Stepping out of Amsterdam Centraal and into the streets of the city, the immediacy in which you get the essence of the Dutch capital is startling. Crooked leaning, quirky buildings encircle you, canals invite in all directions and the ringing of bicycle bells pervade the ears.
The more wicked elements of the city are also readily apparent in broad daylight with the smell of cannabis lingering in the air and workers carrying out the unenviable task of cleaning up the broken glass and litter which blanket the streets from the previous nights antics. Our walk through the streets of Amsterdam bared all that the city is both famous and infamous for, a city proudly unabashed.
After some aimless wandering through the bonny canal system, we settled in with a trip to a coffee shop. One of the few which actually primarily sells coffee too, Melly’s Cookies Bar is a dainty pâtisserie which offers a range of fine tasting hot beverages and even finer cakes. The Dutch delicacy, the stroopwafel is the perfect coffee accompaniment and Melly’s is a terrific place to relax in the afternoons.
Perked up by the recent rush of caffeine and sugar, we were ready to take on the streets of Amsterdam. We navigated our way through the tight-knit alleyways admiring the buildings all around us, similar to the eye-catching aesthetic of Bruges only with a more distorted swagger. One building however is a dissonant modern structure which sits by the canal. The contemporary facade hides a significant history, the house where Anne Frank took refuge during World War II.
Today the premises is a museum which tells the story of the famous diarist and even grants access to the ‘secret annex’ in which she, along with her parents, sister and four other jews, hid from Nazi persecution during the war until their eventual capture. It’s a tragic part of history however the plight of the young girl who once lived here was not for nothing. The influence of her diary means that the museum is hugely popular with visitors to this day and serves as a poignant reminder of darker days.
We didn’t visit the museum as Kirsty has previously been and as the museums of Amsterdam are quite expensive, we budgeted instead for ones which neither of us had been to. One of them being the informative exhibition that is Body Worlds: The Happiness Project. An extraordinary anatomy museum which people have donated their bodies to, so that they could be preserved and are displayed for educational purposes to better understand our own inner workings.
Specifically, the museum focuses on the concept of happiness. What makes us happy? What effect does it have on our health and wellbeing? How can we improve our happiness? Well one way not to is to set the price of tickets at €18 for those paying at the door. However they can be purchased at a lower rate on the Body Worlds website, we did this and saved about €8 between us. Regardless, you won’t leave feeling short-changed as there are six floors worth of anatomical marvels to inspect and fascinating science to learn.
At times disturbing, frequently fun and interactive, always educational and sure to have you leaving with a smile on your face. It’s perfectly understandable that paying €18 for what is essentially a jazzed up biology lesson may not be your idea of fun. However the long term benefits of happiness will become very apparent and if you take on what is conveyed, an afternoon here could do you a lifetime of good. At the very least, you get to gawp at some unique and macabre displays of plastination.
Brimming with a newfound joix de vivre, it was time to unwind with a drink. The Amsterdam nightlife speaks for itself, who doesn’t know about what happens when the sun sets in this city? It’s not all about wild nights in the thriving club scene though, there are plenty of laid back drinking spots right in the heart of the city in which you can happily spend a lazy evening drinking next to the canal.
Even the seedier sides of the city have been toned down and may soon become a thing of the past. For us, sitting in the terraces and enjoying the views of the waterways from the considerable number of canal-side bars was enough to become enamoured with the charm of Amsterdam at night.
Upon waking we made our way to another of the city’s many fantastic museums, the Van Gogh Museum. Previously we learned more about Vincent van Gogh and his time spent in the town of Nuenen during our trip to Eindhoven. As such we snapped up the opportunity to continue our love affair with the fascinating artist in Amsterdam. On our way there we made time to stop by the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign which pops up around the city, this time outside the Rijksmuseum only a short walk from our destination.
Whilst this is another pricey museum in the city at €17, it is truly worthy of bearing the artist’s name as it sports a vast collection of his work including many of his most celebrated paintings. The collection spans three floors and documents different stages of van Gogh’s life including his humble beginnings as a ‘peasant painter’, his artistic friendships formed during his time in Paris to his later years where his mental health declined yet his output increased, producing 75 paintings in the 70 days leading up to his death.
Add to that another three-floor temporary exhibition detailing van Gogh’s love of Japanese art and the influence it had on his work and you have a riveting way to spend an entire afternoon in Amsterdam. Both my partner and I have a growing interest in art and rifling through the massive collection only fueled this further, making for a fantastic expansion of our knowledge.
As well as seeing hundreds of paintings by the man himself including masterpieces such as Sunflowers, The Potato Eaters, The Bedroom and Almond Blossom, there are also paintings by prominent figures in the world of art each with a connection to van Gogh’s work. These include Paul Gaughin, Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Émile Bernard, Henri Toulouse-Lautrect, Jean Francois-Rafaelli, Kees van Dongen, Jan Sluijters and many, many more.
After getting lost in the impassioned brush strokes of van Gogh’s masterpieces, we decided to grab a coffee and some food over which to discuss our visit. Bagels & Beans was the café of choice, a Dutch coffee chain which offers New York-style delicacies and pops up frequently throughout Amsterdam. A safe bet for a lunchtime hangout, great food, great coffee and plenty of locations around the city.
The canal system of Amsterdam isn’t the only picturesque setting available for locals and tourists to explore. The sprawling Vondelpark provides 120 acres of grassy plains, scenic walkways shaded by a plethora of trees and is frequented by all and sundry on sunny spring afternoons. An hour or so enjoying the aesthetic surroundings and chirpy atmosphere was a pleasant way to roll into our final evening in city.
An early night beckoned after a few more hours spent haunting the world famous bar scene. The reason being that the following morning we would journey once more, swapping the artifical waterways of Amsterdam for the superb natural scenery of Nice in Southern France.