I’ve heard many wonderful and romantic things about Amsterdam.
Everyone who had been there seemed to love it, so we arrived there with excited anticipation, having booked three nights at a central city hotel.
Alas, the warm rapport that all my friends and colleagues seemed to have had, I found rather lacking.
Yes, here is a very pretty city, carved up by old narrow roads and canals, with gorgeous 200 hundred year old buildings gracing the water ways.
But, it’s about as pedestrian friendly as Auckland. No, let me correct myself. It is less pedestrian friendly than Auckland.
Amsterdam has a population of around 700,000, and around 675,000 active cyclists. These are local cyclists, following their own rules. Traffic lights and road laws don’t apply. And in a town dominated by cycle ways, these silent high speed terrors are a nightmare to negotiate through.
And when you have safely navigated through the cyclists into pedestrian only areas, there are thousands upon thousands of teeming tourists to contend with. If you are wearing a short sleeved shirt, be prepared to have your upper arms in constant contact with fellow human flesh not your own.
If you can see above the masses, you note streets lined with tacky tourist shops selling marijuana related goods, to tourists, who clearly can’t handle it. Oh and tulips and shoe fridge magnets.
It was too much for us.
The following day we took a train out to Haarlem. Not Harlem of New Amsterdam (Old New York), but original Haarlem, a smaller satellite city around 20 mins from Amsterdam.
There, a delightful town awaited us. Similar to Amsterdam, with canals crisscrossing through the city, and narrow cobbled streets lined with 300 year old houses, and authentic shops, much as we saw in Bruges. We immediately loved Haarlem. Following some delicious street vendor fries (a local delicacy) topped with full cream mayonnaise, we decided some exercise was in order.
We hired two bicycles, and set for the North Coast. We needed to pay slightly extra for the bikes, since we would be cycling over the sand dunes, and required three gears, instead of the usual one.
The bike ride out to the beach, took us through forest, and lovely open countryside. Reaching our destination, we set foot on a sandy beach, the first time in over a year.
Beach appreciation completed, we headed back to Harlem, for some drinks, before reluctantly returning back to our hotel.
The following few days we attempted to bond with Amsterdam proper, frequenting local cafes, and restaurants. It was sunny, food was good, and shopping opportunities aplenty, with everything set amongst gorgeous canals – all things lacking in Bergen.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
All photos below.