Last month I caught some weird virus that forced me to stop smoking and set me a limit of two beers a day. All of this without forcing me to bed, which is even worse. To add further discomfort, it all happened few days before going to Amsterdam.
So, while waiting for Martina who was coming with a later flight, I found out that life, without even touching a cigarette and having to stop after two drinks, can be really plenty of time. Which is kind of exciting because there are so many other things you can fill the empty with.
Not nearly as good as a pint and a fag, but at least it’s something new. This is what we did in Amsterdam, with me being in this peculiar condition.
On Yer Bike!
The Netherlands is a dream country for cycling: all flat, pretty small and connected by an impressive network of cycling lanes, as many as there are roads.
And so is Amsterdam: I was impressed of how much respect the bicycles get while negotiating the city traffic (which, compared to London, is pretty sedated). However cycling here is taken to such a level that leisurely strolling might not be acceptable: imagine visiting some big city by car and driving at 20km/h unexpectedly stopping here and there to look at things and take picture. You will get killed.
Also some junctions can be quite complicated as they’re layered as follows: pavement, bike lane, car lane, tram rails, another car lane, another bike lane, another pavement. On each of those traffic seems to come from a random directions so that sometimes you might think that closing your eyes and speeding through hoping nothing happens, can seem a reasonable solution.
There are many places where to rent a bike, usually for one day (make sure you check the shop closing times), 24 hours or more. I’ve seen prices ranging from €8 for a pedal brake (if what I described above doesn’t sound challenging enough) for a day, to €12 for a “standard” bike for 24 hours. It’s definitely better and faster than public transport and offers a unique and exhilarating way to explore the city!
I’ll be honest with you, one of the main reasons why I like to go to Amsterdam, or the Netherlands in general, is Febo. It’s a brilliant fast food place that sells krokets (and also other stuff… but mainly exquisite krokets) out of gigantic vending machines behind which the staff fries and refills the empty boxes. It was the first thing I did as I arrived, at 10.30 am, feeling the familiar excitement of dropping coins in that machine and grabbing my crunchy deep fried snack. This time I was also a bit worried, will it taste the same? A sober mouth always has a different opinion on food, but hey, that bad boy tasted exactly as I expected, or even better. Thou art such heavenly thing Febo.
If there’s a competitor of Febo in the street food category, this has to be the traditional herring sandwich. It’s as simple as it is delicious: a raw herring, some onions and pickles (if you request them) and, oh yes, a few hundred years of experience for a fish conservation process dating back to the Middle Age. If you want to do it the Dutch way forget the bread, lift the herring by the tail over your mouth and eat it!
The one you surely know about is the flower market. Well that one’s quite boring, it’s only good for buying tulip bulbs and, if you do, make sure you move towards its western end as prices are better.
Two really sweet markets I found, with a strong “local” feel, are located in Jordaan and Kinkerstraat.
In Jordaan you’ll find on Saturday the Lindenmarkt on Lindengracht (avoid the first juice stall and keep moving for cheaper smoothies), which is all about food, flower and random stuff. Around the corner the market cover also Noordermarkt. Great place for a quick meal on the go, or for buying souvenirs such as fridge magnets or stroopwafels. On Mondays there is a flea market in Noordermarkt.
The one in Kinkerstraat is more of a food market or, at least, food here is amazing and it’s the thing I noticed most. There are no conventional souvenirs and there are at least two stalls selling only bike equipment. If I were you I would go for one of the first stalls to the right making hot meals (or, if you get there too late, mouth watering sandwiches), or for one of the Greek stalls towards the end.
Van Gogh and other Museums
There is another article I just wrote where I suggest not to go to Van Gogh Museum, and now I’m telling you the opposite. No, I’m not schizophrenic, I’m just undecided between the beauty of Van Gogh’s oeuvre and the money-oriented museum management which created a quite upsetting atmosphere. The entrance is €15 and please don’t forget to get the tickets in advance, either online or at the booth of the souvenir shop.
If you’re into classic paintings it might be worth visiting the Rijksmuseum. The entrance is €15 but the building is beautiful and it has been recently reopened after 10 years of restoration works. If you’d rather see modern and contemporary design, and art, then the Stedelijk museum is there for you. Also this one is located in the charming Museumplein and it also charges, try to guess, €15 for the entrance.
Bars and Brown Cafés
Missing out one of those would be like coming to the UK and not visiting a traditional pub.
The first time I was in Amsterdam I ended up in De Saloon, a place that is incredibly good, especially considered its central position. Seats outside by the canal and warm happy atmosphere inside, it conquered a place on my “top bars” list when, while slurping a delicious erwtensoep, the staff started a singalong with the customers sitting at the counter.
I’ve encountered a similar experience in a brown café, an old traditional bar with rich dark wood interiors, somewhere around Rozengracht where I was obviously the only tourist. As I sat at a table with my beer I got involved in a furious balloon volleying with a kid and a dog, while the adults gathered around the bar, having what seemed to be free drinks, and singing a karaoke. It all started getting awkward, especially when the dog knocked my beer glass off, pouring its content on my crotch, so I had to leave but it has been a lovely scene to witness.
Way less raucously fun but as lovely was the Café ‘t Papeneiland a “brown café” dating back to the 17th Century and which seems to not have changed much since.
If you keep walking or cycling down along Prinsengracht you’ll find many other good looking places luring you in with a contagiously positive vibe.
Oh this post was supposed to be about sober activities…well nevermind!