Tuesday, 3 January 2017

In awe of Amsterdam

Amsterdam was a revelation!

Centraal Station
What was a revelation was the crisp, efficient transport, the fantastic Centraal Station, the joie de vivre of everyone around, so much so, that when I asked for directions to reach my hotel, no one seemed to know where I had to go (most people are tourists in Amsterdam) and I managed to see half the city on foot and my suitcase before I found my fantastic hotel - the Hampshire Hotel - it was tucked in a lane, yet in the heart of the and extremely helpful staff. My room was beautiful with a view of the skyline and a balcony to enjoy it in! But all errors were forgiven once I breathed in the evening air of this beautiful capital full of canals and bicycles and so much history, courage and the windmills. Major repair works on the tramlines, with men and their machines battling the canal waters and the constant flow of trams, but all this did not mar the spirit of the workers and left the city undeterred.
Since I had just a night to myself, I decided to hire a taxi and Ali my chauffeur for the evening was a local (though originally from Morocco) since he was five years old, and he knew the city like the back of his hand.
So after my dinner at LUCIUS a great sea food restaurant, where the decor is simple, nothing grand as the food, but you just can't enter the place without a reservation (speaks volumes about its 41 year old reputation), it was almost full when I entered. Couples and groups of families were indulging in the the three-tier trays of oysters on ice, shellfish and crustaceans while I decided to try the Dutch shrimps and Lobster bisque with Cognac cream. Post dinner, Ali was waiting for me, it was cold and we began our whirlwind tour of the city beginning with the Dam square; the main square of the city where once upon a time the dam was built on the Amsel river. Now it has a monument that towers into the sky built to honour the those who lost their lives in the World War II. A couple of photos of the tower and myself, Ali pointed out that the Royal Castle was right there.
The famous red light area was on my mind, but since it is a pedestrian area, I would have had to walk there, so Ali dropped me as close as he could and I tried walking but the place was too crowded as I guess the curiosity of every tourist gets the better of them. A bit fazed by the jolly crowds, I decided to give it a miss. But Ali made sure my curiosity was quenched by showing me a smaller red light area for discreet clients and also told me about another one in the South of the city.

Bicycles and waterways

With the biggest tourist attraction behind me, I proceeded to the Rijks Museum and in the dark of the night I could see that it was huge! Very close to Rijks is the Van Gogh Museum - both are the most visited museums of the city and another landmark is the Anne Frank House. As we drove through the city, it seemed peaceful and the canals meet you at every turn, some of them with boats parked during the night. Cyclists too, who are all over the place, during the night seem scarce, making it serene. Ali educated me about the city at every point, and I was in awe of Amsterdam. The canals were built in addition to the main canal of Amsterdam to house the influx of people who came to work here when ship building and industry was flourishing in the 16th century.

Rijks Museum

As we are almost done with our quick tour of the city, I realise that Amsterdam deserves more than just a night so I make a note, I will be back.
Sailor's biscuits 
The next morning, breakfast at the Cafe Americain - the spacious restaurant at The Hampshire, is a feast - The Sailor's biscuits for the brave seamen as they explored the world - were on offer besides the numerous breads, meats, cheese, eggs and lots more. After a coffee, I leave for the station as the vibrant city is just waking up to another busy day.