard of the shop, which was a bright purple. “Manneken Pis”, it showed. I didn’t know what it meant, but I walked up closer and saw people holding large purple cones of fries drizzled with melted cheese. I decided to try the cheese fries, and it was one of the best choices I ever made in my life, as no other fries I’ve eaten came close to this.