Amsterdam is “that” city to many people. What “that” means is up to the person because in Amsterdam any of “that” can be had. Amsterdam has some of the best museums and unique culture in Europe. Amsterdam is one of the prettiest and most scenic cities in the whole world. Amsterdam has a checkered history that goes back 500 years. The Dutch are after all responsible for finding my hometown of Manhattan in the 1600’s and stupidly selling it, in what is known as the worst deal in the history of real estate. They still almost exclusively ride bicycles and tram cars in Amsterdam and of course, Amsterdam is known as the most liberal city in Europe if not in the whole world. Put this all together and it equals one of the world’s truly great cities and one of my absolute favorites.
To walk or bike around Amsterdam is a real treat because I believe Amsterdam is the prettiest city in Europe and that’s some high praise with some of the real treasures of the world in Europe. The canals to me are gorgeous and I love the way the trees line the canal district streets and offset the typically Dutch town houses that line the canals. The bridges that cross over the canals are so picturesque that even a jaded traveler like me finds himself stopping for a photo and a few minutes to admire the scenery even after five visits to the city.
The museums in Amsterdam are very well known as the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum are both worth the admission although the Van Gogh Museum did jack their prices up to 15 euros per person now with no youth or student discount. Of course there are several alternative museums that some find worthy of exploration, especially the sex museum, the torture museum, the vodka museum, a Madame Tussaud’s and the Amsterdam Dungeon which I’ve not been to but I imagine it’s a take-off on the famous London Dungeon near Whitehall in London. However, for me the only real place to visit in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House.
I had previously been in 1998 to the Anne Frank House when it was still undergoing a remodeling that lasted three years. It is always a difficult place to visit but yesterday we went and they redid the museum very respectfully and in a very tasteful way. You are still very aware of what happened in the house and of the times during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam when 103,000 Jews from the Netherlands were taken away and slaughtered in Nazi death camps.
The house is 4 stories tall and all of it is now accessible by foot and there are very informative quotes and videos throughout the house. You really get the feel of what they endured during the two years Anne Frank and seven others shared two small rooms in the attic of the Amsterdam town house. I also appreciated the visit way more this time and to put into perspective what Anne, a 10-13 year old at the time she wrote her diary, was actually writing and her incredible mature incites. I also learned about the fates of Anne and her seven other hideaways that I did not remember from my first visit many years ago. It is a very humbling experience and another chilling reminder of the trail of terror and death left by the Nazi’s during and after World War II.
We stayed at the famous St. Christopher’s at the Winston Hotel which is a hostel in the St. Christopher’s chain that includes some of Europe’s most well know and famous hostels. The place is a great place to base yourself in Amsterdam and its location is dubious because it is in the red light district. If you’ve never been to Amsterdam then I won’t bother explaining how ridiculous the Red Light district is but trust me it’s worth a look-see when you do visit. It is the most visited place in Amsterdam, even more than the Anne Frank House.
In Amsterdam’s red light district there is no limit to what you can do or see which is probably what makes it so popular. From live sex shows to window shopping for hookers, to coffee shops that don’t sell coffee and drug dealers on every corner, the red light district has something for every sinner. Ironically, it is heavily regulated (including a hookers union) and patrolled by police and very highly trafficked by tourists, both casual onlookers and of course those looking for some action. Any way you slice it, the red light district is an integral part of the tourist experience in the awesome and highly liberal city of Amsterdam.