Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll…and Tulips – Amsterdam, The Netherlands …

Windmills in The Netherlands
I have to admit that I love Amsterdam – so much that I even took one of the natives home with me. I remember the first time I ever went there – I had arrived on a late flight one Friday night from London and took a train straight away to the Central Station. Walking out into the cold December night was like walking into fairy land and that feeling of unrealness whilst being in Amsterdam has never left me. I have spent so much time there over the last few years that I often feel like a native myself and on a good day I can often get home quicker from Amsterdam than I can from the other side of London.

Amsterdam is a lot more than coffee shops and forward thinking drug laws. For my money it has to be one of Europe’s prettiest and most dynamic cities. It’s stuffed to the gills with culture, great food, great music and, of course, tulips.

Geography | The Dutch | Weather | The Language | Internet Cafés | Special Events | 10 Reasons for Going to Amsterdam | Places to Stay | Bars | Food | Drinks | Things to See and Do | Getting There | Public Transport | About the Author

The Netherlands (which is often incorrectly called Holland) is situated in Western Europe bordering on the North Sea and, much to the local’s annoyance, Belgium on its Southern frontier and Germany on its eastern flank. Its principal language (there are, unbelievable as it seems, more than one) is Dutch. Its seat of government is The Hague whilst its capital city is Amsterdam. It has a population of about 16 million.

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The Dutch
The inhabitants of this small Western European country, much of which lies below sea level, are not lacking in confidence, as expressed in some of their favourite books: And the Dutch Created the Netherlands or Holland – the New Atlantis Risen. They are positively busting with dikes, freedom, liberalism, independence, equality and political believes. However, they always speak their mind, often to the point of bluntness, and ask what the rest of the civilised world might consider deeply personal questions. On spending my first night at my Dutch girlfriend’s family’s house her father asked me over the breakfast table if I had enjoyed his daughter the night before.

Often this directness gives the impression that they are rude and crude but it is just their way – or so I am told. On another occasion I remember sitting down one day with a bunch of friends and asking one how her day had been, to which she replied, “Well, it was great. The bakers had made some fresh bread in time for work. I had a long lunch break sitting in the sun and then on the way home I had an abortion.”

They all speak perfect English and, if pushed, excellent German (but for obvious reasons they try to avoid this at all costs – 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?”).

The Dutch also have a reputation for tightness, which in my opinion is well deserved. It’s easy to spot a Dutch person outside of their own country in a café or restaurant as they are the ones picking up all the complimentary packets of condiments from all the tables around them; a Dutch man on a long flight will always be found sweet talking the airline hostess so that he can take his beloved home a fistful of miniature gin bottles. A Dutch man in a bar will never, ever buy a round of drinks – or if they do they will remember this for years to come and mention it the next time you walk into a bar, even if it’s three years later. I once sat in a bar in Utrecht for five hours and despite getting into some deep and meaningful conversations with almost everyone in the bar, no one offered to buy me a beer.

The Dutch are also a lot less formally dressed than their European cousins and are rarely seen in a shirt and tie.

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Click here for current weather conditions in Amsterdam.

The Language
Dutch is a bastard difficult language to speak and new students of the language often complain of throat cancer-like symptoms whilst trying to wrap their tongue around guttural sounds which no one should be able to make by natural means. I have been studying the language for about four years now and have not progressed very far, much to the amusement of my Dutch friends, who think it is one of the silliest things they have ever heard. The real problem is finding someone to practice with as most Dutch people speak such excellent English and never let and opportunity to show off pass them by.

Linguistically, the language is member of the Netherlandic-German group in the western branch of the Germanic languages – which means a reasonably logical grammar structure. However, you must never, ever, ever mention to a Dutch person how close it is to German for risk of being bludgeoned to death with the nearest raw herring.

The written and spoken forms of Dutch differ significantly. For example, written Dutch exhibits far greater formality than spoken Dutch in both grammar and vocabulary. Learning Dutch, even the locals agree, is a pointless and futile exercise.

However, there are some good expressions using the word “Dutch” which have become common in English.

Double Dutch: Language that cannot be understood, gibberish, as in They might have been speaking double Dutch, for all I understood. This usage dates from the 1870s.

Dutch Courage: False courage acquired by drinking liquor, as in He had a quick drink to give him Dutch courage. This idiom alludes to the reputed heavy drinking of the Dutch – as long as someone else is buying, that is.

Dutch Bargain: A bargain concluded by drinking (heavily) together

Dutch treat: A party, outing, etc. to which each person contributes.

Dutch uncle: A person giving advice with benevolent firmness.

Dutch wife: A framework of cane etc., or a bolster, used for resting the legs in bed – note, in Japan this means a sex toy.

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Internet Cafes
A list of Internet cafes can be found at Cyber Captive

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Special Events
Queen's Day
Every year Queen’s Day is celebrated on April 30 – that is, when it is not on a Sunday. It is a great time to be in town as everyone wears orange, and gets horribly drunk and the whole town stays out partying till 7 in the morning (as opposed to a normal weekend where everyone only parties till 5 in the morning). During this time Amsterdam is closed to traffic and from the polite mansions of Vondelpark to the throbbing fleshpits of the red light district the city turns into one giant street party. Stranger still, everyone has car boot sales to get rid of all the junk they have collected over the previous year.

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10 Reasons for Going to Amsterdam

It’s a vibrant city full of amazing architecture
The food is surprisingly good – especially street food which is excellent
The people all speak faultless English and are a friendly bunch
Excellent museums
It’s not that expensive – accommodation can be a bit pricey though
Coffee shops
The canals
Central station – one of the world’s greatest buildings.

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Places to Stay
Getting good cheap accommodation in Amsterdam can be a real slog at times. Although not cheap, my favourite place to stay (now that my sister-in-law-to-be has sublet her apartment overlooking Dam Square) is the Prins Hendrik Hotel. Not only does this hotel have a great location, great ambience and reasonable prices, for a few extra guilders you can stay in the room from where jazz legend Chet Barker fell to his death.

The Local tourist information service (VVV) maintains a good list of accommodation which covers all budgets. Here are some others:

A list of hostels can be found at:

If someone else is paying then I always head for the magnificent Hotel De L’Europe. Stupidly expensive, but well worth battering the company expense account on.

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Possible the coolest bar in the known universe and top of my list for great places to drink is the incredible Gollem Raamsteeg 4 (626 66 45). This small, cosy place was actually the first bar in Amsterdam to serve imported beers and nowadays stocks over 200 bottled beers, including one with more than 45% alcohol! Most of the beers are served in their own special glass which is something the Dutch just can’t understand everyone else not doing. A list of all beers served with a short description of each beer is available, in Dutch as well as in English. Very popular, very crowded and quite possibly, now that MAC in Hiroshima has closed down, the coolest bar on the planet.

Hoppe Spui 18-20 (420 44 20)
A favourite place for locals and tourists alike. Hoppe consists of two adjoining buildings which have been around since about 1670. There is saw dust on the floor, a strict no music policy and most days it’s standing room only. Good for a few pre-dinner drinks but nowhere near as cool as Gollem.

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About the Author
Philip first visited Amsterdam many years ago and liked it so much that he took a native home with him. Some 60 countries, and many adventures later, the hapless couple have moved to Cambridge in the UK where the threat of raising Anglo-Dutch babies looms on the horizon. Philip is a frequent contributor to BootsnAll and has written about Asia, South America, Scandinavia, Africa and the UK. He divides his time between Copenhagen Airport and home. When not travelling, Philip spends his time firing off salacious emails to Air Portugal and propping up his local bar.

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