Amsterdam: a true Dutch treat

July 28, 2013
Photo by Claire Bredenoord

Amsterdam. Photo by Claire Bredenoord

It’s the traveler’s dilemma: return to favorite places or explore someplace new?  When a place enchants and charms —I can think of so many–Rome, London, North Carolina, western Canada, Ireland and more–it’s only natural to want to return.

Amsterdam is one such place for me. Its maze of beautiful canals and row houses make the city an entrancing and romantic place.  When I first saw it (and our beautiful row house hotel) more than 20 years ago, I liked it so well I changed my flight so I could stay a day longer.  And, a few years later, I made sure to add several days in Amsterdam to a trip to Germany.  It’s different. Unique.  There’s a certain freedom to be who you are–it’s in the air and you take it in with every breath. Of course, that freedom’s been both a curse and a blessing. Amsterdam’s got a high crime rate.  Still, it’s a city that eschews constraints of any kind and I love that.

It’s not just the legal pot, at least not now that medical marijuana is so accessible in California.  Or that prostitution is legal and controlled. I must confess to hanging out for an hour in the Red Light District, watching the girls in the windows and the comings and goings of “johns” and what had to be the Dutch version of “pimps.”  Each interaction seemed to have a riveting and imaginative backstory, at least to me.  Amsterdam makes no bones about its legal prostitution and I’ve always respected the practicality of that decision.

But of course, there’s plenty of real culture. Fan of Van Gogh? Check out the Van Gogh Museum.  You can drop by Rembrandt’s house. Or steep yourself in the Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum.  Plus, it’s a great place for edgy, modern art. There’s a Sex Museum, a cat museum (oh yes!) –in fact, more than 50 museums await visitors in this small capital of the Netherlands.

As a young girl, The Diary of Anne Frank was my first exposure to the unfairness of life and it had a huge impact on my world view. So, I couldn’t miss the Anne Frank Huis (House) at Prinsengracht 263. Be prepared: visitors are deep in thought, perhaps remembering their own family members and the Holocaust or the writings of a young girl on the cusp of her teen years. I’ll never forget the hushed, respectful silence both in the queue and when we got inside the house itself.   A moving and emotional visit.

Bicycles are everywhere — it’s a great way to see the city.  Picnics in the park are common, although we didn’t have a chance to do that.

Besides the delicious cheeses, Indonesian food’s a staple. I loved our night at a rijsttafel (rice table).  At other restaurants, I skipped the traditional raw herring–not my thing.

First Lady (at the time) Hillary Clinton was in town on my second visit to the city. My then-husband and I were having some tasty cheeses for lunch at a tiny, canalside cafe, when we saw her boat floating toward us (followed by a boat of journalists).  A few of us stepped out to the railing to see the touring party.

The world is large and there are so many places left to see.  I’m not sure I’ll get to Amsterdam again. Still, it’s a special place and if you get a chance to visit, you won’t regret it.  I can’t promise you’ll see Hillary Clinton, but I can promise that you’ll see things  you won’t see anywhere else in the world.



5 comments on “Amsterdam: a true Dutch treat
  1. I am planning my fourth trip to Amsterdam this fall. I loved your opening line about the traveler’s dilemma. I have been in love with Europe since I lived in Zurich in the ’70’s. So I’ve been returning to favorite spots for many decades. But last year the hubby protested loud enough that I took notice. Because we kept going back to my fav spots, we hadn’t gotten to Asia, which topped his travel bucket list. So I finally booked us a trip to Asia! Oh my … saw six countries, and now I can hardly wait to return to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. I guess I’m just a creature of habit.

    • admin says:

      I know, it really is always a question. We adore Italy but I’ve been so many times–we’re going to India this fall. But then for next year, we thought about South Africa…and then I started pushing toward Sicily. If only we had all the time and money in the world!!! Your trips sound fabulous.

  2. Susan Cooper says:

    Looks like an amazing place to visit. I would love to visit the Van Gogh gallery. I am sure the red light district was very enlightening. 🙂

  3. Pam Houghton says:

    I LOVE Amsterdam. You wrote a great, detailed post about it. I, too, found the Red Light District fascinating, and yes, I can relate to thinking about a backstory. It’s interesting to see, at times, the conservatively dressed men who come out, with their head down. And I agree about Anne Frank museum – very moving. And of course – the art museums! I love Van Gogh. I’ve been there twice – once in college, and once with my husband when we went in February. Weather was rather miserable at times but that didn’t stop us from walking all over; plus lines to the attractions were a lot shorter than at peak travel times. See? You made me live Amsterdam all over again. I would definitely go back.

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