There is something disconcerting as well as liberating about the smell of marijuana smoke drifting through the outdoor café while you enjoy your morning coffee. Welcome to Amsterdam.
We were passing thru Amsterdam in the Spring and decided to stay a few days and take in the Keukenhof. We cecked into the Hotel Arena and right away picked up the public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) for a couple of days. The card allows travel on trams, buses and metros. It’s the most convenient option for visitors and can be valid for one to seven days starting from €7.50 for one day. While the city is a great place for walking it is helpful to be able to grab a tram or bus to get you to a specific point of interest or all the way across the city.
Our plan was mostly to grab a tram in the morning to get across town and later stroll back towards the hotel. We used this thinking to start one day in the neighborhood of the Anne Frank House and another at the Van Gogh Museum. It was also helpful when we needed to get somewhere at a specific time.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city with friendly people and great public transportation. The primary mode of transportation for locals is the bicycle. They are typically nothing fancy and come in amazing configurations that include wheelbarrows in front, multiple kid seats in back and even trailers. They are parked by the hundreds in many areas and near the main train station, literally by the thousands (we have no idea how the locate their bikes in these masses of bikes).
One strong word of caution about walking this city; pay attention to the bikes! Most streets have lanes for cars and others for bicycles and than sidewalks for walking. DO NOT step toward the street without looking both ways for bicycles. Often they are traveling fast are silent and their lane is usually between the sidewalk and the road. At intersections they are between you and the crosswalk.
While there we visited the Keukenhof tulip festival gardens, and went to a cheese shop and brought back several Gouda cheeses. We strolled the flower markets and looked into buying some tulip bulbs.
Fortunately we discovered that U.S. Customs only allows you to “import” U.S. certified bulbs and when you start looking for those you discover that the choices a very limited. After we got home we found that most of those certified bulbs are readily available in the U.S. often at better prices.
There are a number of great museums and famous neighborhoods to keep you busy while visiting Amsterdam including:
The narrow canals and streets of the Jordaan lined with boutiques, pubs and fancy eateries. Stalls at the Noordermarkt square feature jewelry, clothes and antiques.
Leidseplein is an exciting nightlife hub centered on Leidseplein Square, where people are entertained by street performers and the surrounding bars and restaurants are always busy.
Museum Willet-Holthuysen the iconic windmill. The tallest wooden windmill in the country it’s octagonal in shape and was used as a flour mill in the past.
Westerkerk with its spire standing above this Renaissance-era Protestant church famous for the grave of Rembrandt. It stands only a half block from the Anne Frank House
For the more mature and adventurist tourist there is Amsterdam’s red light district. It consists of a network of alleys containing hundreds of red one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from a window, typically illuminated with red lights. Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red light experience in Amsterdam and seems to draw large numbers of tourist just sightseeing.
One afternoon while walking along a residential canal with a couple of bars at the end of the block there was a sign in several languages put up by neighbors asking patrons to kindly confine the marijuana smoking away from the front of the residences as there are open windows and children inside and to try and keep the noise down after nine at night. Only in Amsterdam…
In closing we came to the opinion that this is a very easy city to like and their tolerance for the unconventional lifestyles of other people seems to work really well for them. Maybe we in America should consider the Dutch experience and ask why we tend to criminalize lifestyle choices.
A Great Reason To Visit In The Spring
Of special interest is the Keukenhof Festival in the Spring, centered on the month of April. It was originally a trade show for the Dutch tulip growers but has become a major European event drawing visitors by the hundreds of thousands.
Keukenhof as it is known today was established in 1949 by a consortium of bulb growers and flower exporters to showcase their products and help the export industry. The garden first opened to the public in 1950 and was deemed an instant hit with 20,000 visitors in its first year alone.