When people think of Amsterdam there are usually only a few things that come to mind. However, there are so many other wonderful reasons to visit this unique Dutch gem. After having spent several months in London I waited until the last-minute to book a trip to one of the must-see places on my list. With my return to the U.S looming, I had 48 hours to absorb and experience as much as I could of Amsterdam. Lucky for me, I was able to enlist a travel buddy, Nicloe Clark of @TheXPatLife, who had been there several times before.
When we arrived at Schiphol Airport and walked outside of the massive shopping mall like terminal, the first thing that I saw was the “I amsterdam” sign. Naturally I dropped my backpack and hopped in for the obligatory photo. The clock had begun counting down on my 48 hours and I’d already scratched one to-do off of the list. We gathered up our bags and headed underground to catch the train to Central Station. After a slight mishap with the train (always confirm that you are going in the right direction) we arrived in the center of Amsterdam at the bustling Central Station. Walking outside of the station felt a bit like being in Paris, you are automatically dropped in the middle of highly active streets. We hopped on the super inexpensive multi-line tram system and rode it all the way to the stop closest to the Westcord Fashion Hotel.
As a last-minute hotel booking, this property was rather impressive. The lobby gives you the New York City chic vibe, complete with fluorescent pink mannequins and the rooms were modern with luxurious bathrooms, but there was no time to get cozy. Next stop was to meet up with a friend who wanted to introduce me to the Coffee Shop life. We walked down a quaint European alley and passed through two huge doormen as we entered a smoke-filled, tri-level heaven for stoners. I walked around amazed at the cozy ambiance of every floor. It felt like you were spying on strangers getting high in their living room.
After a little green indulgence, we headed to the Stadsdeel Zuid area to grab a bite to eat at Chocolate Bar. This trendy bar with a sixties and seventies vibe served up the perfect dinner and drinks. It was set along a festive block of multiple restaurants filled with indoor/outdoor seating. We took a post dinner stroll headed back to the hotel and that’s when I realized that it was nearly 10 o’clock at night and still well-lit outside, as if it were 4 o’clock in the evening. That’s when I fell in love.
Squeezing in a quick shower back at the hotel was a must, but the nighttime activities awaited us. We caught the tram to have drinks at an extremely tiny bar in the Red Light District where a cute, bald, round man convinced me to sip a shot from a fountain of wine glasses that were on fire. Cheers to new experiences!
We picked up a few new friends, took turns riding one bike, and laughed hysterically as we walked toward the nightclub. I had anxiety that the police would roll up at any minute while one of my new friends rolled a spliff just outside of the club that we were about to enter. Then I had to remember that it was legal. The club was crazy packed with people of color. The dance floor was live and we danced the night away to music mostly from the states. The DJ, who spun old school and new school hip-hop, was clearly the main attraction of the club. After we danced until our feet could move no more, we grabbed our belongings from the skating rink style lockers and headed home.
The following day, and only full day, in the city was action packed. It was mandatory to indulge in Dutch pancakes from Pancake Corner. Complete with bananas, whip cream, and ice cream. Our next stop was a tour of the Rijksmuseum. Home to the famous self-portrait of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. Outside of the museum we couldn’t resist pictures by yet another “I amsterdam” sign. A friend of a friend from the US, who was visiting as well, met up with us at this point.
Then we were off to mix in a little local lifestyle and more art. The Westcord Fashion Hotel had us covered. We were able to rent bikes in the evening (which was still lit up like the daytime) and cruise through the city headed to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park. The park plays host to about 10 million visitors yearly, and it is home to The Fish, a sculpture by Pablo Picasso. This piece of art was massive. I just sat on my bike and stared at it for a minute before hopping off to pose for a picture.
We rode through the park a bit longer then headed into the city streets to ride along the canal, looking for the Anne Frank House. We found it a bit after the sun went down. It was surely a moment to pause and reflect on history. However, in the midst of the pause I heard my stomach grumbling so we set out in search of food. We stumbled upon an excellent burger spot in the Red Light District. Once we were on a full stomach, my curiosity kicked in and we took a stroll through the district. It’s one thing to hear about it, but another to see the red light transactions in action. Girls tapping on windows and unsuspecting men creeping into glass doors, fascinating.
Tired and clueless as to how to get back to the hotel we accidentally enlisted the help of a local tour guide who was heading in the same direction. He was an expert bike rider so the three of us zoomed through the streets of Amsterdam making our best effort to keep up.
The following morning I took an opportunity to soak in the sun, dangle my feet over a canal’s edge and scarf down a bite to eat before rushing off to the airport. Amsterdam was amazing!