When I think of Amsterdam, I think of brightly-coloured tulips, windmills, narrow “Grachten” with centuries-old houses and countless tiny bridges, of pancakes and “Bitterballen”, coffee shops and bicycles. But I also think of the vibrant, colourful life in the tiny alleys, the diverse and yet so harmonious mix of culture and cultures, traditional and modern, in a place where respect and tolerance are lived every day.
We have rented an apartment on the Keizersgracht, not far from the Rembrandtplein, one of the busiest squares in Amsterdam for nightlife and clubbing. At the moment, we’re sitting in the window seat with a cup of coffee and watching the bustling activity of the cyclists on their way to work. We wait until just before 9 a.m. before starting our tour through the city in the morning. It’s the only time of the day when you can explore Amsterdam even in summer and be largely undisturbed by the countless cyclists and masses of tourists.
Our first stop is at the Van Gogh Museum, where the first tourists are already waiting to be admitted. We spend a good two hours immersed in Van Gogh’s fascinating paintings. Afterwards we head towards the Jordaan quarter. We pass the Leidseplein with its numerous bars and restaurants, where street performers provide entertainment and atmosphere on lovely summer’s evenings. We then follow the Prinzengracht north, past some of the narrowest houses in the world (some of them are not much wider than a door), past flower-bedecked houseboats, the Westerkerk and the world-famous Anne Frank House. Then it’s to Amsterdam’s oldest pancake house, the Pancake Bakery at Prinzengracht 191, where we enjoy a delicious lunch.
Afterwards we stroll, fascinated, through the pretty, green alleys of the Jordaan quarter with its almost countless tiny shops and boutiques with all sorts of unusual things to explore. Our way takes us on towards the station, then south towards Dam Square with the Bijenkorf luxury shopping centre and the architecturally impressive town hall. We stop in one of the many cheese dairies to buy some typically Dutch cheese, and a little while later we are walking through the flower market to the south of the “Single” Gracht where you can buy flowers in every imaginable colour and shape.
The afternoon just flies by. After having a little rest in the apartment, we head for the experience restaurant Pasta E Basta at Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 8 for our evening meal. The ambience is cosy, there are delicious pasta dishes to share – and it has singing waiters. After the show, we go for a romantic night trip on one of the big canal boats along the prettily lit waterways of Amsterdam by night. As the crowning glory, we visit the red light district where wild bars, toy shops, sex shop, windows with scantily-clad ladies, churches and coffee shops coexist in close proximity with each other. A little strange to us, but completely normal for Amsterdam.
It’s already 2 a.m. when we get back to the apartment. And as we collapse exhausted into bed, the hustle and bustle continues in the streets and alleys of Amsterdam.