Amsterdam July 2012

Pre-holiday thoughts:

Sitting on the plane on the way to Amsterdam, I’m not really sure what to expect from this infamous city.  It’s a place most of my friends visited as teenagers, escaping from their parents for a weekend of getting high and drunk, so all the tales I’ve heard revolve around coffee shops and sex trade.  But the guide books tell me a different story.  They depict Amsterdam as a vibrant city full of art galleries, beautiful architecture and museums; a place of tolerence where literally anything goes.

I’ve chosen a quirky looking hostel close to the red light district and centre of town so we don’t have to be worried about getting back after a late night out.  We are staying in a twenty bed dorm (!) which I’m a little concerned about but at least we won’t be able to complain about being away from all the action!

It’s only a forty-five minute flight and with all the rain in London hardly ever letting up, Amsterdam doesnt have much to compete with, whatever it turns out like!

Day One – hitting rock bottom:

It’s the end of our first full day here and it’s been an interesting as well as emotional time!  We arrived at our hostel at around 11pm last night to find the beds we had been assigned were already taken.  Going back to the reception to complain we were told it would be all sorted out after midnight when another member of staff would arrive.  Luckily we were keen to go and get a few beers anyway, but if we had been tired and ready for bed, this would have been a major problem.  After a relaxing few drinks in a nearby bar we arrived back at the hostel a couple of hours later and the beds still hadn’t been sorted.  In the end I had to pretty much sort the issue out myself, which, for the amount of money I’d paid for the beds, was completely out of order.  By this point it was nearly 2am and the dorm room was full of noisy teenagers (I’m pretty sure we were the oldest people in the entire hostel).  There was no way we were getting any sleep so we went down to the bar for another couple of drinks to kill time.  Finally, at nearly 3am, we found the dorm room was quiet and climbed, thankfully, in to bed.  However, it wasn’t long before people started arriving back after nights out, stumbling around and talking loudly.  I think in the end I managed to get a total of maybe one hour sleep that first night.

Consequently, the following day we spent grouchy, tired and emotional.  I felt really cheated out of a day of my holiday by those idiots keeping us awake all night.  We were too tired to really do anything and spent much of the day half asleep in cafes and pubs, dreading going back to the hostel.  To add insult to injury it was raining.  Despite the gloomy weather and our fatigue, we did manage to see a little of the city, strolling along side the canals and through the red light district.  However, my experience at the hostel had left me feeling too depressed to really enjoy myself – I just couldn’t see anything good about Amsterdam.  I was  exhausted and emotional and to make matters worse felt like I’d totally wasted my money and ruined Nick’s birthday present by deciding to take him here.  I’d hit rock bottom.

part of the labyrinth of canals running through the city

As usual, after hitting rock bottom I was able to begin to pull myself back up and enjoy myself a little.  We took a trip to the Erotica Museum which showcases sex-based art and photography  from various points in history.  It was quite entertaining but being in Amsterdam I was expecting something a little more shocking or titillating.  Perhaps my generation has just been desensitized to sex and all things taboo!  That evening we spent following the crowds around the red light district, catching a glimpse into the world of sex tourism…

The Red Light District:

At first it was quite amusing seeing scantily clad women wiggling in the windows, winking at all the men while they tripped over their tongues trying to get a better look.  It was surreal: I wasn’t really sure how I felt walking past rows of windows with identical looking women flaunting themselves while curious tourists giggled and randy men gaped at them.  And whilst the tourists were having a great time peering though those windows, a lot of the girls on the other side of them simply looked bored.  strangely, seeing half-naked women selling themselves in the windows didn’t seem to shock me.  What did shock me however was seeing how many men were there to use them, or at least there to get a good eyeful.  If I found out that a man I knew had used a prostitute in London I’d be pretty disgusted with him, but over here it looks as though the whole world and his wife are hiring prostitutes and no one even batts and eyelid.  It’s something I just can’t get my head around but maybe that’s simply because I’m a woman!

just a glimpse of Amsterdam’s sprawling red light district

sordid back alleys of the city

Day Two:

The next day I woke up in a much better mood.  The hostel dorm had been one hundred per cent better than the night before and I’d managed to actually get some sleep!  Even though it was much quieter however, it’s still pretty difficult to get much sleep in a dorm room that big so although I did get some sleep it wasn’t nearly as much as I needed.  We didn’t really do much at all today but because we were better rested and in higher spirits we had a pretty good time.  Most of the day was spent drinking and chatting by the canals in a bar called Susie’s Saloon.   Normally I would steer clear of tourist bars and try to stick to the local places, but in Amsterdam that just simply isn’t possible.  All the bars seem pretty identical so there’s not much I can say about Susie’s Saloon other than it is as good a bar as any in Amsterdam.  We soon got chatting to a group of guys on a stag do, who despite being a bunch of fifty-something year old drunk english blokes, were a pretty good laugh – much more fun to talk to than all the zombie-like stoners anyway!

enjoying a pint by the canal

Final Day:

Today is our final day here – we fly home tonight – and like most of our time in Amsterdam we’ve spent the day pretty much killing time.  We both slept really badly again last night and are now completely exhausted.  If there is one thing I’ve learnt from this holiday it’s to beware of booking dorm rooms in the future!  If we’d been able to get a proper nights sleep at least once we would have had a much better experience in Amsterdam on the whole.  As it is, today we’ve been tired and down again.  We started off on the way to the Van Gogh museum but abandoned our plans half way there due to fatigue and rain.  We took cover outside a bar for hour or so until the down pour subsided and then head off in search of lunch.  We decided to eat at a little Malaysian restaurant Nick spotted called Nyonya (Kloveniersburgwal 38, Amsterdam), which turned out to be possibly the highlight of Amsterdam!  This tiny restaurant, which you could easily walk past without noticing unless you were looking out for it, serves delicious, authentic Malaysian cuisine at reasonable prices.  We ordered some roti chennai to start and with the first taste we were both instantly transported back to a little Malaysian cafe in the Cameron Highlands we’d been in five years previously.  I spent the whole time we were in that restaurant smiling and reminiscing and by the time we left we left we were both vowing to go back to Asia next year.  Since lunch we’ve been sitting back in Susie’s Saloon literally wishing time away waiting to get the plane home.  We’ll probably end up heading off to the airport early just for something to do!

Bob’s Youth Hostel:

I’ve already complained about the people staying in our dorm but I wouldn’t recommend the hostel itself either.  One of the things that had drawn me to Bob’s Youth Hostel when choosing a place to stay was the photos that showed clean, open dorms sporting interested murals and artwork.  I was surprised to find the hostel looked very little like any of the photos.  The dorm was crammed to the brim with beds, there was only one small toilet for twenty people to share, (with a door that squeaked loudly and woke everyone up any time anyone needed the toilet in the night), and the whole place lacked any character at all, let alone murals and art.  Breakfast was included in the price but that involved two slices of bread, one cold hard-boiled egg and a cup of cold tea.  And what did I pay for three nights of enjoying these features? £84 each!  And Bob’s Youth Hostel is known for being on of the best value for money places to stay in Amsterdam!


So I’m back on the plane going back home.  As I predicted we did head to the airport early just for a change of scene.  Also I think we were both fed up and ready to be back home by that point.  In fact, this is the first holiday I’ve been on that I’ve actually been happy to get back home from.  I’m trying to think of how to sum up Amsterdam but, to be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about it.  It was certainly an emotionally draining holiday but whether that is solely down to the lack of sleep at the hostel I can’t say.  I did feel that we ran out of things to do very quickly, but I also think that if we’d had more energy we would have made more of an effort to venture out around town and visit museums.  There were certainly a lot of families and elderly tourists so there clearly must be more that only coffee shops and sex shows to keep visitors entertained.  One of the main downsides of Amsterdam that did put me off is the price of everything.  Food and drink don’t come cheap, even in the less touristy bits of town, so consequently we found ourselves only eating about one decent sized meal a day (which surely contributed to our fatigue).

The bits of Amsterdam I did enjoy all involved spending quality time hanging out with Nick and I can’t helping thinking that if I’d taken him to Swansea for the weekend we would have had the same amount of fun on a fraction  of the price!  Saying all this I am actually glad that I came to Amsterdam.  At only forty-five minutes flight away it is quicker to get to than Swansea and so it makes a great weekend break in that respect.  It’s also an extremely pretty city with interesting architecture, labyrinthine canals and colourful flower markets, there’s plenty to look at if you’ve got the energy!  Because Amsterdam is such a historical city, full of ancient buildings built on such unstable land, you can almost see the buildings subsiding into the ground.

Amsterdam is a place that a lot of people seem to go on about and so I was curious to see what all the fuss is about.  I can totally understand why people do talk about Amsterdam so much.  It’s a completely insane city.  Where else can you walk down one street and see people queueing up for sex shows, people smoking marijuana openly, prostitutes selling themselves in shop windows and throngs of people from all over the world crowding in to get their piece of the Amsterdam?  And all this isn’t limited to just one street in the city!  Amsterdam, for me, is a mad city that has to be seen to be believed – I think it was worth going just to experience what it’s all about but there’s simply not enough to keep me entertained for me to bother with a return trip.

Buildings subsiding into the ground

main square in the city centre

had to take the photo in b&w to hide the dark eyes and drained skin of our exhaustion!