The tram swings alarmingly close to the other tram going in the opposite direction, bells clanging and swishing past with barely a couple of inches in between. In time you get used to it, and if in Amsterdam, a tram ride is the most fun thing to use to get across the city. For 1.6 Euro you can jump on and jump off as many trams as you like across the city within two hours. But if you plan to visit Amsterdam a strong pair of walking shoes is the best way to see the city. Just wander around soaking in the sights.
It’s Spring in Amsterdam and with Spring come the tourists in their hundreds. Just swarming out of the train station like busy bees, all clamouring to get a piece of the action in Amsterdam. Clipped Brit accents, loud and excited Spanish, smooth and pretty French and a guttural German, it is a babel of voices in the coffee shops dotting the city. Amsterdam draws them all and there is something for everyone.
Call it sin city, call it quaint and classic, call it libertine, call it the party capital of Europe. Amsterdam has it all – from cozy cafés where you can chat all day, to wild parties where you can dance all night, from a Concert Hall to the Red Light District there is something for everyone. The Dutch say café for pub, but it’s the same concept as ours in India. You can sit outside in the sunshine and relax, sip a beer, soak in the sun, read the papers, or write post cards home while the pigeons peck around your feet for the crumbs of your Broodje (sandwich). Gezelligheid or Dutch conviviality abounds wherever you go.
I love Amsterdam with its old world air in the city centre to the more modern suburbs which reflect a very different Amsterdam. The concentric canals in the city centre draw me like a magnet and my tram card does not help much. The card gives me the freedom to ride wherever I want all day all over the city. So if the urge hits me like it did this morning, I just pull on my jeans and tee and am off with my digi cam to capture the sights for the travel pieces that I write. Doing my Masters in Journalism with the Erasmus Mundus I am in Amsterdam for six months. Six months of unadulterated bliss. Class is twice a week and in between studying for them and writing my assignments I ramble around the city taking in everything I possibly can. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime which I am seizing with both hands.
The Art Museums are de rigeur for me an art lover. Not the post modern splashes for me. I want what I consider art --- Rembrandt Vermeer and Van Gogh. Those are men whose work reflects the kind of art I will pay 10 Euros to go and see. It’s worth every cent going to the museums and wallowing for a good two hours in their art. Imagine standing infront of the real live ‘Sunflowers’ by Van Gogh or ‘Night Watch’ by Rembrandt? A frisson of excitement runs up and down my spine when I see these world famous pieces ‘in the flesh’ so to speak! You can even buy a museum card for 30 Euros and see all 400 museums in The Netherlands for that. Once you have had your fix of high culture, then ramble down to Leidserplien and sit outside a café and enjoy the sun while sipping your chilled Orangeboom beer while the pigeons peck for crumbs of your broodjes (sandwich) at your feet.
Leidseplien is the place for night life where you can take in a blues concert or even dance the night away at one of the more up market night spots. There is always something happening at Leidserplien which is full of tourists now that its high season. Cafes spill out onto the plazas and since it’s bright till almost 9pm everyone prefers sitting outside enjoying the warmth of the sun.
My hostel is truly international with Greek, French, Polish, Spanish, Danish, Belgian and me from India all living together happily on one floor. We all have separate rooms and private toilets but the common kitchen draws us all to cook and enjoy one another company whenever we are off studying. My Indian curries draw the Danish and Polish inmates who have fun enjoying how to cook an Indian meal and eat it with me! Agata the Polish girl decided to treat us all to placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes) with brown sugar one evening. That’s Amsterdam for you, genuine Amsterdam, a mosaic of many cultures all living quite happily together.
The Floating Flower Market is buzzing with excitement in Spring with Tulips in every conceivable colour kept in tubs for sale. There are even Rembrandt tulips with their bold and colourful stripe on sale made famous by the master in his paintings. There are orchids from Thailand and Geraniums and Fuschias from the UK, there are Clemantis and Amaryllis and of course the roses. The Roses come from both Africa and India and their perfume scents the air all around. What’s nice is on the other side of this really narrow street the cafes spread themselves here as well! Tourists sit outside enjoying both the flowers and the sunshine with their coffee or beer. Of course the ‘start up kits’ of Cannabis made me smile. On sale for as little as 4.5 Euros, these kits promise nirvana for those Cannabis addicts who prefer to grow their own rather than fork out the moolah!
And then, how can you not cycle in Amsterdam. That’s the national pastime with the Dutch who are very fit with cycling, never mind the number of broken bones which happen every once in a while. It’s something that is passed down from one generation to the next with entire families out on cycles going to work and school together. You can rent a bike for a couple of Euros in Amsterdam BUT be very sure you have a sturdy lock as you can come out to find your bike stolen quite easily. Junkies abound and bikes are the easiest thing for them to sell to make enough for a fix.
Talk Amsterdam and how can you miss the Red Light District? There is nothing sneaky about sex in The Netherlands and don’t be too surprised if you run into a brothel on the same street as a beautiful church. The Red Light District has its own attitude, where the women stand in the windows and quite unabashedly turn around for the men to ogle. Every once in a while a man knocks on the window and then the curtain is drawn to signal she is ‘busy.’ The red light district comes alive at night when the red lights come on and their rosette hue is reflected in the inky black canals in front. There are sex shops selling all your heart desires and there are live theatres where a sleazy show can be watched, all in the name of ‘art’. This is where the world got the famous term Red Light District apparently. But don’t you dare take out your camera here. You can almost get bodily harmed by one of the prostitutes if you do. They don’t take kindly to ignorant tourists or journalists, I learnt the hard way!
Ride a bike with the wind in your hair, feed the pigeons in front of the imposing Dam, eat slices of Gouda or sip a Grolsch beer in Amsterdam. This is one city which is different from any other in the world and worth a visit.