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Couchsurfing Around Europe, Part 9: Amsterdam

Couchsurfing Around Europe, Part 9: Amsterdam

Couchsurfing Around Europe, Part 9: Amsterdam

Rather than a city of world-famous monuments, find the parts of this Dutch city that make it distinctive

EYE film institute (below) | Photo by Ralph Richter

Although famous to may tourists for legalized marijuana and prostitution, there’s plenty more to overdo in Amsterdam. From waffles piled high with chocolate, cream, and candy to untold cheese and pastry shops competing for your attention, Amsterdam is a city of pleasure. With boutiques around every bend, international restaurants galore, and cafes dotting every alley, it’s like Paris’s grittier little sister—she has the same taste for indulgence, minus the decadence. It’s a ­what you see is what you get experience without any pretense, and you’ll see just about everything.

There aren’t any super "famous" buildings or landmarks in Amsterdam, where Central Station is more photogenic than the royal palace. The canals are the stars (there are more here than Venice), and the primo photo ops are along these waterways, with their charming houseboats, gabled houses, and irresistible bridges. If you’re in town between mid-March and mid-May, you’ll want to check out Keukenhof Park, the 7-million bulb tulip and daffodil garden just 30 minutes outside the airport.  It’s an overwhelming wonderland of sight and fragrance that’s the largest garden of its kind in the world. Otherwise, Amsterdam itself has plenty of flowers itself and there are more than enough experiences to keep you occupied, whatever your pursuits.

In Amsterdam, I stayed with François Pieneman, 38, and his partner Rogier, whose top floor corner flat overlooks a canal, surrounded by enviable greenery. Here, François elaborates on Amsterdam’s charm as an experience, rather than a city of monuments, and provides a bit of insight into Dutch mentality.

Out Traveler: How long have you lived in Amsterdam?

François Pieneman: I was 22, so 16 years.

How long have you been out?

Since I was 21.

How is it for a gay person to get along in this city?

I think it’s very nice. Although there is talk that it got less so because of gay bashing, but I haven’t experienced it. I hear about it but I’ve never had any problems, ever.

Two places a visitor should go with just one day here?

In general I think Amsterdam is more of an experience than a place to sightsee. We have things to go to, but I don’t think they are that spectacular—not like France with the Eiffel Tower—we don’t have monuments or big landmarks. Keukenhof Park and the Rijksmuseum are interesting, but they just reflect history and not what Amsterdam is now — so you don’t really get a sense of what Holland or Amsterdam is from them.  If I have to give two places, I’d say Vondal Park in the summer. And go to the EYE film institute: I think it has an international feeling; it’s really a unique place with a view of the city and the water.  I could sit there all day.

Your favorite restaurant in Amsterdam?

In general we have more like “eat cafes”—cafes where you eat, low key, not like a restaurant. There’s also people sitting at the bar drinking, but you can have food. Almost like a sports bar in America. It’s very low-key and cheap. We have a lot of those, but I like Café Cooke—it’s a typical Amsterdam place. Not too trendy, but good food and affordable with a very good atmosphere.

One thing every visitor needs to know about your city before coming here?

We don’t all use drugs here! That’s the biggest misconception. Actually it’s mostly tourists who do it. It’s not something you need to know, but it’s important to understand about our people.  What visitors need to know is that Dutch people are very straightforward—we have this saying that Dutch people are too honest to be polite and the English are too polite to be honest. 

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