Saturday, November 22, 2008

I-am-sterdam

If going down under is too much of a hassle, Western Europeans can at least experience the 'Venice of the North': the city of Amsterdam. While we were touring across a handful of countries in Europe, our first stop was the capital city of the Netherlands. Our Schengen visas required that we make it our point of entry into Europe; and I can safely bet that had that not been the case, the city would not have been on our itinerary. Mostly, when people think about heading out to the continent, the must-see's are London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, but hardly ever do time-constrained travellers bring Amsterdam into the itinerary. I must confess however, that it proved to be a condition, my husband and I, both, were glad was thrust upon us. Walking out of the Centraal Station, smack in the centre of town, we instantly fell in love with the city. While the rest of Europe - save Germany, perhaps - oozes of history, lock, stock and smoking barrels, the Netherlands is a toddler still.

Its architecture, driven by tax laws at the time, dates back to the seventeenth century. An ode to a rough policy (no offence): since they were taxed based on frontal footage of their houses, homeowners stumbled upon distinctive architecture. They built their townhouses deep and tall; what they couldn't afford in lavish measurements, they made up for with almost vertically-placed staircases. Up, up and up we go, the streams running gently down below. Yes! That part about the step-sibling, Venice. Amsterdam, too, has got its water, weaving an intense web of mud-coloured canals. Like its big sister, cars aren't that popular in the city. While boats and gondolas remain the face of the Italian princess, the Dutch-ess is an impressive rival with its exuberance for bicycles and trams.


We were, admittedly a bit iffy on the accomodation. Amsterdam is quite straining on the pocket, especially if you're a budget traveller, who wants to stay in the centre of town, steps away from the station, and because you plan to abuse your Eurail Pass as often as you want to.

Since we couldn't afford the classy decors, we found ourselves walking into a hotel, hidden somewhere beneath a Samsung scaffolding, on the Damrak (arguably, the busiest road there), connecting the Centraal to the Dam Square. The entrance and the ambience of the property were more than just a tad depressing, but the clean room and the uber-friendly staff more than made up for it. People in the country - the Dutch and an ensemble of all kinds of nationalities - were among the friendliest few we came across in our entire trip. So welcoming (which should not come as a surprise, given the historic, open-armed refuge they gave to the Jews during Hitler's tirade). An Italian concierge, on finding out about our plans to visit his country in the second leg of our trip, spent 20 odd minutes with us, keenness dripping with recommendations for the best hotels, the best beaches and the best localities. Another volunteered to print some train schedules that we needed. A third made up a plan for the entire day for us. And yet another, a Pakistani, offered and later, went on to leave his jacket at the front-desk for my husband, after finding out that the notorious KLM-Alitalia combo had lost our luggage. It was cold, and we were travelling from a temperature of 40 degrees celcius back home, so our attire was screaming summer beach, while Amsterdam was cold(ddd) and Den Haag was freez(zzz)ing!


While I'm writing short of recommendations for tourists (I might mull a travelogue to delve deeper), my point is: Amsterdam is unique, it is vibrant and electric (some would say, not children-friendly), young but every-inch European, and in my experience, a most underrated destination.

Copyright (c) 2008 Saadia Malik




Credits: The first image was picked from Wikipedia; the third, from http://the-q-family.blogspot.com. The middle one is from our own trip.

9 comments:

Italian Correspondent said...

So you're writing about your trip then? Congratulations on your memory - I cant remember the cities I went to this summer, let alone the hotels I stayed in :(

I'd disagree with the bit about Germany lacking history - I found a lot of it in Berlin last year. The problem is more that most of it was destroyed in the World Wars, and (worse yet, in my opinion) that the Germans have an attitude that is far too guilt-filled and so are unwilling to demonstrate any kind of nationalistic sentiment.

As for Amsterdam - why no mention of the coffee shops?? :P

Saadia said...

The coffee shops in Leidsplein? We had such a whirlwind tour, we never had the chance to let any city life sink in: so coffees, people-watching (except for a bit) was never on the cards. It was always move, move, move! Cover this. Cover that.

I exactly had in mind about Germany, what you've said. The WWII destroyed history, hence, compared to the rest of Europe, its got little - if I may say so - history and culture to offer.

Tap those cells now. Which cities did you experience? And do you keep a blog?

Italian Correspondent said...

Saadia you know me. I'd prefer to use this name though, it sounds cooler :D

And you already know all the cities I've been to. :) I ought to have kept a blog, but unfortunately I'm too lazy :$

human being said...

perfect... i love to read such travel accounts... full of details... personal impressions as well as historical and objective facts... with a tinge of humor: you feel as if you're taveling along with the writer...

hi Saadia... like Saadi the great Persian poet and writer you are an observant traveler and an excellent writer..

so glad you dropped by my blog... letting me know you and your world...

will be back soon to read more...

Saadia said...

Italian Correspondent, haha! It occured to me after I had punched in the reply. This was that guest post, it seems. :P

Human Being, you've been much too kind. I'm glad you enjoyed the post; it is only a matter of time till I write more about our experiences. Interesting reference to Saadi!

Alex @ The Travel Blurb said...

A well written post. I would like to go to Amsterdam as it only across the channel from the UK. I took a city break to Paris this summer so maybe next year I will try Amsterdam. I like to read about different cities - it gives me ideas of where I might go next. I need to plan a new trip to keep my blog posts fresh.

Saadia said...

Thank you, Alex.

I'm curious. What inspires you to visit a city? My two cents on your blog: great posts, but you're just one person; you write so frequently about different places; I hope you don't burn yourself out. :-)

Alex @ The Travel Blurb said...

Ha, you and me both. I do worry about burning out but I still have quite a few ideas and like to comment on news stories I hear.

I read that you need to write frequently to keep the blog alive and keep people coming back, but you are right, burning out is a bloggers biggest fear.

Saadia said...

Amsterdam to close many brothels, sex shops