Hello, folks!  Just returned from a weekend in Amsterdam where we met up with a couple of our American friends on holiday.  Having grown accustomed to cloud-cover and cooler temps in the UK (sorry if you haven’t moved here yet, but it’s true), I forgot how exhausting it can be spending a whole day outside in the sun and heat.  Yet pound the pavement we did, doing all things pleasurable, of course…and yes, there is innocent pleasure to be had beyond the outright hedonistic aspects of Amsterdam that otherwise set your olfactory (*cough* coffee houses…) and visual (*ahem* Red Light district…) senses ablaze.  If you haven’t been to this city in the Netherlands, you may be surprised to find that it’s really a quaint and pleasant retreat–it’s less than an hour to fly to from London!

One of Europe’s first planned cities, Amsterdam lies along a series of concentric man-made canals, giving it a calming Venetian quality.  You can take a boat cruise through the canal circuit to float along eye-level with all the house boats and recreational boaters, and you’ll readily notice that the locals’ other transportation of choice is the bicycle.  Amsterdam alone contains half a million cycles!  They’re everywhere—propped against trees, bridge railings, or clustered inside bike racks and even a 3-story bicycle parking garage just outside the central train station—and bike riders coast along without helmets on these one-speed cruisers.  As a pedestrian, then, be on the lookout for THREE lanes of traffic at all times (for bikes, autos, and trams). 

Beyond the charms of the canals and the tall, narrow Dutch houses lining them (with their unique gables and wonky postures) are museum attractions like the Rijksmuseum (home to artwork by Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer), Van Gogh Museum, and Anne Frank House, the actual home in which Anne and her family lived during the Holocaust when she wrote her famous diary.

Filled with enough sites and venues for grabbing a Heineken or Amstel to keep you busy, yet small enough to get a good feel for in just a couple days, Amsterdam makes for an ideal weekend excursion when you’ve relocated to London.

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