The Netherlands, situated between Belgium, Germany, and the North Sea, draws millions of tourists annually to traverse its scenic canals, marvel at its fascinating history, appreciate its priceless collections of artwork, and of course, make use of its liberal attitude to most everything.
Speaking Dutch, probably English as well, possibly French and/or German if not even more languages, the people of Holland (the colloquial name of the country as well as specific regions within the nation itself) are accustomed to having an exodus of foreign thrill seekers, art fanatics, and fried food connoisseurs in their space. They know Amsterdam; you (and I) certainly do not, yet at least!
Most arriving into Amsterdam will get into the actual city from the Amsterdam Centraal station, which is located in a densely populated northern section of the municipality close to the (in)famous red light district.
“Coffee shops,” deliciously unhealthy-looking flemish fry stands, Chinese massage parlours, and gay saunas/bars/sex shops are just a few blocks forward across the canals. Amsterdam can go from zero to twenty without much warning.
Learn to talk!
Though almost everyone here speaks English fluently, I would recommend having a few Dutch phrases in your pocket. It is always appreciated and respectful on your part:
Hallo (Hello) – Hello (pretty simple)
Goedemorgen (Hu-de-mor-hen) – Good morning
Goededag (Hu-de-dahg) – Good day
Bedankt (Be-dankt) – Thanks
Tots ziens (Tot zeens) – Goodbye
Uitgang (Out-haang) – Exit
Ingang (Een-haang) – Entrance
*Note that ‘g’ sounds like the letter ‘h’ in English
The Amsterdam culinary scene consists of a diverse variety of food cultures mostly South Asian, Japanese, and Middle Eastern along with the traditional Dutch. Fried food is the way to go here; this is a country that does not skimp on its french fries.
Dutch dishes most characteristically are savoury, creamy, and definitely filling with traditional influences from both Germanic and Scandinavian gastronomy.
Bitterballen (bitterbal in the singular) are fried gravy balls, which are one of the most heart stompingly good (as in literally maybe will stop it), bread-y little treats that I have eaten here so far. Another local delicacy is the pancake, which not surprisingly takes a more crêpe-y form that no one can really complain about.
Personally, I am yet to have Flemish fries or the herring that is sold in some carts on select street corners though, but I am determined.
Learn to walk!
Even on the sidewalks you have to be careful. Most lanes made of a reddish brick are bike lanes, which can sometimes come onto the risen walkways. They do not just stay in the streets. Bikers have right of way too, so they will be a little unpleased if ignorant tourists (like us this morning) get in their way.
Jaywalking is alive and well, but you need to know how to do it in relation to Dutch driving habits and attitude. Follow the locals when you are crossing the street or just wait for the light to change since it can sometimes be hard to gage if the drivers/bikers will let you pass or not. It is better to play it safe especially when you do not know the traffic rules or etiquette. For this reason, if you rent a bike (which is extremely easy/popular to do), be cautious and courteous to the locals who know what they are doing and follow their example and use of hand signals.
Learn to gawk!
The capital is full of uniquely Amsterdam-y attractions for its many visitors ranging from structured/indoor fun like the Van Gogh museum, Heineken Factory (I did not go on it today because one European beer tour is enough for me), a variety of boat tours, and the historic Anne Frank house to the numerous parks, “coffee shops” and coffee shops to relax in, the iamsterdam sign, and abundance of small boutiques ranging from independent Dutch fashion to sex toys. The tulip market or Bloemenmarkt located on Singel street is a perfect place for newcomers to the city to see some of Holland’s most iconic flora, especially in the summer after May when the tulips in the fields are gone.
Careful with your money though – pickpocket-wise and with spending too much. Small theft and expensive prices both exist in this city.
Avoid the queues by planning ahead and arriving early. Also, try some things out of the ordinary for Amsterdam visitors and leave it! Take the train to the beach or any of the other areas of North Holland. The Netherlands is a small country, and day trips are easy with trains continuously departing from the central station everyday.
Holland is lovely, and the ride here was easy. Thalys is a great organisation that offers a lot to its clients for a moderate rate. I also made a Dutch friend on the train!
I am with the crew now including sister duo, Tess and Grace, and my Chewonki mate and Croatian goddess, Nina! Tomorrow, we are headed to the Anne Frank house (hopefully we can get in) and maybe before, we are thinking about a picnic in the park with some local foods including cheeses, which Adèle and Jessica tell me are heavenly!
And, I really want to believe French people about cheeses. Nothing could be better expect it’s raining and may be drizzling and colder than expected for a portion of the trip. We shall see though; even European weathermen/women sometimes do not get it right.
More to come about Dutch food, culture, and backpacking! And then, German Pride! Stay tuned!