It’s never easy to describe a city in one word alone. Amsterdam, however, is not one of those cities. And the word I choose to describe it is ‘fashionable’. Yes, fashionable. Of course, it has a lot to offer — from the Van Gogh Museum to the world’s most popular red light district. But those aren’t the first things you’ll notice about the place.
Amsterdam is fashionable to the point that even the most reluctant shoppers feel compelled to shell out a few hundred Euros for a wardrobe makeover, after seeing how regular people on the streets are adequately dressed to walk the ramp. It’s only after you’ve upped your fashion quotient that you’ll start noticing the sights Amsterdam has to offer, and there are quite a few.
Dam square is the place to start from. The easiest way to get there is via a tram (they might as well have named the city Tramsterdam, considering their well-networked tram system), which drops you approximately a hundred yards away from there. It is when you walk up to the Dam and see the National Monument (a white stone pillar) to your left, the Royal Palace to your right and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in front, that you feel you’ve truly arrived in Amsterdam. Walk into the museum to meet wax replicas of your favourite celebs or into the street to its right if you’re looking to do some shopping. It’s after you’ve done some walking that you’ll begin to feel how almost everybody in Amsterdam seems fit, as if in possession of an antidote to obesity.The magic potion, it turns out, is cycling, a major part of Amsterdam’s culture. Almost everyone there seems to have traded their car for a bike and that’s exactly what’s paying dividends. You shouldn’t miss the cycling tour of the city.
Our hosts from Eurail and the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions were insistent that we take the canal tour, which one can hop on to from near the Central Station. It offers a unique view of Amsterdam, with its aesthetic boathouses and buildings that stand as if taking pride in looking like each other. But after half-an-hour on the boat, one wishes the tour was a bit shorter, and that the boatman didn’t keep bumping the vehicle into the canal walls ever so often.
Of course, one cannot ignore the one thing Amsterdam is most popular for — the red light district. Far from being something the authorities try to distance themselves from, it is an intrinsic part of Amsterdam’s tourism industry, and you’ll find curios in shops alluding to the same.
Once there, the first thing that strikes you is how picturesque the place is —with a stream running between opposite rows of buildings, connected by small bridges. The buildings have transparent doors, on the other side of which are women in bikinis posing suggestively. If one chooses to go in, all they have to do is knock on the door and they’ll be welcomed in. Immediately, a curtain falls.
Equally intriguing is Amsterdam’s sex museum, which is a hit with young couples.
BEST WAY TO REACH: Fly Swiss Airlines to Zurich. From there, take a flight to Amsterdam.
MOVING AROUND LOCALLY: Buy an I Amsterdam card (available in various roadside shops), which enables you to commute via different modes of transportation without paying every time.
VISA AND CURRENCY: Indians require a Schengen Visa to visit Amsterdam. The currency used is the Euro. 1 Euro is equal to Rs 70 (approximately).