Although the popularity of Amsterdam is most commonly based on the cafe’s and red light district, I find it quite charming for neither of those reasons. Maybe its because the “Venice of the North” is filled with a network of beautiful canals, which the surrounds the city like an envelope. Maybe it’s how the bicycle is the king of the road. Or, maybe it’s how the floating city sparkles at night, making it just feel a bit magical. (Judging from my love of the Eiffel Tower, maybe I just like sparkles?)
One thing Amauri and I immediately encountered in Amsterdam was warmth and kindness from locals. While eating breakfast one morning, we watched out the window as a woman stopped her bike, got off, picked up a strangers bike that had fallen over, then left. Who does that? These people do. You can just tell they are genuine. After all, this city is known for being open-minded.
There is usually only two reasons a foreigner comes to visit Amsterdam. The red light district and the Cafes. (Fun fact: Don’t take pictures in the district or the pimps will throw your camera in a canal or smash it. Judging from their level of sketch-ness, I believe it.) 95 percent of the pimps, sex workers, and clients in Amsterdam are foreigners. The Dutch don’t partake. I can’t blame them and I completely understand their avoidance. I imagine as a local walking in the center of the city on the cobble stoned Dam Square (aka might as well be adult Disney World) over time would get old. Late at night, you will surely run into crowds of partygoers and will most likely have to hop over a few puddles of vomit. If you are sober, it probably won’t be pretty. Anthony Bourdain didn’t dub the city “Bangkok of Europe” for nothing.
Despite the chaos in the popular corners of the city, Amsterdam is actually quite laid back and lovely. Once you step away from your guidebook recommendations and visit all the museums your heart desires, you can find some really unique spots.
Say you get the munchies. You can visit De Taart Van M’n Tante, which offers one-of-a-kind cakes that look like they belong in Alice and Wonderland. (No, not space cakes. Real cakes.)
At night you can relax in Cafe Brecht, a bar specializing in Czech and German beers, where you can play board games and listen to the locals communicate in one of the four languages they speak. The place is cozy and has mismatched old furniture, reminiscent of your grandmother’s house.
If you’re up for a late night snack you can eat at FEBO. FEBO is a crazy concept of fast food in a vending machine. I really wanted to try it out, but by the time we found one it didn’t have any worthwhile options left. My stomach thanked me later.
It’s a good thing Amsterdam has more to offer than space cakes, considering tourists can now say goodbye to legal highs. I can see all the dope-bleary eyes widen in alarm. Yes, its true! The Dutch government has announced a ban on foreigners participating in the country’s liberal drug policies, taking effect early 2013.
For me, this doesn’t change my opinion on Amsterdam. Amauri and I definitely want to return, and will. It feels like there is much more of the city to explore and discover and we have only skimmed the surface. There are plenty of cities like Venice that are built around water, but there is only one that will charm you like Amsterdam.
Amsterdam, I feel like we could be good friends.