I made a brief stopover in Amsterdam on my way back from the Middle East a few weeks ago simply because I could and because I had never been there before. My flight back from Cairo was going through Amsterdam with an quick overnight layover, so I added a few days on to it, to do a very brief exploration.
And I am glad I did. Even after a short couple days, I think I have added Amsterdam to the list of cities that I could live in for a few months, along with Cape Town, Istanbul, Budapest, and a few others.
To start with the obvious, Amsterdam is beautiful. The canals wind their way throughout the downtown area and provide a peaceful visual uniqueness to the city. Many have classified it with Venice, solely based on the canals, but I don’t think the two cities are much alike at all, aside from the proximity to water.
Venice has no cars, no houseboats and few trees, while Amsterdam has all of that. Plus, while I love Venice, it is a city trapped in tourism. Wandering around the alleyways there is one of my favorite things to do in the world, but you quickly get the impression that the city would cease to exist functioning without the influx of tourists. Not so for Amsterdam, where you get a completely different feeling — more vibrant and alive.
I am a big fan.
One of the other highlights was were I stayed, Lucky Lake Hostel. Though they are a good ways out of the city center, the transportation via train (and their hourly shuttle from the train station to their location) was easy and it was nice to get away from the bustle and hustle of downtown occasionally.
They are one of the more unique hostels I have stayed at, which you can tell from the photos. Basically, it is a collection of small campers, which provides one huge bonus over a normal hostel — privacy. They were nice enough to give me one of theirs for a three night stay and I came away impressed, rested, and full of great breakfast food every morning to start my exploration of town.
If you are going to Amsterdam on a budget, you can’t do any better than staying there. Their prices are significantly less than any place in the center of town, their staff is great and knowledgeable, and it has the relaxed, non-party vibe I am looking for in a place to stay. Do your day and evening in town, then hop the train back here and relax. It is a good combination.
Needless to say, when I told people I was going to Amsterdam, they asked about two things: prostitutes and coffee shops. I didn’t partake in either, but it was funny walking through the Red Light District.
For those that haven’t been before and are thinking to themselves, “I’d just avoid the Red Light District,” well no, no you won’t. Basically, that is the main tourist part of town. Most likely, unless you stay out at a place like Lucky Lake Hostel, your hotel or hostel is going to be smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District.
Nothing really to fear though. Its a bit loud occasionally, but that is actually the part of town you want to walk around in. The good food is there, the canals, the sights. The woman hanging out in the doorways (legally) are actually down the alleys areas, so if you want to avoid it, it is easy enough to do.
As to the coffee shops, the big news is that new legislation recently passed is going to make it illegal for foreigners to enter the famous Amsterdam marijuana dens. Dutch involved with tourism are well and truly upset at the possible loss of tourism revenue, but it looks like it is going to happen regardless.
I don’t particularly care about those two issues at all, but I will say… if someone can get me some sort of house sitting deal for a few months on this houseboat (or any other good one) below here… sign me up for 2-3 months in 2012.