Monday, January 31, 2011

Top 10 Places: Amsterdam

It isn’t a city I know well, but it certainly is one of the more interesting places I’ve been to.

I went to Amsterdam in 2007 for a conference and extended my stay a little in order to explore it. It was a fascinating place to walk around in. Unlike most cities which are dominated by cars, Amsterdam has several alternate modes of transportation, especially bikes. Despite the bumpy roads it is a cyclist’s heaven with its many designated bike paths. Although apparently you don’t want to invest too much into your ride since theft is common – so most cyclists use old-fashioned three-speed bikes that are easily replaceable.

The canals also serve as thoroughfares through the city, especially on the weekend where it seemed that cruising on the water with a boatload of friends was a popular way to spend the afternoon. Certainly looked very enjoyable, even if there were some traffic jams to get under narrow bridges.

The canals are lined with the unique, picturesque narrow buildings – including the home that Anne Frank and her family lived in. I also loved looking at all the houseboats and daydreaming about living in one.

Bikes and canals aside, Amsterdam is most famous for its libertine reputation – especially the coffeeshops and brothels. The red light district seemed to be some sort of mecca for young men who roamed the streets in drunken, stoned packs, ogling the girls who display themselves in neon-lit windows. I found it hard not to stare at the girls myself. Not because I was shocked, but because I was curious. Were they happy? Were they there by choice? Most of them just seemed bored, especially those working during the day who had few customers to pass the time.

But I didn’t just explore the streets of the city. There are several museums and I enjoyed spending some time in looking at Van Gogh’s bold paintings. I can’t say I found any restaurants to write home about, but the beer was good and the coffeeshops were an interesting experience.

All in all, it’s the kind of place I would love to go back to – although not necessarily as a family vacation with young children.

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