Things to do in Amsterdam - The Pig E-zine
issue 34 - September and October 2010
Amsterdam is a massively underrated city when it comes to outdoor adventures. In the past month alone the city has built a temporary beach, hosted its annual boat-in movie (imagine a movie screen slung across a canal and everyone sailing in to catch a screening) and the arrival of a fleet of historic tall ships (a time warp-inducing sight that had most people wondering just how good the stuff they’d been smoking, actually was). But there are every day delights still to be had before the weather turns to winter - be it sitting by the canals with a beer, biking past the windmills or paddle-boating up the canals. Take a look at our pick of the city’s best destinations and things to do - all are close by, cheap and involve the great outdoors.
If you don’t get something between your legs when you’re in Amsterdam, you’re really not doing things the way the Dutch intended. I’m talking, of course, about that most glaringly obvious Dutch habit of riding a bike. Bikes are life in Holland. They are more prolific than cars, have more rights than pedestrians and without a good lock, will get picked up and pocketed quicker than a dropped fifty euro note. The fate of the best known beer bike is still being decided (rumours surfaced they were being banned again this month) but there’s no shortage of places where you can hire a bike and hit the designated bike lanes to explore the city.
Best Place: There are far more windmills than you could ever expect in Holland, and to see them you need to pedal out to Zaanse Schans where the city’s eight most famous windmills turn. If that’s a bridge too far (keeping in mind there are over a thousand of them in the city and the surrounding area) just jump in a bike lane, go with the flow and see what you find.
Ever waited in line in front of the Van Gogh Museum for half an hour? Then you’ve been to the Museumplein. Most of the time it’s a fairly dead space but the Museumplein is the place to head to if there is a celebration to be had in Amsterdam. It’s ringed by the Van Gogh and Rijks museums, and during the post World Cup celebrations - orange flowers were sprinkled over the crowds from helicopters hovering overhead. Try to find another place in the world where they would do something that odd.
Why Go? For that cheesy Facebook photo. The Museumplein is currently home to the giant, two metre tall, I Amsterdam letters and is the perfect spot to take your Holland happy snap.
Close to the Museumplein, Vondelpark is the city’s favourite green space. Loaded with parks and ponds, on a clear sunny day it’s not just a good place to hang out - it’s a cultural experience because everyone in the city grabs onto the last of the good weather for dear life, and strips down to their bikinis and shorts. Duck the soccer balls, dodge the bikers and breathe in the barbeque smoke while watching live music, theatre and the occasional wedding in the park’s theatre.
Best Event: Friday Night Skate. Who knew in-line skating wasn’t dead? While everyone gave up their inline skates in the early 90s, the Dutch still rock out with a Friday night skating session around the city, weather permitting. The starting point is usually in the park and the route goes on for a good 20 kilometres. Better yet, the Vondelpark piggies very kindly have skates that you can hire.
The Canal Belt
Amsterdam would be nothing without its famous canals and the city is cheering because this month they received a UNESCO World Heritage listing. Don’t worry – there’s more to the 17th century canals than simply trying to narrowly avoid falling into them when you’re intoxicated. There are over 165 canals in the city and plenty of different ways to explore them - from paddle-boating and all you can eat pancake boats to pizza cruises and the launch of inflatable dolls.
Get Wet: If all of these activities are a touch too active, take a spectator’s seat at one of the many outdoor terraces and canal-side, beer gardens. You’ll have to search for the best places, but don’t give up because hidden in the back of some of the dingiest brown pubs - are prime positions to watch life float by.
If you’re not a fan of getting wet or biking around, the best two-step you can do is in the direction of the Jordan neighbourhood. The designated bohemian trendy-gypsy-arty suburb was a slum a hundred years ago but now it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful part of Amsterdam - filled with tiny streets, hidden gardens, inner courtyards, the oldest pubs and a very famous attic where a girl called Anne once hid, and wrote a diary. Sadly at the end of the 2010 summer the famous chestnut tree Anne Frank wrote about came down during a bad storm, but there’s still plenty to discover in the house and in the neighbourhood.
Best For: Hofjes hopping and some peace and quiet. Hofjes are enclosed courtyard gardens lined with residential homes that are also open to the public. They form an oasis in the city and are a world away from the cranky construction, and nasty traffic noise of the Central Station, nearby.
Combing Amsterdam’s outdoor markets for goodies is one of the sneakiest ways to enjoy the great outdoors and there’s no shortage of food. There are fabulous markets located throughout Amsterdam. The biggest market and a favourite with the locals is Albert Cuyp market, but the Waterlooplein Flea market is the place to dig for vintage European threads (you need that winter coat now its getting cooler, don’t you?) and classic bric-a-brac souvenirs. For tasty snacks and farmers’ fare, grab a bite at the Noordermarkt on a Saturday.
Pick of the Bunch: This has to go to the Bloemenmarkt or flower market in the centre of the city - on the Singel canal. It’s the one place that you’re likely to find hundreds of bunches of beautiful tulips in full spring splendour, no matter what the season.
Honourable Mentions, Secret Hideaways and Worthy Destinations
Set up by the Dutch East India Company, the Hortus Botanicus is a secret garden within the city. Further out from the centre, the big bean bags and picnic spaces at the terraceD cafés of Westerpark are a cool spot to kick back, while sucking in the fresh air and screaming out obscenities at the Ajax soccer stadium makes for a fun, and or, rowdy day out.
- Shaney Hudson top
Stepping into the Flying Pig Downtown for the first time – away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s main shopping street – and into a hostel that should be called a home away from home, was amazing. Hearing the sound of pool being played by fellow travellers and seeing the huge smiles of the friendly receptionists made my first impression of the Flying Pig massively positive.
I only came to Amsterdam to stay in the city for two nights - enough to see the Anne Frank house, the Rembrandt museum and smoke a little nature. However after being fortunate enough to land a job at the Flying Pig Downtown hostel, I’ve stayed for 9 months and counting. My experience in hauling a backpack from one hostel to another may not be of expert level, but walking into the pig gave me a feeling of relaxation and comfort, and it made me want to stay there for longer.
The Flying Pig has great facilities - a bar where during the day the music plays loud enough not to add pain to a headache from the previous night’s party in the Red Light District - and where during the night - the atmosphere gets you excited for another night. It also invites you to stay in with amazing drink deals and good music by DJs, and sexy bartenders.
The smoking room at the back allows guests to kick off their shoes (literally), sit on comfy pillows, swap travel stories and play chess with random objects. There’s also a large kitchen and common room - where you can make your own food, relax in front of a movie and play foosball. As many travellers know - the people you meet on the road are the people who you share a room with. The room where I first stayed was fairly big and sharing with 15 people gave me a great chance to befriend others quickly - with an invite to play a game of pool in the bar or have a smoke in one the numerous coffee shops, nearby.
After a good day’s work many staff members end up staying for drinks (my personal favourites is a Wiezner beer or an amazing Café Latte) and there’s plenty of chilling out in the smoking room or on the balcony. If working at the hostel was just a job that pays the rent and allows us to save up for future travellers, then we wouldn’t want to hang out and freely interact with other staff and guests after work. It just goes to show that the people who work at the pig - work here because they love their jobs. Personally I love meeting new people and the warmth the hostel brings. It’s a home away from home for us, and our guests.
I walked into the pig without knowing anyone and one day I will walk out of it knowing that I met some of my dearest friends there, along with some amazing travellers who shared with me stories that I will never forget.
This association recognises the best hostels on the European travel circuit. If you book a bed in any of these hostels, you’re guaranteed a memorable stay on a cheap and reasonable budget! Every single hostel in EFH is a local treasure – giving you guys a chance to meet the people and get a real taste of local life. All the hostels have to adhere to the highest levels of safety and quality, while also preserving a local flair.
The hostels are located in Amsterdam, Bad Gastein, Barcelona, Berlin, Bruges, Cardiff, Corfu, Dublin, Edinburgh, Interlaken, Lisbon, Loch Ness, London, Munich, Madrid, Nice, Prague, Riga, Rotterdam, Rome, Salzburg, Valencia, Vienna and in the future many more hostels will join.Check out the best bits of Europe's Famous Hostels with one click!
Each hostel has created a new video showcasing the best bits of their cities – just so that you guys can see where you’re heading to! All you have to do is head to www.famoushostels.com/hostel-videos
Although it seems that summer is almost over, it’s still going strong in and around Amsterdam. To help you make the best of what’s left - here’s a breakdown of the various festivals and events that are coming up.
Check it out on http://robodock.org/
This is the fourth edition of the GRID International photography event dedicated to a culture of contemporary images. The event will take place in Amsterdam and the surrounding metropolitan region with around 60 projects and presentations, representing at least 25 countries.
For ten days the cultural institutions of Haarlem (a town close To Amsterdam) will be bursting at the seams with art installations that are all about the relationship between art and madness. After the Toronto showcase in 2003 and Münster in 2006, the festival is coming to Haarlem! So do all artists always have a screw loose? Is the work of a 'crazy' artist purer and more authentic than that of professional artist? History teaches us that the perception of art and madness is constantly changing. What was considered insane some time ago, can today be seen as exceptional creative talent. And maybe tomorrow - again as the musings of a mental patient. That aside, this, the third Madness and Arts Festival, explores the theme in an extensive program of theatre, dance, film, music, art, literature, poetry, debate and meetings.
- Eva Dam
On September 28 and 29, 2010, an inspiring international film project is landing in Amsterdam, and yes as you might already expect - it involves a train!
On September 20 the Istanbul Express will depart from three corners of Europe: Tallinn (Estonia), San Sebastian (Spain) and Turin (Italy), following three separate tracks and leading to a common destination: Istanbul (Turkey). For three weeks these tracks are going to be home to a selection of the best, young, European filmmakers. Their quest? To make a total of 15 documentary shorts!
Three teams of 15 filmmakers will be crossing through 18 countries and stopping in many inspiring European cities, Amsterdam included. In fact in Amsterdam - they will be staying in the Flying Pig Downtown so there’s a big chance that if you’re there at the end of September, you’ll run into them!
By travelling through Europe by train – the artists will be able to explore the question of multilingualism through film - by giving young people free range to discover Europe and its many languages.
The young directors, cinematographers and sound-designers will cross the continent by train, making films together in crews of three – far, far away from clichés and preconceived ideas. Their movies will deal with different topics of multilingualism including urban dialogues, Turkey in Europe, multilingual love and how minority languages compare to the widely spoken ones. What better way to understand all these issues than crossing multiple borders and experiencing an array of linguistic situations?
Amsterdam is the ideal city for this learning curve – as a city well known for showcasing a diverse selection of cultures and nationalities. It’s also renowned for welcoming large numbers of travellers from all over the world. Local researchers will be helping the crews to find the right topics and characters to be featured in their films, and the teams are already developing their story boards!
This ambitious project has been put together by NISI MASA, a European network of cinema associations – currently at work in in 23 countries. This group of young professionals, students and enthusiasts has one cause in common - European Cinema! Their aim is to discover new film talents, develop cross-cultural audiovisual projects, foster European awareness through cinema and create a platform of discussion, and collaboration for young film-makers.
NISI MASA has organised many film-making and script-writing workshops, held various cinema-related meetings, promoted short-films and even edited publications at the most important European film festivals. Previously it organised a similar project with a train called Cinetrain. This saw young filmmakers travelling and filming on the Trans Siberian Railway - from Moscow to Vladivostok in 2008.
You can follow the daily madness onboard the Istanbul Express by following the special blogs postings on www.nisimasa.com/istanbulexpress There’s also more information online at: weblogs.hollanddoc.nl/istanbulexpress. Both will be filled to the brim with stories, sounds and sights that occur en route to Turkey.
Also if you’re an early bird, you can welcome the San Sebastian team when they arrive at Amsterdam Central station at 09.43 on September 28, 2010. Otherwise you can catch the films when they will premiere during the Critics’ Week in Cannes - next year! For more information go to www.nisimasa.com
- Maria Diceanu
Leiden Liberated - The 3rd of October festival in Leiden
It’s the night of the 2nd of October 1574, and the important Dutch city of Leiden is still under siege by the Spaniards. It has been a couple of months now, the city is suffering from a lack of food and fresh water, and the inhabitants of Leiden are starving to death or dying from the horrible black plague. The major of Leiden manages to get a message to the prince William of Orange who was seated in Delft. William of Orange takes the brave decision to flood the land around Leiden by cutting through the dykes. On that night, the Spaniards are finally defeated by the reinforcements who also bring fresh water, and herrings, white bread and hutspot (carrot and onion stew) and a tradition is born.
Each year the inhabitants of Leiden celebrate the liberation of the city with a three day festival in the city centre – a celebration that’s on a similar scale to the immense Queen’s Day celebrations in Amsterdam. There are live bands playing all over the centre of Leiden, dancing galore, oh-so-many cultural events, a huge fairground and of course, an open air feast with a lot of herring, white bread, hutspot and beer!
This party will reach its climax on the 2nd , 3rd and the 4th of October and is definately one not to be missed .
Dates: 1, 2, 3 and 4 October
Area: Leiden city centre, easily reached by public transport from our Flying Pig Beach Hostel.