If you are travelling to Amsterdam for the forst time and you doing so by yourself without joining any tours, no worries, the city is very tourist friendly. As soon as you step out of the departure gate of the Schiphol International Airport, there are many transportation options for you to get into the city, "domestic" trains being one of the cheapest and quickest option in my opinion. Why did I put a "quote" around the word "domestic?" Stay tuned and I will tell you why "international" trains / routes via NS Hispeed is a shocking story worth reading!
Since I am on the topic of transportation, the Amsterdam Tram system got to be one of the most efficient mode of transportation around town compared with the Amsterdam Metro or even the bus routes! The fact that the tracks are placed in the center of the roads in isolated / dedicated lanes make it more efficient. There are certainly much the Hong Kong Tramways can learn from them. An interesting thing I spotted was how there are attendants, I mean ticket attendant inside most trams to issue tickets for those passenger requiring to do so. Perhaps the Octopus like OV-chipkaart chip card is not as popular yet to get rid of the onboard ticket attendant? Or maybe this is good for employment rate?
I also like how traditional bike is a major mode of transportation in Amsterdam. There are bike lanes everywhere and watch out for speeding bikes because they are everywhere and they seem to be very ... agressive at times. Pedestrians please beware! At some hotels, you can rent bikes to go around town but I strongly recommend the tram instead and spend more time enjoying the city.
There are quite a few open markets in Amsterdam but some of the famous ones open during certain day of the week only. The Floating Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) opens 7 days a week so no worries. The Albert Cuyp Market on the other hand opens on Saturday only. (There is a book market every Friday I think ...) I was luck I was there during the weekend so got to experience the Albert Cuyp Market. Aside from the cold and fries with mayo every other stalls, it looks very much like Garden Street in Hong Kong with stalls on both side of the street selling all sort of goods and food.
Food got much of my attention as always! How can I not get myself some Stroopwafels while in Amsterdam right?? Yum!!!
Of course there were stalls selling ... weird incense. I mean the packages just not my cup of tea sorry!
I rather stick with flowers!
While eating my fries with mayo, I spotted a stalls selling roasted chickens and the queue was getting long. I rushed to there and guess who lined in front of me?? Yes, this cute little doggy got there before I did! Argh!
It is nothing new I suppose but just in case, if you come across "coffee shop," it means you must be over 18 because they serve more than just coffee, they serve "space cake!" If you intend to get real coffee, go to "cafe!"
I spotted this grey plastic stand everywhere in Amsterdam. I had no idea what that was until I saw men standing against the little hole and started peeing! Apparently this is a portable bathroom for males! Beer is a popular drink among the men during the night and as a result the frequent need to pee. In order to avoid men peeing in the street, the portable bathroom comes into play! I didn't try because it was COLD!!!! I don't want "cough" to get exposed to the COLD! This reminds me of another interesting observation. In Amsterdam, we spent quite a bit on drinks and ... washroom fee!!! Yes, in most public area like malls, department stores, McDonalds and KFCs, even if you are a paying customers, you need to pay to get access to the washroom! Average cost was EUR0.50. Then again, the EUR0.50 sort of ensures the cleanliness of the toilets! If you are quite bothered by this idea, drink less!!! :)
Street performances were everywhere and pedestrians would sing / dance along. I would like to see more of such street performances in Hong Kong!
Oh and a friendly note, the city gets dark at around 4:30pm during Winter!!!! and most stores closes at 6pm sharp and some even closes at 5:30pm! I do wonder when locals have time to shop during the weekdays. My guess is that they start working early in the morning and get off at 4pm or even 3:30pm and go shopping during a work day? Also, many restaurants offer Breakfast and Lunch only and close after that.
In addition to how addictive FEBO, the automat fast food store everywhere in Amsterdam, I like to recommend De Ysbreker for Brunch / Dinner and Blue for light meal. If you are into spectacular view, go to Blue which is basically a cafe situated on the 3rd / 4th floor of a modern glass tower overlooking the city of Amsterdam. It is a great place to start your day, any day that is! De Ysbreker on the other hand is a down to earth joint located in the residential area, close to the university district if I am correct. A casual yet very friendly and cozy place offering a wide selection of items from the sea and land. The sweetness and freshness of the seafood are hard to beat anywhere to be honest. We took advantage of the geographic characteristic and ordered many items form the sea!
Let's talk about the "domestic" vs "International" high-speed train issue I mentioned and how it pissed me off. Here is the story in point form for easy reading:
- I wanted to take the train from Amsterdam to London via Brussels by Eurostar.
- NS Hispeed (the national railway that is) offers such a package and option starting from EUR50 as stated on their website.
- the NS Hispeed English website allows potential customer to purchase tickets in advance over the Internet (it seems)
- I tried to book it step by step over its website only to realize AFTER I have entered all my credit card information that the national railway service (NS Hispeed) DOES NOT ALLOW transactions from overseas credit cards!!!!! Only Dutch or some EU countries credit cards!!! What a great way to attract tourists from other non-EU countries to plan in advance! (note: cost of ticket at this point. EUR101.00)
- Alright, relax Jason, I can always go all the way to Central Station and purchase tickets, so I went.
- At the Central Station, I lined up at the ticket counter. I politely asked the lady staff I wanted a one-way ticket from Amsterdam to London on a certain date. She asked me what time of the scheduled train I wanted to book / check. I told her and she slowly printed the quote to me. It was EUR159 with handling fee! WTH!!! Then I asked her very politely if she can check if there are other times on that same date that is slightly cheaper. She immediately said "I am sorry, you have to give me the exact time of the departure so I can check and from which station." I then asked "can you help me check if return would be cheaper?" She then requested "which return day and what scheduled departure? we can only check one at a time and print out the quote."
- WTF! I had no idea on the schedule and I am suppose to memorize the whole schedule? Fine, I walked over the the booking computer next to the counter to find the EXACT time of the departing train I wanted on a specific date!
- OMG! ALL the computers were slower than my x486! I cannot even load the front landing page! I tried again for the next 30 mins at the 5 different terminals and failed miserably! I gave up and returned to the hotel.
- I went online again and checked the NS Hispeed website for the latest fare. IT WAS EUR110. WHERE did the EUR159 came from for the EXACT same class, same departure time, same train!
- Forget about taking the train, I ended up taking a 40 mins BA flight to London, CHEAPER than the train ticket as well!
Aside from the train ticket issue, I had an enjoyable and pleasant stay in Amsterdam.