Six hours in Amsterdam
AMSTERDAM, July 11 — Is there anything worse than being stuck in an airport during a layover? Barely much to do (it’s an airport after all) and the nearest city is hours away. Small wonder layovers are the stuff of nightmares for frequent long-distance travellers. Unless you happen to be passing through Schiphol Airport, that is.
We are travelling to Budapest via Amsterdam with six hours to spare at the airport. Now that summer’s here and the weather lovely for walking, we decide to head into the city. It only takes 20 minutes to reach Amsterdam Centraal Station from Schiphol and about the same to return. Instead of hitting the usual tourist sites (the Red Light District, the art galleries and sex museums) we opt for a stroll around the city and do some exploring on our own.
Breakfast at Barney’s
Amsterdam has a reputation for being a city where one can indulge, and what better way than to brush off any remaining jetlag with a champagne breakfast? We head to Barney’s Uptown in bohemian Haarlemmerstraat; opposite is its sister establishment Barney’s Coffeeshop. (“Coffee shops” in Amsterdam are less known for their coffee and more for their sprawling menu of cannabis, which may be sold legally in the Netherlands in small quantities.)
Inside, metal busts of the Buddha rest on wooden blocks in a courtyard, sharing the small space with bamboo and other tropical shrubs. There’s a bit of Bali or Krabi in the air. The bar is loaded with neatly stacked bottles of liquor, ready to be mixed into an endless variety of cocktails when night falls. Half of the customers have their sunglasses on, as though nursing hangovers.
Some freshly brewed black coffee to wake us up and orange juice for vitamins after the vagaries of a long flight. This is soon followed by scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and capers for protein; cinnamon rolls with chocolate syrup for the carbs. And of course, let’s not forget the chilled flûte of champagne to complete a perfect breakfast of champions.
The Venice of the North
With all the drinks we had, our bladders are rather full. Rather than use the restroom at Barney’s we head outside into the sunlight. A couple of alleys away, we find what we’re looking for — a strange, cylindrical metal construct. A street sculpture, surely? I enter it, and its curving structure hides most of me from any onlookers.
That is, if you don’t count my shoes which are visible from below. Soon a steady stream of what used to be champagne joins my shoes (but not directly on it, mind; I am able to aim). When in Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdammers (Amsterdamites?) do. Let me introduce you to one of the city’s very popular (and judging by the smell, very well-used) public urinals.
It’s a nice reminder that while Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North, thanks to its picturesque network of canals, it’s also a city that has its fair share of locals and visitors ever threatening to piss into these same canals. The Dutch, ever the pragmatists, dealt with it with the unique urinals which are now tourist attractions in their own right.
We keep walking, from canal to canal, over one bridge then another. After leaving the Staalstraat, we cross a drawbridge over the scenic Groenburgwal canal. Trees and houseboats line this old canal, leading surely to the Zuiderkerk church in the background. The Jordaan neighbourhood, by contrast, is livelier, bustling with a multitude of markets and art galleries. Shops jostle with one another, brimming with antiques and curios. It’s a beautiful day.
The quietest courtyard in Amsterdam
It’s late morning now. The hordes of tourists are starting to wake up from their hangovers and storming the canals and the walkways. We dodge the worst of the lot and find some respite in an enclosed courtyard of medieval houses — the Begijnhof.
Instead of the mad rush of cosmopolitan Amsterdam, Begijnhof is an oasis of calm. Here, groups of religious, charitable women called the Beguines used to live in solitude. (Some modern-day groups still do, in fact.) The flower gardens are well-kept and charming; the town-houses tall and austere. One wooden house is coloured darker than the rest, a sort of charcoal-slate. This we discover is the Houten Huys (or “The Wooden House”), the oldest house in Amsterdam, dating from 1528.
Walking around the courtyard, we find ourselves before the lonely statue of a pious woman. We take time to reflect, as she must have once done, all those centuries before.
These fries aren’t French
After all that walking, we have worked up an appetite again. There’s just enough time to stop for some fries before we have to head to the train station and back to the airport.
These are no ordinary fries though. Vlaamse frites (or “Flemish fries”, pronounced “flahm suh freets”) originally came from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Instead of ketchup, the locals dip the chips into a rich mayonnaise.
One bite and you’ll wonder why McDonald’s don’t serve these instead of French fries — these are both crispier and heftier, the better to scoop up the creamy and slightly sweet mayonnaise with.
Our favourite Vlammse frites shop (and possibly the easiest to find, with long lines of customers) is Manneken Pis, located along the touristy streets of the Damrak (which will return you to the Amsterdam Centraal Station in time for your train and your flight).
Final boarding call…
After arriving back at Schiphol and passing through Customs, don’t forget to grab a pack or two of stroopwafels. These infamously sweet sandwiches of buttery waffles stuck together by a layer of caramel syrup are available all over the airport. You may well intend to buy some for your family and friends at your next destination but chances are you’ll get off the plane with only the crumbs on your lips. It’s that irresistible.
I don’t know about you but this little escapade beats sitting on a hard airport bench for six hours. Here’s to the next layover adventure!
Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station
Buy the ticket for a direct train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central Station, for €3.70 (RM14.40) or €7.40 for same-day return. The trip takes about 20 minutes.
Barney’s Uptown (champagne breakfast)
Haarlemmerstraat 105, 1013 EW Amsterdam. Tel: +31 204 279 469. Opening hours: Sun till Thu 8:00am – 1:00am; Fri & Sat 8:00am – 3:00am. Website: barneys.biz/?s=uptown
Begijnhof 30, 1012 Binnenstad, Amsterdam. Tel: +31 206 221 918. Open daily 9:00am – 5:00pm. Website: begijnhofamsterdam.nl
Manneken Pis (Vlaames frites)
Damrak 41, 1012 LK Amsterdam, Netherlands. Tel: +31 346 562 040. Opening hours: Sun till Thu 11:00am – 11:00pm; Fri & Sat 11:00am – 2:00am. Website: mannekenpis.nl/
* Kenny believes in living every minute to the fullest – even airport layovers can be an unexpected adventure! Read more of his musings at lifeforbeginners.com