Remember when I said it was hard to keep everything charged over here? Well, that and trying to remain connected to WIFI long enough to get anything substantial done is just out of the question. As I said before, though, I’ve been writing everything down! So if it’s alright with you guys, I’d like to recap my first week in Amsterdam, because what an incredible week of learning and beauty it was.
I learned so much in my first week, and learned a whole lot more in my month among those picturesque canals and windmills, but I will get to that a bit later on! As I have said, I have been keeping a journal diligently, and right now I would like to recap my thoughts from my first week in the wonderful city of Amsterdam. Here are a few of the key points I learned during those beginning seven days.
Forget your Uber or Lift apps, and don’t bother hailing a taxi cab. In a city as convenient as Amsterdam with public transportation, these are an incredible waste of your money. An hour metro card is just 2,70 euro, and that is more than enough time to get you anywhere you would need to go within the city and the surrounding metro area. That’s also significantly cheaper than any private hire or taxi service.
Walking is the best way to travel a new city anyway! Or, if you are feeling extra adventurous, do as the Dutch do and bike!
Guided tours are offered everywhere in Amsterdam if you aren’t so confident in your ability to figure out the rules of the road on your own. Bike rental is super simple and easily accessible—there are many different bike rental shops around the city that offer rentals anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
The best advice I can give is—unless you have luggage to haul with you, or you’re injured or in a terrible rush—to just not bother with the metro card at all. The wonderful thing about Amsterdam is that any restaurant, museum, garden, etc., near, or around, the city’s center is completely feasible to get to on foot. From the entrance of Vondelpark to Amsterdam Centraal, depending on your walking speed and distractibility, the time it takes to walk could be anywhere between 25 and 35 minutes.
If you have a budget with no limits, then sure, by all means purchase a pass with a few days on it. If you have student loans looming over your head, among other financial constraints, skip the metro and walk, or make a worthy investment in expanding your cultural horizons, and rent a bike.
I strongly encourage venturing outside the central parts of Amsterdam, though, but even the surrounding neighborhoods are easily reachable with a pair of feet—no metro needed. There isn’t much in the surrounding area of Amsterdam outside of a comfortable walking distance. The only attraction that comes to mind is for the Ajax fans out there, and that’s a visit to the Amsterdam ArenA. Other than that, though, the rest of the metro area is mostly apartment complexes, which isn’t anything to write home about.
If you’ve found yourself burnt out on museums (the Rijksmuseum alone can do it!), and you’ve taken all the pictures you can of the canal rings, you’ve walked among the Red Light District, and you’ve tried all the delicious Dutch beers and food you can think of, then take a day trip to one of the nearby cities or towns! What’s great about Holland being so small is that any part of the country can easily become a day trip!
My first day trip was to the beautiful windmill village, Zaanse Schans. It’s a total tourist hotspot, but for good reason. The picture above is just one of the many photos I captured during my half-day in the reconstructed village.
Only a bus (or, of course, a car) can get you to Zaanse Schans, and a round trip only put me back 10 euro. Admittance into the area is free, but it will cost a few euros to go inside one of the windmills, and it is 100% worth it to be able to climb to the top. After one windmill, though, there is no reason to do it at each one along the path through the village—the view is the same.
The bus platform to get to Zaanse Schans from Centraal was all the way at the back of the station, and after asking three different employees, I found it.
Coming from suburban, USA, my level of understanding of public transport is severely lacking. I can’t recall a single bus line, much less how the light rail works, in Minneapolis. So, it took me a few trips, a handful of locals, and about a dozen different employees before Centraal became clear enough for me to navigate myself around the different stations and platforms around Holland.
Like anything, though, once it becomes familiar, it’s smooth sailing from there on.
Coffee Shop vs. Cafe
Depending on what you’re after, distinguishing the two of these is necessary. More often than not, just the smell and the smokey haze wafting out the door will tip you off as to which kind of establishment it is, but just so it’s in clear English: if you’re looking for some relief from your jet lag, head to a cafe. Not a coffee shop.
If you do want a joint with your joe, there are shops on every corner that can give you just that. Have a go at the 420 Cafe, or the Cannabis Coffeeshop, and after stop on by Chipsy King for some of Amsterdam’s amazing fries with mayonnaise to settle those munchies.
I’m not from a state that has legalized the recreational use of marijuana—what a culture shock that was. I knew beforehand all about the liberality of the Netherlands, but it is one thing to read and hear about it, and another to experience it first hand. Every time I passed someone rolling a joint, I battled between giggling or quickly looking away. As if just watching someone handle marijuana would put me in handcuffs the second I stepped back on U.S. soil.
“WC” stands for “Water Closet” and that means it’s a bathroom, or “toilets” which it is referred as. Why am I bringing this up? Because in Holland I learned that the basic human function of relieving yourself has a price tag.
That’s correct. You have to pay to use the bathroom. Not every establishment will charge you—generally at restaurants you won’t have to pay. Bars, stations, public restrooms, though? You can bet your bottom dollar—euro—that it’ll cost you.
Most places have an attendant who watches to make sure you place your fee in the bowl before entering a stall. If there isn’t an attendant, there’s a coin operated turnstile. I don’t know if this is the Dutch government’s contribution to water conservation, or what, but they take charging for bathroom use very seriously. Some places charge up to 1 euro! Most places, though, average at 50 cents.
Still, add your bathroom uses up throughout the week, and you’ve spent enough to buy yourself a stroopwafel from the Albert Cuyp market just on using the toilets.
Useful Words and Phrases
Most everyone speaks English in Amsterdam, but they do have their own language in Holland, and I can tell you that they greatly appreciate anyone who attempts it. I had many waiters/waitresses who smiled kindly at me, and patiently waited for me to order my food in Dutch, and then smiled gently as they corrected me–95% of the time, that was the case. All the while, assuring me that the butchered words of their language that came out of my mouth were “very good!”.
- Hallo/Tot Ziens
“Hello” and “Goodbye”. If you’re feeling confident, look at the Bonus words at the bottom of this section for alternative greetings and goodbyes!
- Spreekt u Engels?
“Do you speak English?” The answer to this question will almost always be yes if you’re in Amsterdam, but it is always respectful to ask!
This word is handy because it is pretty versatile within the Dutch language. Generally, alstublieft is used to mean “Please”, but it can also be used as a response to a “Thank You”—dankuwel or dank je.
- Dankuwel/Dank Je
I generally will always err on the side of politeness—it’s always better to be too formal, than too casual, I think! So, I always use dankuwel when thanking anyone in a service type of job. Dank je is less formal, but I was told by a few local waiters that it is just as appropriate to use this less formal form as it is to use the formalized version.
If you’re feeling adventurous, instead of a Hallo! in the morning, throw in a Goedemorgen! (“Good morning”) Same goes for Tot ziens! Give them a Goedenavond (“Good evening”) instead if it’s closing in on the evening hours.
Next, I’d like to share a little bit about what I’ve learned among the hostels, so depending on the ever fickleness of the WIFI I receive, it could take anywhere from a day or two, to a week or two! I’ll keep everyone as updated as I can, and I’ll catch you later!