Published: July 14th 2012July 10th 2012
So Amsterdam has been wonderful... Initially we were a little intimidated by the liberty and freedom of the city but overall this is what we came to love. The city itself can be categorized into a lot of things. Most people just see it as a city that inhabits a lot of pot heads through their legalization of marijuana in coffee shops and prostitution through its red light districts but to us it was so much more than that.
The city has a lot of history behind it. Being the capital of The Netherlands you would expect an urban, modern concrete jungle complete with a huge skyline but it couldn't be further from reality. It is so incredibly beautiful with canals of water spreading throughout (I think it’s something like 100kms worth) and its 17th century buildings and apartments. It really looks like it would have 200 years ago. Really very unique and it would have to be the most aesthetically inspiring city we have come across so far on our journey. There is so much to do in and around the area too. We spent a couple of weeks here and managed to squeeze in Den Haag, Utrecht and Volendam.
We initially wanted to get a feel for Amsterdam so we did this by exploring all it had to offer. From its creative and versatile flea markets (yes Europeans LOVE them!!) to its bustling shopping districts. You really can grab a great bargain if you put in the time to look around. We explored Dam square (the heart of the city) took a lovely river cruise down the many canals and spent some time in its unique museums, of course checking out the work of some the Holland’s most famous artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. We went to the Anne Frank house, very sad but inspiring. Its quite eery and you can still feel the lonliness as you pass through the 'secret' bookcase....
We spent a lot of time just wandering the streets; awe inspired by the architecture, usually a city may have a 'quarter' where it will have buildings from a certain century.... But with Amsterdam, the WHOLE city is 16th/17th century or inspired by. They haven't really tried to modernize it with multiple housing blocks considering it has such a huge population. Believe it or not a lot of people choose to live on house boats on the canals as its cheaper. Which I LOVE, because it’s different and this just adds to its beauty. And another interesting thing is that all the buildings are so warped and tilted due to being built over reclaimed swamp lands. We took a cheese tasting class (makes sense as Holland is renowned for its luxurious cheeses) and that was lots of fun. Felt like we were back in school again as we were tested as to how we rated the different types of cheese (by texture, colour, smell, age) but it was definitely quite an experience and we left with rather full belly’s :)
Then of course you do have the seedy part of Amsterdam with its live sex shows, sex shops and windows of prostitutes, and you can help but wander how many of these women were most probably trafficked here. Never the less the council has bought out a lot of the property in which these women rent out the rooms to help minimize this, so you have to give them a little credit at least. Same with the coffee shops. The majority of people using them are stonehead tourists rather than the locals but it does seem pretty controlled. Considering the 'freedom' of the city, you can see why so many people from around the world want to come here. The transport system is pretty good, with trams used predominantly throughout the city. However then you have the bikes…. OMG!!!! Pretty much everyone uses this as an everyday means of transport. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. It is a known fact that there are more bikes in this city then people… And it can be a major hassle when walking around as a pedestrian. You have to watch for cars, trams, buses and cyclists; it can be very crazy and frustrating!
We travelled to Volendam and the North of Holland where we see gorgeous old windmills, particularly the ones at Zaanse Schanns.... So sad to think that 400 years ago they had over 30,000 and only 1,000 remain, although they are now protected by the government so hopefully they will be here to stay. Unbelievable to think that this ingenious invention would once turn the Netherlands into such a prosperous country. There are still some fully functioning to this day. You only have to go 30 mins out of the city center to see the lovely Dutch countryside and small villages. We spent some time at the Fishing village of Volendam and ate some Haring and smoked eel. Yummo, although Peter would beg to differ :) We also tried some traditional Dutch waffles.... Mmmmm waffles, you'll never try them anywhere else in the world like here. We visited a clog making factory. The different kinds of clogs is fascinating, especially there functionality. Who would have known there was so many types?! Here I was thinking they were just a fashion statement. lol. Some of the worlds top chefs wear them!
Unfortunately we were just short of the tulip season, which was a little disappointing but... what can you do?!
Then South Holland- Den Haag and sightseeing i.e the Queens working palace, along with the real Delft factories and shops. Unreal how much this blue and white pottery costs. We also went to the super cute Madurodam park ( a park replicating a mini Holland, complete with major cities/attractions/railways) Was really cool!!
Overall we loved spending time in Holland and it was so interesting to finally see my family’s heritage. I felt very much at home strangely enough and know that one day I'll be back again.