Amsterdam: Happiest City of Europe
Kshitij (my infinitely better half) and I were in Belgium for a week, and decided to go to Amsterdam for some fun for a weekend. As it so happened, it was the Labour Day weekend, and we couldn’t find any booking whatsoever in all of Amsterdam. We, nevertheless, decided to go to spend just the day there.
Amsterdam is about 2 hour bus journey from Brussels. It was a beautiful road, dotted with the famous windmills which are synonymous the Dutch country. Since we had left early to make up for less time we had in Amsterdam, we got some packed breakfast for the bus ride (with some Belgian chocolates of course), and saved ourselves some time!
Amsterdam, capital of Netherlands, is considered a city of sins – Netherlands is the only country in the world with legal marijuana, and legal prostitution. And yet, the feeling that you get when you enter the city is not of debauchery or cheapness, but that of openness and cheerfulness. It is one of the rare cities in Europe where people smile at each other, laugh openly and have a happy vibe about them. As soon as we stepped into the town centre, we fell in love with the place!
Since we had limited time, we decided to tour the city via a one hour cruise. Amsterdam is a city of canals (Amstel in Dutch means canal). The city has 165 canals, many of them dating back centuries. In fact, the canals have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. So it was an obvious choice for us, a couple of romantics, to hop on a cruise to absorb the ancient and modern sites of the city! It turned out to be a beautiful experience! We were taken past the major sites of the city – the oldest canal, beautiful churches, old merchant buildings. The ride was accompanied by an exhaustive tour guide, who gave us pearls of insight into the scenes we were passing. He told us that Amsterdam mostly escaped the bombings in the world wars, and thus, retains most of the historic buildings and architecture. We had a lot of fun, as the cruise was intimate, where K and I could lose ourselves in the beautiful surroundings on a beautifully pleasant day, and also gain some insight into this beautiful city!
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After that, we had a brilliant brunch at a quaint little vegetarian restaurant called Betty’s. The food was simple but tasty, and the place was not very expensive. Ironically, the most popular thing on the menu there was a dish borrowed from their neighbours – Belgian fries. These are basically decadent potato fries, fried to the perfect golden-brown, and served with your choice of sauce – mayo, mustard, ranch etc… A safe and popular vegetarian choice in most of European cities is a pita pocket. You find it almost everywhere, it is filling and blissfully vegetarian! This particular shop also had a number of other vegetarian dishes, though, and we went a little overboard ordering the lunch!
We found ourselves strolling in the city after that fabulous meal. The weather was great, and we were in a happy mood, walking hand in hand, feeling the breeze blowing from the canals on our faces, ducking into shops and buildings here and there. We saw many interesting and quirky places enroute, like a shop called Condomerie, and a museum called the Museum of Happiness. Once we entered a tiny church tucked away in a corner of a small alley, and were amazed to see the beautiful architecture even in this small church. Walking on, we encountered a band playing on a roadside. We sat on the footpath ourselves, and listened to the jazz music they were playing for some time. The music they played was very young and fresh, and surprisingly competent, and it just added to our peppy mood!
We peppered our walks with a few halts at small tea and coffee shops, resting our legs, chatting up with other travellers. Some of these shops were fairly informal, with different people sharing the same table, leading to interesting conversations – which, I feel, is the whole point of travelling.. I remember talking to this Australian couple, who were a little disillusioned with a few cities in Europe, in a way that they had enjoyed visiting them, but couldn’t get themselves to be comfortable there. But Amsterdam had worked their magic on them, and they had extended their stay in the city just because of the happy vibe they felt! At another little tea shop, we met an Indian student who was enrolled in a French university, and had come to Amsterdam because the view of the city relaxed him before a major exam.
We just walked around the city after that. As the whole city has canals lined parallelly on each block, it makes for a brilliant view at every turn, and the city looks ethereal and full of mysteries. We stopped at little eateries and got food packed from here and there – some sandwiches, some cakes, wafers, fries, macaroons and more from all over the town. We then boarded the train back to Belgium at about 9 in the night, waved goodbye to one of the most fun cities I have seen in Europe, and settled into our seats, and just ate and ate and ate – our favourite way to bid a city goodbye!