By Lisa Guerriero
From the moment you step out of Central Station, the city of Amsterdam dazzles your eyes and ears, coming at you from all sides. Night or day, there is no white noise, but church bells and the chattering of different languages.
Trams, cars, walkers and countless bicycles converge, and although lane markings keep everyone in order, keep your eyes peeled to avoid being mowed down or chastised by the Dutch bicycle bell. Tall, narrow buildings cram the streets, a throwback to the days when taxes were figured by land use.
You can’t visit a city without seeing the sights, and Amsterdam has them in spades. The 13th century Ouedekerk is furnished with stained glass and towering ceilings. Walk across the street and pay attention to the cobblestone, where there is a bronze engraving of a hand cupping a breast. There is no label or explanation: every city has its mysteries, but Amsterdam is a secret to unfold.
The city’s red-light district is second to none, thanks to comparatively lenient drug and prostitution laws. Cheerful hookers beckon from purple-lit windows and there are dozens of strip clubs and a sex shops filled with every movie and toy you can imagine, plus plenty you hadn’t. Only here can you see a weed nursery in the Marijuana Museum and one of the world’s first vibrators at a truly enlightening sex museum. Only here will you pass a penis-shaped fountain.
An art-lover could spend several days perusing the classics and Eastern art at the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art houses Pop Art, Impressionism and all the Picassos you could want. Rembrandt and Van Gogh collections are featured in private museums.
Visitors may shy away from the Anne Frank House, but the secret annex that hid the family during Nazi occupation is genuinely moving and worth the sobering effect.
Chill out at the park near the Museumplein and watch skaters cruise a huge half-pipe. Make sure to take a ferry ride— the maze of canals is beautiful and the houseboats and restaurants range from quirky to extravagant.
There’s no shortage of good restaurants, from authentic Asian cuisine to Dutch fare, thanks to Amsterdam’s cosmopolitan port history. If you’re on a shoe-string you can still tap into the local atmosphere by relaxing in a café. Not to be confused with cafes are coffee-shops, where sale and purchase of the good smoke is permitted. Buy a bone or roll your own, but make sure to order a coffee or some fresh-squeezed OJ. And although it’s a smoke-friendly city, locals can drink you under the table and the clubs are as hot as they get.
Locals are accustomed to the flood of tourists, and while some of them are a bit jaded, most are friendly and almost all of them speak English. Businesspeople and adventurers from every continent visit and you get the feeling Amsteldammers have seen it all in, absorbed it all, and the city has blossomed because of it.