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Amsterdam: The Inside Job

by Nomad Tue May 15th, 2007 at 09:18:44 AM EST

So you're in Amsterdam. You've seen all the chaos at Central Station, had your fill of it and moved out. You either rented a bike, took the trams, or just strolled about to get around. You've done the Rijksmuseum (where it is also chaos), the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank house, Rembrandt house, seen the Dam Square and its palace, was tempted to walk through the red light district and stepped into the wrong "coffeeshop" semi-accidentally. Now what? You think you've seen it all? Considering to go home with your set of porcelain clogs and tulip bulbs?

Think again.


From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

I've never really lived in Amsterdam, just took my secondary school there. So I'm pretty sure I'll beaten to pulp by the first real Amsterdammer at this forum who sees the below. But hey, beggars can't be choosers! This is my story, and I stick to it.

What else is there to do:

1) Have a cheap (sometimes downright mediocre!) but classic Dutch dinner in "De Keuken van 1870", situated in de Spuistraat, which parallels Damrak at the west side. It is a five minutes walk from Central Station.
Wesbite here but not in English (their menu's should be in English, if I remember right). If you're in a daring mood have "Griesmeelpap" for dessert. You might puke or think it the nest best thing after Worcester Sauce.

2)If you can stand caged animals, Artis - the zoo. It's one of the oldest zoos in the Netherlands - and hence some of the caging areas are in a needy state of enlargement, but they're working on it. Their mineral collection, tucked away somewhat dismissively, is also impressive and some of the shows in the planetarium are hilarious. Recommended by some: have a smoke at a coffeeshop then see a show at the planetarium. Happy trippin'!

3)If you can't stand caged animals - go there anyway, because across the Artis entry is the Verzetsmuseum - or Resistance Museum. It's a quaint collection -nothing compared to the bombast of the Imperial War Museum in London. Despite the fact that the Dutch have a terrible reputation during the second World War, there were heroes around as well. This is about them.

4) If you don't like war either, go there anyway, because there is still Gebouw Plancius (no 3 on the map above) - which is now used for live television broadcasting. The current show "De Wereld Draait Door" (The World Keeps Turning) is immensely popular and is taped live from Monday to Friday, but you could chance it and sit through the taping of the show as part of the live audience. That should solve (or enlarge?) some Dutch enigmas. Shows is generally aired from half past seven, so if you'd query at five if there is still some space for audience you might be able to peep in. Don't do crazy stunts while on air.

Just at the opposite corner of the Plancius building (near no 7 on map above), there's a nice bar with pleasant couches where they serve decent meals (the people of the bar do the serving, not the couches). They also serve meals in the Plancius, if I remember right, but they charge you ridiculously.

5) The ultimate Dutch experience: Be sure to rent a bike and then have it stolen!

No wait.

The boat trip through the canals. It's very tacky and you will be trapped for over an hour with cooing kettle-pots and fawning Japanese BUT it is a very excellent way to learn and see a LOT about the history of Amsterdam in a very short span of time. If you start at Central Station, it's very hard to miss the boat trips, they're lined up all the way towards the Dam. When we used to have a visitor around, we always would take the boat trip. If you're never been to Amsterdam before, I recommend it as one of the first things you should do.

6)For recent activities and shows, check out http://www.iamsterdam.com/ which is all about entertaining tourists (for example, the lunchtime concerts) and might come in handy anyway for lodgings. Also, the city distributes a free student magazine (generally new edition around Thursday and in Dutch) with a large section of restaurants. You generally find them piled up in paper stands on the street before restaurants.

7)Nothing beats a visit with a trip to the cinema! Have a look at the Tuschinski cinema, nearby Rembrandt Square.
It generally features crap movies (aka Hollowwood blockbusters) but I seem to remember you could freely enter the beautiful art-deco hallway, generally rubbled with popcorn on the carpet. Have a yawn at the ceiling, too. The other big venue is City, at Leidse Square, which is a monstrous building, both size and in architecture. Most of that area I think an enormous tourist trap so I generally avoid it, but there are two more good cinemas nearby and Paradiso, the pop venue, situated in a renovated church a few hundred meters to the east from City.

8) Food! The problem here is that there is so much to choose from and that smoking sometimes can be a real problem. Again, in general, I avoid the Leidse Square area because the level of crapitude there is so large.
For the well endowed visitor, there used to be a wonderful Italian restaurant, Pasta e Basta(Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 8) a little northeast of Leidse Square which serves very good Italian food and has singing waiters/waitresses (generally students from the conservatorium).

If you didn't dare the "Keuken van 1870", there is Dine with the Dutch, that should get you straight into the heart of Dutch culture. I don't know anyone who did this, but I always thought it sounded a very enjoyable experience.

There is a warehouse chain, Vroom en Dreesman (V&D), the most accessible one situated on Kalverstraat which sports a good juicebar and lunch restaurant: La Place - but also relatively pricey.

For much more, see: http://www.amsterdam.info/restaurants/

But... if you want some honest Dutch food for a decent price, I suggest you go a bit out of your way outside the direct centre and head for the area called `De Pijp". From the Rijksmuseum, it's about a 15-20 minutes walk. It really is one of those areas where you are outside the tourist sector and see Amsterdam at its most honest. Especially when the weather is nice, you can dine outside at a pub serving meals, just stroll through the Frans Hals Straat. Have some soup, Belgium fries, a marinated steak, a honest coffee. Walk back through the more stylish neighbourhood of Oud-Zuid where you will find the rare Jugendstiel facades as you approach the Concert Hall, or if you stick around in De Pijp visit the close-by Sarphatipark for an evening stroll.

9) For those with a taste for Modern Art, I also recommend to take a small trip outside of the Amsterdam centre and head for the neighbouring conglomeration of Amstelveen (which you can best reach by tram 5). Nearby the final destination of the tram, you'll find the Cobra museum which generally hosts several exhibitions and sports modern Dutch art since the 1940's.

Not interested in modern art, stick around in Amsterdam and go to Nemo, the science exploration museum in the funny looking building overseeing the inner harbour. Those with the scientific mind will not be disappointed, those who don't care will be bored out of their skulls.

10) I think it's properly advertised now, but to me it came as a shock that the Dam Royal Palace can now actually be visited - when I grew up, it remained this dominating, solemn building which housed numerous secrets. I've never visited it - to my regret. The Dam Palace is a truly monumental building, serving as the resplendent town hall during the glory days of the city. To this day, the monarchs don't use it to live in, simply because it's such an impractical place to live in - it was set up as a town hall after all - but at official occasions banquets are held there.

UPDATE: Apparently the Royal Palace is also being renovated, and hence closed for visitors. Sorry to get your hopes up.

BTW, I find CDs priced ridiculously in the Netherlands, but if you want to have a bash at them, go to Fame, possibly the largest CD shop in the centre. It is situated right beside the Dam Palace, at the very start of the Kalverstraat, the big shopping lane of Amsterdam, sporting no less than four H&M shops last time I counted. In other words: not my cup of tea.

  1. The BimHuis.

  2. If you love flea markets, don't miss out on Waterlooplein. It's the Portobello Road of Amsterdam.

And then I forgot the Jordaan area, the Beurs van Berlage, the Maritime Museum (now closed for renovation), the Diamond museum. My best advice: just stroll at your own leisure and let your sense of exploration guide you. A friend of mine once wrote she found Amsterdam really chameleonic: it can be soothingly pretty and at places just dismally awful. It's about finding those places which you like best. Personally, I think the May season is one of the very best times to visit, so amanda and rg did good.

Enjoy!!! Please bring back pictures!

Digital Maps:
Interactive Map

Ps. The cities of Utrecht and Haarlem, situated southeast and west of Amsterdam, respectively, are highly recommended too. Generally you need one day to see the most of them, they can be reached by train within 30 minutes from Central Station.

Thank you very much, Nomad. Great information!!! I will bring back photos, I promise.
by amanda2006 on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 12:29:58 PM EST
I absolutely love Amsterdam...lets see, have been there 4-5 times...and have always enjoyed my visits! Lots to do, and its a beautiful city to walk around in too.

And, on an off-topic topic...I recently read a biography of John Adams, the 2nd US President, who before that was the diplomat sent to Europe after the US colonies break from Britain to try and find a country who would recognize the US government. He actually spent a lot of time in Amsterdam then (late 1770s, early 1780s), and it was actually The Netherlands government that first recognized the United States. I did not know this. He enjoyed himself in Amsterdam a lot, but unfortunately got malaria! I should write about that biography sometime...it really gives an interesting understanding of the US relationshaip to Europe.

Anyway...thanks for this!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 12:57:13 PM EST
Oh yea, I forgot! Definitely check out the Van Gogh Museum...but go early! Plus, there are a ton of good pubs, plus definitely give an Indonesian restaurant a try...great food, great prices (at least the one I found did!)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 01:05:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But it neatly fits in with the history of the Dutch republic/United Provinces - they had gained their independence from Spain late 16th century, but had been constantly at war to keep it - I guess the American history for independence resonated with the Dutch.

Also, at that point, the Anglo-Dutch alliance wasn't enjoyed much anymore by the Republic... If the Dutch could piss off England by sharing behind the independence of the USA, I suspect they would have... Though sharing behind France and the USA was the start of the final decline of the Dutch empire, culminating in the devastating (for the Dutch) Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.

by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:11:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, will bookmark it in case I will go to Amsterdam sometime soon.
by Fran on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 01:04:16 PM EST
Is my memory broken? or do you live in Utrecht?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 02:26:37 PM EST
Don't know, what did your memory tell you?

I never lived in Amsterdam, but lived outside the city and just (archetypically!) cycled back and forth to my secondary school. My university years were in Utrecht, the city to whom I've sold part of my heart.

by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:16:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No my memory seemed to tell me that you lived in Utrecht, and by sheer chance I got a message from a friend of mine who lives there who told me that he'd been arrested in the week before in a bycicle protest against the G8.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 01:03:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very nice approach Nomad, I can recognize parts of it from my own visists.
But your first picture in the diary demands some explanation: a visitor here thought it was a pub for a xxx-sized condom.....

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 04:17:39 PM EST
by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:32:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's an illustration of the derivation of French argot.
by rootless2 on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 09:33:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ps. The cities of Utrecht and Haarlem, situated southeast and west of Amsterdam, respectively, are highly recommended too. Generally you need one day to see the most of them, they can be reached by train within 30 minutes from Central Station.

Ah, thanks. If now someone could do a diary about Zürich I'd be much obliged.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 06:15:59 PM EST
Giant railway central station, flower clock, bathhouse, two chuches with empty walls, giant railway central station, too many boring banks, a (former) monastery, funicular between buildings (to a university), giant railway central station.

Have I told about the giant railway central station?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 06:33:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a short diary. LOL

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 06:34:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 07:03:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since I work in Zurich that would be fun...will have to do more research on it first! Maybe mmmm can help!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 07:03:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good job Nomad! I am going to bash you for guiding people to the Fame, though. Even though it has a broad selection, it's a sucky store (plus it's evil, owned by the Free Record Store chain IIRC).

There are three stores where you can respectably be seen as a music snob of which I remember the names/addresses: Get Records on the Utrechtsestraat, Concerto (also has a good classical and vinyl collection), opposite to the Get on the Utrechtsestraat, and Boudisque on the Haringpakkerssteeg (small alley between the Damrak and the Nieuwendijk).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun May 13th, 2007 at 07:22:16 PM EST
I don't understand myself why I didn't add Get Records or Boudisque... (Don't know Concerto though.) I always would hang out in Boudisque, never in Fame - or Magna Plaza which is potentially even more Evil.
by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:24:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to offer one place to listen to and watch music

Cafe Alto...

Here's the story.

We were heavily into the first night of our "Amsterdam Mood", which, if you have ever been heavily into one, means you have very little idea of where you are, every place looks incredible, and you've probably eaten some food and drunk a beer, and now you need to see the evening out...you don't know the time, so it's probably somewhere between nine and eleven p.m.

We were near the flower market, heading in the vague direction of "over there", when a raggedy guy came over.

"Excuse me, are you English?" he said.


"Look, I'm not begging, but I have"--he took out a large handfull of coins--"all these pounds.  The english keep giving them to me but I can't use them.  Could you change them for euros?"

I can't remember if we took the change off him (I think we left them with him...the point being...well...he was a friendly guy and I gave him a euro note, but he didn't want it...he must have kept those coins...or did he say he'd do us a favour, or ask us where we were going?)

Well...at a certain point I said, "We're looking for an area where there's live music, it's up there and around there, I think," gesturing over and beyond the flower market and then to a point somewhere beyond.

"I know the perfect place," he said.  "You'll love it."

He gave us directions, we followed them and ended up in Cafe Alto, where Hans Dulfer was playing.  We bought our (expensive cough!  But the place is free to get in and very worth it cough cough!) drinks.  Near us was a tall chap.  Near him was a saxophone case.  We watched as he built his sax and then walked to the stage (not far as you can see from the pic) and the pair of them proceeded to play "duelling saxes" up and out there and the young guy bent his sax seventeen sides of crazy while Hans frowned and played...his own versions of out there...

...and then there was a free table up near the stage...and the drummer..was awesome!

...and the bassist did a solo that at one point became the intro to Purple Haze...and then he and the drummer segued into some hip hop beats...

...and the pianist must have been having time off from his "fiendishly difficult and mostly a-tonal" modern composition classes at the conservatoire, because he hit those keys so angular, but so lovely, that jazz lack of the root and into the sevenths, ninths, and diminished this and beautiful that...

...but Hans is old school, so there were melodies...and a beaufitul woman in a turban who Hans knew...I don't think she sang, but she may have done...

...and three days ago, in the park, I met a friend's mum.  She's a big jazzer.

"I've been ruined," I said.  "I heard the best jazz ever in a place in Amsterdam, and nothing else sounds as good."

"Cafe Alto," she said.

"That's the one!"

"It's so great!  There's always something good on."

...this time, I'm going to go there (of course!). but also, thank you Nomad, I will go to the Planetarium and...overall...thanks, mate!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 11:38:22 AM EST
For anyone who hasn't been there, this pic is from the stage, to give you an idea of the size of the place.

Beyond the stairs is the bar; beyond the bar is the street.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 11:40:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
N.B. I didn't take any of these pics and, unfortunately Nomad Sir, I don't own a digitial camera.

Oh, and one last musical suggestion: go see a concert at this place:


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 11:45:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I tried to get some musical venues in here, but the truth is that I know the musical scene a lot better in Utrecht than I do in Amsterdam. That looks like an old picture to me, BTW... They renovated this one too...
by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:37:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
<Dutch celebrity bragging>That reminds me, I used to live next to Candy on the Langestraat. She moved before I did, though.</bragging>
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 09:00:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Beware (as I found out earlier this month) the Palace in Dam Sq is closed for renovations.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:11:06 PM EST
That's what you get when you haven't been there properly for six months. Thanks M!
by Nomad on Mon May 14th, 2007 at 12:32:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I always prefered Utrecht over Amsterdam, Need to move back there, suburban London is so....souless.
Btw, no vaart (pronounced 'fart') museum? I loved that place, but then i've always been a sucker for boats.
by passerby on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 11:07:34 AM EST
Once upon a time I dreamt of applying for a postdoc in Utrecht.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 11:11:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't figure why your picture on the opening page went away...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 11:44:37 AM EST
I had stuck the picture as an after-thought, hot linking it from another website. Theft is property all that. It's now hosted at TinyPic, so it should be back.

You know, I never expected you'd frontpage the diary!!

by Nomad on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 12:37:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Other compulsory things in Amsterdam include the Heineken museum. Don't be deterred by the high entrance fee (something like €5-10), because it includes certain perks. ;) And while you are there, learn how to and how not to pronounce Heineken (that is, in Dutch and not in German).

Oh, and do enjoy the best heritage of Dutch colonial history, the fantastic rijstafel, which in spite of being something of a prestige course at some restaurants can be aquired for only €20 if you are lucky. And that's for two people.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue May 15th, 2007 at 05:31:13 PM EST
Thanks Starvid, those need to go into an addendum! I actually never visited the Heinken factory - mainly because I think it's crap beer. I'd opt for De Halve Maan in Bruges.

When I was in Prague I ran into this gentleman who had been so single-handedly impressed with the cheapness of the Indonesian cornucopia when he had been visiting the Netherlands, he didn't have anything else for supper. In an apparent gesture of gratitude or just friendliness, he dragged me through half the city and sincerely wanted me to take the cheapest dinner from a Chinese outlet. Instead, my girlfriend and I opted for his alternative choice: the restaurant/bar which Kafka used to frequent.

by Nomad on Wed May 16th, 2007 at 05:05:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ooh, Heineken was my beginners beer!

It is ok, cheap, and very easy to drink. A good all-round beer for the inexperienced drinker. Today, I won't touch the stuff, except if I have to buy beer somewhere I don't get the student alchohol discount.

Another funny thing happened when I was in Amsterdam. I was at the Rijksmuseum, when I suddenly heard someone speak Swedish. Well, I thought, there are other Swedish tourists around here, I guess. Then they walked into the room I was in - and it were my cousins!

I had no idea they were in Amsterdam, and they had no idea we where there. Even more unlikely, they were just passing through, driving for France and were just visiting Amsterdam for a few hours.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed May 16th, 2007 at 05:33:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks! I'm going to Amsterdam in two weeks.

by Sandwichman on Thu May 17th, 2007 at 11:41:16 AM EST
Hope you enjoy it!
by Nomad on Fri May 18th, 2007 at 02:20:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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