Early morning is one of the best options you will have to explore the wonderfully preserved canal belt city centre; if the weather assists you (well, don’t count on that though), you will be able to wander among this huge amusement park without having your pictures spoiled by other ehm..ehm turist-heads, especially if you’re heading to the Begijnhof on Spui, a small courtyard with the oldest house in town, built up in wood. Hofjes like this one is something very dutch and you will be able to find others, probably more secluded and real, in the Jordaan or along the river Amstel; nonetheless the one on Spui is special for its leap backwards in time that you experience and it feels great just to enter it, as you will have to find its door in a dark alley and push it through to be admitted inside. This dark alley separates so much the city outside from the bunch of old houses inside, that its trespassing feels like freezing time and space, but you will probably realize that only once back in the busy intellectual Spui square.
But hey! You are in Amsterdam! And if old ladies’ houses is not really your gripping thing early in the morning, you can head a bit north towards Haarlemmerstraat, where not only you will find quite some crazy shops like an artistic candy shop lab or an art dèco movie theatre, but also a koffieshop called Barneys that serves a big breakfast, english or continental style in a nice atmosphere mellowed by the chilled back attitude of the guests who can’t choose whether to eat or smoke first!
For a more tourist-free koffieshop, head to the Jordaan instead. Opposite to the Westerkerk, in a small street you will find The Paradox, to enjoy hash, weed, juices or toasties among the bohemian locals of the neighbourhood. The Jordan is what Chelsea is for London, Montmatre for Paris or Trastevere for Rome, but of course Amsterdam style! So you can have an idea of what to expect, but not really.. Before the ‘beautiful people’ invasion, the district was more proletarian and arty oriented. Nonetheless its quiet charm may still be boasted by some sort of happening going on in one of its galleries or ateliers.
By this time you may feel the need to get away from the (not much, to say the truth) concrete of the city and experience some Holland, which is not really what Amsterdam is about. To get an idea, you can head to Centraal Station, take the 111 bus and get off in Marken. As fast as you can be there (you will experience the IJ tunnel, an underwater bridge), as far away from the city it may seem to you. Marken is a kind of island connected to mainland only by a road. In a country like the Netherlands, one of the most crowded of the world, this journey is the ultimate experience to let your eyes expand and melt into the horizon. There’s a little village with wooden green and black houses, small gardens and domestic animals popping around; boats and of course some nautical bars in the tiny local harbour, will have you drinking along local old fishermen, who can tell you the stories of the times where the water around Marken was salty and how it became sweet. That is due to the massive Afsluitdijk, the dike that changed the lives of several villages scattered around what is now the Ijsselmeer.
The best thing you could do in Marken is to leave the main village and wander among the other smaller portions of agglomerates around, you could even reach the big white house with its lighthouse, a landmark in such a flat eyeview.
Back into town, close to where the bus will leave you, it is possible in a walking distance to enjoy the best view in town. Passed by the Botel and the brand new largest public library of the Netherlands, you will find yourself in front of the ex post building. As uninviting as it may seem from outside, this building hides one of the best spots for leisure in town. The basement is for underground art projects, while most of the floors are currently occupied by the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art, closed on the Museumplein for renovation.
This should be already enough to draw your attention as the museum is worldwide renowned for its edgy exhibitions of upcoming talents; nonetheless, should this not be enough, you can head in the funky claustrophobic elevator to the 11th floor, where club 11 will welcome its guests. This is a bar-restaurant-club-and more, a place with a breathtaking view all over the city, by day for a white wine as for a night mojito clubbing, but even better decision will be by sunset to climb up its stairs and get to 12, club11’s terrace to lay down on pillows drinking beer and eventually soaking into a Dutch tub, a kind of informal and younger version of a Jacuzzi! More to it, it’s free and the staff will even provide you a swimming suit, if you are struck by the moment unprepared!
Another sunset point close by, is the contemporary architecture masterpiece Muziekgebouw aan’t Ij, the new music hall that prompts the waterfront of the river and stretches its visitors, soaking pre-dinner alcohol, into the water and onto the setting sun, right in front of you.
Now, if your stomach is starting to complain for food or either your alcoholic level needs to level down a bit, that would probably mean one thing: dinner. Now, Amsterdam is as surely a cosmopolitan, global village town as it is surely not on the top lists of fashionistas gourmet gurus. The fact that so many different ethnic groups and nationalities are scattered around its canals, somehow did not really boasted the eating habits of the citizens. Of course in the supermarkets, markets and specialized groceries you will be able to find all sorts of spices and ingredients, but when it comes down to restaurant food, Amsterdam is generally superficial, taking more care that the decòr is astounding and the atmosphere “gezellig” rather than digging on delicious fresh dishes. And ok, I can be demanding, but if you are in town and just want to enjoy it, run away from the streets around Leidseplein full of tourist traps junk joints and maybe head eastwards to De Pijp. This is a district that like the Jordaan went from rags to student slash bohemian, slash multicultural and during the early times of the night is just full with Dutch youth, eating in fancy restaurants and happily bar hopping.
A somehow characteristic place to dine out here is the Bazar, a Moroccan restaurant. Obviously is not the kind of food that makes the place so Dutch to me, despite Moroccan is one of the most numerous ethnic minorities in town. The thing is that the restaurant with its high ceilings and its massive work of maghrebin porcelain tiles on a wall (as opposed to Delft blue tiles), was a former church and you can still get a glimpse of it admiring a golden statue of an angel summing up the outside roof.
Once you are in Amsterdam, you can go in a church to pogo dance, to party, to see exhibitions and even in a small town like Hoorn, where you think of people as somehow more conservative, you can experience grocery shopping in a former church! And that does not mean being un respectful, but rather practical and creative with what of beautiful you’ve already got.
The night is officially started now and the options and the offer are so huge, that you just have to name it. The city still lives up for its reputation of the ‘everything is possible’ adagio and the red light district will enable you to get sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in a weird mix of sleazy-amusement park, grotesque flair. You should try it out to make your own opinion and if you like it, then you should really wander all night long around Warmoesstraat, Zeedijk where the smallest Chinatown ever has even a brand new red Buddhist temple to rival the mercy of the Oude Kerk, where the magnificent medieval stained glass peer into the glass of the girls in the windows.. Nieuwmarkt, also close by, will maybe relief you from the red-light claustrophobic emotions with its open eye square and some nice bars.
The city gives the impression to be less and less connected with the avant-garde, alternative side of its citizens, but you can still enjoy the feeling of it in some places. OT301 is one of them: the coolest graffiti toilets in town are here, but not only, here the possibilities arouse. Want to spend the night drinking low priced good beer and at the same time play table tennis? Why not! So here you are for the ping-pong bar night; but be warned, tomorrow it may be experimental movie night or improvised dance and music performance, odd bands and djs spinning the turntables, but the best thing is just going there not knowing what it is going to be about.
On a larger scale, you can head to NDSM, completely outside of the tourist tracks around town. To get there you would have to take an introspective ferry boat ride (especially on your way back) to the northern part of town; the place is held in a huge former dock in Amsterdam’s industrial harbour and offers ateliers, a skate park, theatre and of course night parties. On an even larger scale there is then a whole squatted hippie village called Ruigoord. If you happen to be in town during seasonal solstice or during full moon, you don’t want to miss the ‘edenistic’ flavour of Ruigoord parties, so concerned with environment that you may even get a completely unplugged summer festival. And of course yet another former church made into happenings spot!
On the other hand if you’re all into glam and lights for the night, well, then you probably have already the right tips and know where to go: Jimmy Woo, Supperclub party cruises, Nomads. Mind you have a name on the list! If not, Leisdeplein is a place where you have just next to each other rock, commercial, pop, bars, trendy venues, house, blues, cabaret and what have you. While Regulierwardstraat caters to a more queer animalesque type of creatures of the night, winking to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and the all about lust and (refined/bad) taste.
Whatever sort of night you had, even if you were on a commercial trip with the Blue Man Group or on a Tarantino chick flick, the right way to end it, is to wet your lips once more with few drops with fire and sugar of absinth in the only Absinth bar in town. Amsterdam’s absinth retreat is not as stylish as other around the continent, but if you go late enough ‘la fète verd’ will make the surroundings fade and under its spell you will lose the flowing of time and once out, the night would have turned into a brand new day..