Amsterdam – there is too much to scribe in one go. Bite-sized posts will better suit this liberal, water-filled city of wonky houses, cyclists, excellent food and eclectic sights.
For now, a flying visit via snapshots.
Breakfast at the Stayokay Amsterdam is Hagelslag lekker (chocolate sprinkles delicious).
We linger too long, so it’s a dash around the corner to the Van Gogh museum, where the great artist’s intense interest in colour and light catches us.
I fail to capture Vincent’s famous Sunflowers, which he painted using just three shades of yellow, with no two flowerheads angled the same way. There is no way my camera can convey its beauty.
You can have a cup of coffee out of Sunflowers though, and carry it on a Sunflowers tray, and mop up spillages with yellow flowered paper … if you wish.
And you can check out other, very different, artwork nearby.
Before making the most of a bunch of letters that spell …. IAmsterdam (the City of Amsterdam’s motto of inclusiveness).
A quick word about Amsterdam being the most bicycle-friendly city in the world.
Bikes are safe to be near when stationary, and they love to be photographed. When moving, they go fast. Listen out for angry bells, or a silent, sinister-sounding swish of wheels. They can be pretty though.
Bikes sneak into every photo of a canal – actually many end up in canals: up to 20,000 are fished out each year.
Extra fast fact: apparently Amsterdam is made up of more water than Venice, with 165 canals stretching to a total length of 100km.
The Anne Frank House lies on one of the main canals, Prinsengracht. Anne’s father felt that his office building was the safest place to hide his family during World War Two. No photos are permitted within – but you don’t need pictures to remember it by. It’s a powerful must-see when in Amsterdam. Top tip – book online ahead of time, or you’ll be stuck in a queue like this …
The bells that Anne loved still chime in the Westerkerk (visible in the background).
These days Amsterdam is exuberantly multi-cultural – easy to see, taste and smell in the colourful Albert Cuyp Markt.
Start with some traditional poffertjes (tiny pancakes liberally dusted with sugar).
And warm-up as you wander past other food stalls (Middle Eastern, Indonesian, as well as more traditional Dutch fare – and there’s more).
Browse until lunchtime. Admire the wigs, chairs, clothes, furniture, washing machines, and (of course) bikes. Very nice bikes.
We need the loo, so resist tasting more street food. We opt instead for Bazar, a vibrant restaurant right behind the market – it’s housed in an old church and is cavernous. Friendly staff and fresh, flavoursome North African and Middle Eastern food make it an immediate hit.
Chocolate is always a good way to complete a meal, so we find some back on the street.
Away from the bohemian De Pijp district, Amsterdam windows and shops carry on their curiosities, especially in the 9 Straatjes (9 streets). De Witte TandenWinkel (White Tooth Shop) was once frequented by Mick Jagger (or so they say).
Also don’t miss the Doll Doctor tucked into the back of an old candle shop. No. 3 finds it a little creepy.
Right next door to De Witte TandenWinkel is the most comprehensive cheese shop I’ve ever seen – De Kaaskamer. No. 4 ensures we enjoy some holey cheese tasting. The Frisian Tynjetaler is sweet and delicious.
Well, if it isn’t time for more to eat and drink …
The old Bruin Cafés (Brown cafés) are cosy and quirky, like pubs. As their name suggests, the interiors are brown, and candles top their jumble of rough wooden tables. Order a pils (beer) or Koffie Verkeerd (wrong coffee = white coffee) and enjoy some simple good food.
“Coffeeshops” are different (although coffee is available). You can smell them before you see them – they are the only type of establishment where it’s legal to buy small amounts (max 5g) of marijuana. The law isn’t clear-cut: a coffeeshop may buy and sell marijuana (within limits), but its suppliers may not grow or import it, or sell it to a coffeeshop. Tricky – but somehow it works via the back door.
No fragrance wafts our way from the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) – wrong time of year – but it’s bulbtastic in Autumn, and wooden blooms never fade …
We see work going on in the garden of the Rijksmuseum and wonder which colours will spring up in April …
The kids vote to finish our visit with a free ferry ride across the IJ. Someone’s told them about a 36oº view from the brand new A’DAM Toren on the other side. We squeeze on the boat with the locals and their bikes, plus a little red car.
5 minutes later, we’re there, and find duplicate IAmsterdam letters standing tall above the water.
The A’DAM tower reaches up 100m, is visually appealing both inside and out, and boasts Europe’s highest swing – Over the Edge. Do we dare?
It’s a neat ending to see Amsterdam’s central station and church towers suffused in cloudy light. Maybe next time we will view them from the swing …
Top Tip: start your visit with a free walking tour with Sandemans. Our guide, Michael, pitches it perfectly. He caters for kids and adults alike, and leads us with humour, sensitivity and expertise through the Red Light District to the Dutch East India Company, to the Anne Frank House and many places in between. With this grounding, you can then enjoy Amsterdam to the full.
Finally: for a heart-wrenchingly evocative rendition of Anne Frank’s world, you might want to listen to James Whitbourn’s Annelies.