Amsterdam, The Netherlands: A Resident’s Perspective

April 2002 Update

A couple of tips for travelers:

Floriade is coming!

The Floriade is the world horticultural exhibition in the Netherlands. The
Floriade is held once every ten years – the event in 2002 will be the fifth.
Floriade 2002 will run from Saturday 6 April until Sunday 20 October in the
district of Haarlemmermeer, close to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and tourist
centres like Amsterdam and Haarlem.

More info in many languages at www.floriade.nl

Also, something should be mentioned about Queens’ Day. Ideally I would have
been through one first, but this from my girlfriend:

Queens’ Day is a national holiday which occurs every April 30, and is probably
one of the largest street parties short of Carnival in Rio. In Amsterdam,
people line the streets to flog their useless junk to whoever will buy it. It
is very, very crowded and is also famous for the number of pickpockets that roam
the streets.

So, if you plan on spending Queens’ day in Amsterdam:
Book your hostel rooms very early (it’s probably too late now) AND
Be very aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables close to you.

I found a website with some short videos of the crowds from 2000.

February 2002 Update

As a resident of the area, I feel I have some added insights to Philip Blazdell’s guide on Amsterdam.

His passage “the notable exception being on the border towns where it’s deemed good sport to shout, for some inexplicable reason, at any passing German, “Where’s my bike?”):

Well, there is a reason for it. Seems like the Germans stole tens of thousands of Dutch bicycles during the war, to be taken back to Germany and melted down for tanks and other useful household items. Of course, it’s the older generation that dislikes Germany due the war. The younger generation dislikes Germany due to a certain referee who blew a call in the 1974 World Cup which snatched victory from Dutch hands.

More on the subject of bicycles. They are everywhere in Amsterdam, and often between the sidewalks and the streets there are bicycle lanes. If you want to mark yourself as an annoyingly dumb tourist, pretend like the bicycle lane is just another sidewalk and do your strolling there. But beware, if you get hit by a speeding cyclist and the cyclist is injured…you are liable!

Hostels do indeed abound, but the most talked about seem to be The Flying Pig (2 hostels), and the NJYC hostel, both around $20 per night. You can book online, but I would suggest you book at least 2-3 months ahead, especially in summer, otherwise you will look like the hundreds of other fools that can be seen lugging their packs all over town in search of a room (I might add that most receptions are up at least one flight of stairs).

Some good background reading to gain insight on the Dutch mentality is “The Undutchables

Philip Blazdell mentions that Dutch is a difficult language to learn, which may be, but it’s easier than German. And there are a lot of similarities to English; take “Wat is uw naam?” for instance. Ring a bell? Hint for non-native English speakers “What is your name?”

If you’re thinking of staying, and there are numerous ways to learn the lingo. If you’re young (ie. under 26), you can probably register for a Nieuwkomers NT2 (Nederlands als Tweede Taal – Dutch as a Second Language) course, partially subsidized by the local government. For 20 hours a week of instruction, I pay (in 2002) €80 every three months, and for that you get books and a nice, spiffy book bag. For most immigrants it’s
mandatory and free. Classes are a hodgepodge of nationalities, for instance in my class there are: 1 Slovak, 1 Spaniard, 1 Bolivian, 1 Colombian, 2 Indonesians, 1 Thai, 3 Moroccans, 1 Pole, 1 Syrian, 1 Iraqi, 1 Canadian, 1 Brit, and 2 Yanks.

Though almost 90% of the Dutch speak English, hence the attitude ‘Learning Dutch is a waste of time’, if you want a job, you’ll almost have to speak Dutch.

As for “The Dutch also have a reputation for tightness, which in my opinion is well deserved.” True, but if you were paying some of the highest tax rates in the world, you’d be cheap too! Not to mention the penchant for holidays in far flung places like Cuba every few months…

And a bit more on the drug scene… ‘Smart Shops’ sell numerous kinds of psychedelic mushrooms (some of the better shops sell the mushrooms fresh!), herbal ecstasy, and even a few sell live peyote and mescaline cactuses along with directions for ‘tea’.

Happy Amsterdam. If you are gay, not in the happy sense, there are loads of nightclubs to prick your curiosity, but since I’m not, I haven’t reviewed any, but if you surf around you will find some listed on other online guides.

Have some extra time on your hands? Try the Hash House Harriers. No drugs, except for the usual beer. Don’t know what hashing is? Go here.

Chocolates
And lastly…..CHOCOLATE. If you’re a chocoholic, you must visit Puccini (Staalstraat 17, and Singel 184). For my money the best chocolate in the world, bar none (and I’ve had loads from Godiva to Neuhaus to See’s to Leonidas). They have reasonable prices and unusual flavors; my favorites are ‘seren’ (lemongrass) and Framboos (raspberry) but I would stay away from the ‘Thyme’ unless you are a thyme freak. The newer Australian chocolate and ice cream stores along the Leidsestraat, are good, but in a distant second place.

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