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Amsterdam - The first impression - Green but Deadly

It's always first impressions that shape what you think and remember about a particular place or City, and Amsterdam provides you with plenty of first impressions.   Three distinct first impressions formed on my first day in Amsterdam, the first of four days, taken in February when it was largely dry but with temperatures hovering around zero.

The first impression is that the whole concept of the City is based on making it easy to go green , or perhaps harder not to go green. Impression number two comes from the downside of adding a few extra layers of public transport into a street - Deadly. But you relax into your holiday it is the attitude to Sex 'n drugs that you find the most different to anywhere else.

Some general views

Lock Keepers Cottage Amsterdam Leidsegracht Old Defence Tower
Lock Keepers Cottage - RembrandtHuis
Canal side view - Leidsegracht

Montelbaans - Old defence tower

Things typically Dutch

The streets in the center are not very wide and the tram ways, bicycle lanes and pavements all overlap making it confusing for the first time visitor.  We had only been in Amsterdam for some three hours when we came across a street accident where a woman had been knocked down by a tram.

On fashion, Charlotte says the Dutch have more dress sense than the French, I thought that a very brave statement but do not feel qualified to put forward an opinion.  I just enjoyed the short skirts, thick tights and legs.

Then there are the wonky houses, the hoist on every house to lift the furniture in through the windows, the cheap flowers (roses at 10 Euros for 20 stems) and of course the Dutch accent, which I must admit to finding ever so slightly comical.  Sorry.


The centre of Amsterdam must be one of the greenest cities in the world, although to be realistic, the layout of the Centrum provides an ideal template to implement green policies.  The narrow canal side streets were never designed for two way motor traffic and the solution provided is probably the best in the given circumstances.   The sheer scale of public transport available within the Centrum negates the need for a car (draw parallel to Venice - see Venice 2003 ) with trams, buses, bicycle lanes and the underground providing a comprehensive alternative to private transport.  The other side of being green is refuse collection and the Dutch have this down to a fine art with most streets having bins of various descriptions to make it difficult not to participate.  This does. however, lead to street clutter with the average street containing a Pay & Display parking machine, multiple bike racks (right), bottle banks and paper recycling bins, and refuse bins, not to mention lampposts and trees.  There also seemed to be a never ending amount of small dustcarts, leading you to expect to see a Mother Dustcart descend at any minute.

Walking round during the day there were lots of municipal workers around cleaning and repairing this street clutter.   A vision of the film Westworld hit me, with guests destroying the City by day, only to have everything rebuilt at night to destroy the following day.  OK, OK, I've lost it...............

The lighter side of Amsterdam

The Museum of Sex on Damrak (Yes, I had to go), is a mildly amusing way to waste an hour.  Then a cafe in Rembrandtplein, with an eye catching, if inaccurate, description of Dutch hostelry.  The food was always good and I was pleasantly surprised by the beer which was only lightly gassed.  Finally, a flower sellers stall in Bloemenmarkt, with a Cannabis Starter Kit, all we need now is some manure and a match!

The Dutch attitude to sex and cannabis is very 'in your face' in Amsterdam and the portrayal of each is very similar.  Both have their serious and comical sides.  The Cannabis starter kits are typical of an industry appealing to the foreign visitor, where we can all have a little giggle and feel naughty.  The giggle turns to a titter in the Sex Museum which somehow didn't seem big enough considering the scale and history of the subject.

The more serious side of legalised cannabis comes with the Coffee Houses where you may purchase and partake in a little indulgence.  Entry appeared to be strictly controlled with passports being required as a matter of course.  Tough if you're Dutch and have left yours at home but perhaps they have identity cards.  Having said that the Coffee Houses weren't as packed as the Cafes, but then I guess everyone has to eat.

The more serious side of sex could be seen in De Wallen, the Red Light District, where photography was subtlely discouraged.  The Ladies in the windows of the more traditional houses were less disturbing, more quaint, than the young girls in the Cabines in the side streets.  These alleyways full of little cubicles, each containing a pretty young girl, promised a very clinical side to fifteen minutes of pleasure, if it would be pleasure?  Just business I suppose.

The older side of Amsterdam

Just off to one side of the Red Light district is the Oude Kerk or Old Church, different to walk round as it is very bare, all stone and wood, largely empty except for some areas of worship.  Uniquely, it is the only Church that I have ever seen where the graveyard is inside the building, the floor being almost completely covered by tombs.  A PC sitting to one side will tell you if any of your ancestors are buried here, none of my main lines were.

Then, on one of our many breaks to refuel and warm through, we stopped in the Cafe Luxemborg in Spui (a Square - ish).   Built between the square and the canal, you enter a dark gloomy saloon that looks like it was last redecorated just after the war.   Lit by small low wattage lamps you wonder which war.  Probably an old one.  The atmosphere though is wonderful, some what akin to sitting in an English market town pub late on a winters afternoon.  And then it's Dutch apple pie, chicken club sandwiches, hot chocolate with whipped cream and ...... Heiniken.  Well.......


As if there aren't enough things to worry about while you are wandering down a street in Amsterdam, the Dutch build in some additional little hazards.  This outdoor paddling pool seems to have been inadvertently built at the front of the hotel instead of at the back.  A feature of the center of Amsterdam is that there are no such thing as crossroads, merely intersecting circles, try turning left in a tram, it's just not possible.

The public transport is very frequent and very fast, which is fine if you are inside the Tram, not so good if you are in the street trying to cross the road.  Look at the profile of a typical street, there are five lanes of traffic, that is three more than most of us are used to!  Then at a road junction these additional levels of transport may be coming at you from several different directions at once, especially as the bikes go on the same sequence of traffic lights as the pedestrians.  Nightmare!

.......and the FOOD!

Our hotel only offered Bed & Breakfast so we had to eat out every day....bugger! ..........but fortunately we were near the Restaurant City so never had far to walk.  There were many many restaurants but none typically Dutch, mostly Indonesian, Thai, Italian or Indian.  We visited four, being there four nights, and were not disappointed at all.  Our contact with Dutch food came mostly at lunch time, when because the temperature was cold, it was nice to have something warm, if not hot.  So we embarked on a series of lunchtime snacks, gathered by the Dutch, from across the world.  I am going to start a web page listing my all time favourite food, but for now I will mention just a few here.

Gabrita - Warm goats cheese and honey on a brown bap.  Not as sweet as you might think and nicely filling.  Compares well to Brie in a French stick, although I do think the Brie just wins by a nose.

Heiniken - Of course it's food!!  I am not a great lover of lager but the Heiniken is definitely worth a mention, lightly gassed and full of flavour, a very pleasant drink.

.......and the pastries in the Bakers shops.........

Trattoria Toto - Then on our last night, not wishing to walk to far and being a bit tired, we settled for Trattoria Toto, an Italian if you hadn't guessed, on Constantijn Huygenstraat.  Our previous excursions to restaurants had indicated that even the Dutch spoke to the Italians in English so we had no problems ordering food.  Not so here.  The look of dismay on the waitress's face when she said 'You don't speak Dutch?', was a picture to behold.  Her father, who I presume owned the restaurant, spoke good English but did not know the particular words to describe his menu.  Charlotte was shocked that here was an Italian restaurant and they didn't serve pizza!  Eventually we thought we had worked out what each of us was happy with, and when it came we were not so very far adrift.  But to say the lamb was rare would be true, it was very rare.   It was also one of the best lamb dinners I have ever had, so if you are in Amsterdam and fancy a good meal, then try Trattoria Toto, you won't be disappointed. Trattoria Toto

Trattoria Toto

Why don't trams go bang in the rain?

© Spearing 2009