The Busy Streets of Amsterdam
I have to admit that my first time visiting Amsterdam was a bit of a disappointment.
I only had two short days to spend here during an overnight stopover on the Voyage of the Vikings cruise this summer, and after one full day of sightseeing I was already fed up with the city.
Don’t get me wrong, Amsterdam has a lot going for it.
The incredibly romantic bridges and canals, the charming crooked houses, the flower markets, and museums all add to the city’s appeal. But it was the endless traffic and noise, crowds of people, and long line-ups everywhere that really tested my patience and wore me out. The muggy August heat didn’t help either.
Surprisingly, after I got back home from the trip I realized that my photographs from Amsterdam don't really reflect the busyness of the city. Most of my photos were taken early in the morning so the streets were quiet.
On this trip I realized that I have a greater longing to be surrounded by nature than a big city. I crave the quiet and peace that comes with going for a hike in the mountains versus the hustle and bustle of city life. After experiencing the remote isolation of Greenland and Iceland it was very overwhelming to step into the busy streets of Amsterdam.
First thing in the morning, I jumped on the hop on hop off bus, to get an overview of the attractions and the city. After doing one full loop I was ready to explore.
Amsterdam is comprised of over 1500 bridges and over 100km of canals! The three main canals in the city center were dug during the 17th century for residential development, with one main outer canal primarily used for defense.
In 2010, the canal ring area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
The canals, as beautiful and romantic as they look, are heavily polluted. My first glance onto the water revealed it to be a murky brown and throughout the day I often spotted garbage floating on the surface.
Up until 2007 the houseboats that line the canals weren’t even hooked up to the city’s sewer system, essentially allowing them to dump all their waste into the water. Ick.
If there’s one thing that Amsterdam isn’t short on, it’s arts and culture. From the Rijksmuseum to the Van Gogh Museum to the Anne Frank House, there is a huge assortment of museums to captivate everyone’s interest.
I made a point of wanting to visit the Van Gogh Museum during my short time in this busy city. I was so excited to see the real Van Gogh’s up close and in person! However, the process of getting my hands on tickets was a bit of a nightmare.
My family and I found an “express” ticket booth just outside of the Rijksmuseum near the “I Amsterdam” sign. We lined up and about forty minutes later we finally had our tickets. So much for "express" I thought to myself.
By the time we arrived at the actual museum we saw a line up stretching around the block. I guess I can’t really complain for having to wait 40 minutes! Our express tickets allowed us to skip the line at the museum and head right in.
The museum itself was fantastic, however the mass of people fighting to get a good look at the original artwork was not.
Being herded along like cattle through the entire four stories of the museum was not a pleasant experience. The fact that it was a hot sunny day and sweaty tourists were shuffling around bumping into me was an unpleasant distraction while trying to view the paintings.
My word of advice: Book your tickets in advance and be the first person at the museum at opening time to beat the rush.
Amsterdam may be the most bicycle friendly city in the world. There are an estimated 800,000 bicycles in the city versus approximately 263,000 cars.
While we were walking around it was quite the mess of constant bicycles whizzing by, sometimes a little too close for comfort, and I was surprised at how chaotic it was.
I didn't ride a bike during my time in the city but that didn't stop me from nearly being hit by a few that passed by me. Remember to look left and right when crossing the bike lanes in Amsterdam!
At the end of the day I was exhausted. The sightseeing, the crowds, and the traffic all led to me to not really liking Amsterdam as much as I thought I would.
Although I didn't enjoy Amsterdam that much, I did venture out into the countryside to see the historic windmills at Zaanse Schans, an excursion which proved to be a much more enjoyable experience.