Amsterdam. That means kinky sex shows and an all-you-can-smoke buffet of weed, right? It would be a lie to not say yes. The coffee shops (which don’t specialize in coffee) and the Red Light District (which doesn’t sell lamps) are major attractions to many tourists in Amsterdam for obvious reasons. Simply put, there is appeal in doing naughty things without the Po on your back. The coffee shops are an experience to be had if you can see far enough through the blue haze of smoke to find a booth to sit in. And the Red Light District is fascinating. The hookers standing in the windows can best be described as resembling a pair of worn-out leggings. Well used, lacking elasticity and yet still holding some unexplainable appeal.
Both the crates of bud and women in windows are worth seeing, it’s true. But what is tucked inside Amsterdam is a cultural depth that few are aware of. For anyone that likes eating, art, history, architecture, nature or beer (which is almost everyone, if not just for the beer), then our friend in the Netherlands is worth a closer inspection.
It is definitely worth the confronting fifteen-euro ticket to spend the day in the Museum District. Two galleries particularly worth visiting are the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. These collections are worth amounts of money us mere mortals struggle to read out loud.
The Van Gogh Museum hosts the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world, including two-hundred-and-six originals, and allows you to see the development of the work in chronological succession. Down the road you’ll find our buddy Rembrandt housed in the impressive halls of the Rijksmuseum. If the paintings, including twenty-two originals, aren’t worth your time then building itself is, coming fully equipped with that fuzzy wallpaper that you thought only existed in your nana’s house.
The Anne Frank House is worth seeing if only for the walk there. Slotted in between two elongated houses lies the abode in which Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for two years during the Second World War. The museum is set up in such a way that you can walk through every room of the house, browsing extracts from her famous diary for information. The feel of the house is silencing. Whether from awe, shock or other deeply felt emotions, visitors seem to lose the ability to speak as they walk around.
There are two things you should consume whilst in Amsterdam that aren’t chips in cones (although do eat those at some point – it’s like oil and heaven were one). The first is the beer. The second is ‘Il Boccalino’.
For all the beer lovers out there, Amsterdam offers breweries that flow like the delightful amber liquid itself. Of particular note are the Heineken Brewery, boasting four floors of beer appreciation, and the IJ Brewery, which proffers organic beers.
To eat, make sure you find Il Boccalino, a tiny Italian place where they cook meals with fresh ingredients and feed you as if you’re family. Yes – it’s not traditional dutch food, but it’s pretty special and worth a visit for at least one meal. If it’s Dutch you really want, almost every second shop is bursting with traditional cakes and pastries just waiting for you to get tucked in to.
Finally, take a moment to really appreciate the city for how beautiful it is. Amsterdam is full of architectural wonders such as Centraal Station and Dam Square. The latter is flanked by the Royal Palace, which is one of three palaces still used by the Dutch Royal Family. Out of the city-centre there are over one hundred and fifty stunning canals; it is possible to take tours along these and marvel at the beautiful parks and tightly packed apartments that define Amsterdam’s ‘suburbs’. It’s easy enough to get around on land by grabbing one of the city’s 881,000 bikes.
Amsterdam’s historical and artistic culture needs more appreciation. We should fall in love with the place for its beauty, not because we’re in a perpetual weed-induced state of happiness that would have us fall in love with anything so long as it provided us with hot chips. Go to Amsterdam and head for a gallery before a coffee shop. We’re Melbourne kids. Culture is what we breathe. So try to inhale some art before your joint is done.