I went to Amsterdam for a day trip while my stay in Brussels. The great thing about living on the Europe continent is that cities are very well connected . You can go to a neighboor country early in the morning and come back late in the evening with no hassle! I am missing that freedom. Living on an island forces you to travel by plane most of the time unless you are patient enough to travel by boat, but that requires more time. So, if like me you wish to go to Amsterdam for a day, do not hesitate, this city is full of surprises.
We arrived with my friend early in the morning at Amsterdam Centraal Train station, located in the heart of the city. We did not worry much about transportation as we just wanted to visit the city centre and walking was the best way to wander around despite the weather that was rainy and cold.
Bikes, bikes, bikes
The first thing that stroke me and I bet that I am not the only one, are the bikes. You cannot miss them, especially when you are exiting the Centraal station as there is the biggest bicycle parking lot I have ever seen. I have heard about it, but never expected to see so many bikes. Everybody has one, and the funniest thing is that I believe I have not seen two bikes that were the same. Every single one of them is customised. I guess it is easier to recognize it if you park it among thousand of them!
Did you know? 25,000 bicycles end up in the Amsterdam's canals each year
Walking along the canal rings allows you to discover the architecture of the city. Built in the 17th century, these canals link one island to another. There are more than 100 kilometers of canals, 90 islands and 1,500 bridges that explains the nickname given to that city: "The Venice of the North".
Also, another thing that surprised me were the houses. Firstly by their width, they are all so narrow standing right next to each other. The narrowest front house in the world is even located in Amsterdam. The latter is only 1 meter wide at the front door, but expand as a normal house size at the rear section!
Did you know? in the 17th century, local tax laws were applied depending on the width of the canalfront of the house. The wider it was, the higher the tax to be paid.
Secondly, you will notice that most of the houses are leaning forward! Don't worry, nothing is wrong with you, it is not either the result of weed vapour you can smell in the streets of Amsterdam coming out from the famous coffee shops.
Quite strange and not reassuring at first sight, but it is later that I found out it was done on purpose. In fact, you will notice a hook on the roof of each house. It was meant to hang a wheel and use it with a rope to load furnitures up through the windows as the stairways were impossible to use due to the houses being too narrow. Leaning the houses forward would then help avoiding the furnitures to hit the building while being pulled up.
If you keep walking south you will arrive at the Rijksmuseum. Home of impressive masterpiece collection of art by Rembrandt, Van Gogh or even Vermeer to cite a few. Also the now famous Iamsterdam slogan sign is located at the back of the museum and has become a tourist attraction.
After walking the whole morning, we decided to grab a bite and stopped by Pancakes! Amsterdam. I have read great reviews about it and wanted to give it a try. I was not disappointed. I had a "pancakes breakfast" that included a blini with smoked salmon and creme fraiche with a fresh organic orange juice and a cup of coffee/tea. I am usually not a fan of salted pancakes, but this one was delicious and filled me up which surprised me! The only hic-cup is that it is on the first come first served basis, and the restaurant is a bit small. So you might wait for a table to be free for a moment. We waited for 20 minutes but it was definitely worth it.
Did you know? If you go to the bathroom, you will see a map of the world where you can pin your country of origin. You might see two pins in Ivory Coast now! ;-)
Anne frank huis
Difficult to pass by Amsterdam without recalling the story of Anne Frank, famous for her diary that she wrote documenting her experiences hiding from the Nazis during the World War II. Her house where she hid after leaving Germany was in Amsterdam and today is converted in a museum that you can visit. However, expect a long queue and it is recommended to book tickets online weeks in advance before your visit. I already knew the story and visited the museum when I went to Berlin. It was just a way to add a piece to the puzzle to see the house for real.
If you want to enjoy a panoramic view of the city for free. I advise you to go to the Bibliotheek Amsterdam located 10 minutes walk away from the train station. Not only this library is very well designed and organised (I would live there, I would spend days in this library) but it also offers a panoramic view of the city on the last floor. There is a restaurant as well if you wish to grab a bite.
Amsterdam Stock exchange
It is the former name for the stock exchange in Amsterdam. It is now known as Euronext Amsterdam since the merger with the Brussels stock exchange and the Paris Stock exchange since 2000. It also has the famous bull in front of the building but not as big at the one in New York.
Did you know? Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the world's oldest stock exchange. It was established in 1602.
Red light district
I passed by the Red light district before heading back to the Centraal station to catch my train. I have heard a lot about it, regarding the "adult entertainment" you can find in this area. But honestly I did not catch all the fuss about it. Maybe because it was in the evening and most of the windows were closed... On the other end, I enjoyed the narrow pedestrian streets and the nightlife that started buzzing with bars and restaurants that were filling up at the sunset. I would have loved experiencing the night life but I had to go back to Brussels.
Once at the station, I had the pleasure to listen to a stranger playing a classic piece of music at the piano. Hats down to the player! He caught the attention of the people in the station for a 4 minutes concert.
Overrall, a great feeling about Amsterdam. A very beautiful city, especially when it is sunny. I like the fact that everybody rides a bike. Many main cities try to implement this lately which I believe is a great thing as it reduces the car traffic, hence pollution and it is also a good way to exercise. Things we tend not to do with our 9 to 6 jobs. It was a great day trip and will definitely go back to discover that city and lifestyle more in depth.