20th Anniversary in Quirky Amsterdam
In celebration of recent marriage equality victories in the U.S., we decided rather last minute to spend our 20th anniversary in Amsterdam, capital of the country that first brought the world marriage equality. The Netherlands does things a little differently and that difference is most visible in its offbeat capital. Here’s a little of what distinguishes Amsterdam from other European cities.
That quirky vibe
The Dutch have a distinct aesthetic which really sets them apart from other Europeans. There’s a humor, a lightness, and love for the bizarre that gives Amsterdam a really different flavor. If you don’t know what I mean, take a closer look at the postcards.
Funky street art and galleries
Amsterdam has tons of great street art and gallery after gallery to explore. You name it, there’s a gallery for it. And again, that quirky humor is ever present in the art. Where else would people embed a bronze sculpture of a man grabbing a woman’s breast in the cobbled streets next to the city’s most famous church.
Streets made of water
Our favorite thing about Amsterdam is, without a doubt, the canals that run through the city. Not surprisingly, UNESCO has designated the man-made network a World Heritage Site. Yes, many cities have canals, but Amsterdam uses them like no other large city on the planet. On a sunny day, they are packed with locals and tourists alike. There are countless tours to choose from, or you can hire a boat to explore on your own. We opted for longer explorations using a 24-hour pass on the hop-on-hop-off canal bus.
This is the land of gouda, so you know cheese is going to be a top priority. We made it our mission to sample as much cheese as possible in every shop we passed; it was ALL good! However, we felt the Polder Gold Old Sheep’s Cheese needed to come home with us. Not cheap, but certainly delicious. 🙂
A red light district with a medieval theme
Seriously, where else would you put the red light district smack dab in the middle of the medieval old town? There aren’t many cities where you can take in the Gothic architecture backed by windows full of gyrating whores. Good idea? Sexploitation? Amusing? Bizarre? Everyone will answer those questions differently. But it’s definitely a defining part of Amsterdam’s image. (Take a moment to contemplate the controversy.)
Really great windmills
Many companies offer tours to visit rural windmills in the surrounding countryside. But actually, there are several great traditional wooden windmills within the city limits. The one above was located near the Dapper Market stop on the blue line of the canal bus.
Surprisingly good bird watching
You wouldn’t expect it, but there is some amazing birdlife in Amsterdam, including this wacky heron hanging out on someone’s car. We also sighted flocks of feral parrots living in the city! Check out this Flickr site with shots of Amsterdam’s parrots.
Those notorious coffee shops
Amsterdam is world-famous for its “coffee shops.” Thomas and I both hate the smell of marijuana, so this isn’t really our scene (sorry travel dudes, did we just lose half our followers on Facebook?) Despite the fact that we aren’t smokers, we did kind of enjoy checking out the various coffee shop themes, some of which are works of psychedelic art. But coffee shop enthusiasts beware, the laws in the Netherlands are still evolving due to pressure from the European Union as well as the Dutch themselves who are getting tired of stoned tourists. While coffee shops are still open to the general public in Amsterdam, other cities only allow Dutch customers.
A park on the roof of a building
The huge public space on top of the Nemo building is one of Amsterdam’s coolest free attractions. We’re not sure if we should call it a public park or roof-top beer garden or what. But it is a great place to grab a beer and a snack and take in the view over Amsterdam and its sprawling harbor.
Some seriously beautiful malls
That’s right, this building is actually a mall!!! And the interior is just as impressive. While wandering around the city, we actually discovered several malls and covered passages integrated into the beautiful brick architecture. If they gave prizes for spectacularly integrated shopping experiences, Amsterdam would definitely be a contender.
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