Bikes! Bikes everywhere!
Ah, Amsterdam! The city known for its complex canal routes, artistic heritage, and narrow houses! I recently had the opportunity to return to Netherlands as an ‘adult’, and while I never had much of an opinion of the city from my previous couple of trips as a child, I’d be lying if I said that my return to the ‘Dam was nothing special.
Having assumed that I’d already had background knowledge of Amsterdam, I was wholly unprepared for my trip. Don’t be a fool and do your research before travelling!
Without further ado, here are 5 helpful tips to know about Amsterdam – from the perspective of a returning adult:
1. Cyclists rule the public space
Ah, hitting it out with a bang! The bikes! Amsterdam is known for its eco-friendly cycle transport system. Therefore, when you land in the city of the ‘Dam, you better not expect anything less than a few hundred bikes everywhere you look. Everywhere!
Note: For those who think I’m emphasising the abundance of bikes in this river-city, during my trip, a friend had entertained me with this question:
“Do you think there are more bikes than people here?”
Does that paint a picture for you now?!
With the amount of bicycles throughout Amsterdam, there’s no doubt that there would be designated lanes for cyclists! Now when I say designated, I mean designated. Not the pathetic strip you call a cycle lane in the UK, but a thick path for 2-3 cyclists to travel together in a row!
As a sub-par driver in London, my experience with cyclists has formed negative opinion on them. This is heavily based on the fact that majority of the cyclists that I have come into contact with are jerks! You have a cycle lane! Use it! There have been plenty of instances where an unnecessary flow of traffic has been caused by a cyclist driving in the centre of the road despite having an empty cycle lane to the left of its path. Therefore, when I was greeted with lane-abiding cyclists in Amsterdam, it was no doubt that the riders left a positive impression! In saying that, the pedestrian crossings provided are almost pointless from the plethora of cycle lanes across the city.
So here is my advice, be safe when crossing and remember to look both ways! I had the tendency to look at the wrong side of the road due to my British road knowledge. Believe me, looking the wrong way before crossing is the last thing you need!
Note: Motorcyclists are also apparently allowed to use the cycle lane. Be careful, because they are intimidating!
2. Good customer service is non-existent
(Don’t expect a smile to come with your pancakes)
I know, I know, this is a generalisation. However, almost every store and restaurant I had been in had moderate-to-poor customer service. Most notably, I’d ventured into a vegan cafe where the employee had judged me for asking for a glass of tap water on the side of my large order. She had proceeded to charge me for the tap water (but why?! Water is free!)
In another restaurant, the employees gave the impression that they were pressed for time by pressuring my friend and I to order within moments of sitting down. Following this, the food was rushed out, and within moments of placing my chopsticks on the table, the same waitress had asked if I had finished with the meal. What’s the rush?! The restaurant had another hour before it was closing, and there were plenty of empty tablets available!
There has been plenty of other cases where the customer services had been poor. However, I would like to state that it wasn’t all too bad. Upon travelling from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to the hotel based near Wibautstraat metro station, I had played the ‘dumb traveller’ role by paying only for the train ticket. Upon attempting to exit the barriers at Wibaustraat, I had faced the striking red ‘declined’ sign. The ticket attendant had kindly helped me in understanding the differences between using a train ticket, and having to buy a GVB ticket that can be used on the metro/tram/bus. While she had cautioned me on this mistake, she didn’t force me to pay for my journey from the airport to the metro station. In other words, a free ride!
Maybe it’s a culture difference, but my expectations of good customer service had went out the window during my trip to Amsterdam.
3. You will feel small in this ‘big’ city
(Focus on the slanting buildings)
I’m 165cm, and I take pride in being above average for a female in the UK and in SE Asia. Now, it’s no surprise that Dutch people are tall with an average of 170cm for a female. However, my judgement isn’t based solely around the height profile of the Dutch… it’s the buildings! The houses tower over you as you walk along the canal streets. Although this may all seem figurative to you, once you place slightly more attention towards the houses from a distance, you can notice a general slant towards the roads.
At first, I was a firm believer that the leaning houses were the product of failed architecture. As my interior architecture knowledge had come into play, I was certain that the foundation of the canal houses weren’t built to be sturdy enough to sustain adverse weather and water conditions. However, upon further research and genuine curiosity, the leaning houses had more to offer than meets the eye.
Amsterdam was developed around a dam in the Amstel river, and it is recognised as the greatest planned city of Northern Europe. For that reason, the old centre is formed in the shape of a ring for the canals. The canal ring houses are typically very tall and very narrow, with large windows and decorative gable roofs. There’s a running theme with the flamboyant roofs, and it’s the hooks.
So how do the hooks fall into place with the leaning houses? As explained, the houses are extremely narrow, and so transportation of large goods (say for instance furniture) would have been near impossible to achieve from conventional lift and carry routes up the narrow staircases.
A pulley system was cleverly introduced as a means of delivering large objects from the outside into the upper floors. The leaning houses meant the facade would remain intact when the goods were hoisted upwards. Broken windows? Scratched goods? Not for them!
4. Get ready to be exploded with a diverse culture
(Be open to different European cultures)
Being born and raised in South East London with a Chinese heritage, I have always been open to different cultures, characters, personal identities and much more. Having said that, some people in Amsterdam are just… out of this world! They are peculiar and bizarre in an interesting manner.
Here’s an example, I was sitting on the tram packed with with tourists and locals, and I was fortunate enough to be presented with a seat next to a scruffy-faced local in his 40s. Despite his appearance, he was a gentleman! Peter had welcomed me to the seat and introduced himself. The conversation revolved around his travels in UK during his mid 20s, and his adventures with growing the sweet herbs in his friend’s house (because why not, right?!) It had taken a 360 degree turnaround once he’d approached his current job title. In a roundabout way, he gracefully defined his title to be an exotic masseur whom ‘can make 60 year old women feel as if they’re 18!’.
Peter had proceeded to write his business card on his notepad linking his profile to the xHamster website.
Note: for those who are unaware of xHamster, it’s a widely known pornographic site. I think it to be unwise to link the website, so search with caution!
I know, Amsterdam are known for their red light district… but c’mon! It was an interesting conversation to say the least. Like I said, Amsterdam has an abundance of culture! It’s fun and it’s exciting, so get ready to be exploded with people like Peter!
5. Diverse culture? What about diverse weather!?
(Bring a raincoat!)
Following on from point 3, the geography of Amsterdam is an important factor to consider. Amsterdam is 14 miles from the North Sea shore. The climate is mild, but let me tell you this – there is no dry season.
The day after I’d landed in Amsterdam, it was a sunny breeze – in other words, it was a perfect day to cycle. Unfortunately for me, I was too
hungover tired to make the most of the day, and the rest of the week was met with a disastrous gush of wind slapping my face to and fro, and unpredictable rain ranging from a drizzle to a waterfall!
There is no guarantee of good weather at any time of the year! The weather can change drastically, and you’d be a fool to trust the sun in the morning. I was fortunate enough to have brought my rain coat and it had become a staple in my wardrobe from my day trips exploring the city centre through to my nights out!
My advice is that you bring a raincoat. It will save you the trouble of flipping your umbrella the right way round when the wind changes its course and drags you and your umbrella the other way! It’s lightweight and dries quickly, so you can stuff it into your bag once the sun shines again – trust me!
In hindsight, I should have really researched Amsterdam prior to departing as I’d caught the flu straight after returning to London! I hope this was an interesting and insightful post dedicated to Amsterdam.
For those of you who have an upcoming trip to Amsterdam, let me know how it goes!
Don’t forget to bring your raincoat!