I spent three days in Amsterdam and I walked a lot. I never realised how uncomfortable my Converse were until I walked so much the fabric on the heel wore away and left rubber to scrape at my heels. Amsterdam is like a maze; every street, canal, square and church looks the same, but each street is so quaint and intriguing you somehow end up where you started every time you set out to explore.
The architecture is especially beautiful at night when many buildings are up-lit, casting a warm glow and lengthy shadows across the wonky beams and crumbling brickwork. Of course there’s the occasional lady in a window, the novelty of which wears off quickly, but for the main town you can almost sense the hustle and bustle of the old streets and taverns in the seventeenth century when many of the establishments were built. Even my hostel building was four hundred years old and when the weekend partygoers vacated and left me alone my huge attic room took on an eerie feel. I wondered what it had been in the sixteen hundreds, and how many people had lived, worked and spent time here. Many buildings lean sideways or forwards and leave you wondering how they still stand.
But enough of the architecture: you just want to know about the coffee shops don’t you? Before I arrived I wondered if I’d actually be able to find a nice cosy cafe to read a book in, and I wondered whether I would stumble innocently into a coffee shop and be laughed out the door for just wanting a cup of tea. Well, firstly, it’s very obvious which ones are the coffee shops, there’s no under-the-counter shifty business going on, it’s all open and, well, normal over there, and the clouds of green smoke billowing out of the door are a bit of a giveaway, not to mention the cannabis leaf stickers in the windows and the menus of various herby and mushroomy things on offer. ‘Coffee shop’ means a place to smoke, ‘cafe’ means tea and cheesecake. All appear to be very friendly and welcoming to everyone.
Museums are really expensive so I only visited two: Anne Frank’s House and the Rijksmuseum, a huge art collection including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. The centrepiece was Rembrandt’s Night Watch, a huge piece filling the wall and attracting big crowds. Its use of light was unprecedented at the time he painted it and I realised that I’ve never really thought about the use of light in painting even though I think about it every day in photography.
Anne Frank’s house was intriguing and inspiring. I had never read the book – it wasn’t on our school syllabus which is when most people discover it and my list of books to read is enormous and growing daily, but I went back to the hostel and started reading it immediately and found it absolutely astounding and thought provoking.
Amsterdam is a strange place to travel alone so it was lucky that I found two lovely people in the hostel to explore the town with in the evenings. People only tend to come here in groups, and usually only for booze fuelled nights or lazy, hazy days, so staying in a hostel is an absolute must if you travel alone. It’s too damn expensive for a hotel anyway!