From the Narm to the Dam

So it seems that Spring might finally be upon us, well that’s what it feels like this weekend so hopefully the sun might decide to stick around and the wind will hopefully sod off. It might have been a little premature but I busted out my Forever 21 red polka dot shirt-dress today while watching the London Marathon.

This time last week however, I was sitting outside the Heffer cafe in Oudebrugsteeg, Amsterdam, sipping from an ice cold pint of Heineken, watching the world go by.

Rocking the European backpacker look...

Rocking the European backpacker look…

After waking up at an ungodly hour on the Saturday morning and blasting the Foo Fighters along the dual carriageway to the airport, we were surprised at how short the plane journey was to Schiphol (35 minutes! Crazy when you consider our 6 hour coach journey up North at Halloween) and we were in central Amsterdam by 10am. You can’t fault most of Europe for their transport system, especially at 3,90€ for a one-way journey.

We arrived to a slightly, drizzly morning but luckily the sunshine decided to stick around for the majority of our trip, although we layered up in typical British style (sunglasses and a scarf anyone?). We found our hostel The Globe Hotel after veering off course once and were delighted to be served breakfast straight away in the sports bar. I have one bone to pick with the Dutch though when it comes to their idea of breakfast; 1) They love fried eggs on toast with cheese and 2) Their idea of ‘tea’ is a mug full of hot water with a choice of teabags on the side, it’s nice to be given a choice but no one complains over here if you’re given bog-standard Breakfast tea. Your pancakes, cheese and beer are marvellous though, I digress…

Outside our quirky little hostel

Outside our quirky little hostel

Flights and accommodation in Amsterdam are stupidly cheap, especially at this time of the year when it seems that half of the people I know seem to venturing over there at some point this month. If you’re opting for a hostel, don’t expect to find four star luxury but you will get cleanliness (thank god) and although we were a little dismayed to discover the 7ft bunk-beds in our room did not provide any form of protective side panelling or ladders, no one miraculously fell off in the middle of the night in a Heineken-induced stupor. If in any doubt, use coats and towels as some sort of crash-mat.

Amsterdam never really appealed to me, until a couple of years ago when I read that there was much more to it than the Red Light District, sex museums and the infamous coffee shops. Of course, when in the Dam, do as the Dam do but beneath some of the seediness is a  pretty, cosmopolitan city buzzing with history, art and culture.

Everything is within walking distance, a tram ride (if you’re feeling slightly lazy) or bicycle (if you’re insane) and seeing as the weather was so lovely, we followed routes along the canals, popping into quirky little boutiques here and there. After sticking close to our hotel on the Saturday and exploring around Damrak and Dam Square, we ventured to the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum on the Sunday. For a decade the building underwent renovations, costing 375 million euros and it finally reopened to the public on the 13th April 2013.

The Rijksmuseum is home to 8,000 objects of art and history from 800 years of Dutch history from the year 1200-2000

The Rijksmuseum is home to 8,000 objects of art and history from 800 years of Dutch history from the year 1200-2000

While I am not the most enthusiastic of art fans, having been relieved that GCSE Art was not compulsory while I was at school, the architecture of the building with its glass ceiling in the main foyer is stunning and it was pretty cool to see some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces up-close from Van Gogh to Monet and Rembrandt.

Van Gogh's infamous self-portrait

Van Gogh’s infamous self-portrait

Having fulfilled our cultural quota for the day, we headed to the awesome Heineken factory in the late afternoon. Well worth its value of 16 euros for a ticket, the whole of the brewery is interactive from sampling the barley mixture before the Hops are added to the World of Heineken where you can make your own silly music video, sit in the 007 train used for the Bond movie advert, have your own personalised bottle of beer made and of course, have tasters along the way. With your wristband you can also catch the Heineken boat from outside the factory, which takes you to their merchandise store across the city, close to the flowermarkets and Rembrandt Square. While I’m not usually a massive beer lover, I think Heineken might have converted me.

Fun in the Heineken Factory

Fun in the Heineken Factory

On the Monday morning, we went to Anne Frank’s House, as the queue was notably shorter than the previous day. It’s been a place that I’ve always wanted to visit, having read her diary while I was at school. While the front of the house (once home to her father Frank Otto’s spice and jam business) is the visitor’s entrance, the Annexe in which the family hid in has remained the same, void of its furnishings. The ‘leg-breaking’ stairs up to the Annexe itself make you realise that although they were well-hidden, how hard it must have been for them to remain quiet at all times and still keep their sanity in dark and somewhat cramped conditions. Even if history isn’t your thing, it’s definitely one of those places that touches you and leaves its mark.

During the evening, we bar-hopped our way back from Dam Square, usually gorging on huge slices of pizza, a dogzza (Adam and Kevin’s name for the hot-dog pizza) or a chocolate-covered waffle. Amsterdam did absolute wonders for our waistlines and our wallets over the weekend.

Damrak near Central Station

Damrak near Central Station

Like London, Amsterdam isn’t cheap and you may find yourself wondering how on earth you’ve only got a few crummy euros left in your purse by the end of your trip (enough for a train ticket and one last bottled Heineken) but Amsterdam isn’t a place where you do can things by half really. Pints of beer on average are usually around 6 or 7 euros (always try and opt for a bottle if you can!) while spirits alone can be 5 euros before they’ve even added a mixer. I guess with the amount of bicycles, trams and canals, it’s not  a wise idea to get completely inebriated but just enough so that you can navigate your way  back to your hotel in one piece. And if you do venture into the Red Light District (which is an odd bit of tourist attraction with whole families wandering up and down the main strip, pardon the pun) stick to the main road and don’t be tempted to wander into any back alleys.

The Dutch themselves are probably the most welcoming of the Europeans and their English is pretty much perfect, no manic arm gestures or shouting  “CAN WE HAVE THE BILL PLEASE?!” needed.

While it was a pretty much a fly-in visit to Amsterdam, it certainly won’t be our last. It’s a city with far too many hidden gems to uncover. Until next time Dam…Proost!

 

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