Elke Vrijdag, CasinoBeats denkt hardop*
ANYONE who visits the Dutch capital regularly is familiar with the customary raised eyebrows from those who think a trip to Amsterdam is essentially an excuse for debauchery.
It would be like assuming every Brit you meet on Spain’s Costa Blanca is on the run from the tax man. Inevitably, some are, but for the most part they just like the beaches and the Eastenders vibe.
CB has completed seven visits to Amsterdam. There’s a risk this kind of repetition can render such trips a chore but those returning to iGB Live – or the Super Show, as it was known for years – would be well advised to remember that international travel with work is a privilege. Especially when it brings them to somewhere as wonderful as this.
Yes, there’s The Famous Red Light District and seemingly countless coffee shops where patrons are legally free to indulge in smoking marijuana.
But these areas, so often thronged with tourists unwilling or at least unlikely to invest in either industry, are comparatively small and well defined. This does not make them ghettos, just neighbourhoods where anything goes.
On the dartboard that is a map of Amsterdam, its rings and segments defined by canals spreading out in concentric circles from Dam Square, the Red Light District occupies little more than treble 15.
“road crossings brings pedestrians face to face with casual pelotons of commuters swooshing by.”
It is probably because of these relatively small hedonistic enclaves that the rest of Amsterdam is such a model of modern city living.
Tramways zigzag this way and that, endless cycle paths carry the steel-buttocked Dutch to and fro, and there are few city centre buildings over five stories.
The cycling – both in scale and style – is something to behold. Any road crossing brings the pedestrian face to face with casual pelotons of commuters swooshing by. On giant bikes too.
The Dutch are statistically the tallest nation in the world, the men at least, yet they still see fit to mount huge bicycles to emphasise their towering advantage.
Still, the city’s cyclists are not obsessed with bikes – there are no middle-aged men clad in Lycra, cosplay Power Rangers crushing their perineums on Boardman or Specialised road bikes. A sight all too familiar on the UK’s cycleways. No, these machines are built for comfort and convenience. As is so much of the Dutch capital.
Amsterdam is flat, except for the stairs which tend to be terrifyingly steep. Its streets are wide and its green spaces many.
The archetypal canalside Dutch townhouse is ubiquitous, yes, but the examples adorning many a t-shirt or postcard suggest a city short on space.
It’s true that there is a lot crammed into a relatively small area. The canals and cycle paths could choke the streets but somehow they do not. Amsterdam is somewhere you can always see the sky and you’re never more than five minutes’ walk from a vast park, kept impeccably clean.
“The staff, as everywhere, speak English with unerring ease, a hint of an American accent often the only timbre.”
The area around Museumplein is a particular joy. The Rijksmuseum and another dedicated to the work of Van Gogh, sit alongside high-end retail and chic eateries. CB spends the first of two evenings in the city at The Seafood Bar.
An enduring favourite, sitting on Van Baerlestraat where the road meets Vondelpark, the restaurant is a voyage of discovery for anyone who likes fish.
The staff there, as everywhere it seems, speak English with unerring ease, a hint of an American accent – garnered perhaps from watching The Big Bang Theory or Friends – often the only timbre.
The fritto misto, like the company, is compelling. The diners go their separate ways and CB is suddenly adrift, held in Amsterdam’s muggy summery embrace. It is too far to walk back to the Novotel. Although the Uber app glows enticingly, CB opts for the tram, its blue-and-white cars seemingly unchanged in decades.
The city’s tram network is cheap and brilliant and the route to bed takes in the No.12 from Museumplein, heading east to Victorieplein. The latter is a silent crossroads frequented by the No.4 tram, which carries wistful journalists to their temporary home near the RAI exhibition centre.
It is a strangely joyful experience to pass quietly through the city’s silent neighbourhoods by tram at night and CB is reminded that, even on a work trip with a hectic schedule and high expectations, there is joy to be found, if you look for it.
*Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud