Amsterdam – Better the third time around – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam – Better the third time around
Amsterdam, Netherlands

The first time I arrived in Amsterdam it was 5 a.m. in the morning, dropped off by a Euroline bus from London in 2002 when the concept of budget airlines was still foreign to me. The journey had started double digit hours earlier with a bus full of males and a handful of females, my being one of four. We had spent a few hours in a tube like plastic vacuum going through what I assumed was the Euro tunnel and had driven through Rotterdam at 3 a.m. to drop and pick up passengers, a bleakly modern city. Our friendly bus driver lectured us at around 4 a.m. of the hazards of looking stoned when we returned on the bus, that if suspected by border control, a full search would be conducted on the bus which could take hours. Standing in front of Central Station with a bunch of pigeons flying overhead, I vowed never again like this. The subsequent times that I found myself coming back to Amsterdam became easier and more enjoyable through each phase. Instead of London, I was living in Cologne and was a short two hour Deutsche Bahn ride away, and then finally, I had moved to Utrecht Netherlands and was a 40 minute ride away.

Last visit to Amsterdam in December 2004, taken after visiting markets in Jordaan
Last visit to Amsterdam in December 2004, taken after visiting markets in Jordaan
My first time in Amsterdam, I wasn’t too impressed by the city or what it had to offer. I left feeling three days had been enough. My friend and I had purchased a two day Amsterdam Pass and we found ourselves going to mediocre restaurants recommended in our Pass booklet to get our 10 % discount, standing in line at the Anne Frank House and carrying that blue Van Gogh poster holder for half a day. We found ourselves being dictated by incentive based activities such as visiting a certain café to pick up our free postcards since we had invested the 43 euros into our pass. Feeling that the Red Light district had to be seen at least once, we walked through the nastiest streets in the Red Light district such as Warmoesstraat and found out the hard way that if you go down the wrong alley, you will find yourself uncomfortably close to the action going on in the area. Walking by at two arms length with the girl’s glass door closed is one thing, but when you are an inch away from a man about to go into one of those doors is a whole other experience. It’s also an even worse experience when you see a guy that’s obviously stoned or drunk or both stumbling out of one of these doors.

The second time around in Amsterdam coming from Cologne consisted of four separate trips with varying travel partners. Sometimes we stayed in Amsterdam, other times we stationed ourselves in Den Hague or Utrecht because our known budget accommodation possibilities were booked in Amsterdam. Eventually going straight down the Damrak from the station became old and alternative routes were used. Once we decided to go 45 degrees to the left as we exited the train station and found ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ or Amstelking Museum, a canal house with a Catholic church in its attic, complete with organ and religious relics. Verging off from Amsterdam’s most commercial shopping street Kalverstraat that begins near the Dam square or entering from a street called the Spui, one can find one of the better known Amsterdam courtyards, a former religious community for women called the Begijnhof. Another find that made Amsterdam more enjoyable was the Musuem Card, an idea that came from browsing through a Rick Steves’ Travel Guide. The Museum Card costs €29.95 (€17.45 until 25 years of age) and allows free entry for a year into 400 museums all over the Netherlands. In 2004, during peak tourist season, the Van Gogh Museum had raised its entrance fee from nine to fourteen euros; currently it is at ten. Therefore, the Museum Card pays for itself if you are planning more than two musuem visits, with the exception of the Anne Frank House.

The third time around, I was living in Utrecht and was taking day trips to Amsterdam, around four trips in the span of two and a half months. I still got my first time travel companions lost or upset by miscalculating the distance it took to get from one side of the U-shaped canal streets to the other. But having been freed from what I should see or do, I was now going to photography exhibits at the FOAM or Huis Marseille and exploring canal houses by way of free museum visits through my Museum Card. My very last visit to Amsterdam turned out to be my most enjoyable. It was during the second week of December, and I had planned to buy a hip hop record for a friend. Through Time Out Amsterdam, I went to Fat Beats in the Western Canal Belt, a right turn near the train station. The record shop was Netherlands size meaning, small with innovative usage of space. Most of the records were in the basement level, a winding staircase below the main store where there was a young Dutch hip hop DJ spinning. Afterwards, I walked further west to the upper parts of the Jordaan region and discovered several markets in process, a combination of biological foods and other goods near Noordermarkt and Lindengracht. Here, I purchased discounted old curtain trimming, 1960s style paper matchbox covers made in Belgium, and two more records.

There are some cities such as Edinburgh or Rome that is just amazing for the start. I have had various friends comment that they couldn’t tell one part of Amsterdam from the other or that as I had done, a weekend trip was sufficient. But I try to convince them that Amsterdam is better the more you go and that its uniqueness comes with familiarity.