Amsterdam: Part 2, Things to Do

Me, at Amsterdam, initially.
Me, at Amsterdam, initially.

I read a study several years ago about how we don’t like new kinds of music initially because our brain doesn’t recognize the patterns in it, so it finds the sound discomforting. But after you hear it a few times, your brain starts to make sense of it and you may even start to like it.That’s how I felt about Amsterdam at first.

Even the language there, Dutch–it has similarities to English and similarities to German, both of which I can understand, but it’s not either of those things. My brain wants to get it, but it just can’t quite.

So when I first got out into Amsterdam, I really felt I didn’t like it. It was  too different for me to connect to. I was glad I was only there for 36 hours. That was the first way it reminded me of New Orleans: initial distaste.

Like New Orleans, I think it’s probably beneficial if you have someone there who can show you the ropes. They are both very unique cities, and it helps to have someone who knows them. That’s how I came to love New Orleans. That, and just giving it a chance instead of changing the music because I didn’t like it right away.

But, alas, I have no friends in Amsterdam. So I walked. And I walked and I walked and I walked. And I ended my first day still not really liking it any more than I started. It didn’t help that my flight was delayed and I got in after most places to eat had closed and I was a little hangry. (Note: things close up earlier in Amsterdam than in London or certainly Barcelona.)

Believe it or not, these tiny "traditional Dutch" pancakes did not satisfy me. They were good, but I needed about 15 more.
Believe it or not, these tiny “traditional Dutch” pancakes did not satisfy me. They were good, but I needed about 15 more.
The next morning I got up and went to the Van Gogh Museum, which I will write separately about because it deserves it. I left liking Van Gogh a lot more, but not necessarily Amsterdam. So I walked, not far this time, before I saw some really cool modern art juxtaposed with beautiful gardens and old sculptures. And an espresso stand. And a water feature. Whaaaaaaat. I’m in. This is basically what I want my life to look like. I would have stayed forever.
Paradise found.
Paradise found.
What I stumbled into was the gardens of the Rijksmuseum. They extend on the sides of the museum in little separate pockets. The other one had a cafe and a lawn-size chess set and statues of Greek mythology. If the chess game had been checkers I would wonder if this had been built just for me (not that I love checkers but I hate chess. If it had been Plinko, then we’d really be talking.). I was so super down with it. Maybe Amsterdam wasn’t all that bad.
Rijksmuseum Gardens
Rijksmuseum Gardens
It wasn’t until I hit about 18 hours into my trip that I really felt like, I actually really like this place. I think the sun coming out helped too. All the cloudy and cold weather in London had brought me down a bit. Feeling familiar with the streets, being able to help people who asked for directions, I started to get it.
Leaning house by a canal.
Leaning house by a canal.

Also like New Orleans, I think Amsterdam gets somewhat of an unfair reputation. When you say New Orleans to someone who’s never been, they think of Bourbon Street and drinking in public and flashing boobs for beads. When you say Amsterdam to someone who’s never been, they think prostitutes and weed. And while all of those things are true about those cities, there is so, so much more to them than that. They are both actually quite family friendly and have a lot to offer even if indulgence and vice are not your thing.

Here are some recommendations, other than those already mentioned (I mean the museums, not the weed and prostitutes, although I’ll address those, too):

Shopping: Even if you don’t want a bunch of extra stuff to haul back with you, it’s fun to check out the shops. On one street there was a vibrator store next to a McDonald’s next to a high end local furniture company–it can be a fairly diverse lineup. Something for everyone! But there are also sections where it’s more designers and cafes (read: tamer) if that’s what you want, too. There’s also a lot of H&Ms. Weirdly so. [Update: Weird abundance of H&Ms is the standard for everywhere in Europe I’ve been on this trip, not unique to Amsterdam.]

The Red Light District: I found myself in the RLD by accident. Part of what you get when you walk aimlessly. But it wasn’t very late yet and the crowds were pretty well behaved. The vast majority of the crowd was big groups of guys, with a couple of hen/bachelorette parties and some couples sprinkled in. I noticed the change in the crowd and the vibe first, and then happened to look into one of the windows to see a woman peddling her wares with the signature red light across the top. Yep…this is the red light district. It really doesn’t feel much different than Bourbon Street except that it was cleaner and there were mostly naked ladies in the windows, and it lacked music and street performers and the drinks were non-novelty and normal sized (or maybe I was just too early for all that).

They offer a surprising (at least to me) amount of literature for tourists on the RLD. Most important tip for those sightseeing (if you’re there to buy, you’ll have to do your own research): be careful about taking pictures. Broad, scenic pictures are okay, but photographing the girls themselves is a big no-no. From what I read and was told, this generally ends in a physical altercation and your phone/camera being thrown into the canal. So be mindful and respectful.

I erred on the side of caution and took no pictures, so here one of the cats that lived at my hotel. Her name is Pusslina, I bet you can guess her nickname.
I erred on the side of caution and took no pictures, so here one of the cats that lived at my hotel. Her name is Pusslina, I bet you can guess her nickname.
It was interesting to see. I have very mixed feelings on the whole concept socially/politically and I really can see if from all angles so it’s hard for me to take a stance even after seeing it firsthand. The things you read, it almost feels like the SeaWorld ads post-Blackfish (our prostitutes are happy!), or maybe that’s just because of the English translations. I don’t know, it’s that unfamiliar music I can’t quite make sense of, so I’ll leave you to figure it out for yourself.
Since we’re on the hot topics of the city…Coffeeshops: I have to say, there were fewer than I expected. In the more commercial shopping areas, there are hardly any. I was expecting it to be like Starbucks in LA where you can be standing virtually anywhere and there are three within eyesight. It’s not like that. Also, I expected everyone to be smoking weed everywhere all the time. That’s not the case either. You occasionally get a whiff of it, but I’ve seen people smoking weed probably just as much in cities in the U.S. It’s not that big of a deal. But, if that’s your primary purpose of travel, don’t worry. The shops are abundant and you won’t have a problem finding what you’re after.
Anne Frank Statue
Anne Frank Statue
Anne Frank House: I didn’t go, but if you are absolutely set on going, allot the better part of a day for it. It was literally the longest line I have ever seen for anything. It strung around about 2 full blocks or more. And that was for people who already had tickets waiting to get in. Read up on it and check out some reviews and see if it’s something you want to commit that amount of time in your trip to. People on Yelp suggest times that are maybe better than others, but from what I saw any time I walked by, it always looked like quite a wait.
My hotel was about 3 blocks or so from the Anne Frank House. I could see the line from the balcony...very long.
My hotel was about 3 blocks or so from the Anne Frank House. I could see the line from the balcony…very long.

Moco Museum: Again, after doing my research, I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time or money this trip, but if I had more time, it’s something I definitely would have done.

Vondelpark: Another thing that really surprised me about Amsterdam, especially after coming from London, was the lack of green space. In London, there are little parks and gardens tucked everywhere. It’s easy to escape from the city. Not so much in Amsterdam. And I think I needed it even more in Amsterdam. It has a chaotic energy to it (except in the mornings), another quality I liken to New Orleans.

I was expecting Amsterdam to be like a college campus during the summer. In reality, it’s like a college campus during the 10 minutes between when class lets out and the next bell rings. But, what Amsterdam lacks in the frequency of green space, it makes up for in the amount. Vondelpark is massive, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great place to people watch, bird watch, stalk cool dogs, sit down with some coffee, and take a breather.

Bridge at Vandelpark
Bridge at Vandelpark
Stay tuned for the Van Gogh Museum, and/or accommodations/food, whatever I get to first! Those won’t be as lengthy, I realize I’ve been a bit long winded. 😉

Amsterdam: Part 1, Transportation


When I was seven years old, I rode my bike down the steepest hill in our neighborhood as fast as I could. About halfway down the hill, my bike started to fishtail, I went flying over the handlebars, and ended up going to the hospital for a sprained wrist on one arm and a hairline fracture in the other, and some pretty gnarly road rash.

That is no longer the scariest bike experience I’ve ever had; it’s now the entirety of my time in Amsterdam.

If I had to sum up Amsterdam in three words, it would not be “red light district,” “city of canals,” or “smoke weed legally,” it would be “bicycles fucking everywhere.”

I took this picture because of the guy spray painting puzzle pieces on the planter, but as you can see: bicycles fucking everywhere.
I took this picture because of the guy spray painting puzzle pieces on the planter, but as you can see: bicycles fucking everywhere.

[Going forward I continue to make a lot of jokes about how terrifying the cyclists are in this beautiful city, but all kidding aside, I have so much respect for the fact that such a populated place can run so smoothly with fewer cars. They adapt and engineer crazy ways to make it work amazingly, and I think it’s fantastic, albeit overwhelming for an outsider like me.]


Okay, so obviously you can bike. If you really enjoy getting yelled at in Dutch. Or if you’re already a hyper-aggressive cyclist with no regard for pedestrians, cars, or other cyclists. Then yes, biking around Amsterdam is probably perfect for you in either scenario. It was not a good option for me (see: previous bike trauma).

Savages. (Zoom in for the adorable baby in the handlebar child seat.)
Savages. (Zoom in for the adorable baby in the handlebar child seat.)

Here’s what I did do, and something that will probably go down as one of the more surreal travel experiences I have this trip, or possibly ever: I took an airport taxi. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Wrong. So wrong.

First, let me sidetrack to how I ended up taking a taxi so you can learn from my mistakes. I had planned on taking the tram to Central Station from the airport and walking to my hotel from there. Well, that didn’t work. The electronic kiosk did not want to take any of my forms of payment. It didn’t take American Express. It took Visa or MasterCard, but only with a CHIP, which I haven’t been issued for my either of my Visa cards yet. It also took euros, which I didn’t have, and the ATMs in the airport had a minimum withdrawal of 200€. Which seemed excessive (FYI, it’s not. They are all like that in Amsterdam, even in the City Center. Just bite the bullet and do it, it’ll be free at the airport and some of the ATMs outside will charge you.) I couldn’t find a person to sell me a tram ticket, although I was assured there was a place where something so old fashioned could occur. I was so sick of hauling my luggage around and being spoken to in Dutch (I must give off a super strong Dutch vibe), I was just like you know what: taxi. I’m done.

So I follow the signs outside the airport and there’s this dude waiting outside the sliding doors. He comes right up to me and says, “You need a taxi?” like he was offering me drugs or something, and I was like, “yes…” kind of weirded out but also glad that someone made the correct assumption of English first. He then said, “I’m going to walk you over here and this man in the yellow vest is going to offer you a taxi, but you tell him you’re coming with me. Okay?” And I was like “Ummmmmm….do you take credit cards?” In hindsight, that maybe should not have been my first question in this exchange.

He told me yes, he takes cards, and that this other guy does not. That’s when I’m like, okay, figuring this out, this guy is trying to swipe business from the man in the yellow vest. Got it.

So we start walking over and sure enough, the guy in the yellow vest stops us. That’s when I see he has airport credentials, hence the yellow vest. And he asks, “ma’am are you sure you want to go with this man? He is not a licensed airport taxi. You need to know that you have a choice.” And that’s when my brain goes into overload. The seriousness with which he asks me this question is like I’m basically signing up for Taken 3 if I go with this original dude. And, with my brain being in overload, I just stand there like a jackass saying nothing, trying to process why this is so hard–I just want to get in a taxi and go to my hotel and not need Liam Neeson.

“I’ll give you a discount!” The original guy starts yelling at me. I ask the airport guy, “So, do the airport taxis take credit cards?” Really didn’t realize how important this method of payment issue was to me until I started writing this down. Just right there on the forefront of my thoughts constantly. I’m pretty sure one of y’all is trying to murder me, but I just wanna make sure you get paid for the fare first.

During this less-than-a-minute exchange, two more non-airport licensed taxi drivers have shown up, and an additional airport employee in a yellow vest. Now I’m surrounded by five very large dudes, all of whom I think I recognize from the original Taken, three of whom are alternating yelling at the airport guys for trying to talk to me and yelling at me to let them take me. Guys, not selling me getting into a car alone with you by using intimidation. Might want to take some sort of class on that. So I told the airport guys I’d go with an airport taxi.

They do take cards by the way. To answer that burning question.

So these two airport guys escort me, one on each side, back to the exact place I just came from after trying to buy a tram ticket–[side note: why the eff do your taxi signs take me all the way to the other end of the airport then, AMS]–and I think, well this seems excessive. It’s not.

The non-airport taxi guys keep following us and keep yelling at me and yelling at the airport guys. And more just keep joining them. I don’t look back, but I can hear more voices.

It sounds dramatic. It was.

One of the airport guys must have noticed sheer confusion and/or panic on my face. “It’s kind of crazy, yes?” “Yes. It is crazy.” “It’s always like this.” “Oh.” Doesn’t exactly make me feel better. “The cab drivers here that are not licensed by the airport, they can be not reputable. That’s why we recommend the airport taxis. But it’s your choice.” “Oh, okay.” Still not making it better.

Then these two hand me off to a different guy in a yellow vest. He is about my size. You are not the bodyguard I feel I need right now, sir. But he is much friendlier and we’ve lost most of the trail of drivers who are now harassing someone else back at the terminal exit.

“This is crazy.” That’s really all I can manage to say. I mean, it was just so weird and unexpected. “Yes, it’s always like this.” So I’ve been told. “So, the other drivers, how are they unreputable?” “Often they tell you one price when you get in the car, but then when you get to the destination, they charge you more. And because they are not officially licensed, it is much harder to make a complaint against them if anything happens.” “Oh.” So not my organs on the black market. That makes me feel a little better.

Then I get handed off again, this time to the biggest dude we’ve encountered yet. Holy cow. Things must be getting serious. And they did.

I am really not exaggerating this next part. Like, I almost need you to go to Amsterdam and take a taxi just so I know you know I’m not lying.

As we are crossing the crosswalk between the terminals and the parking garage where the taxis are parked, there is a human barricade of airport staff literally holding back unlicensed taxi drivers screaming at you to come with them. One female driver reached between the airport guys, grabbed me by the arm, and tried to physically drag me off with her. Again, a softer approach may be more fruitful.

I hope it is the closest feeling I ever experience to being mobbed by paparazzi and/or zombies. (Same, same?)

Actual photo of me escaping the taxi drivers at AMS. (Just gonna keep rolling with The Walking Dead placeholders for now.)
Actual photo of me escaping the taxi drivers at AMS.

Then–then!–you get to the taxis. And they are all Mercedes and Teslas. And a few Jaguars. Never been so bummed to get in a Mercedes in my life. I was extremely disappointed in myself for that feeling, but it was real. And these are not like a car service cars or Uber Black or something–they all have a plastic light up taxi thing on the top of them, which is just offensive, but they are really taxis.

This image is greatly enhanced because I neglected to get an intentional photo of the luxury cabs--this Tesla taxi appeared in another photo I took though.
This image is greatly enhanced because I neglected to get an intentional photo of the luxury cabs–this Tesla taxi appeared in another photo I took though.

Assuming you live to see your luxury ride, a taxi to central Amsterdam will cost you about 50€ to make a long story much shorter and less colorful.Once you’re in Amsterdam, there are all kinds of options to see the city. I’ll start with the ones I didn’t do, so feel free to skip ahead to the part where I actually know what I’m talking about.

1) Biking: You need to be a little brave for this one I think. It’s very easy to spot the tourists on bikes, because they’re the ones getting yelled at by other people on bikes. But if you don’t mind, they’re all over the place to rent.

Not the fear-inducing bike pictures I thought I had
Not the fear-inducing bike pictures I thought I had.
2) Canal rides: I kind of wish I had done this, but just didn’t feel up to doing it by myself and when I had such a short time to see the city. It seems like a very romantic and coupley thing to do and I didn’t want to feel like an entire boat full of people’s third wheel. Also it was a bit more than I was wanting to spend at this point in my journey. (1 hour runs about 25-30€ from the different ads I saw.)
I mean, come on, it says "LOVERS" across the back.
I mean, come on, it says “LOVERS” across the back. Even I have my limits.

3) Tram: Never attempted to purchase another ticket. Seems like a good way to get around though?4) Rent a car: If you are insane. Seriously, good luck to you, the bikes own the road. I also legitimately do not know where people park. They may not even rent cars. I don’t know why they would. (They do.) Really though, unless you are driving out of the city to see windmills or tulips or something, there’s no need for a vehicle.

I don't have another place to put this picture and it's too cute not to share.
I have no other place to put this picture and it’s too cute not to share.

5) Walking: Okay, I guess you don’t really need me to tell you how to walk, but that’s what I did while I was there. It’s a bit easy to get turned around because of all the canals and the roads are almost circular there, but it’s not that hard to figure out and it’s not a big deal if you get a little lost, it feels very safe everywhere. I set my new travel walking record there, 16.77 miles in one day. Worth it.As a pedestrian in Amsterdam, you are absolutely the lowest member of the food chain. Do not expect anyone on a bike or a motorcycle or a moped or in a car to stop or even slow down for you, even when you technically have the right of way.

Also, something I learned the hard way–you know in America, when you’re at a crosswalk, and the walk/don’t walk sign has a timer that counts down letting you know how long you have left to clear the crosswalk? It means the exact opposite in Amsterdam. Definitely walked out into traffic before I figured that one out. It counts down to when you’re allowed to cross. I don’t know why, just accept it and don’t get hit if you can help it.

Stay tuned for more on Amsterdam, less about scary bikes.