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Wildlife Journalist and Ocean lover contributing to Getty Images and The Scuba News. Local Patch Reporter at BBC Wildlife and Brand Ambassador at Sand Cloud. Happy Travelling! // LiveTheDream

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Canals, Cannabis and Cheese tasting: 36 hours in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one hell of a place, a vibrant yet relaxed city which has become the tourist capital of The Netherlands - No Wonder. Without trying to sound like a holiday rep, there is so much to do here, a lot of which, we managed to do in our 2 days.
We booked our trip to Amsterdam about 2 weeks in advance, getting the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam rather than flying to Schipol airport. We had a rough plan of what we wanted to do, but our budget wasn't massive as we had just booked a trip to the USA. In a place like Amsterdam however, this wasn't an issue!

When we got off the bus at Centraal Station, we were greeted by a downpour of rain, so brolly in hand, our first job was to find our hotel, The 2 -star Di Ann Hotel on Raadhuisstraat. Map in hand, the conversation went like this. "I haven't read a map since my Duke of Edinburgh" to which Bill replied "I can read a wilderness map... but we aren't in the wilderness are we." We never plan what we do or where we go with military precision, but both of us stumped ourselves with our own ignorance at apparently not being able to map read. Common sense kicked in however and we had no problem reading the map and after about 20 minutes, the rain had stopped and we found our room. The Di Ann hotel is situated in a brilliant location, about 5 minutes away from Dam Square and Anne Frank's house, along with the Red Light District and a very large selection of "Coffeeshops" (for the full cultural experience.) We had read some diabolical reviews on Trip Advisor, mostly about the steep stairs and money being stolen but we found the hotel to be perfect for what we wanted. It was relatively cheap, we had a shower, a TV (we didn't use it) and the most comfortable bed we have ever slept in. On the last day however, some money was taken from my bag when we were at breakfast, but the manager very kindly reimbursed it to us (surprising as we thought he was the very person who had nicked it). 
Anyway, back to day 1. We decided to start the trip off with a meander around and we ended up in a coffeeshop, specifically, The Bull Dog, one of the most famous coffeeshops in Amsterdam. It was a very smoky place, obviously. Bill went for a pre-rolled weed joint, which was huge. So huge in fact he only just finished it. After, we did the canal cruise. If you've never been to Amsterdam a canal cruise is a great place to start and I highly recommend it. An hour long trip takes you through Oosterdok (East Dock) and all the main tourist streets. A lot of places in Amsterdam look similar, so its a good way to get your bearings, especially as it allows you to use churches as landmarks if you get lost. All the excitement got too much for the little girl in front of us however, and she soiled herself mid cruise. Trumpy Miranda (name changed to protect the innocent, or guilty, depends how you look at it) as she became known to us, only added to the experience in hindsight, but at the time the smell was nothing short of eye watering, however I had the same accident in the Cairo Museum when I was significantly older than Trumpy Miranda, I might add, when dealing with food poisoning, so I of all people cannot pass judgement here. On the cruise we noticed an amazing floating Chinese Restaurant, "Sea Palace." In the end we went here for dinner, which was expensive but a real treat and the food was very authentic. It's worth a visit just to look at the d├ęcor inside. Koi ponds, golden Buddha statues, streamers from Chinese New Year, nothing short of a beautiful assault on the senses.
There is no shortage of places to eat in Amsterdam, you could stuff yourself silly. Holland's colonial past has introduced a smorgasbord of international restaurants - Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Argentinian Steakhouses, Italian, British, and of course, Dutch, so we were spoiled for choice at lunch time. My parents, who were also in Amsterdam at the time actually, said they chose where they ate on the basis that they knew nothing on the menu, which led them to a Malaysian restaurant. If however, you don't fancy the not knowing, there are plenty of frites stalls, waffle and pancake houses, hotdogs, pretty much everything you can imagine. After lunch it was back to the Coffeeshops. This was my first time trying Cannabis, I must admit and it was a very relaxing experience. We went to The Coffee Store, next to the Bull Dog and had their pre rolled joint. The shop itself felt much less intense and intimidating than some of the others we had been to and it made the experience very enjoyable. We very much did the full Amsterdam experience, as later that evening, we hit the Red Light District. It is not an intimidating place at all, though it is most definitely a culture shock. The district itself is apparently very well regulated and although sex is very much part of the culture in Amsterdam, this side of it was actually fairly low key. We meandered through and headed to a pub for a Heineken (what else?)

Day 2 was much quieter, we took a sunny walk to Vondelpark, which is a half hour to forty five minute walk from Raadhuisstraat. Vondelpark is lovely. It is also home to a heartwarming "findfence" whereby items found by people on the park were hung to a little fence with crocodile clips in the hope that people would find them again. We, to our surprise, also found a colony of parakeet in the trees, and watched a little spotted woddpecker tap through the trees. Everything about the place was relaxed. The lovelock bridges Paris is so famed for also showed up in Amsterdam, though not quite to the same extent. Romantic messages and declarations of love scraped into the metal locks just added to the charm of the place. On the way back to Centraal Station, we wandered into an art gallery cum clothing store at the end of Raadhuisstraat, which featured some incredible stories from Tibetan and Syrian refugees who had found their way to Amsterdam to build a better life. We headed back up to Dam Square for a sandwich, to find Yoda, Darth Vader, Death, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and a man playing the bagpipes. Not to mention the pigeons, who were resting on a boy's shoulders as he fed them some bread. Our final challenge was choosing cheese. We went to Henri Willig's cheese and more to try some samples; we needn't have bothered buying lunch! So many different flavours, truffle, lavender, pesto, garlic, champagne, asparagus! We settled on a garlic and herb gouda, before heading, shattered but enthusiastically, back to Centraal Station for the ride home. Amsterdam truly is a wonderful city, and we will most definitely come back for round  2.   

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