In these few days I really fell in love with Amsterdam. It’s a beautiful historic city with great culture and infrastructure, friendly people, and awesome food. I’m glad the destiny shoved me here for more than just a few days. And as becoming a local is my favorite pastime – putting myrself into people’s shoes and trying to mix with them – I had to quickly learn about Amsterdam’s inner rules, the challenges and the perks. I’m going to share my observations here – and hey, isn’t it nice when someone pays all the dues for you?
Amsterdam indeed is a bikers’ city. If you want to feel yourself a real citizen, get a bike and hit the road. But don’t expect it to be a piece of cake! There are certain things you should keep in mind. Firstly, as Amsterdam is a mega bike empire, bikers always have the priority. They can use highways, regular roads, pedestrian walkways, and, of course, the special bike tracks that are almost everywhere. Pedestrians are truly hated. I mean, seriously, try to bike through the city center on weekend – all these tourists would drive you nuts! So if you’re just walking around, make sure to keep away from bike tracks. You’ll get beeped at and sometimes even yelled at, and it’ll be your fault. It takes some skill to navigate the narrow pathways, sometimes bent at different angles, and pedestrians can create danger on the road. One may ask: why the hell would you go through the busy city center on a bike when you can just walk or take a path around it? The answer’s quite simple: the wind. That. Fucking. Wind.
You can tolerate anything – weird roads, dreamy pedestrians, aggressive bikers – but the wind will just drive you berserk. I mean, imagine trying to bike up the hill and getting the feeling that you’re just staying in one place! The wind is everywhere, it’s chilly, and it’s intense. You’ll be thanking heavens if it’s at your back, and cursing life itself if it’s blowing in your face.
Today I had to bike from AUC dorms to the opposite side of the town to drop my stuff at my CS host’s place around Westerpark. The shortest and the easiest way was to get on the road circling the Singelgracht canal, and make it straight to the other side. But 1/4 way through I gave up. My backpack was as heavy as my breath, my muscles already sore, and it seemed that in ten minutes I made no progress at all. So I just turned right, into the city center. The narrow pathways are a safe haven from the wind, which mostly rages around the open spaces and canals. But if you take the city challenge, prepare for the stress of crowded streets, bikers racing towards you full speed, and sharp corners. Nearly killing two dazed elderly tourists and almost bumping into three other bikers (which is almost really what happened), I crossed the busy center and got to the other side. Hallelujah. In any other case, my advice would be: park your bike anywhere near the center and go walk. It’s so much nicer. And everything is pretty close. You can park your bike at special bike parkings, chain it to the post or a bridge – use your imagination! Just make sure you’re not the only smartass parking in the restricted area – the city sometimes would cut the chains and remove the bikes that litter the street, and go find it. Sometimes if you can’t find a thing to chain your bike to, it’s safe enough to just chain the front wheel to the frame. At least, worked for me all that time.
To sum up the biking subject: it’s fun and it’s very convenient in Amsterdam, but only do it if you’re a confident biker/driver with quick reaction and basic knowledge of road rules and road signs. You don’t want to end your vacation in a hospital, right? Right. Also, prepare for the worst feeling of jealousy in the world: the scooter owners. When you see the bastards just flying up that windy hill while you’re fighting with your pedals… I seriously thought that if I lived here, I would get a scooter or an electric bike. It’s just so much easier. And the scooters have the same privileges as the bikers – they ride down the tiny bike tracks at don’t give a damn. They may really piss you off. But only because you don’t have a scooter.
Another cool thing about the Netherlands is that it’s really small and flat. That, of course, makes a perfect passage for the wind, but the country still doesn’t get any bigger. You can literally bike to another city – say, Utrecht in about 3 hours, Leiden in like 2 – if you’re in good shape (to fight the wind) and have a decent bike. I would do it, but I do realize that at the moment I have neither. In any case, catching a Blablacar to the same Utrecht will cost you just about two euros (much more convenient than the train). And here in Netherlands almost everyone speaks very good English, so you should’n have any problems communicating with the drivers (like I had in Berlin).
Amsterdam is a gem for museum geeks like me, offering all kinds of stuff – from huge and marvelous historic Rijksmuseum to the museum of weed. Here is a great list of all A-dam’s museums with descriptions, prices and opening times. My advice would be to find someone – a friend, a friend of a friend of a friend, a couchsurfer, a random stranger – who owns a Museum Card. Or, if you’re in the mood, you can buy it for around 50 euros, and it’s valid throughout the whole Netherlands for a year. Minding that the adult ticket to every museum would probably cost you around 15 euros, it’s a good investment. It’s a name card, but they never check your ID. Maybe you can sell to some same-gender tourist afterwards.
The Museum Card saves you tons and tons of money, as most of the city’s museums will be free for you, such as Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum and others. Most museums would be working daily until 5 pm, but some have their own schedule, and some would work longer hours on certain days of the week. A useful tip: if you’re in town for more than a weekend, on Saturday and Sunday avoid museums at all costs. The lines will be annoyingly long, and that’s just a waste of time compared to the calm weekdays. In summer, for sure, things get worse – but still. Mind that Anne Frank House has lines no matter what day and time it is, so booking a ticket for a certain time online can be a good idea.
Most big cities in developed countries offer you a so-called city pass, which usually includes public transport, most museums and special discounts. And costs around 40 euros for 2 days. I never bought them and never will until I’m big and rich: you can always walk, especially in Europe; and you won’t visit that many museums in two days in any case. Besides, some museums will have free entrance on certain days, and others offer free tickets and discounts for youth and students.
This might sound like a weird subject – like, why would Amsterdam differ from any other city? – but that was my mistake as well. It may be +15C, but you’ll still catch cold while walking or biking because of our friend the wind. So warm scarves, a hat and a pair of gloves is a must. You may dress lightly, but make sure your upper layer of clothes is a windbreaker of any kind. Your biggest desire while biking up some hill and sweating may be to unzip your coat or jacket – fight it. Wind shows no mercy, and it’s everywhere!
Rain is also a very, very common thing, and the weather can change quite radically. A small umbrella might be a good idea. And if you’re biking, make sure you have a small plastic bag with you: if the forecast is not so positive, wrap the bag around your bike’s saddle when parking it. Not too nice to get your butt wet after a tiny rain, right? And don’t forget the sunglasses – they will not only protect you from the sun, but also from the wind rushing into your face. Should I also tell you that skirts and shorts aren’t your best friends unless it’s summer in full swing? Wind, amigos, wind. It’s always the wind.
Okay, don’t expect an expert advice on that! All I can tell you is what my current CS host (who, by the way, works in a special jail that does psychiatric research – and yeah I got an old jail key on my keychain) told me:
heroine is the purest drug that doesn’t do harm to the body, it’s the people that ruin themselves as they stop eating and drinking and just shoot the shit up their veins, while cocaine destroys the body from the inside, and marijuana drains you of sugar and water, besides, be careful with dopamine levels … NEVER YOU MIND. I despise any kinds of drugs and I’m not even tempted to give them a try. But it’s true that many people only come to Amsterdam to get shitfaced, one way or another. There are coffeeshops that offer you all kinds of weed, and you can easily buy LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms. But – hey, guess what: the Netherlands, with all this stuff being widely available, not too expensive and more-or-less legal, is one of the smallest world consumers. It’s just not cool here! Like smoking tobacco is not cool in the States. The Dutch have everything at hand – alcohol from age 18, drugs, prostitutes, and still the crime rate and drug consumption are super low. I like the idea of just letting people have it all, it immediately loses the aura of danger and mystery and all its attractiveness. And – c’mon people, it’s so easy to have the time of your life with no stimulation, only when the place and the company are right. Meanwhile, same thing about LGBTQ’s. If Russia just stopped fussing over a subject, legalized gay marriage and established tougher punishments for hate crimes, there would be no problems. I can’t even embrace the thought that people different from you can be a problem at all.
UPD: yesterday I wandered into one of them smart shops, curiosity killed the cat. They had a “menu”, consisting of the types of cannabis they were selling. They had all the “herbal” pills for sale with effects listed – mostly to “energize” you or give you a “happy feeling”. You could also snort in an energizer of some kind – a courtesy of the shop. I’ve read the ingredients – guarana, coke leaves and a few other herbs. Hmm. When I was in Brazil, my friend Jose told me to try guarana drink – it’s a very popular one there. I didn’t know then that it had more caffeine inside than actual coffee…
But it was funny to see Valerian root pills for sale. It’s a harmless herb for stress relief, very light and sold in every US supermarket, and I often use those myself. They also had dark cannabis chocolate, and that I couldn’t resist. I love chocolate. And after all, the exams are coming… 😀
So, you have to get from and to the airport… Right? The way to do it is to get on the Sprinter train. There’s some possibility to go by bus as well, but you’ll probably have to make a few transfers with that. Anyway. The ticket to the central station, Amsterdam Centraal, costs 4 euros, 4.50 for those with a MasterCard. The thing is… Most likely, no one will ever check it. That’s what the locals kept telling me. I bought the tickets both ways, just because I’m well aware of my weird luck. Say, yesterday I could’ve gotten fined on a train where I needed to go two stops (but I left it just in time – and had to walk quite a way, all that happening at 10:30 pm). But mostly… Still… With ground transportation… Well no one else will tell you that, you know! Yet – choose your battles, they say. A 35 euro fine, after all, is not something we want to face.
In general, buses, trams and metro would cost you 2.80 if you don’t have an OV card (an analogue of London’s Oyster). There’s one trick to it though: it costs 20 euro and its balance cannot be less than 20 euro. I’ve read about some 7.50 non-personal card, but that’s what officials at the airport told me. For me it was inconvenient: I only used public transportation twice during my 9-day stay. And, again, in Amsterdam public transportation is not the best way… Unless it’s raining. But it’s good and fast and clean.
One of my favorite subjects! Omnomnom, I love good food. While living in Moscow I’ve learnt to appreciate fresh fruits, veggies, cheese and bread, and oh my god, organic juices. One thing I have to tell you: in Amsterdam, prices bite. Not as much as in Moscow, but they’re still able to gnaw through your purse. The cheapest meals, for sure, would be all the street kebabs and Chinese joints. But I was not in the mood for kebabs or Chinese. I was low-budget (15 euro per day max), yet by eliminating sights and transportation costs I was able to focus on food. So I had at least one nice meal per day, guaranteed.
To find interesting spots for the first time ever I used TripAdviser. This and Foursquare were of great help. So number one place on TA was Lombardo’s, and organic burger joint. They always have lines and the place itself is tiny, only 4-5 seats. Their burgers are really quite good, but so are the ones at Burgermeester – it’s a chain. I won’t ever stop praising Omelegg, because their omelets are truly the best I’ve ever tried. I popped into some high-rated places like Bagels&Beans (really nice bagels and a great tea selection), Boca’s (lovely breakfast pancakes) and Winkel 43 (they had awesome tomato soup, though I didn’t like their famous apple pie at all). There are all kinds of cuisine out there. In the city center there’s a street full of Asian restaurants. There’s a Turkish district as well. And lots of bars all around. And, of course, for the savers there’s AH supermarket chain. They have delicious cookies, but asides from that you can basically buy anything you want there (except for soap. Soap is just not a thing in Amsterdam). They also have lots of ingredients for Asian cuisine, inexpensive fruits and all. Some salads, pre-mixed. Your choice.
And, of course, Puccini Bomboni for the best, freshest and yummiest chocolates I ever tried – pricey, but so so worth it.
To sum up, right now that’s all that comes into mind. If you have any specific questions, make sure to ask, and I’ll gladly update this post!