Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Amsterdam report with cost breakdown and photos

Amsterdam was fantastic!  What a beautiful and unique city.

Mary and I were pleasantly surprised by the prices in Amsterdam.  After living in London and Paris, we had constant reverse-sticker-shock.  Cute boutiques had clothes that we could afford.  We said "yes" to things like starters, dessert, and wine at dinner that we would normally forgo.
Cost breakdown for 1 person on a 4 night / 5 day trip:

Cost (EU)
Cost (USD)
Air bnb room (4 nights)
Roundtrip train from Paris to Amsterdam
Restaurant dinner
Restaurant brunch
Nutella crepe downtown
Coffee (x4)
2-3 each
3-4 each
24-hour canal tour ticket
Van Gogh museum
Public transportation ticket for 1 hour
Prostitution FAQ zine from the PIC
Postcards (x4)
1 each
1.38 each
Beer downtown
5 – 7,50
Hot chocolate
Flower market souvenirs (3 mini pots + seeds)
Anne Frank museum
Total (approximate):
Mary and I stayed at an apartment we found on Airbnb, and were very pleased with it.  It was about the same cost as a hostel, but we had a private room with shelves and closet space, a really nice bathroom, and a fridge/kitchen to use which allowed us to buy groceries and save money on food over the trip.  We were outside of downtown, maybe a 20 minute walk from the center, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  Downtown feels like Pleasure Island, but the outer rings of the city felt very livable, like a small San Francisco/Brooklyn/Portland.
Plus, we had 3 fantastic hosts, who offered tips+suggestions for what to do in town and gave us a glimpse at everyday life in Amsterdam.  The first thing they did when we arrived was give us a house tour and present us with maps, explaining how to navigate the city and circling things we might like to see.  If you don't mind sharing your space, it's fantastic getting to meet locals while you're visiting a new place.  I got the impression that Amsterdam is a fun place to be a 20- or 30-something, with a lot of people working in design and media. 
Airbnb perk: comics exchange with our host's roommate!! :D
I went to the Red Light District ("De Wallen") and ogled the people working and shopping as politely as possible.  I was really surprised how central the Red Light District was--it's practically across the street from the train station.  I believe you could comfortably take an hour between trains to walk the main streets of De Wallen and feel like you saw it!  And actually, I saw quite a few people in De Wallen lugging suitcases who I imagine were doing just that.
The Prostitute Information Center near the Old Church was on my trip to-do list and I made it over on Saturday afternoon.  The staff was out demonstrating for sex workers' rights, but the only member left in the building was extremely accommodating.  She had a nice long chat with me and answered a bunch of my questions about the sex industry and Holland's culture towards it.

I also partook in the city's green offerings.  For numerous reasons I passed on pot growing up, and I'd actually never smoked it before.  Maybe it's silly, but trying it while I was in a safe and legal environment sounded appealing.  Here are some facts for anyone curious about how "coffee shops" work in Holland:
  • Anyone over 18, regardless of nationality, can enter coffee shops and purchase soft drugs
  • “Soft drugs” = hashish (‘hash’), marihuana, sleep-inducing drugs, and sedatives (space foods)
  • You can consume your purchases in the coffee shop or take them to go
  • Alcohol and hard drugs are NOT allowed in coffee shops
  • It is illegal to purchase cannabis on the street
  • Smoking cannabis outside/in public IS permitted.  Even bars/pubs and hotels may permit it if they choose.
What you buy in Holland is likely to be much more potent than what you have “back home”, so take it slow to avoid a blackout or unpleasant experience. Smoking hits you almost instantly but eating pot can take 30 minutes to kick in. I was warned that the spacecakes could be strong, but I actually ate an entire serving and felt nothing, whereas half a joint the next night was plenty.
You probably wouldn't, but don't even think about smuggling anything over the border.  Even if you've never seen a drug-sniffing dog on a European train before, you will when you cross the border back from The Netherlands.

Trip highlights:
1) Biking! You could see the whole city in a day! It's a huge part of the city's culture and it feels great to be a part of the Amsterdam bike swarm.  Drivers and pedestrians beware: the streets of Amsterdam belong to bikers.
2) Sitting by the canal.  Even in early March, with a little sunshine, this turned into the nicest place in town.  There's plenty of space for everyone to sit down,dangle their feet over the boats, and relax.  We saw people eating lunches, reading, drawing, and smoking along the canals all over town.
3) The Van Gogh museum.  ALL THE FEELS.  If you like Van Gogh, this is an absolute must.  It has more than two floors packed with his work and pieces from a few contemporaries.  Things are put into social and chronological context, and it's amazing.  You can watch his progression and see his strokes changing with the influences he's picking up over time.  I wish I could view all artists' work in this way.
4) Lambiek Comics - "The oldest comic shop in the world" (a claim explored on Comics Reporter in 2012) was super friendly and interesting.  They offer comics in English, French, and Dutch, plus a large gallery space and even some graphic/comics clothing.  Bonus: the shop's business card is a tiny minicomic by Chris Ware!
5) Canal boat tour.  This is one of those cheesy+expensive things I was on the fence about, but I was so glad we did it!  The Canal Bus "hop on hop off" ticket for 24 hour access was 20 euros, with 3 different boat routes circling the city like a slow bus system on the water.  The city really did look different by boat, and I liked the light historical information broadcast to passengers.

I'd do it differently next time:
1) Next time, I'll rent a bike for the entirety of my trip.  The price goes down for each additional day and it's worth it to be able to get across town in 15 minutes.  If it's your first time in Amsterdam, biking around is the fastest way to get the lay of the land and save yourself trouble navigating later.  I wasted a couple of my vacation hours getting lost on foot, and my feet were really sore after 4 days of walking the city.
2) Spend an entire day shopping the Negen Straatjes ("9 Streets") neighborhood.  SO charming and cute and full of interesting shops and cafes.
3) Avoid downtown.  Most of it was "meh", honestly, beyond being able to say that you saw the Red Light district.  The commercial center is expensive, and it's full of the kinds of chain stores you can find anywhere.  Plus masses of raucous and horny tourists.
4) Spend an entire day perusing the markets and taking coffee nearby to people-watch!
5) Rijksmuseum, the main art museum, was HUGE and we didn't feel up to tackle it this time.  Next time I'd dedicate at least 4 hours to a Rijksmuseum trip, probably followed by a relaxing/brainless activity like sitting on the canal and eating ice cream in the sun.

Other thoughts:
1) Mary studied abroad in Copenhagen, and Amsterdam reminded her of Denmark in a lot of ways.  Some of the etymology was even the same, and she was able to recognize some useful words.
2) The Dutch language is silly.  I'm sorry, but "Verantwoordelijkheidsgevoel" is not a word.  Nobody organizes consonants and vowels like that.  I do really appreciate when Dutch sounds like drunk English, though.
Wat nu indeed!
3) I didn't even think about power sockets / converters, but luckily they were the same as in France.  But yeah, FYI, depending on where you come from you may need converters.

Basically, Amsterdam was great. Let's go back!!


  1. I was in Amsterdam last week, and it is a fantastic city! The Anne Frank House is well worth a visit.

    You are absolutely right about the Rijksmuseum! It is massive with long queues. It's a great museum, but it is definitely best to get there early when you have a lot of time to spare.

    1. Thanks, Robert!
      Ah, time for sure!

  2. If you liked Amsterdam you should definitely consider visiting Cologne for a few days! It's much much cheaper than Amsterdam, and there's a lot of great stuff to see (the Ludwig contemporary art museum is amaaaazing and so much bigger than anyone thinks between the special exhibits and permanent collection, allow a good five hours!, the cathedral here is very famous, I loooove the Cologne zoo and the chocolate museum is totally worth the time, plus loads of great food (himmel und äd is the famous cologne dish), and a great modern city with loads of green space - if you've time for a walk the stadtgarten and grüngurtel - city forest and green belt - are worth hiking around, not to mention the beautiful Rhein! the pubs south of the city centre along the rhein - in rodenkirchen - are gorgeous and tasty tasty tasty - plus the tradition here of drinking beer in small glasses is definitely worth a try :). I've been living here for the last three years (after 6 years in London and West Yorkshire) and love it <3 :)