“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” – John Green
A cool, humid breeze over the canals, lush shades of green along the banks, an opaque, overcast sky, and flowers … flowers everywhere. This, and much more, is what you can expect when visiting Amsterdam.
The Dam, or the main square, is a fairytale. Grand, grey, and a little grim to one side, where horse-drawn carriages creak over the cobbles in front of the Royal Palace against the gloomy backdrop of a Gothic cathedral. On the other side, the Dam is full of life and colour, and the modern, majestic building of De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam’s famous department store, draws a buzzing crowd of locals and tourists alike.
Once you stray off the beaten track and into the side streets, you can find all manner of weird and wonderful places worth exploring, like this mind-blowing fantasy shop that I stumbled upon – Fantasy Shop Chimera.
Having spent a considerable amount of time (and money!) shopping, we decided it was time to turn our eyes towards something more culturally rich. The adventurers that we are, we took a random street which led to the vast network of canals, all flanked by coloured brick houses.
The variety was stunning, and yet all of them had that distinct Amsterdam look and feel. There were some glorious houses, almost mansions, which immediately strike you as your future dream home in the flesh, but then your eye is drawn to the less ostentatious, but somewhat wacky and wondrous buildings around. Tall, narrow, and slightly tipped to one side, these houses held all the charm in the world for me.
We then ducked into a few little streets which led us out onto a main street and into Vondelpark.
We rested for a bit and watched the locals walking their dogs, jogging past our bench or running after their playful kids. All this observing people being active got us a bit peckish, so we made our way back to the city centre, where discovered Toastable. Aside from the obvious main item on their menu, they also offer a wide range of ice teas and fresh juices.
After a refreshing beverage, it was time to stimulate our other senses. Amsterdam turned out to be the best place for that…
SENSE of SIGHT
We headed to Museum Quarter, where you can find the Van Gogh Museum, and the Rijksmuseum, the National Arts and History Museum. Both were a delight, and the art was beautiful to behold. The story of Van Gogh is particularly touching, from the humble beginnings of his life, through the zenith of his brilliance and finally his tragic end. He had a very close relationship with his brother, and some of the letters they exchanged are displayed in the exhibition.
^ Van Gogh’s personal painting materials.
^ ‘Sunflowers‘, one of 7 paintings from the Sunflowers series. A couple of them were kept in private collections, but one of these was destroyed by fire in World War II. The remaining versions can be seen in the permanent collections of the National Gallery (London, UK), Neue Pinakothek (Munich, Germany), Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, USA) and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art (Tokyo, Japan).
^ Original letters from Van Gogh to his brother
^ Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s National Art & History Museum
Whatever you do, you have to stop by the famous I AMsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum. To stand out from the crowd, and avoid contributing to the selfie craze, I went for a panorama shot.
SENSE of SMELL
Flowers are indeed everywhere in Amsterdam, but the place to go if you want it all in once place, is Bloemenmarkt, or the flower market along Singel street.
There are rows of stalls and standalone flower shops like this one all along the canal, so the variety is overwhelming. My personal preference leans towards field flowers, but you’ll be sure to find something to suit even the most singular taste.
SENSE OF TASTE
Once you’ve had enough of the flower market, you can have all the cheese your heart desires from any of the shops opposite the stalls. I’d recommend this one, seems to have the biggest range, and they also ship to the UK!
In the spirit of the weird and wonderful, the artisan cheese shops offer samples of all kinds of surprisingly good fusions, such as coconut gouda or lavender goat’s cheese. Unashamedly, I bought a wheel of each, plus a cheese heavily infused with garlic and herbs, and all of them were absolutely excellent!
There was no time for one last panoramic tour of the canals, but I’ll leave you with a few snaps of our last walk before we left. I feel it captures the simple and serene charm of the city.
Amsterdam is a place where everybody is free to be themselves, to be weird and wonderful, and this is what makes it such a sought-after respite from the wide eyes, and the raised eyebrows behind the newspaper judging you on the tube.
So go have some fun in the city of liberties!