The next afternoon, we said goodbye to The Hague after a nice outdoor tea, and made our way back the way we’d come, past the airport, and on to Schiphol. We’d made the mistake of waiting until rush hour to transfer, and the train was packed with commuters. We had our luggage, and ended up trudging from car to car looking for a seat. There weren’t any, of course, and Dutch trains don’t have a whole lot of free space to stash bags like most others. We ended up standing in the exit doors, having to shuffle back and forth to let folks in and out at the platforms. It wasn’t a great experience.
Arriving in Amsterdam, we got to see the amazing Amsterdam Centraal station, a great example of the grandeur and celebration of transportation in the Victorian era. The station is an enormous Gothic structure, complete with clock towers and spires and other ornate details, and the tracks are covered by a huge wrought-iron glass ceiling. Good thing it was cold and overcast, because otherwise the station would make a terrific greenhouse.
Upon leaving the station, it was immediately evident that Amsterdam is a very different beast compared to the relative tranquility of The Hague. Bicyclists were still about, though they seemed in much greater numbers (as if I would have ever thought that possible).
The cycle-insanity has as much to do with Amsterdam’s past as it does it’s present. For centuries The Netherlands was a superpower in Europe, criss-crossing the Atlantic and taking firm control of the diamond and slave trade. Two very lucrative businesses, they used the proceeds to finance such totally reasonable and cost-effective civil construction projects as draining the ocean to make more land for their people.
Anyways, as a seafaring culture, naturally they used waterways to move trade goods in and out of their cities. With the advent of the automobile, many Dutch cities – including The Hague – filled in their canals to make room for cars. Not so with Amsterdam. So to The Hague’s list of things to watch out for while crossing the street, we must now add boats.
Alright, so what of Amsterdam? Well, it’s known for – and advertises itself as – being the most “tolerant” city in the world. Many people come here to see the red light district, or smoke pot, or really do whatever they want. Amsterdam makes such a big deal out of being so tolerant, but really all it means is that they’re the most willing to put up with your crap.
…but even there they’ve drawn a line. Sale of Marijuana is limited only to EU passport holders, something they also advertise pretty heavily. Too many tourists coming across the pond and overdoing it, I imagine.
Aside from that, Amsterdam seems to have an overwhelming amount of stuff on offer. Countless museums dedicated to the Golden Era of Dutch painting, the house where Anne Frank hid during the Nazi Occupation, boat tours, bike tours, you name it. If the weather is good, go outside. Bad? Inside.
Food in Amsterdam is great as well. If you’ve ever studied art history, then you know all there is to know about Dutch cuisine. But like other former city-empires around the world, the flavors of the places they conquered were brought home. Great Indonesian and Thai food could be had just steps away from the hotel. We walked past an Algerian restaurant on the way to dinner one evening. Whatever genre you may have in mind is well represented here. Even Burger King. If you’re a foodie though, get out of oldtown and check out some of the interesting restaurants along the canals; they will not disappoint.
Overall, I think that Amsterdam has a lot to offer. We were in The Netherlands more to see the countryside than the cities, so I think maybe for us this was a miss. If you want to do the Amsterdam thing (and there’s lots to do, believe me) then go to Amsterdam. If you want to see The Netherlands, then go somewhere else.