Over the past two days I visited Amsterdam and Lisse in the Netherlands. When I thought of visiting the Netherlands, I had this vision of riding a bicycle through a colorful field of tulips, with windmills in the backdrop. 🌷🌷 Luckily my trip here did not disappoint! ❤
Now I’ll start with my experience in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the capital of Netherlands. The locals here speak Dutch, which reminded me of the movie, Austin Powers. 😂Before I came here, I knew Amsterdam was famous for two things: pot and prostitution.
Here, pot is sold at coffee shops, where you purchase joints and marijuana brownies. 🌿 As a pro, you know exactly the quality of drug that you’re getting…and sometimes you can even buy coffee there too! Hah! 😂 ☕
The city also has an infamous Red Light District, which is a business area for a regulated form of prostitution. It may sound like a terrible idea, but at least it reduces the black market for the sex trade. Here, the women earn a decent wage, and can at least call for help if they are in danger by blinking their red light. They also have to be medically checked, which makes it more safe for the men engaging in these activities.
Anyway, I had many eye opening experiences during my time in Amsterdam. It helped me understand the Dutch mentality as well. Here’s how my journey all began. 🙂
I first took Flixbus from Brussels to Amsterdam. The journey took about 3 hours, and I arrived mid-afternoon at Sloterdijk Station. From there, I took a tram to the Amstel Station near the center, which took an additional 20 minutes. 🚌
Cost: 11 Euros for the bus journey and 3 Euros for the tram (only credit cards accepted)
It was there I met my next Couchsurfing host. He was nice enough to pick me up in his car to make sure that I didn’t get lost looking for his place. My host this time was a middle-aged Brit who worked the bulk of his career training staff at Disneyland Paris, then later as a recruiter for MBA candidates at Laureate Education. Now, he was unemployed, but had a variety of interesting hobbies. He reads tarot cards and communicates with the dead. 🤔He’s also into essential oils, and tried to offer up some things like frankincense and pure peppermint to deal with my acne and cramping. He was even in the process of sculpting a bonsai tree when I arrived, and was trying to research the care that goes into shaping the branches. He also had a cancer scare a few years back, so he switched to vegetarianism and occasional detox juicing.🥕🍅 He was a very complex character to say the least. 🤣 He also lived in a renovated attic up a steep, winding staircase.He gave me my own key and my own bedroom. He offered city maps, a clean towel, and even this ancient flip phone for contacting him in case of emergencies. Hah!😂 Too sweet!
He also offered free breakfast and dinner each day. Anyway, after chatting with him for a few hours about his various hobbies while having a fish sandwich and watching a bit of BBC, I left to meet up with an old friend in the infamous Red Light District.I actually met this friend while climbing a volcano in El Salvador last year, and we’d kept in contact through Facebook. We wandered around the historic city center, the Red Light District and Chinatown for awhile, then headed over to this cool brewery called Brouwerij de Prael, which is actually a social enterprise to help find jobs for the mentally disabled.We sampled a red and pale ale there, while catching up a bit on his life here in Amsterdam.The next day, despite the weather taking a turn for the worse, I grabbed my sweatshirt and umbrella, and made my way to city center for some sightseeing.
What to See in Amsterdam
In a city like Amsterdam, which tolerates many somewhat controversial practices, such as prostitution, pot smoking, abortion and euthanasia, I thought it was best to take a free walking tour, to get some insider information about this incredibly liberal and progressive place. 🙈🙈My Dutch tour guide with SANDEMANs was absolutely phenomenal! She graduated from law school, then traveled the world, only to discover that she’d rather be happy than wealthy, which is why she never used her degree, and instead has been blissfully giving tours the past four years, and meeting people from all over the world.🌎🧡As a tourist, our guide started by breaking down the basics of Amsterdam.With all the sex and drugs is this city, she told us that these are not things to fear. They are regulated, which makes them more safe than other places in the world with a black market. Instead, she told us about the greatest danger in Amsterdam: bicycles. Hah! 😨🚴
Bike culture is huge in Amsterdam, and your chances of getting hit by a bike are very high!🤕 She said that at least the Dutch give a warming before they crash into you. Her catchy saying was, “If you hear a bell, run like hell!” Hah! 😂She also talked about the layout of Amsterdam. Basically, the city was built near the Amstel River on a swamp, so to protect the city from flooding, the locals built a dam, as well as, a series of canals to channel the water.The Dutch are practical people, so it only makes sense that this dam and adjacent Amstel River inspired the city’s name: Amster-DAM.Now these waterways really define the city of Amsterdam. There are almost 200 canals flowing through the city. Many people even have houseboats in the water where they live full time.Now because of these waterways, Amsterdam became a huge trading hub for boats carrying goods and spices.During the 17th century, merchants built their homes along the canals. They would dock their ship in the canal, then unload the goods using a rope and pulley that was attached to a hook on their home. Apparently they still use these hooks to pull goods out of the water today.Our guide mentioned how narrow the houses were, because they tried to cram as many merchant houses in as possible, and becomes homes were taxed based on their width.
The buildings also lean forward, because they didn’t want the goods to hit the windows while they were being pulled up. Some of the houses also slant sideways, but that’s because these homes are supported by old wooden beams that have begun to deteriorate.
Overtime they’ve lost their strength, and the houses have begun to tilt. Our guide said the beams are expensive to replace, so when the houses begin to tilt, many people just shave off inches from the bottom of their doors instead. Hah!🤣
Anyway, she also talked about the development of these merchant trading ships. Apparently it was a very tough business until the development of the Dutch East India Company. Before the 1600s, a merchant would invest all his money in buying one ship to sail around the world for expensive spices, like cinnamon, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and clove. Voyages to Africa and Asia could take sailors up to 8 months one-way, and with the threat of disease, natural disasters and pirates, there was a high chance they would not survive.Well, the Dutch East India Company invented a system where anyone could buy shares of these goods, which meant they got a lot more money, and could invest that money in multiple ships to sail at once, making it much more likely that some would return and bring in a profit. 💰
Anyway, this merchant trading business flourished for almost 200 years. With that, Amsterdam became a major hub for sailors, who were taking a brief rest after months at sea, and interested in meeting women. Hence, the start of the Red Light District. Now prostitution isn’t the only reason that Amsterdam is such a liberal place. For example, during the 16th century, when Catholicism was ruling much of Europe, the Netherlands became a Protestant nation. This really attracted many progressive scientists and avant-garde artists as well, since they wanted to practice without the persecution from the Catholic Church.
That doesn’t mean that this Protestant nation persecuted Catholics though. They still had a policy of tolerance, with places like Begijnhof, which is a Catholic sisterhood for women that even contains a chapel.
The tolerance in Amsterdam also attracted many Jews hoping to avoid religious persecution. One famous tale in Amsterdam was that of Jewish girl, Anne Frank. In her diary, she wrote about her life hiding from the Nazis with her family in her house in Amsterdam for over two years before she was sent off to the camps, only a few short weeks before the Jews in the city were liberated. The Diary of Anne Frank is now so popular that it has been written in over 70 languages and published in over 60 countries.
Now after that somber tale, only one thing could brighten up our mood: cheese. 😊🧀The Dutch make excellent Gouda cheese from both goat and cow’s milk.They sell a variety of flavors like pesto and pepper. My favorite was the smoked herb! Yum!I also saw some other Dutch treats including stroopwafel, a sticky wafer filled with brown sugar and butter, and hagelslag, or sprinkles that the Dutch put on white bread.
After my tour I took a free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to NDSM, a wharf that was originally used during the era of Dutch shipbuilding, but is now used for modern art projects with plenty of colorful pieces on display.
It’s really evolved into a creative cooperative for young artists, plus they have a variety of chic cafes and a boutique hotel on site.
Now, while wandering back to my Couchsurfing house, I passed by one final place on my Amsterdam to-do list: the Bloemenmarkt.The Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Here you can buy flower bulbs, live flowers, and even fake flower accessories.The vibrant colors and the flower fragrances were just spectacular! They also had typical Dutch souvenirs as well, such as clogs.
Now although the Bloemenmarkt had an incredible display of flowers, it was nothing compared to what I would experience next. The following day I planned to visit Keukenhof, the largest tulip garden in the world! ❤
The next day I left for Keukenhof Gardens. I bought a combo ticket which included round trip bus transportation and entrance to the garden. The bus system was actually quite inconvenient and involved a transfer at the airport, but at least I was able to make a few pit stops along the way.Near to the bus station was the Albert Cuyp Market, where I could browse through secondhand goods and drool over more Dutch treats.I saw a lot of orange clothing for sale in anticipation of the upcoming King’s Day this Friday. For the birthday of the king, the country throws a massive street party and everyone dresses in orange.Anyway, after about an hour on the buses I arrived at Keukenhof Gardens. <3These tulip gardens are the largest in the world, with tulips as far as the eye can see! 😲They plant more than 7 million bulbs on their almost 80 acres of land.Tulips actually came to the Netherlands during the 16th century from Turkey. Now they are the largest tulip producer, with almost 2,000 varieties, and they export about half their goods around the world.Each year, Keukenhof has a different theme, and this year’s theme was love and romance. ❤
Keukenhof doesn’t just have tulips either. They also have an English garden, Japanese garden, and a variety of inspiration gardens that change each year.They also host a variety of plant shows each year, including the largest display of lilies.Keukenhof Gardens was originally a garden full of herbs used for cooking, which is why it has the name “Keukenhof”, which means Kitchen in Dutch.These gardens are only open 8 weeks each year. After tulip season the bulbs are dug up and fed to livestock.I found the gardens to be breathtaking and incredibly well-manicured.</aIt was a total photo opp for everyone…
Personal highlights during my visit included the view from the giant windmill’s observational deck, and a rendezvous to the tulip fields nearby.Just breathtaking! 😍I also met up with a Dutch friend of mine that I met last year while traveling through Canada. She’s also a teacher with the travel bug, and we talked for hours about our future travel plans.On that same note, I wrapped up my time in Amsterdam in preparation for my next travel destination: India! Stay tuned for the itinerary! Until then! 🇮🇳
Cost: 29 Euro for a combination ticket, which included entry to the park and round-trip transportation