What I love about Amsterdam

Posted on June 11, 2010


The Architecture

When in Amsterdam, I didn’t really care about the seedy-looking, tourist-packed coffee shops, and to be honest, the sight of the prostitutes, some of whom looked disturbingly like my mother in shape and size, only kept me amused for a few minutes. But I couldn’t take my eyes, or my camera, off the architecture, the row after row of elegant, elongated, perfectly preserved buildings, each a different height and a slightly different shade out of a harmonious colour palate of warm, earthy pastels. Then there were of course, the large and beautifully proportioned windows, three on each level, which seemed faultlessly designed to flood the space beyond them with light, and the pleasure of walking aimlessly around, spotting buildings at different degrees of leaning, sometimes forwards, like a woman on far-too-high stilettos, sometimes to the side, like a drunkard taking a nap on the shoulder of his displeased bus seat neighbour. For a city whose main advertising power seems to lie with legalised drugs and half naked women behind windows, I never thought it would be so rewarding to simply nose around its streets.

The Canals

There is something very soothing about being constantly surrounded by water, and about the sunlight reflected by it during the day and the street lights by night, the latter smudged ever so lightly by the flow of water so as to make them look fairytale-like. Amsterdam’s canals are everywhere and the cool thing to do on a warm weekend is to get yourself onto the water, be it on a rented paddle boat for four, a small, gondola-like vessel, or on an expensive little yacht, flaunting a certain social status. The tourists may crowd the canals on what seem like hundreds of commercial canal cruises, but the water definitely still belongs to the Amsterdammers, a particular bunch of whom, during my stay there, opted to celebrate a wedding on a boat version of a white limousine.  

The Shops

I am a woman after all, so how can I not be chuffed to bits to discover that in Amsterdam, not only are the expensive pretentious international brands hardly anywhere to be seen, but ‘normal’ shops are plentiful, creative in their collections and terribly affordable, if not often, during sales, dirt cheap. Add to that the fact that every salesperson can speak fantastic English and you have just opened my door to shopper’s heaven.

The locals are stylish in simple ways and have no problems buying their clothes from stalls in markets like the Albert Cuyp. There are, thank god, hardly any snotty gals and boys strutting around in frankly overrated designer gear. Oh, the relief! because I swear I’m going to throw up if I see one more woman in Zurich holding another poo-coloured Louis Vuitton bag.

The Attitude

There is usually something very restrained, very reserved about Northern European people, their levels of warmth towards other human beings seemingly as large as the amount of sunlight they get per year. But in Amsterdam, this city which has unfortunately become the prime destination for stag parties and initiations into adulthood, the high levels of freedom gifted upon its citizens seems to work in a positive way, creating one of the most relaxed populations of the North. In the few days I stayed there, I came across numerous acts of civility and kindness, a feature I have long given up on experiencing in my adoptive city of Zurich;  my best friend’s landlord offered a trip to the coast and a dip in his Jacuzzi; a bus driver went out of his way to drop me and my partner right next to the train station, we being the only passengers on his last midnight trip; and another driver on a train replacement bus service to the airport, simply told us to hop on despite the fact that we hadn’t bought tickets from the station (we thought we could buy them from the bus) because he had to leave in a couple of minutes and we’d miss the bus if we went back to get them.

There were of course, also a few examples of encounters with Dutch of a far from pleasant nature, and mixes of something in between (nothing is purely black or white, after all), but that is the topic of another post…

Coming up: What I hate about Amsterdam

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.com

Posted in: Amsterdam