Amsterdam Centraal awaited us as we alighted from the Sprinter. We made our way out and if I am not mistaken, the plaza directly in front of Amsterdam Centraal has been under construction for the past 10 years, which is how long it has been since I last visited Amsterdam. Maybe they were constructing in stages or something.
Get the iAmsterdam card. We got ours for €50 per person valid for 48 hours
The tourist centre for Amsterdam is located slightly off centre to the left as you walk out from the main entrance. We were there to get our iAmsterdam card, which is almost equivalent to the Paris Museum Pass, except that it includes a public transport card. Ours cost €50 for 48 hours, starting from the time you first activate the card. There is a booklet that list down all the various discounts and offer associated with the card for your perusal.
Walking in Amsterdam requires full attention, your eyes must be on the lookout and your ears tuned to the ding of the bicycle bell. Cyclists in Amsterdam are notorious for being impatient and we saw a few examples as we crossed the busy intersection of Prins Hendrikkade. “Don’t just look down, try looking up at the street houses,” I told the wife. “Noticed how they seemed to be leaning outwards.”
“This was quite useful in the olden days because there wasn’t Ikea and their flat packed furniture. So it was quite hard to make it upstairs due to the narrow stairs. They had to hoist it up.”
“Interesting,” followed by the camera click.
In a city famous for the Red Light District, do not be surprised by the fact that this church lies right in the centre of it. Built in 1300, for the sailors and dedicated to St. Nicholas. The Oude Kerk is covered by the iAmsterdam pass but because the World Press Photo was having their exhibition, another cover charge of €3 per person was required. This is a sneaky way of marking up the price despite us having prepaid for the admission.
However, the most interesting thing with regards to the church is the choir chairs located inside. Get the free laminated card from the admission counter that identify some of the interesting stories behind the carvings on the choir chairs. Some have totally no meaning at all, whilst some are illustrations of famous proverbs and sayings.
- Money doesn’t fall out of my arse
- Sitting between 2 chairs
- Banging your head against a brick wall
- Don’t pull too hard on a weak rope
Red Light District
Circling the church is the infamous Red Light District. Make your way along the canal and choose any of the narrow alleyways to enter. Do not worry, it is quite safe to venture in the day. “Where are they?” the wife asked innocently. “Just look through the windows,” came the reply. “Whoa!” Looks like someone just found what they came for.
No photography allowed at the Red Light District
A word of warning though — No photography/videography allowed.
We were bombarded with various shapes and sizes of panty-and-bra-clad women along the alleys. Posturing and gesturing at the people walking by. Some looked disdainfully at the sightseers like us, while some were winking and hitting on the horny men.
“So this is it?” asked the wife. “Yes. Sort of. There are a couple more alleyways.”
“I’m hungry,” said the wife. I know, that didn’t sound right when mentioned at such an area. So we both laughed it off as we double back towards Oude Kerk.
If you prefer to know more about prostitution, there is a Prostitution Info Centre just behind the Oude Kerk. I kid you not.
Located around one of the corners at Nieuwmarkt, two canals away from the Oude Kerk is this little shop suggested by one of the spotters at Spotted By Locals — Café Stevens.
We felt warmed up upon entering the premises, most probably due to the curtains covering the entrance, preventing the cold air from flowing in. The wooden floor creaked underneath us. We made our way to one of the empty tables next to the wide windows overlooking De Waag. A nice place for people watching if you asked me.
Recommended at Café Stevens — bitterballen. €4.80 for 6 of them
If you are looking for some local chatter, you could always hit the bar. The menu was already on the table but I knew what we had to order as recommended — the bitterballen. It costs €4.80 for 6 bitterballens, this meat-based ball-shaped fried snack comes with hot curry paste inside. One small bite and the mixture of curry paste and minced meat fills up your mouth. Perfect for the cold weather.
People watching in Amsterdam is slightly different, it is more of looking at cyclists rather than people walking past. We were quite amazed as how they zip around corners without stopping, using their little bells to warn pedestrians and basically enjoying themselves on a car-free road.
After warming ourselves up with bitterballen, you might think that we were crazy to try out something cold. But since we were the really crazy ones, we went ahead and had some gelato. This little shop called Ijssalon Tofani lies on Klovniersburgwal 16, do not let the road name fool you, it is the street right across Café Stevens.
Try the chocolate or the coffee
If gelato is not your type of food for a cold day, they serve coffee too, or actually espresso. Do not let the shabby façade dissuade you from entering, once inside, made your way to the counter and order up some gelato. The price is €1.20 per scoop and if you believe what the locals say, this is the best gelato in town. Tip: try the chocolate.
(to be continued)