Oh Amsterdam, Sin City has nothing on you when it comes to the selection of activities deemed illegal in almost every other place in the world! We did a short bus trip up to Amsterdam for the day. And by short, I mean it was actually 8 hours so it really wasn’t short at all. Then tack on another 8 hours at the end of the trip and we had traveled a good 16 hours by bus within a 24 hour period. I think I’m ready for my upcoming trip to Alaska now! It was all in good fun though, since we each had decided it was probably best for everyone to bring at least a bottle of wine each for the road. See, sitting on a bus for extended periods of time has its advantages! I guess the only thing that would've made it better would have been a working bathroom en route. Ours, sadly, was decidedly broken after three hours into the trip. Lessons learned from taking a bus!
We arrived in the morning and immediately knew I was in Amsterdam. If you have ever heard anything about Amsterdam’s preferred mode of transportation, you know that bicycles are the vehicle of choice here. And WOW were there bikes! Amsterdam has 400 km, or 249 miles, of bike lanes and paths. For the streets without bike lanes, cyclists can simply ride along with traffic. There were even ‘parking’ garages that were built specifically for bikes. It’s a pretty cool sight to see. There are bike lanes and stop lights just for bikes in those lanes.
Travel Tip: Cyclists have their own lanes here. With that in mind, know that you can and will get run over if you don’t get out of their way! We had to jump out of the way a few times for people trying to get by (just imagine a group of eight women walking around, chatting, and not really paying attention to the roads…you get the idea). It didn’t help that we kept accidentally walking in the designated bike paths and routes.
Once we started walking, just about every stereotype about Amsterdam started to come true quickly. We walked by many coffee shops all spewing with the, err, aromas from inside. Canals could be found at every turn as well. I didn’t realize how much colder the air was with the canals running through. When I checked the weather online, it said we would be walking in fifty degree Fahrenheit weather but in reality it was much colder with the cold water of the canals and the wind that kept blowing through. There were many sex shops, lingerie shops and others that housed just about anything your imagination could conjure. It was interesting to say the least!
My to-do list for the short day was to see the red light district and to see the Anne Frank house. I didn’t plan to see the Van Gogh house because we only had nine hours there. So, first stop, red light district!
The red light district also managed to fit every stereotype I had ever heard or read about. Before we left, I was reading about the area and someone stated the red light district is a place where anything and everything can happen. While I so unfortunately did not get to witness much of this first hand (please note sarcasm, I really don’t want to be meandering through there late at night!), I think I saw plenty in one day! During the day the women stand in the windows offering up their services. Many of them were texting or drinking coffee while hanging out in the windows. I suppose it would get boring standing in a booth all day…or, uh, most of the day. Heh. We even saw a very popular ‘woman’ who clearly had defined muscles in all the wrong places. And again, she was quite popular! One thing I didn’t realize before we got there is that the red light district is more than just one street. I had imagined a really long street full of red lit windows. While this exists, there are many side streets that jut off in every direction as well.
See the narrow reddish building in the center. It's a house!
Since Amsterdam is such a large tourist spot you see all types of people there. Also, since it is Amsterdam, you have the not so upstanding citizens visiting and probably looking for trouble. When we went back once it got dark to walk around the red light district, I didn’t feel quite as safe as I did during the day. Most places were fine, but there are definitely alleys and side streets I wouldn’t want to find myself on at night.
The Anne Frank house was definitely worth visiting. We purchased tickets ahead of time since I heard the line is really long any time of the year. This was true by the way. Even in November tourists line up to get inside. It took about an hour to walk through, and there was a café and shop at the end. The tour is self-guided, and tickets were 9.50 Euro each. If you like history at all, I would highly recommend stopping here if you visit Amsterdam.
Travel Tip: If you want to see the Anne Frank house, purchase your tickets ahead of time. You don’t have to wait in line (there’s a side entrance around the corner) and you’ll save yourself from the long line. Tickets can be found at: http://www.annefrank.org/
If you only have a few hours in Amsterdam like I did, just walking around the central downtown area for the day provides plenty to do and see. There are so many shops and great shopping, restaurants and bars, irish pubs (because where in the world isn’t there an Irish Pub!), culture, history and things to do and see. That city comes ALIVE at night too. During the day there weren’t too many crowds of people but when the sun fell, all the night owls came out. There are also great opportunities to put your photography skills to work. This is reason enough for me to be going back to Amsterdam. Uh oh, I think I just added another place to my ‘must visit again’ list (which seems to keep growing and growing!).
That’s all for now. If you liked this post please be sure to check out my other posts about travel and my life as an expat in Germany.