T R A V E L || Amsterdam, Netherlands
Seeing as I've deprived you guys of great chat for about two months now, thought I would treat you to my largest photo diary yet. A couple of weekends ago, I got the immense honour of celebrating with one of my closest gal pals before she got hitched to the man of her beardy dreams - by surprising her to a classy hen-weekend away in Amsterdam. The three bridesmaids who organised everything outdid themselves, finding us a great hen-bnb and organising a hoot of a weekend. I took a couple of extra days around the hen so I could explore the Dam a bit more given it was my first visit - and man did it not disappoint.
[read on for more chat and/or if you want to just browse a believe-it-or-not trimmed down photo diary.]
I can't really write about Amsterdam and not talk about the fact it's got a legalised [and regulated] red-light district and lots of cannabis coffee shops - it's one of the many things that draw millions of visitors to the city every year. Arriving on the first day, I headed straight into the centre of the red-light district to pick up the keys to our hen-home for the weekend. After locating our home-away-from-home in between a large Chinese restaurant and a shop called "pure lust", it was time to explore. At 9am, the whole area was pretty serene - clearly everyone was still getting their beauty sleep, with the exception of a couple of ladies-in-windows reading their phones, a few bakeries and small independent stores selling trendy sunglasses, art and fancy stationery [a strong mix].
For me, this area did have a slight edgy [as in seedy, not trendy] feel - like any other red-light district I'm sure. It's genuinely fascinating though, being able to openly see people [mainly tourists] merrily go into these places and smoking up in the streets. Being so open [i.e. legalised] has ironically made it all easier to manage and digest. Having spoken to my Dutch friend about my first impressions, she happily told me that it's usually the tourists that get the most thrill out of it because they're only popping over for a limited amount of time - for the locals, because it's always there it's just like any other local service that is probably used at a more moderate rate or not at all. She also shared an interesting fact about how it's one of the more relatively safe red-light districts in the world - for example, every window has an alarm button which if activated ensures that the police are onsite within a typical response time of 15-20 seconds [apparently there are more police stations in this area alone than the rest of Amsterdam combined].
henning with class.
After my little tour of the red-light district, the bride-to-be and fellow hens arrived and our main purpose for visiting the Dam promptly kicked-off. I was armed with prosecco, penis-straw and a hen-survival-kit filled with some classy goods and a very classy itinerary for the weekend. The bridesmaids had laid on an absolutely classy affair which included a fun outing to Festival of the Brave [where you get hugs at the bar, great chat at the porter-loos & delicious wood-fire pizzas], a yummy private dinner, drinks and games at the gorgeous Lotti's Diner [part of The Hoxton Amsterdam], all night long dancing and hen-antics at Café de Paris, a delicious brunch-on-a-boat tour of the Dam with G's brunch boat [all to the soundtrack of RiRi & Drake], and a classic impromptu trip to the Sexmuseum [a real bargain at €4]. It was a really fun and memorable weekend which I think the bride-to-be loved. :-)
Around the hen-ing, I got to browse the local streets of Amsterdam which were so leafy and cute. Every building had its own character, spotted some absolute door-winners and saw front-garden pot plants for days. The vibe everywhere I went was really chilled - from residential streets to roads lined with art galleries and shopping/eating areas. Walked past some absolutely immense shops selling everything-I-don't-need-but-really-want and loads of places I wanted to eat in. Also, bicycles everywhere [last year, I naively named Copenhagen cycle city - Amsterdam is on another level], even where there are signs saying "No Bicycles", there were bicycles. Bicycles definitely ruled the roads, so did trams, and a few cars - probably one of the only two things that completely confused me: not knowing where I could walk. There were so many moments where I was between tram/bicycle/car/person, the only time I wasn't chilled and probably gave myself away as a non-local [all locals just strutted around with confidence not giving a f.]. The only other thing that confused me was navigating the canals, I was pretty sure I knew "our canal" [i.e. where our hen-home was] but I confess, I couldn't tell at all, unless I was on Google Maps, then I could tell.
I can't go anywhere and not tell you guys about the food. For once, I've actually gone and shortlisted my top 3 meals in the Dam - shouts go out to: an incredible brunch by Bakers and Roasters [a New Zealand style café with a heavy dose of Brazil], that highly-hyped on Instagram dutch apple pie and cream by Winkel 43 [lived up to the hype and more], and finally that grilled fish on sweet potato [and the rest of that delicious meal] by Lotti's Diner. All, highly recommended Amsterdam Eats.
In terms of getting cultured, the classics are hard to miss: the tulips, the clogs, the old dutch cheese, the windmill and Miffy [who was everywhere]! In the short time, I managed to visit the Tulip Museum where I re-fell in love with Miffy, the Bloemenmarkt [the world's only floating flower market] where I initially thought they were selling onions but it was actually tulip bulbs for planting, the famous IAMSTERDAM sign in the museum quarter, the Rijksmuseum [which I need to re-visit], and the Kattenkabinet where I nearly bought a cat snoozing in amongst the postcard rails.
And finally, for the elephant in the imaginary-blog-room: what about those canals. There's no escaping the fact that I'm not surprised why Amsterdam is nicknamed the "Venice of the North" and why its famous canals are now on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2010. These waterways genuinely breathe life and serenity into what could feel like a relatively packed city - and completely drives a relaxed way-of-life vibe. I don't know whether it feels the same in winter, but in summer everyone is out enjoying the canals - perching on the edges having a chat, picnicking, drinking, socialising with friends on small boats, and for those lucky enough to live on a boathouse just sunning themselves on their little boat-patios. It is genuinely glorious - and gorgeous both in the day time and at night. I couldn't get enough of it and is one of the main reasons I was gutted to leave.
Until we meet again Amsterdam, dank je wel!