Love from, Amsterdam

Everyone knows someone who has been to Amsterdam in the last 6 months. It's the hot spot right now, a melting pot of all walks of life have been drawn to the city. And why wouldn't they? "There's always something to do!" I was told. Almost sceptical of the popular city hype, I wanted to see for myself. And almost not even making it to Holland, made me crave it even more. 

The big bad beast from the east caused chaos. It will probably go down in history worldwide and we can say that we lived survived it. Britain went into shut down for days and our flights were devastatingly cancelled. It was an anxiety filled few days as I scrolled through airline twitter accounts, phoning KLM and the hotel, determined to get to our holiday. Snow storm or no snow storm. The airline and hotel did everything and put us on the next available flight just a two days later, changed our stay dates and everything was finally how it should be. I was going to Amsterdam, the first holiday with a boyfriend and a new place ticked off my list. All while fighting the beast.

The snow storm has left its mark in Amsterdam. Canals had frozen over by the time we arrived at 10pm and the airport and train station was buzzing with tourists like us who had their holiday postpone, sharing stories just like ours. We were unpatiently eager to get into the city. Running out of the grand Centeraal station, almost getting hit by a bike, we jumped into a taxi, dropped our bags off at the hotel and hopped on a tram back into the city. Not knowing where we were going, we got off when we saw Heineken in bright lights and stumbled into a lively little jazz bar. It was around 11:30pm and still the night felt young. A live band greeted us and we knew our holiday had started.

Centraal Station

I don't know whether we left it too late to search for hotels but trying to find one on a budget, in the centre was tough. For accommodation, we settled on the Best Western Hotel just outside the centre and a 15 minute tram ride to Centraal. It had everything we needed. Wifi, bed, mirror, shower and a wardrobe. It was clean and the reception was always helpful in giving us information about which trams to get and what to do. They even let us keep our bags in a locker after we checked out since we had 4 hours to kill before our flight. It was only a short walk to the museum quarter and apparently only a 20 minute walk to the city centre. However, finding our way back from the city proved to be challenging as we played a guessing game to which street to go by. Maybe we are just bad navigators, maybe it was because we spent time in a coffeeshop or maybe we just underestimated it. But took us an hour and a half. 

Each street has other side streets and alleyways coming off and each bridge over the canals look the same. Unfortunately our phone data failed us and while it provided a break from social media, we maybe could have done with google maps. Luckily, trams are everywhere! Neither of us felt like picking up a bicycle but we got a 48 hour travel ticket which allowed us to hop on any tram. The bikes are dangerous. I almost died multiple times while the bicycles whizzed round corners. Of course in such a beautiful city, I wanted to snap some photos but before you can say 'Instagram', I was dragged by the collar back onto the pavement milliseconds before some daredevil cyclist flew by me. They're at the top of the food chain. And there is no room for pedestrians. There was a direct tram from our hotel to Dam Square. Dam Square was another landmark for us. It turned out to be a prominent figure during our trip as we made that our starting point to wander about the city and explore. Twisting and turning through the side streets, over a billion canal bridges, we felt we were getting deeper and deeper into Amsterdam. Were we going to find ourselves in the organic, non tourist flooded district?


Despite roaming for an hour or so, one last walk down a dodgy ally took us straight back to Dam Square. Our expedition to experience Amsterdam like the locals, led us in a circle. Just at the right time to get a pint at one of the 5 bars that are in the heart of the square. But word of warning-don't do it. It cost 14 Euros for a piss pint of Strongbow and Heineken. I've never seen my boyfriend look so ill. For drinks, head towards the ice bar, there are plenty of bars and restaurants which sell quality food and beers cheap. The Ice bar was probably one of the highlights for me. With a pirate theme based on an old Dutch legend, the host gets into character to rally the crew (the customers) ready for below freezing temperatures. We got our tickets through a tour guide leaflet which gave us 3 free drinks-one at the main bar and 2 in the ice bar. It is recommended to have a beer first in the ice bar and a shot last. I chose the chocolate vodka which tasted like nutella and if I could, I'd pour it on everything. In the Ice bar, everything is made from ice, the glasses, the seats and the bear in the corner. If it was up to me, they should open in it as a proper bar and allow people to stay for as long as they want. 

Amsterdam contains a vast history, but one that strongly shaped it was World War II. A harrowing afternoon at the National Holocaust Museum told the story of the 1940s. Almost an entire community was wiped out with betrayal from friends and horrendous laws and torture. The theatre in the heart of the Jewish quarter became a prison and we were able to visit it and were shown photographs one of the women had taken at the time of her capture. The stories were heartbreaking but eye opening and I'd urge people to take a visit. The museum left us naturally feeling a bit deflated and we went back to Damm Square to return to our chosen local. Perfectly named-420. Another highlight. Since we somehow couldn't get away from the centre of the city, we decided to stick with what we knew. Until we bumped into a mate from home who showed us the Bulldog venues. Passed the notorious red light district, along a canal sits 4 Bulldog pubs, clubs and coffehouses. The pub is advertised as 'your traditional English living room' and have taken full advantage of the booming British tourists. These places are open till around 3pm but even as we wondered the streets for a taxi, the city was thriving still. The red light district is another world. But while people say New York is the city that never sleeps...they obviously haven't been to Amsterdam. There is no sleep here.

The last day was a weird one. The last taste of culture came from a canal ride which gives you a history lesson in the beautiful architecture and canals. The little boat houses were adorable and if I ever find myself living there,  I think a boat house would be just fine. And I wouldn't have to worry about getting knocked down by a bicycle. We weren't ready to leave and still knew that we had so much left to see. I think it was when we were having breakfast outside a cafe, watching the ruthless bikes go by, we decided that we will return again. We ended our trip on a bittersweet high. 

But until then, while I count how many sleeps until my next visit, Amsterdam will continue its restless nights.  Pulling people into its heart and letting them get lost.


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