Now it may seem strange that a DE is writing a trip report about the city upon which he regularly gives people advice. Indeed it is. I do however live outside the city and last weekend had a couple of first time visitors over from Ireland. With them I came to Amsterdam last Sunday 'as a tourist' so I thought I'd share my experiences.
Our guests actually arrived on Thursday and we spent a few days 'up country' before heading into Amsterdam itself. On the way to meet them I came into town then took the 197 bus from Leidseplein to Schiphol. The stop directly in front of the American hotel is temporarily suspended so at present you have to walk about 100m to the other side of the canal to catch it. On a rainy weekday afternoon in early rush hour the journey took 35 minutes. Most times I would guess that it is a bit less than this. At Schiphol I usually tell first timers to find me at the meeting point. This is a huge red and white arch in the Plaza area. It can't be missed. They met me here without a problem and we jumped onto a train.
After a few days out of town we headed into town on Sunday morning. As NL residents we had decided some time ago to buy a couple of anonymous OV chip cards for any visitors we had. This was well worth doing not just for the cost saving on trips in Amsterdam but also the convenience. In our case we were straight off the train at Central Station (CS), hopped onto a tram and were at our hotel ten minutes later.
We stayed at the Eden American Hotel on Leidseplein. It is nothing that special but is a decent 4* place in a great location. My reason for choosing this hotel was simply the rate. Through a Dutch auction site http://www.hotelkamerveiling.nl/ I managed to secure rooms, including breakfast, at €40 for the night. Aware of the noise from trams at the front of the hotel I had mailed them in advance to ask for quiet rooms at the back. The hotel honored this. Our rooms were a decent enough size, well equipped and were indeed quiet. The penalty for this was a view over the rear courtyard. Service was efficient and friendly. Breakfast was a very decent buffet, both hot and cold. At the rate I paid it was the bargain of the decade. The 'normal' rate of €170 would have been about right, at the rack rate of €260 I'd advise people to look elsewhere.
Having dropped off our bags we headed back to CS. For me it was a no brainer, as my visitors were first timers a canal cruise was a must. I avoided the more expensive companies directly in front of CS (Lovers were charging €13 for a one hour cruise) and walked a little up Damrak to where Rederij Plas were offering essentially the same one for €8.50. I have been on many of these cruises down the years and there is essentially no difference in the offerings from the various companies. This time we were in fact very lucky. Rather than relying on the recorded multi-lingual commentary, our captain was both witty and informative. Even an old hand such as me learnt something from this trip.
The cruise over I began my mini walking tour of old Amsterdam, this I do for any visitors. As I walk over to Prins Henrikade in front of the Barbizon Palace hotel I explain how the station was built in the late 19th century and how controversial it was at the time. Many Amsterdam residents wanted an alternative site, at Leidseplein, to be the site of the station. They, correctly in my view, felt that by building it where it now stands the city would be cut off from the water. There have been many instances since then, not least the new metro line which is causing so much construction chaos in the central area, where the wished of the city's residents has been ignored.
Once on Prins Henrikade I describe how where we are now standing was once the harbour wall. At one corner is a pub called the Zeepost (Sea Post) which was once the end of the harbour wall. Round the corner is the Schreierstoren (Weeping Tower) where wives would wave goodbye to their loved ones as they set off to sea. At the other end is one of Amsterdam's most interesting streets, Zeedijk (Sea Dyke) which formed a significant part of the city's sea defenses. How ships would dock right here. The ships crews would often be craving two things, drink and female company. It is therefore no coincidence that Amsterdam’s oldest pubs are round the corner at the entrance to Zeedijk and that the Red Light District (RLD) is only a couple of minutes walk further on.
At the entrance to Zeedijk is reputedly Amsterdam's oldest pub, In't Aepjen which dates back to 1590. The word aepjen in Dutch means monkeys, some of which are depicted in paintings in the walls here. The name of the pub almost certainly derives from creatures that came off the boats with sailors and brought here. Perhaps they were traded here to pay for other, shall we say services. About 50m along Zeedijk you walk over a small canal. If you look to your left here you can see a lock gate. This, along with the dyke upon which you are walking, kept the sea out of the old town, de Wallen (The Walls) which you can see to your right.
As you follow Zeedijk around you come into Amsterdam's small Chinatown. This street is packed with excellent quality, affordable, restaurants. A general rule with Chinese restaurants anywhere in the world, if they are hanging duck in the window it means they are proud of their food and are putting it on display. Here is no exception, arguably the three best restaurants; The Wing Kee, New King and Nam Kee all have displays.
At the end of Zeedijk you come onto Amsterdam's biggest square, Niewmarkt. Here is one of Amsterdam's most notable buildings, de Waag (Weighing house). It once formed part of the city walls and is now a restaurant. Here the cargo from boats was first weighed then sold to merchants. An old yarn about this place is that it was also used for the weighing of witches. From here they were thrown into the water. If they sank they weren't witches, this was by then irrelevant as they were by now dead. If they floated or could swim they were convicted of witchcraft and executed.
From here we cut through the RLD. I'll spare this forum any of the details I give. Indeed I customise what I say substantially depending on my audience.
After wending my way through a few streets we come out onto Dam Square. It was here that the city was founded as a 'dam' on the river 'amstel'. Today it is a large pedestrianised area with the royal palace at one side and the national war memorial in the middle. It hosts Amsterdam's most expensive and touristy pubs which are best avoided. From this square the main street in the city, Damrak, runs down to CS. To me, this street is unfortunately a bit of a disgrace for what is otherwise a very fine city. It is lined with souvenir shops, fast food joints and over priced restaurants.
Last stop is to walk down the alleyway to the side of the Krasnapolski Hotel and have a drink at Wynand Focking. This is a 17th Century genever house, they distill the stuff a few doors along. It is well worth searching out. http://www.wynand-fockink.nl/
Dinner on Sunday night was at my favorite seafood restaurant Lucius on Spuistraat. http://www.lucius.nl/ it was, as usual, excellent. I was very glad to have a reservation. They were turning people away most of the time we were there. It had been a heavy long weekend and we were all pretty tired by now. To round the evening off we simply walked back to Leidseplein and had a couple of drinks on the square.
On Monday morning we set off for Albert Cuyp market. We got there by taking a tram (7 or 10) three stops to Fredriksplein followed by a short walk. As a foodie I love this place and used the opportunity of being here to buy some fresh fish, meat, vegetables and top up on various herbs and spices. My visitors were amazed by the choice on offer. I got the impression that their buying was only restricted by the amount of room they had in their carryon luggage. We had lunch half way along the market at the ever excellent Bazar. http://www.bazaramsterdam.com/read/1441
It was time for my visitors to go. We jumped on a tram back to the hotel where they picked up their bags and got the 197 to the airport.
Thus ended my first visit with Amsterdam virgins for a couple of years. I'm always happy to introduce this city to newbies and was delighted to see how much they enjoyed the experience.