Back in 2005 when I first visited Amsterdam, I concluded that the city was just like Anne Frank’s diary — dull. All I remember from it is the incredibly boring river cruise and the awkward walk down the red light district with my family. But now that I’m in the company of my friends instead, I was cautiously optimistic that Amsterdam would show me a different side, and prove to me that it’s more than the watered down version I saw back then.
Amsterdam is only an hour’s train ride from Antwerpen-Centraal station, but it cost us a hefty €71 each. At least the ride was on time, swift, and clean. We got off at Amsterdam Centraal in the late afternoon, and were quite happy that there were cool winds to relief us from the almost too tropical weather we experienced throughout Tomorrowland.
We found our way easily enough, with a direct bus from the station, to our Airbnb apartment along Spaarndammerdijk. Kudos to Ade for sorting out the apartments for our entire trip. We stuck to Airbnb accommodations throughout as it turned out to be cheaper than hostels. We only had to fork out £75 each for our 3D3N stay at this apartment!
When we got to the door, Micha the cute tattooed home-owner welcomed us in. We were greeted with this sight, and our reactions went like…
It was a really, really gorgeous 2-bedroom apartment with 1 common bathroom, an ergonomic kitchen, and a little balcony. On top of that, it was clean, spacious, bright, and well furnished — certainly Home & Decor approved! Micha showed us around his home, and shared with us that it was temporarily vacant because he and his girlfriend are home-sitting at her parents’ place for a while. Lucky us! He also recommended a list of non-touristy places for us to visit, and told us where the nearest supermarket and coffee shop is before leaving us to enjoy the apartment.
It was lovely to move into such a comfy space after spending 4 nights crawling in and out of a tent at Tomorrowland. We also kept saying how this apartment would be a perfect place to rent together. And I could only fantasise about having a life and a place like this in Amsterdam…
We walked to a nice little area called Jordan, and passed by many locals enjoying their al fresco dinners. Walked on some more, and arrived at the Dam Square and the very touristy areas that spread out from it. It was like a theme park, with coffee shops (sells weed), smart shops (sells magic mushrooms), and scantily dressed comfort ladies in fish tanks all crammed into one area for the childish amusement of tourists. It’s no wonder the locals aren’t too proud of it.
Despite all that, Amsterdam is still largely a pretty and quiet town (read: nothing exciting) with stylish Dutch bicycles everywhere. But my judgement might still be skewed because this was Monday after all.
The initial plan was to cycle out of Amsterdam towards the Dutch countryside, but the bad weather forecast held us captive in town. We still went ahead to rent bicycles from Yellow Bike to explore the city — or tried to. It rained most of the day, and we ended up either riding miserably or seeking refuge in cafes.
The only type of bikes available for rent (€12 for every 24 hours) are these single speed bikes with back-pedal brakes. Coming from Singapore where all our bikes have gears and hand brakes, it took us a while to get adjusted. Plus, these bikes ride much better when they’re taller — so you got to learn how to deal with tip toeing to get your balance when the bike’s stationary.
The roads are also kind of messy, with trams, bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings overlapping each other this way and that. It’s especially nerve-wrecking (especially for Priya and I as we haven’t got our driver’s licence) at big junctions, where motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians seem to come from 8 different directions. Ade therefore became, by default, our unofficial tour guide for Amsterdam and the rest of the trip. She led the way like a boss and read maps like she had a biological GPS system.
We rode through the extremely ghetto and uninteresting Albert Cuyp market (half of the stores weren’t fully open because of the rain), saw the exterior of Rijksmuseum, and then went through Vondelpark. It was interesting to see how the drab weather made the park look moody and mysterious. Parks are always associated with balmy weather and bright sunlight. So it was quite beautiful in fact, to see Vondelpark in a different perspective. Not ideal, but at least it was interesting.
Here’s what else we saw along the way…
Visited the Droog store too. Ade suggested that since I work for Home & Decor, I should see their lifestyle products. It was an interesting walk-through, with beautiful gardens and a gorgeous cafe on the top level.
After the half-arsed cycle tour around the gloomy city streets, we headed back for an indulgent home-cooked meal. It was quite a feast, and it kicked off the re-branding of our trip. It evolved from Girls Gone Wild to Girls Gone Fat because we’ve done nothing wild so far, other than wildly stuffing our faces!
Then we went out again into the drizzly evening in search of a bar. Popped by a cosy-looking one nearby, and got ourselves 2 beers and a glass of wine for €9. Amazing!
Here comes the fun part!
While researching on what to do in Amsterdam, I came across Richard Tulloch’s post on his day trip from Amsterdam to Waterland, which is an idyllic area up north. I’m a sucker for wide open spaces, and I’m glad my girlfriends were game enough to explore the countryside with me.
We had our big breakfast at home, packed a huge amount of food for our picnic lunch, and cycled to the central train station. From there, we hopped on a free ferry (with our bicycles) which took us across the North Sea Canal to Buiksloterweg in 2 minutes.
Got off, rode some way, then realised that they don’t sell maps of Waterland there. So Ade and I left our bikes with Priya and took the ferry back to Centraal station to find a map. Along the way, we bumped into the largest dog I’ve ever seen.
And now the real journey towards Broek in Waterland commences…
Met some four-legged friends hanging out in the pretty Dutch countryside.
The journey took longer than we expected, and we found out pretty quickly that our single speed bikes were not suited for long distances at all. I’m not sure how to explain this in technical terms, but basically our bikes couldn’t go very fast, and we had to work damn hard to cover the miles. But it was really wonderful to be out of the city, to ride along empty stretches of roads surrounded with nothing but cottages, gardens, and green fields.
Then we realised that there’s a river between us and Broek in Waterland, and we had to take this silly boat because there were no bridges across it.
We arrived at Broek in Waterland soon after, only to find out that it was very quiet and pretty underwhelming. We’ve already cycled for 2 hours, including the rest stops. But we decided to soldier on further north, to a neighbouring town called Monnickendam. It took us another 20 minutes, but we managed to find the perfect spot to rest our thighs and wolf down our picnic.
The weather was superb… Sunny and cool. So we lazed around some more, and took the time to properly relax. After the madness at Tomorrowland, this techno-less, jock-less environment felt magnificently tranquil. It is crucial to have moments like these to enjoy the peace and quiet while I’m travelling. For me, it’s the epitome of “getting away”. But I still find it silly that I have to fly half way around the globe to enjoy free, simple pleasures like this.
Here’s more of us in quaint little Monnickendam.
The weather forecast predicted showers in the evening, so we had to leave this idyllic town and make the long, hard cycle back to Amsterdam city. It was made even more challenging with the impending storm, which brought strong winds that made riding even harder. It was really a test, trying to cycle fast, against the winds, on a damn single speed bike.
But we made it home! Dry and unscathed. And now, Girls Gone Fat rolls along into another indulgent homecooked dinner at the apartment. I’d like to add that our groceries, which included enough food for 2 breakfasts, 3 dinners, and 1 big picnic, only totalled up to €65. That, compared to our €35 restaurant dinner on the first night here, is damn cheap! So when in Europe, just cook your own meals. Thankfully, I travelled with 2 wonderful housewives who actually enjoyed cooking. Sick. But thanks, guys! I offered to do the dishes, but this apartment had a dishwasher. So I humbly put the plates in and pushed a couple of buttons. A great way to work off my meal!
Throughout our stay here, we repeatedly mentioned how perfect this place is. Well, it truly is! It was such an excellent idea to get Airbnb stays. The idea of returning to a private and homely space after a tiring day of exploring was just so comforting. We’re really too old and anti-social for the “young, fun, and outgoing” crowds at hostels.
After dinner, we took a stroll down to Westergasfabriek, a former gas factory that has been converted into a cultural hub filled with bars and restaurants. We didn’t expect much as it was Tuesday, and it was very quiet indeed. Only a couple of empty bars were open for business, and we only had a quick drink in one. Devoid of crowds, this place had the eerie vibe of an abandoned area. So it was still quite a fascinating space to explore.
Our visit to Amsterdam was like a very nice, long walk in the park. It gave us time to slow down and rest well before the next party town: Berlin, baby!