I’m still not sure why they call it the “Netherlands” now, I like Holland better so I’ll call it Holland. So there.
Like most people, we headed for Amsterdam. Amsterdam was an awesome city. From the second you leave the main terminal / train station you’re at the foot of many attractions. We checked out the Heinekin factory, a sex museum (a weird venue anywhere but Amsterdam), the Van Gough museum, Anne Frank house, and a few more sites all within walking distance.
Things were relatively cheap too, at least for our travel style. We ate at restaurants far from the main toursity areas and didn’t pay any more than we were used to paying back home in Edmonton, Alberta. We also took local transit which was only a few Euros per trip. As for hotels, we went the hostel route. Our hostel wasn’t anything glamorous (as expected) but was a safe roof over our head and a lot of European hostels include free breakfast which was pretty decent.
ALL of the people we met, whether they be locals, store owners, transit workers or pub bartenders were extremely friendly. For a place so overpopulated at times with tourists you’d expect the locals to get sick of answering the same questions every day, but like I said – we found everyone friendly and very casual to talk to.
Good to Know
Not sure if this is JUST Amsterdam or a Europe thing, but apparently it’s not “cool” to wear a hoodie in Europe. People don’t usually wear them. One evening we approached a large crowd of people in a square in Amsterdam, not really knowing what the deal was. We thought maybe there was a band about to setup & play, or maybe a celebration was about to begin… anyway – we were wearing hoodies with the hoods drawn over our heads and were stopped by a couple local girls. They told us to take our hoodies off because only hoodlums and trouble-makers wear hoodies. We only realised at that moment that the crowd of people was actually a crowd of protesters about to start a march, and there were police everywhere. These locals assured us that the hoodies would have painted a large target on our foreheads and the police would have singled us out as troublemakers. The march started and we followed keeping a safe distance (with our hoodies off) and for the most part it was a peaceful protest, only a few ringleaders wearing balaclavas and starting small fires in the streets.
I heard that the red light districts in Amsterdam were pretty dodgy. However, we found them to be only a few steps away from the main streets (where you’d find H&M stores, Starbucks, etc), and even saw a pack of school kids walking through one of the red light districts on some kind of field trip. There was the odd guy trying to sell us drugs under the radar, but for the most part it felt very clean, safe and regulated enough to scare away most of the dodgy individuals.
We also heard that you could buy marijuana/pot and mushrooms from local retail just about anywhere. This was true. If pot and mushrooms are your sort of thing you’ll love Amsterdam. Buying these drugs is just as common as buying milk from a grocery store.
The high-speed rail system in Holland and throughout Europe is awesome. You can get just about anywhere fast. I’ve used a 5-country EuroRail pass in Europe before, but never having stopped in Amsterdam. Once I was there, I felt the urge to visit more of Holland, perhaps spend a week travelling around to Rotterdam, and many other small towns within a short distance of each other. The regretful part is, it’s almost a waste to use a day of your EuroRail pass on short-leg trips like that (only an hour or two away) and better to use them for long-hauls (like Amsterdam to Paris, or Paris to Frankfurt, for example). When we priced out short-haul trips to ther towns via the local rail, it was upward of 50 euros each way. When you’re backpacking on budget in Europe, that adds up pretty quick. Needless to say we bypassed a lot of these little towns, but I’d like to go back one day. I’ve been told that many towns throughout Holland still look and feel like they did 50-100 years ago. Something becoming a rarity these days.