Why I Never Warmed to Amsterdam

You may have noticed I never post about Amsterdam. Well, I have at some point, many years ago now, but hardly ever. I saw a few posts recently about this city, and it got me to thinking about what it was about that city that just didn’t appeal.

I need to start by saying I was there back 21 years old now. So it’s been a while. But I have stark memories of the place and frankly, they aren’t memories that make me feel close to this city. I will start by saying the Rembrandt Museum was great and I really liked visiting the Anne Frank House. Back in 1999 I don’t think the latter had nearly the number of visitors as it gets today, which would, I daresay, lessen the experience.

An Amsterdam canal.

Those things aside, Amsterdam didn’t fail to disappoint me at every turn. I know it’s sad to say this, but I found the place dreary and almost devoid of Dutch people. Which in The Netherlands struck me as a bit odd. I fast got the impression that the place existed merely for the young Americans on a gap year looking for somewhere to party and smoke weed.

I also found it a little dull, the weather was pretty bad whilst I was there, oh and it was the most expensive place I remember visiting on that trip bar Iceland. The hostel for example was easily the most expensive I remember from 1999, except for probably London. It was around $40AUD for a bed which back in the day was an awful lot. Generally $25AUD comfortably got you a bed in most cities, I don’t recall even Paris being any more than that.

So SMACK! My budget was almost gone in the blink of an eye. The hostel was the Flying Pig Vondelpark. It’s next to, you’ll never see this coming, a PARK. The central one was sold out, but this didn’t seem too far away from the action. Today I think it’s been renamed ‘Flying Pig: Uptown’ and its own website quotes over 44 Euro for a bed in a 14-bed dorm.

Roomie in Amsterdam

This chain was and I guess still is synonymous with backpacking in Amsterdam. It’s an institution and I can imagine last year it would have been impossible to turn up and hope for a bed, which is how we rolled back in ’99 – but then no-one had mobile phones let alone internet banking.

The rooms were dirty, but aside from that ok and I think I was in a 6 or 8-bed dorm. Despite it being cool outside it was hot in the rooms. Everyone had weed – and wow, it knocked your socks off! Amsterdam was a city which too me had a few sights, but limited. And yet everyone was a backpacker or tourist of some sort it seemed.

And mostly the backpackers were from America, so much so that it felt like I was in States at times. I met a nice couple on the train and we went out to a ‘café’. I was surprised at how little it interested me. But every customer was foreign – Americans making up a high percentage, then Canadians, Australians, British. It really felt like the US had established a bit of a colony there.

Another Park photo I took little else!

Then there was the comedy show. I was really looking forward too it, it was advertised at the Flying Pig, it was all in English which surprised me but generally the Dutch speak English better than most native speakers.

Sadly, my enthusiasm was deflated from the get-go. I was not sure what I was watching, I think it was a crew of college students or something (from the States) but it just didn’t make me laugh. It only made me bemoan the money I’d spent on the ticket. The audience loved it, and again the audience was almost exclusively Americans. It just seemed really weird.

Park in Amsterdam.

Oh and what, apart from pot is Amsterdam famous for? It’s Red Light District. It’s kinda sad how these two things are what the foreigner brings to mind in regards to Amsterdam, isn’t it? It was so unremarkable, I walked along it, I didn’t take photos (well, I feel like I took maybe three the whole time I was there). It just made me feel… sad.

Okay, so not every place is your cup of tea. And Amsterdam wasn’t mine. And maybe I should give it a second go. Maybe I will in the future – they did shoot a Doctor Who story there and I could visit all the locations used (lo). I think there is a real curse to being a backpacker – what floods of backpackers to one city can do can really destroy it for the locals. Prague is another prime example. You’ll do well to meet a happy local in Prague.

Thanks for reading and dealing with my moaning today! May the Journey Never End!

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10 Comments

  1. I’ve visited Amsterdam a few times, the last three years ago when I enjoyed it so much more than earlier. That time we stayed in the city but visited other places too which I enjoyed so perhaps it’s time for a return visit when things start moving again.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I didnt get the chance to know it more, but when I do get back for a longer visit I’m planning to do daytours to get to see the countryside.

  3. haha I couchsurfed when I was there so can’t speak to cost of housing but I definitely got a hyper local experience. Including a tour of the guy’s high school and elementary school. 😛 (Not sure who had it worse, you or me?)

  4. Wonderful perspective Andy but I bet maybe a lot has changed since the 90s, sure the population of tourists and backpackers could still be in check but just maybe, they’re more attractions now.

  5. Very interesting to read. Like you say, not every place can float your boat. And there are so many factors that can form an impression – like the weather, the place you stay etc. If you thought Amsterdam was busy then, you should see it now. Locals hardly go into the centre anymore. But, for me, it’s a beautiful city. Full of parks (Vondelpark is tourist central, but there are many more), fantastic museums (some great small museums in addition to the big-hitters) and lots of alternative spots to just hang out. But I am biased, as I’ve lived there for so long!

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