A city of canals, bridges, crazy paving, fixed gear bikes, weed and hookers.
Everything is made of brick. Almost every single inch of the city is paved with rectangular bricks of various size. There aren’t many parks and barely any tarmac. Buildings leaning at scary angles and surfaces paved with hexagonal bricks are as exciting as it gets.
The bike is king. They are everywhere, most with high wide handle bars and without gears or brakes. Kids sit in wheel-barrow type contraptions affixed to the front of bikes and dogs/shopping in a crate on the back. Some of the bikes are nicely decorated with flowers.
There are lots of canals. They run in a series of semi-circular rings around the city centre with some narrower perpendicular connections. Consequently there are a lot of bridges over which bikes, pedestrians, trams and cars must compete to cross.
The pavements are too narrow. We weren’t even there at the weekend which I imagine is busier. Grade separated cars, bikes and pedestrians – pah! In practice at least. Along the canals pavements are mostly on a single side only – right in front of the houses, separated from a road in most places wide enough for a single lane of traffic only. Not that there is much traffic aside from cycles and scooters on these lanes. Sounds ideal until you actually try to walk on the pavements, avoiding steps down to doors below street level, bikes which seemingly can be parked pretty much anywhere and bags of rubbish.
There aren’t many cars which is good and those that are on the streets must wait for trams to get out their way. Trams ring a bell to alert cyclists and pedestrians that they are about to mow them down. When you cross the road at a pedestrian crossing the button emits a sounds which suggests you are getting mowed down by a machine gun.
Most buildings were 5 or 6 stories tall, very little rose higher than this which is rather unusual for a European capital city.
And yes the smell of weed emerges from coffee shops and spills out on to the street and the Red light district is as cringe-worthy as you predict.
Getting there: Very simple. We flew out to Schiphol and took the 197 bus into Amsterdam, cost €4 and took about half an hour.
Where we stayed: Hotel Kooyk (1 star guest house). Old building by a canal with sloping floors downstairs, rather chaotic check-in process but all went well. It wasn’t very busy when we went, the shared bathroom facilities on our floor were always free. During the night the Amsterdam Schiphol airport flight paths must have changed since loud planes were coming in/taking off every couple of minutes in the morning but not during the previous evening/night.
Free open WiFi was surprisingly hard to find around the city. Our budget hotel was looking to charge 10 Euros a day for access!
Breakfast: 3 choices of bread, butter, jam, cheese slices, 3 ham/salami, very nice coffee, hard boiled egg, help yourself, single small glass of orange juice. My friends incredibly were nowhere near as hungry as me.
Getting around: The center is fairly compact and perfectly walkable.
Onward Journey (ease of using Interrail):
On our onward journey (to Berlin) reservations weren’t necessary, no additional fees to pay we just turned up and traveled (after checking in the station information kiosk moments before). There were several other English speaking inter-railers in our carriage on the way to Berlin.
The first stage of our journey was provided by a double-decker train, like so many others serving Amsterdam Centraal. Since we don’t have these in the UK we of course headed straight upstairs even though we were only going a couple of stops. Spacious, clean, comfy and about a quarter full we took seats around a central table. An LCD screen at the end of the carriage switched between displaying journey information and a live stream of the Olympics.
A free Dutch newspaper even enabled us to see that team GB had bagged 2 more gold medals since we had left home early the previous day!