Amsterdam. It’s an exceptionately beautiful place, particularly on a warm sunny day when its alfresco cafes are full and the canal waters are sparkling. Today was one of those such days.
I headed up to Amsterdam solely to check out one of its neighbourhoods; the quirky little section called the Jordaan and specifically the Negen Straatjes. I’d heard it was Amsterdam’s version of Fitzroy, an old working-class area transformed by sidewalk cafes and boutique shops.
So, when I headed out of Amsterdam Centraal Station, I turned right instead of heading down the tourist mecca of Damrak. I followed Haarlemmerstraat, Damrak’s total opposite. Instead of souvenir stores and coffeeshops, I found bakeries and bars. Bars that charged significantly less than Amsterdam prices.
I followed Prinsengracht around for about fifteen minutes, easily my favourite of Amsterdam’s canals. I watched people renovating their houses, moving materials through their top windowns via the famous hoisting beams.
People walked their dogs, pushed their prams. The trees looked greener, the water bluer and the houseboats looked like they’d been lacquered up that morning. The Jordaan is where Amsterdam just gets ridiculously good-looking.
Thinking this place looks good? Well, go on, find flights to Amsterdam!
I found a little cafe called De Vergulde Gaper and enjoyed a cappuccino, feeling the sun on my face and acting like all the Dutchies do when the sun is out; closing my eyes and lifting my chin up in the sun’s direction.The people around looked so healthy, so rich and so carefree. Sure there were some tourists around, but they were the bearable ones, rather than the type that believe that Coffeeshops + Anne Frank Huis = Amsterdam done.
I pushed on, heading for the Negen Straatjes; ‘The Nine Little Streets’. These little lanes are famous for their boutique shops and tiny cafes, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Dutch was the main language of the Negen Straatjes, perhaps the only section of the central canal area where English doesn’t rule. It was – literally, when compared to the dodgy Damrak – a breath of fresh air.
The shops were mainly out of my student/backpacker budget, but they were fun to poke around nevertheless. Highlights included a shop completely dedicated to toothbrushes, a museum/shop for eyeglasses and a store selling vintage-looking cameras that took old rolls of film. The shopkeepers were friendly; some even humoured me and willingly took part in my weird Dutch/English hybrid form of communication.
Realising I’d been walking nonstop for a good couple of hours, I chose one of the countless cafes, a place called Goodies, and hoed down a massive open sandwich for less than five euro. Amsterdam prices do exist in parts of the Jordaan, but you can find some bargains. And best of all, the area is mainly popular with Amsterdammers themselves, so the quality is much, much better. I spied cafes specialising in okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes), Vietnamese pho and cute little cupcakes.
I did not see a single Argentinian BBQ joint, something the rest of Amsterdam seems obsessed with. There were no chains; no H&Ms, no McDonald’s and no Starbucks. The only chain I recognised was Scotch & Soda, which is from Amsterdam anyway.
The Jordaan. Go there. It is gentrified, yes, but I like a lot of things about gentrification. Decent pho is one.