Amsterdam - the Beautiful City

Words and photography by Peter Thorpe

Senior Traveller discovers the illicit and licit pleasures of Amsterdam

As the name suggests, the Netherlands is below sea level. Its capital, Amsterdam, is so flat that if you stand on a milk crate, you can see Belgium! And that’s what makes it so attractive to senior travellers. Not only is Amsterdam one of the great cities in Europe, it’s also a cinch to get around, with myriad historical and cultural pursuits. Additionally, for a populous city, it has a surprisingly relaxed vibe about it, with its sleepy canal-laced surrounds and its gentle soundtrack of tinkling bicycles.

On our recent trip, we camp at The Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, situated in the maw of the city, in the Dam Square. This town square is famed for its notable buildings and world-class events. Indeed, it’s one of the prime locations in Amsterdam. This made it easy for us seniors to amble our way home in the long, northern twilight after exploring the city. If you become lost, you simply ask someone, “where’s the ‘damn’ square” and they point you in the right direction. Why? Because remarkably, almost everyone in Amsterdam speaks English. This makes it very easy for travelling seniors to get around.

The Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, right in the heart of the city

The original Grand Hotel (built in 1855) has since been renovated and modernised to emerge as a five-star hotel. Yet they’ve managed to keep the original architectural charm of the building. Moreover, being central, you are close to Amsterdam’s main attractions: the Royal Palace (two-minute walk) and the Anne Frank House (a twelve-minute walk in sensible shoes). It’s also just around the corner from Amsterdam’s famous red-light district, where you’ll still see the ladies of the night sitting in shop windows soliciting custom. This may or may not be of interest – but no Amsterdam travel yarn is complete without some mention of the red-light district.

The hotel has an upmarket restaurant run by Michelin star chef, Jacob Jan Boerma. It also boasts a chic cocktail bar and gym to burn off those Michelin star calories. Breakfast is served in an ornate sun-lit dining room which features a magnificent glass-roofed atrium. They also offer all-you-can-drink French champagne with breakfast. Perfect for that heart-starter of ‘Dutch courage’.
Tip: If you are planning on staying at The Grand (and I’d certainly recommend it) do book well in advance. Being world renowned and so centrally located, it’s very popular.

The breakfast dining room with its magnificent glass-roofed atrium

Of course, Amsterdam is famous for its liberal drug laws, and occasionally, you’ll smell the faint acrid aroma of ‘wacky tobaccy’ wafting through the cobblestone streets. And, you don’t have to walk far to find a clutch of quaint little cafes offering “exotic extras” with your coffee. Indeed, our hotel has a smoking room with a revealing sign: Smoking – tobacco only!

Amazing old buildings everywhere - like this converted shopping plaza

Amsterdam is a water city, with its famous canals looping around the city. The best way to explore these canals is to purchase a ‘hop on/hop off’ canal pass. This way you can bob along the canals and enjoy the scenery, hopping on and off the narrow boat at any of the numerous stops. Or eventually, return to where you started. The scenery along the canals is breathtaking, flanked by brightly painted houses, many of them being centuries old. Bridges spanning the canals cradle nodding tulips, and of course, there are people everywhere – mostly on bicycles. Seniors might consider hiring a bike in Amsterdam. No way, you say? As aforementioned, it’s so flat, any reasonably fit centenarian could cycle in Amsterdam. One thing we quickly learn strolling around is, you don’t get in the way of the Dutch cyclists. The city is a network of bike lanes and on these lanes, the bikes have the right of way – not the pedestrians. So, if you hear a cyclist’s bell ring – jump!

A huge city car park for bicycles only!

Indeed, bicycles are such a staple of Amsterdam, we were astonished to see a monolithic multi-story car park for bikes only (pictured). Also, see the four-seater bicycle (pictured below). A Dutch quad bike, maybe?

A four-seater bike - could this be a Dutch quad bike?

Replete with superlative restaurants, bars and shops, Amsterdam is home to world-class art galleries and museums. But you don’t visit Amsterdam without seeing the Van Gogh Museum, boasting the largest collection of the painter’s art in the world. (They also have a number of Rembrandts, too.) With iconic works such as Sunflowers, Irises and The Potato Eaters, we were left with a new appreciation into the great man’s work and we viewed Amsterdam through a new lens.
Tip: Senior visitors with mobility issues are offered priority entrance at the museum.

With the Dutch being a seafaring race – with 400 years of Australian-Dutch maritime links – another museum of interest for Australian senior readers is the National Maritime Museum. Apart from the numerous museums like the NEMO Science Museum and more, there are also a lot of ‘offbeat’ museums too. Like, the Museum of Bags and Purses, which traces the history of western ladies’ bags over 500 years. (Psst! My wife could open her own museum.) Or for the more adventurous, there’s the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum or indeed the Museum of Prostitution, in the red-light district; after all, it is the oldest profession in the world.
Tip: If you do explore the red-light district, it’s de rigueur not to take pictures of the girls in the windows. They don’t like it and things may become confrontational.

The only disappointment was Anne Frank’s House. This is the famous house where Anne Frank hid in from the Nazis during World War 2. We had really wanted to see it, but the waiting list was four months long. Tip! Make a booking in advance online, long before you intend to visit (psst! if you’re not internet friendly – ask the grandkids).

So, if you fancy a tiptoe through the tulips, take your sensible shoes and bicycle clips and get ready to explore one of the finest cities in Europe.