A Juxtaposition of Serenity and Sin

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The journey to Amsterdam was another back-to-front affair with an array of passengers whose faces were frozen enough to rescind the melting of the polar ice caps. A frequent service operates each day between Berlin and Amsterdam, with a total  575km journey time of just over six hours.

My hotel the “Royal Taste” was centrally located opposite the Hash museum and adjacent to the “window” sales. Of course the city is best known for two things: prostitutes (legal) and marijuana (despite what you may have heard- illegal). It also has Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, clogs, windmills, Amstel and tulips. What folk don’t grasp is that the “quiet” side of Amsterdam is another world of deli’s, boutique bohemians shops and awesome cafes and bars. My time was split by visiting each area of the city on different days and wandering at a snail’s pace.

Oud-West is a leafy yet lively and eminently liveable part of town, it’s the part of West that’s closest to the city centre. Occupying an area bordered by the Vondelpark and the Singelgracht canal, Oud-West and neighbouring De Baarsjes are the result of the rapid urbanisation that took place in the final quarter of the 19th century. Prior to that, the semi-circular Singelgracht had marked Amsterdam’s outer limits.

Quiet, attractive residential areas open onto bustling shopping streets. There are various street markets as well as elegant mansions, upmarket furniture shops, underground galleries and cafés, often with great terraces on the canals.The buildings are mostly four-floor terraced houses split into apartments, with perilously steep staircases. Nowadays, following a period of regeneration – some might say gentrification – West has become extremely popular with expats. Numerous child-friendly cafés, activities and children’s clothes and toy shops bear witness to this. This is definitely and easy area to live-in…who knows what the future holds?

Over the next few days pottering I became overwhelmed by the Easter masses that had descended on this beautiful city. Stoned youths, many British staggering from “coffee shop” to window, slobbering over the goods on show. Not at all entertaining, bog off back to Benidorm!

I was drawn West and South away from this to the areas of Oud-Pijp, Neuw Pijp and Oosterparkbuurt but in the evenings I came across friendly hostelries and people such as Ibrahim from Egypt and Jan who had learned to ignore the morons and engage with the rest of us. The Dutch know how to relax, they are open and generally honest and forthright, I loved that. The early morning sunlight illuminates the canals and highlights the architecture. The old converted warehouses are immaculately kept hiding those unsurmountable staircases. Folk sit reading on window ledges, babies smile as they’re ferried around on rickety old cycles. Heavy jowelled ladies drag miniscual pooches in their wake as they do the rounds of locals delicatessans. As you sit sipping top notch coffee kids dance past hand in hand with their teachers full of joie de vivre. The fruit and veg is spectacular and fresh and there is one location with the most awesome homemade humous i’ve ever tasted, that is Cafe Brug 34 at Utrechtsestraat 19.

I stumbled across a funeral where everyone arrived by barge, marvellous graffiti, French Bulldogs, marvellous flower boxes (as expected), cross-dressers, photo-shoots, semi-naked stag does and too many other characters to mention (see the slideshow).

Leaving Amsterdam left me wanting more, `i’d love to spend at least a year there, but for me Paris beckoned.