Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Amsterdam- The Sin City

My first impressions of this city were foggy. Literally; the city is filled with fearless smokers at its every nook and corner. It is a city that is known for its legal permissiveness of sex and drugs. A city that attracts millions of travellers every year; a city that lets you unleash that wild side you otherwise keep tamed for the real world. This is the city of freedom.

In Amsterdam, you’re probably considered an outcast if you’re not looking for sex, drugs and crazy partying. I was one such outcast. In a bid to explore beyond the periphery of the usual suspects, I found some intriguing spots in a vast cobweb of canals. Aside from the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House and the Heineken Experience, I also discovered Dutch-style fries drowned in mayonnaise, the colourful Dutch tulips, their large family-size pancakes, numerous bicycles everywhere, and much, much more.

Rijksmuseum @ Jan Luijkenstraat 1 
Considered to be one of the 10 most principal museums in the world, the Rijksmuseum houses works of notable artists like Rembrandt van Rijn (The Night Watch) and Het Joodse Bruidje (The Jewish Bride) are on view here. It also contains a vast collection of Netherlandish paintings from 15th to late 19th century, together with Delft earthenware and a gorgeous doll house. There, I happened to witness a very intriguing artist at work. The objet d'art of artist Maarten Baas was a huge grandfather clock inside which a man is seated (visible through a translucent white screen), who changes the time every minute. It was so fascinating that most of the crowd would finish the museum tour and then spend several minutes at the exit watching time change minute by minute.
Open from 9am-6pm (till 10pm on Fridays); Admission fee €10

Van Gogh Museum @ Paulus Potterstraat 7
For any Van Gogh fan, this is a must-visit. This three-storied building illustrates Vincent Van Gogh’s development as an artist and captures facets of his personal life through a permanent collection of over 200 paintings and 500 drawings; along with letters and quotes from his family and friends. One of its current biggest attractions is the reproduction of one of his most famous paintings- The Bedroom- through a life-size visual display. It also serves as a visually vibrant educational platform for someone who isn’t familiar with his work. You can also take home some of his works in a miniature avatar at the museum’s souvenir  shop that has everything from magnets to mugs to coasters to button pins to puzzles to chocolates (with wrappers decked with the paintings) to table mats to tea pots to lunch bags.
Open from 10am-6pm (till 10pm on Fridays); Admission fee €14

The Heineken Experience @ Stadhouderskade 78
Amsterdam is the birthplace of one of the world’s finest beers, Heineken. The Heineken Experience comprises the first ever Heineken brewery, opened in 1887, that was transformed into a visitor centre that held informative tours on the brewing process of this beer. Today, the Heineken Experience offers an exciting interactive tour that last for an hour and half spread over 19 different rooms. It includes historic exhibits, the brewing process through interactive videos, their advertising reel starting from 1958, a football section with memorabilia together with foosball tables, a stable with Heineken shire horses, a section where you can create videos, do a karaoke number and click photographs of yourself and send it to your friends, a special simulated movie called Brew Your Ride explaining the brewing process in a lighter vein, and a souvenir shop with T-shirts, glasses, etc. 
My favourite part of this ‘experience’, however, was definitely the tasting room- where you can also learn how to pour beer the right way, how to correctly skim the foam, and more tips from the experts- and the Brew U section, where you can create your very own personalized beer bottle etched with your name on it.
Open from 10am-6pm (Tue-Sun); Admission fee €14

Anne Frank HousePrinsengracht 267
This was truly an extremely emotional experience, yet an unforgettable one. Having known nothing about her, not only was I enlightened about her story but also was touched by it. This is the actual house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis for over two years. The house, now a well-laid museum, puts together her story and the history of the eight people who hid there between 1942 and 1944, and those who helped them during their hiding, the way she recounts it in her diary. It even has actual pages she initially wrote on, as well as medium-sized model of the room she stayed in hiding. Also on display are several videos by people who knew her expressing her family’s anguish over the perils they had to face.
However, it was her father’s video that really shook me. I didn’t expect to feel so overwhelmed. And I certainly didn’t think that I was going to cry. But it took me by surprise, and without invitation just came rolling down when I heard him say (about Anne, after reading her journal); ‘You never really know who your children really are.’
Open daily from 9am-7pm (till 9pm between March and Sept); Admission fee €7.50

A Canal Cruise @ Damrak 26 
Enjoy a relaxing evening by taking a canal cruise, as it lets you see the city in the most laid-back way. It’s a great way to see Amsterdam’s most prominent spots and understand its history and architectural influences via this one-hour tour.
Tour departs every 15 minutes from 10am-4.30pm (till 6pm from April to Sept); Tickets start from €10

Sneak Peeks
  • Tulips and clogs (wooden shoes) are trademarks of the Dutch capital, so pick some up at the Bloenmarkt (Flower Market) along the Singel canal.
  • For large, main-course-plate-sized pancakes, make a stopover at T’Singeltje, along the Bloenmarkt. It has welcoming wooden furniture with vintage photographs of Amsterdam on the wall. Oddly, it has napkins on the lamps. Never understood that!
  • Walk into the Magic Mushroom gallery -also along the Bloenmarkt- to purchase everything and anything related to drugs: seeds, pipes, bongs, candies, chocolates, cookies, and loads more.
  • I didn’t visit any coffee shops, but according to hearsay, Bulldog Cafe is supposedly a popular spot. If cheese is your fix, then you must try the wide variety at Henri Willig Cheese. The flavours range from pesto and fenugreek to pepper and herbs and garlic cheese. 
  • Adding to the list of museums in Amsterdam, you could also explore the Sex Museum (tracing its history), Marijuana Museum, TortureMuseum and Vodkamuseum.
  • If you just want a lazy afternoon sitting by a lake or cycling around a park, Vondelpark -just south of the city centre- is the place to be. Sprawled over one and a half kilometres, it has numerous paths, lakes, wide expanses of green and a restaurant/bar.
  • For a quick satisfying meal, head to any of Amsterdam’s FEBO outlets. They are everywhere! You should be able to get a good burger for around €2.
Have a Great Trip
  • When planning your trip, double-check all of the above as admission fees and timings are subject to change.
  • Be sure to do a search on ‘Free things to do in Amsterdam’. There are several things to do and places you can visit that are free of cost and it is best to know before you reach, so that you can plan your days accordingly. For example, you can catch a free concert at The Boekmanzaal, which hosts free concerts (performed by either Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of the Netherlands Opera or the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra) on Tuesdays at 12.30pm from September-May.
  • The Dam Square is often abuzz with activity with some crazy street artists putting up fun attire and tricks to entertain an audience.
I stayed at the Stayokay Hostel in Stadsdoelen. You can find many budget accomodations on travel websites like www.hostelbookers.com and www.hostelworld.com 

Text and Photos by Ruchika Vyas
of Traveller Stories


Very informative! Visiting the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House through this article was interesting!! Thanks for sharing :)

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