Our fist stop was Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands where it appears anything goes! Prostitution and marijuana are legalised and no body turns an eye regardless of sexuality, fashion sense or ethnicity. Although clogs and traditional dress are worn mostly for special occasions nowadays Dutch culture remains as rich as their cheeses. The country is clean, green and beautiful from the colourful flower pots adorning windowsills to canals lined with bicycles or paddocks filled with cows.
The majority of the Dutch towered over us with their long legs and strong statures however despite their somewhat intimidating appearance everyone we came across was exceptionally happy to help, friendly and spoke English well.
Another positive was the countries proactivity in reducing their impact on the environment with electric buses, an affordable and efficient public transport system, no plastic bags at supermarkets, money back incentives when plastic bottles are returned to the store and on many occasions we observed locals taking the time to consciously sort their waste into recycling and not.
We goed our time in the Netherlands however I did have the following to rant about: paying for the use of toilets in train stations and in many cafes/restaurants despite being a customer and the prostitutes in the red light district standing in the window as they played on their mobile phones. If this was their tactic of playing “too busy/hard to get” it wasn’t working on me and I’m voting for a “no phones at work policy” commencing immediately.
THINGS TO DO:
- Picnic and ride in Vondelpark. The public green urban park is made up of 47 hectares with plenty of different areas including a playground, pond and open air theatre. We picked a nice sunny spot and sat back to people watch – one of my favourite activities!
- Canal boat cruise in Amsterdam. There are many different companies that offer similar services however we opted for “Boat Amsterdam”. It cost 15 Euros per person and included unlimited (warm) drinks and over an hour boat cruise through the network of canals. It was a beautiful way to see the city from a different perspective.
- The red light district – De Wallen. No itinerary is complete without ticking this off! The network of cobblestoned streets and alleyways are officially designated by authorities for legal and regulated prostitution. We visited during both the day and night to see what all the fuss was about. We watched on from a far and made bets on how long the sessions would last. I was bang on (pun intended) the money with my bet of 10 minutes from door opening to closing for one middle aged man. He walked out the door, head bowed and carried on down the street while the prostitute went back to looking uninterested in the window.
- Hire bikes and explore the city like a local. There are many different companies and most hotels that offer bike rentals. We hired bikes from our hotel which had baskets and bike locks (both essential) and headed off for a full day of exploring. The landscape is flat so it’s very easy riding even if you’re not Lance Armstrong. Stick to the bike paths and right hand side and join in with the hundreds of other people pedalling away the day!
- Zaanse Schans. This is the place to see if you’re after windmills! The town is filled with beautiful historic windmills (some still operating) and green wooden houses. We spent the afternoon walking alongside the river and fields, happy exploring by ourselves however if you’re after more information there’s the Zaanse Schans museum and cheese and clog factories which provide tours and demonstrations (for a price).
- Volendam. This small, traditional sea side town is worth a visit, if you’ve got time. It’s situated about 30 minutes north east of Amsterdam and is easily accessible by public transport (we caught the bus from Amsterdam central). A couple of hours here is more than enough to explore the main street and also visit the wooden clog and cheese stores which provide informative free videos, museum tours and taste testers!
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- The Hague beach. Take my advice and just don’t.
- Rollmops – if you dare! The pickled herrings line the streets and supermarket isles everywhere in the Netherlands.
As previously mentioned the public transport system (trains, trams and buses) is affordable, efficient and easy to use. Best way to get around Amsterdam is by bike or foot – be warned wear comfortable shoes as there are kilometres and kilometres worth of sights to see and neighbourhoods to explore. Have fun.