stories of life & wanderlust

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Discovering Amsterdam: Beyond the Red Light District



What are the first two things that come to your mind when you think of Amsterdam? If it’s not drugs and prostitution then I’m proud of you because you certainly have a much more complete and accurate image of this Dutch city than I had for a very long time. Despite the fact that I had never met a single person that disliked the city, Amsterdam had never been particularly high on my travel bucket list: I figured that Amsterdam would be the kind of place that I would just happen to visit one day, but because I didn't really have any idea what there was to do except for seeing canals and going to coffee shops, I never went out of my way to make travel plans.

But over time, my perception of Amsterdam slowly started to change. Everyone seemed to love Amsterdam so much that I couldn't help, but feel intrigued to find out what it exactly it was that made people fall head over heels for this city and so when my parents suggested a little family getaway to the Netherlands just before Christmas, I was all for finally discovering the allure of Amsterdam.








And let me just say: The hype is true! Amsterdam really is as wonderful as everyone says, even if you never set foot into the city's infamous Red Light District - or maybe that's exactly why this visit was so great - and by the end of our trip, I was ready to pack up my things in Germany and move to Amsterdam forever.

To me, Amsterdam seemed like the perfect love child of a Central European and Scandinavian city, but with an absolutely unique atmosphere that is almost impossible for me to describe. Amsterdam was without doubt a large urban centre: The streets were bustling with pedestrians and bicyclists alike and lined with plenty of restaurants offering all sorts of cuisines and shops that sold all sorts of things. But despite its size and buzz, Amsterdam seemed relaxed rather than stressed and exuded a certain comfortable small town vibe that was very likely the reason I loved this city so much.



We only spent two days in Amsterdam, but we easily could have stayed longer. Most of our time was spent simply exploring the streets and canals: Amsterdam has such an an interesting urban layout and the architecture is beautiful in a rugged kind of way: The narrow, but tall buildings - built with brick stones of various shades of red and brown and standing quite crooked because of the way they were constructed - all seemed to look similar, yet were different from each other and I found myself curious to know what they looked like inside.




Since we visited during the winter, the sky was grey for the entire duration of our visit - I did love the feeling this color palette exuded in photographs, though - and a strong wind was constantly blowing through the streets.

We visited two of Amsterdam’s most famous sights to escape the cold: The Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Going to museums while traveling doesn’t seem to have the best reputation, but I actually love visiting them, especially if they are as renowned as the big museums in Amsterdam and consequently carry a vast array of different objects. For an old soul like me, visiting a museum is always a step back in time and into another world and therefore a great little escape.



Both the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum are well worth a visit, at least if you're somewhat interested in art, but I personally preferred the Rijksmuseum: While I can definitely appreciate the genius of Van Gogh's work and think he was a very fascinating character, the exhibitions in the Rijksmuseum featuring objects of many different eras just catered to my personal taste a little bit better.

During the time of our visit, the Rijksmuseum also held a special exhibition called "Modern Times - Photography in the 20th century" that I absolutely loved, but that is sadly already finished. Since I’m really only just starting to discover photography, seeing the evolution of the craft and the art and being exposed to so many different captivating works was very, very inspiring.




I had my favorite meal of our visit at a lovely fish restaurant called The Seafood Bar. The Seafood Bar is located in Amsterdam's Oud-Zuid, very close to Vondelpark and walking distance from the Van Gogh Museum, and serves up all different kind of seafood in a casual, yet stylish environment. I had a grilled Swordfish Steak with Chips that was kept wonderfully simplistic and the one of the best salads I have ever had - I don't really like salad, so this is high praise indeed - but the true showstopper of the night were the French-style mussels my mother ordered.



One of the things I definitely noticed in Amsterdam was just how stylish everyone was. This shouldn't really come as a surprise considering that many fashion companies from more affordable brands like Scotch & Soda and Supertrash to the super high-end Avantgarde fashion house Viktor & Rolf have their home in Amsterdam. My own style is a bit minimalistic anyway, but seeing many young locals in their minimalistic style gave me a whole new appreciation for clean lines and monochromatic color palettes.



Overall, Amsterdam was the perfect little pre-Christmas escape. There is so much I didn’t get to experience on this first visit – going on a canal boat tour and indulging in an Indonesian Rijsttafel come to mind – but I am sure that my next visit won’t be another twenty-two years in the future. Amsterdam was a delightful surprise – and a good reminder to not just judge a place by the unsavory parts of its reputation.

Have you been to Amsterdam before? What was your impression of the city? And if you haven't been: What do you think of when you think of Amsterdam?
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