Amsterdam – Small Smoke Romance

Floating through the city with blood shot eyes and a mile wide smile, high end shopping, people watching, romantic street strolling, museum perusing, face stuffing and gallons of beer; there’s something in Amsterdam for everyone. Clichéd I know, but it’s true. The capital of the Netherlands is an easily navigated hub of art, wonderfully quirky architecture, an elaborate canal system and a liberal approach to almost everything. Leaving aside the fact that you can smoke a doobie without being thrown in a cell, Amsterdam is a glowing spectacle of liberal thinking and acceptance, where style is individual and sex isn’t taboo, being a hipster is standard and artistic expression is always welcomed.

It’s so much more than joints and prostitutes. The city has a modest population of under 800,000 which means it never feels over crowded (unless you venture into a bar unwittingly on champions league final night). There are people from all backgrounds and cultures strolling around the city, jaunting alongside the canals, under gorgeous old world street lights that light up the facades of the brown stone esque townhouses. Squeezed between these are gable fronted houses, their windows floor to ceiling and their interiors spacious, homely but never short on quirks. Some of the buildings tilt forward, which I’ve been told is actually a serious issue in the city as many of the structures are actually sinking. So if you move to the city and one morning awake in your bed, floating in the canal, don’t say I didn’t give you a heads up.

A close friend of mine moved to Amsterdam years ago, now calling it home. While I visited the city last September with a group to do the things tourists do when they hit the flat streets, such as smoke, cycle and go to the red light district, I did also experience what it would be like to live in the city. That’s my favourite part of city breaking, getting to the point where you fit in as a local, drinking your second consecutive latte on the kerb outside a classy café, watching passers by through the lenses of your sunglasses and sweeping the croissant crumbs from your jacket. I just came back three days ago from a second trip to the city and this time did none of the touristy activities. While everyone on Sunday morning slept until the late hours, I got up, showered the shards of hangover from my body and headed out onto Prinsengracht and meandered my way along and over to Keizersgracht, grabbed coffee on route and just soaked up the wonderfully soothing continental atmosphere.

Rather than drone on further in hyperbolic fashion, here are some of my Amsterdam highlights to try out for yourself. Do note that most of these involve food and coffee, two of my favourite past times:

Bakery Bastards – Vijzelgracht 37HS
This new addition to the Amsterdam café circuit is so hipster it hurts, from its branding to its interior. Pop in and grab a delicious flat white and sample one of the many baked wares they’ve got on offer. I didn’t eat anything on this visit, but I’m stilling fantasising about the pecan pie that looked like it was draped seductively in caramel. Oh you minx, Pecan Pie, you minx.

Buffet Von Odette – Prinsengracht 598
I stumbled upon this classier establishment when I was trying to shake off the remains of my hangover. I looked at the gorgeous exterior, foliage half covering the sign and stylish Amsterdam natives nibbling on their eggs and sipping their capuccinos in the humid mid morning air. I was reassured that my state wasn’t going to be an issue though when a woman walked out in her morning run gear, so I stepped in and grabbed a takeaway latté. Delicious, strong coffee, inexpensive considering the table tops are marble (or a very good imitation).

Vlaamsch Broodhuys – Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat 64 – Helmersbuurt
Now if you’re a people watcher this is the place for you. An independent café that’s grown to branches throughout the Netherlands (or so I believe) this is an amazing spot for breakfast. You can sit out in the morning sun (perfect on a weekday) and watch Amsterdam’s residents go about their business, cycling and tramming to work. The pastries are tasty, the coffee’s great and the yoghurt and granola is a surprisingly good way to kick off your day of exploration. That is, if you manage to leave this place. The interior is beautiful and it has that classic continental vibe, not to mention the piles of freshly baked bread that decorate the counter and your senses when you enter. Drool.

Museum Market – Museumplein 1071 DJ Amsterdam
This is a cute way to pass time on a Sunday. Through the grand Museumplein gates you arrive at a vast courtyard, packed with stalls and bodies. If you’re looking for some odd ball artefacts to decorate your home then this is the place for you.

Enjoy the city
Amsterdam is a visual delight and it’s best seen on foot or on a bicycle. All of the sights and beautiful architecture of the centre and surrounding canals can be seen on foot but if you want to go further afield a bike is a good bet. We hired bikes for €20 for the day (roughly) and it enabled us to see so much more of the city than we would have on foot. Get yourself to Vondel Park with your bike and a picnic because on a summers day it is wonderful. It’s also so enormous that you could cycle around it and find little nooks all day.

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