I recently spent a week in Amsterdam…It was my first visit to the city, and indeed the Netherlands as a whole, and I’m delighted to say that it exceeded my expectations in the very best of ways. So much so in fact, that it has taken me a fortnight of mental digesting to be able to put my experience into words.
Forgive my general ignorance and naivety, but before this trip my impressions of Amsterdam were, to a large extent, from tales of rowdy stag parties visiting strip clubs and getting stoned. Yes, an array of scantily clad women line the streets of the red light district of an evening and yes, marijuana is readily available in the coffeeshops, but there is so much more to the city than that.
First let me explain that I took this holiday with my mother, and though she is young-at-heart, open-minded and at ease in a city with a studenty vibe, visiting a brothel was never going to be top of her to-do list. For us it was the lure of museums, art galleries, a diverse range of restaurants, and the antique, flea and flower markets.
The hotel we were lucky enough to stay in, was extravagantly-decorated, welcoming and a joy to return to each evening, and every person we spoke to was kind, friendly and helpful – even after the shock news of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
For the most part we enjoyed sunshine, missed the worst rain, and, having hastily got to grips with the rules of the cycle lane network, successfully managed to avoid causing any accidents. But this isn’t a holiday review where I recount our itinerary and rate each place – I’m not a travel writer and I’d rather leave that sort of thing to those who are – I simply have an urge to express my love for some of the beautiful places I discovered.
It seems much of Amsterdam’s aesthetic charm can be enjoyed by simply wandering about: the canals which loop and lace their way through an endless network of curvy cobbled bridges, lending an air of casual serenity to an otherwise bustling city; the rows of narrow houses leaning into each other with regal grace; the intricate brick pavements where parking spaces nestle between flowering potted plants, beneath tall trees; the alfresco corner cafés by the water, which invite you to sit and relax and stay all day; and the bicycles, the endless tangles of bicycles, everywhere, in a kaleidoscope of colours and decorated with fake blooms.
And then there are the places you can actively seek out: the tiny courtyard gardens tucked between the buildings and crammed with hydrangeas; the rooms of the Rijksmuseum containing seventeenth century treasures, such as Artus Quellinus’ model of Atlas, Petronella Dunois’ dolls’ house and delicate hand-cut collages by persons unknown; the tranquil parks with their live music, fountains and ponds; and the wonderful array of restaurants providing everything from traditional Dutch home-cooking to Parisian art nouveau ambience.
But as with any holiday, it is perhaps those little, unexpected moments that will stay with me the most: being moved to tears in Anne Frank’s house upon hearing a recording of her father speaking; watching a heron gracefully alight right next to a girl practising yoga in a park; listening to a talented accordionist play Vivaldi in a busy tunnel; stumbling upon an intimate wedding ceremony in the garden of the Museum Van Loon; and the lively street festival that sprang up around our hotel on our penultimate day.
I thoroughly enjoyed Amsterdam and I am keen to return one day, but even if I don’t hopefully I can use my experiences in a book; rediscover it through my characters. For me that’s half the fun of being a writer. Does anyone else feel the same?
Do you have any special memories from Amsterdam you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them.