Thursday, May 24, 2007

Top 10 things I love about living in Amsterdam

I realise that my last two posts about my life in Amsterdam were a bit on the negative side. I feel bad about that as generally I'm really enjoying living in Holland, and this captial city is beautiful. So, to even things out a bit, here is a Top 10 list of list that I love about living in Amsterdam.

1. The Olde Worlde Architecture - Canal Houses
Amsterdam has the most beautiful lines of canal houses. To me they all look like dolls houses, with lots of big windows, different coloured brickwork, and beautiful gables. Because all these building are built on swamp they have long wooden stakes as foundations which are supposed to hold them upright. But given centuries of earth settlement many of the houses now lean incredibly, either against each other, or more startlingly into the street.

2. Terrace Culture
Dutch bars and cafes, much like those in Italy, love making the most of their wide streets and squares by casting their outdoor furniture into the sun. In Amsterdam this appears to happen in March, as soon as the first glimmer of sunshine pokes through the clouds. Once it's warm enough to sit there without your winter coat on it's one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy an evening, glass of Rose or Biertje in hand.

3. Florists on every street corner
This is no exaggeration. The Dutch grow flowers for export, but they must sell almost as many at home. Every single street will have at least one florist, bloemenwinkel or bloemenkunst. One single 100m stretch of street around the corner from where I live has 3 huge florists, and a flower stall. Then of course there's the actual flower market in town, which is a line of about 20 big stalls along a canal. All this flower trading makes for even prettier streets, and means that both my husband and I are more likely to buy flowers for the house.

4. It stays lighter later
Tonight I will get nearly an hour of extra sunshine because I live in Amsterdam rather than London. The sun sets at 21:43 local time in Amsterdam, and 20:53 local time in London. This is because The Netherlands is almost as west as you can get within the Central European Time zone, and then if you cross a few kilometres into England you're in the Greenwich zone.

5. Italian Ice Cream Bars
Not only do the Dutch have the Italian-style terrace culture, they have also taken up their love for icecream. There are two ice-cream bars close to where I live, and they both sell delicious home-made icecream. I recommend you try them both:

  • Pisa Ijs - Scheldeplein
  • IJssalon VenetiĆ« - Scheldestraat

6. Canals
There are more canals in Amsterdam than in the whole of Venice, and in my opinion the Dutch ones are much prettier. I'd love to buy a little canal boat for put-putting away sunny afternoons with a picnick and drinks. For the moment though, I love just being able to walk over the pretty bridges and take in deep breathes of that great canal water air. It's almost as good as being by the sea. Seriously!

7. Cycling is so easy
The Dutch don't realise how lucky they are with this one. I think, in a way, they look down on the rest of the world for not cycling. But, the fact that the country is completely and utterly flat makes for the easiest cycling tracks in the world. There's almost no need for gears here. My "Omafiets" (see picture) has three gears, but I rarely use them, except if I'm trying to conquer a big canal bridge! Cycling here is not challenging, it's relaxing, cheap and quick. It's the best way of getting across Amsterdam, that is if it's not raining.

8. Koekje Erbij?
It's incredibly offensive to serve coffee or tea in Holland without a "koekje erbij". This means that every warm drink you receive comes with some sort of small biscuit or cookie (the word cookie actually comes from the Dutch koekje, meaning "little cake"). Usually the biscuits are based on Speculaas (ginger biscuit) but once in a while you'll get a mini-stroopwafel. Stroopwafels can be found in Starbucks in other countries, but they come from Holland. The full-sized version is designed to fit over the top of your coffee cup so that the caramel inside melts. I actually hate caramel, except for in Stroopwafels. You can buy freshly made stroopwafels from a stall in the middle of the Albert Cuypmarkt (market) in Amsterdam.

9. Car sharing schemes
This is a brilliant invention and should be replicated in all large cities around the world. My husband and I are subscribed to Greenwheels. We pay a flat subscription fee of about 12 euros a month and then we pay per hour and kilometre that we use the car. There are greenwheels cars all around our neighbourhood in Amsterdam, the closest is about 80 metres away. All the cars are brand new - the company just replaced the fleet with the car that generates the least CO2 emissions, the Peugeot 107. Not only does this scheme save the environment, but it saves us a fortune too. We don't own a car now, so we don't have to pay for car insurance, parking permits, petrol, MOTs or any of those things which back in England were a real drain on cash.

10. Writing out addresses
Okay, this one may seem to be really silly, but it's so simple that I had to mention it. This may only apply to the difference between Dutch and English addresses, but it could be the case elsewhere too. Or maybe it's just England that is completely inefficient in creating postal addresses. Here's an example:

An address in England (6 lines):
12 The High Street
Part of the city
The city
The county
The postcode

An address in the Netherlands (3 lines):
Hogestraat 12
The Postcode, The City
The Netherlands

See what I mean?


Anonymous said...

Nice weblog. I've bookmarked it :)

About nr10.
Your letter will also arrive when using this small line:
The Postcode 12 NL

Cheers, Jeroen

Sarah de Mul said...

Hi Jeroen.
My father-in-law tested this last week. He wrote only our post code and house number on the envelope and it arrived! It's amazing!

Anonymous said...

I am quite sure that a single line of :-
Postcode / Housenumber / UK
will be effective to the UK or within it, but I have not tried it.


Anonymous said...

About Greenwheels, how does it work the count of hours?
Example: I take the car to go from A'dam to Rotterdam to visit a friend, the driving time will be around 1 hour, then I will stay 5 hours for a long cooffee with my friend and then 1 hour driving to come back... do I have to pay 2 hours or 7 hours?
Can I leave the car wherever I want (different city but always a Greenwheels point) or it has always to be returned at the same place where you picked it up?
Thanks a lot, nice blog!

Sarah de Mul said...

Hi Alberto,

For that trip with Greenwheels you'd be using the car for 7 hours so you'd pay for 7 hours. You can park the car anywhere, but the car has a permit for the street/buurt where it's registered and it needs to be returned to its exact reserved parking space to be counted as returned. There's an on-board computer which you need to tell that you've completed your trip and that you are returned to the original parking spot.

You need to reserve the car for a set number of hours/15 mins before you can take the car too. Reservations can be made/extended by internet/phone.

I really sound like I work for Greenwheels, I don't, so you should check all this information with them rather than relying on my comments.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I live in the Uk and am looking for an omafiet as a 16th birthday present but here they have just become very trendy and are being sold at extortionate prices!!! Do you know of a shop that I can contact in Amsterdam where I can get them to send one to me?

Sarah de Mul said...

Hi Anonymous,

Cool that Omafietsen are becoming popular in the UK. How much is extortionate, then I can tell you whether they are any to buy new cheaper here.