If all you think of when you think of Amsterdam is coffee shops and the Red Light District, you're missing out!
Sure, the Red Light District is vibrant, colourful and interesting to walk through during the day and rather seedier, darker and edgier at night, and if hanging out in one of the many coffee shops is your thing, you'll soon feel at home as the wafting fragrances regularly envelop you as you walk along.
But Amsterdam has other charms too. Its long history in culture, shipping and trade is evident everywhere. The many stately, often centuries old, town and canal houses slope and slouch and teeter against each other like a camaraderie of old gentlemen gone to seed and well in their cups yet retaining a measure of their old grandeur.
The streets of the old town, alongside and across the many canals are charming and green, filled with bikes, boats, and people as the city goes unhurriedly about its business, ignoring the tourists wandering about whilst at the same time catering to their needs.
I arrived in the afternoon and spend the evening wandering around the little streets, soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying the feeling of coming home. After 30 years, I still feel so very much at home in The Netherlands, everything so intensely familiar and, well, like home. The little cobbled streets, the bikes, the people, the...air... it's good to be back.
I wander for hours, catching the last of the opening hours, eating a waffle and wishing I could spend all of my money in the flower market, but where would I bring big bunches of flowers back to?
I just walk, getting lost on the way back to my bed for the night in the old part of the Jordaan district. This old neighbourhood was originally poor and working-class, and here and there you can still feel that vibe a little, but the small, often artisan houses command top price now there are lots of hip eateries and little boutique shops.
I don't mind getting a little lost.
"If you're alone in a city and you are tired,
you can no longer understand anything, you feel lost"
Vincent van Gogh - letter to his sister
The following morning I set out early. I want to visit the Rijksmuseum, which is located in the Museum Square and is the national museum, dedicated to art and history. It is the largest art museum in the country and one of the most visited and houses many priceless works of art. I arrive at around half ten, which is a good time to go, because it gets very busy. I spend a couple of very happy hours traipsing around in this wonderful building.
As well as many priceless works of art, the Rijksmuseum also houses one of the major art libraries of the world, which is open to researchers and the public, although all you can access when visiting the museum is a viewing gallery.
One of the most famous paintings housed in the museum is of course Rembrandt's Nightwatch. Seeing it here, in the flesh, was not only wonderful, but it also gave me a new appreciation for my grandfather's skill as an artist, as I am familiar with this particular painting from having admired it (a copy of it of course) for years in my grandparents sitting room. Now it takes pride of place in my father's apartment.
After a bite to eat and a linger in the sunshine on the square, basking in the warmth of the afternoon and people watching for a bit, I pop into the Van Gogh museum too. No pictures allowed, and although by now it was a lot busier, I only had to queue for about five minutes in the ticket queue.
The Van Gogh museum is high tech and modern and very interesting, taking you on a tour of Vincent's life and his journey as an artist in great detail, illuminated by many personal letters. Of course, many of his most famous paintings are in private hands or other museum, but there are some lovely gems here, the most famous being his sunflowers, and some works by friends and contemporaries and inspirations of Vincents such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugain, Monet, Degas et al.
It is fascinating and I spend a lot of time in front of the many paintings, but there are a lot of other people now too, and the beautiful weather is calling me. I want to be outside. I do a lot more wandering aimlessly, strolling along the canals, and slowly the feeling of disconnect leaves me and I start relaxing. I have found it surprisingly hard to be on my own this time, feeling self conscious and uncomfortable on my own, whilst all around me I am surrounded constantly by people in groups, as couples, families.
I stroll through the flower market again, I pass the Tripp House - considered the widest house in Amsterdam, built in the ..century by the wealthy Tripp brothers, merchants and .. The house is in fact two houses, which the brothers living in one half each. Across the canal from the Tripp house is what is considered the narrowest house in Amsterdam, built by the Tripps for their coachman, who, admiring the Tripp house, joked that he himself would be happy with a house only as wide as the Main door of the Tripp's house.
I only have a few hours left and there is still so much more I want to see and explore, but I can't bear to spend more of this beautiful day inside, so I opt to walk to the Plantage suburb of the city and visit the botanical gardens, the Hortus Botanicus
I thought I had fallen for the Jordan, but walking through the Plantage I am again totally enchanted. Big old beautiful townhouses - now converted into apartments for who could afford an entire big house now - but retaining their charm. The Hortus Botanicus, just down the road from the city zoo Artis, is beautiful, compact and intimate. A beautiful little oasis, full of unusual and even endangered plants. It is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world, it was founded in the 17th century to serve as an herb garden to doctors and apothecaries, and is now guardian of some of the oldest chads and palms.
Amsterdam is full of history, of charm, of life, and I wish I could stay longer. Instead, I stroll back slowly. I pass the Anne Frank house and for a moment I consider going to see it. It is nearing six o'clock now and I think it must be quieter, but when I get there the queue is still around the block. I leave it for another time.
I haven't spent nearly enough time in this city and I already want to come back, but for now, it is time to go and meet my family.
For all the low-down practical information on Amsterdam, check out the great site iamsterdam.com.
If you're planning on seeing and doing a lot while you're there, do invest in a City Card - it is great value and will save you a lot of money.
Hi, I'm Misja.
I'm a writer, a mum, an (eek!) oma. ...
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