First Impressions are Not Everything in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, tends to win over a lot of people, of whom I am not among. Because it is an utter and complete shame to be living in a country for several months and still not have visited its capital, and because we had those wonderful day passes, we stopped in Amsterdam for a few hours before returning home to Maastricht.

In retrospect though, it wouldn’t have killed us to have gone there a bit earlier and with much more planning done, including maybe  map on our hands.

James’ expression speaks for the both of us- and we have barely just left the station

The initial impression you get once you get to Amsterdam Centraal is how busy the city is- and that’s only the historic inner center which everyone tends to visit that we’re talking about. Just to get off the train and into the main station hall, we were pushing and shoving all sorts of people, but mostly tourists with their gigantic suitcases.

We knew we wanted to get to the Dam Square to see the Royal Palace and the National Monument. How to get there was a source of confusion, though Wikitravel did say that there was about a ten minute walk. Still, we decided to take the tram, especially that the OV chipcards that we used in Maastricht to take the buses work all across the Netherlands on all forms of public transport.

Minutes later, we were at the square, which very much like the train station, was crowded. I think it was all not helped by the fact that some major construction project is taking place, confusing people and blocking the view of the city’s famous houses.

The Royal Palace: I strictly would like to maintain that I was not impressed

And all those pigeons! And what about Batman standing right in front of the Royal Palace, which was very underwhelming. A month later I would come to completely understand why the Queen lives in Den Haag and not Amsterdam.

After crossing the street to take pictures of the National Monument, which was still decked out with wreathes from Liberation Day earlier in the week. To me, it was more impressive from the square right  across from it.

Much more impressed now

The hunt for somewhere to eat came next, and we ended up settling for the first restaurant we saw, after turning the corner from the palace. After we finished, I decided to go on hunting for a magnet for my ever-growing fridge collection and we ended up taking a side-street that we later found out wasn’t the best place to go to if you’re not looking for coffeeshops and less than decent souvenir shops.

So we did what any reasonable person would do: trying to get back to the main road- which led us to where the tram passed. At that point, I was growing frustrated. There’s something about the stench of weed lingering around and not having a map that really dampens a person’s day trip. Just as we were preparing to head back, we magically found that much needed piece of paper and suddenly everything became clearer and we gave Amsterdam a second chance.

Me getting lost- and for once, not happy about it!

That’s when we found the canals and old houses that everyone  says you have to see when you’re in Amsterdam. And while the first three or four canals are gorgeous, when you’re lost and trying to navigate, it isn’t very helpful.

James and the canals make for a pretty sight?

With no setforth plan, except probably avoiding the Red Light District that everyone else seems to want to see, we walked until we got to the Spui, where I felt completely comfortable for the first time since arriving in the city.

The Spui is a square that has plenty of cafes, some University of Amsterdam offices, and two American bookstores. James and I are both avid readers, and as gorgeous as Selexyz in Maastricht is, it doesn’t offer the wide selection of English books to suit our interests. This is why when we saw The American Book Center, our eyes widened and we probably spent the majority of our trip there until we got our much needed fix.

The Spui is also where we found, strangely enough, an inscription in both Arabic and Dutch reading “translation from language to another.” Though I looked that up later, I still don’t understand why it was there. Probably something to do with multiculturalism?

Still quite odd!

Much much later, when we resumed our walk, we passed by some graffiti that was well worth taking pictures of, as well as many prominent squares and locations, such as the Rijksmuseum and the Leidseplein. Compared to the initial shock that was our introduction to the city, this served as a great way to get to know the surroundings, although it was much too late to actually see any museums- stupid Dutchies and their unwavering rule of closing at 6 PM.

Some graffiti from Amsterdam

From then on, we were on a hunt to find the I amsterdam sign that everyone seems to love taking a picture in front of and a Starbucks- mainly to get Mr Marks and Spencers to understand why I like it so much. While we succeeded in finding the latter,  we should have walked a bit further to the Museumplein apparently.

The Rijksmuseum, and behind that, the Museumplein

Nevertheless, we took our drinks down to the Vondelpark, where we sat for a while, taking in the nature and semi-decent weather, before the lovely smell of weed interrupted everything.

Entrance to the park

So we decided that we had our fair share of getting lost, confused, and amazed for one day and head back to the station to head back to Maastricht, but not before James went tulip shopping.

Secretly snapped this while James was shopping

I also made him walk some more to where I thought I had seen the sign when we were coming into the city. It resulted in me taking the following photo.

At least the extreme zoom option on my camera works!

My final verdict on Amsterdam is that we should’ve probably done some more research, arrived earlier, and without some preconceived notions and some first impressions. While the city is ultimately known for things that are not within my scene, it is still well worth visiting, especially if you have the right company with you.

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