How far can you stretch 24 euros over 12 hours in Amsterdam? Zoe Cormier rents one of the city’s iconic bikes and investigates
2 euros ($3) for a few oranges, apples and a banana. Not exactly local gastronomy. But a perfect don’t-break-the-bank-yet breakfast.
Orange and blue LEDs illuminate the shelves, models that look like molecules hang from the ceiling and readers lounge on spherical furniture – you have to love a culture that makes a library look like a nightclub. The balcony also has the best view of the city. And the price is right: Free.
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Just next to the library, 7 euros ($11) gets you a bike for a day. And in this cyclecentric city, citizens on two wheels rule. They have the right of way, their own lanes and traffic lights, and there are no hills. Just be warned: Dutch bikes usually have only one gear (“Why would you need gears when it’s flat?”) and only back-pedal brakes. I quickly learn to brake 10 feet before I actually need to stop. Later, I’m overtaken by an annoyed Dutch octogenarian. Embarrassing.
AMSTERDAM HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Entrance to the Schuttersgalerij (the Civic Guards Gallery) is free. Survey portraits of the city’s wealthiest citizens. It’s sort of like seeing a dozen variations on The Night Watch.
THE JORDAAN DISTRICT
Make that a quick survey. Why spend money on a gallery when you can bike around “the Venice of the North” – a floating museum unto itself – for free? The Jordaan district, in particular, is so picturesque it hurts. Most buildings, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, were built on sandy foundations and now list this way and that. But they also prop each other up, so they’re all right. (A metaphor for life?) While gawking, grab a massive order of street fries for a few euros ($3-$6). With mayo, of course.
DE NIEUWE ANITA
FREDERIK HENDRIKSTRAAT 111
It’s 1 Euro ($1.50) for a mint tea at this former squat, now a hip cafe and theatre where movies always have English subtitles. But the vibe is more private home than club. Lounge on a comfy couch with the English paper Amsterdam Weekly.
I have never smelled a park like this. It’s genuinely intoxicating. I can hardly believe I’m still in a city. There are canals, ponds, wetlands, shady trees and inviting lawns covered in fluffy ducklings and necking couples. Even the tramps, singing The Harder They Come, look happy.
Since I did not find a proverbial free lunch, I part with 1 euro ($1.50) and scarf a chocolate muffin at the circular cafe in the middle of Vondelpark. I’m still hungry.
I cycle up Amstel River. The river sparkles, I get an occasional whiff of salty sea air – and get windburn from the speed. I covet a houseboat.
I drop off my bike and hop on the No. 9 tram. You buy tickets at the back, not through the driver up front. So I sit down without paying. If they ask, I’ll feign foreign ignorance. They don’t ask.
BROUWERIJ ‘T IJ
Tucked under one of the city’s last iconic windmills, the Ij Brewery is open daily until 8 p.m. And there’s not a tourist in sight. Instead, men with paint in their hair, fresh from work, fill the patio, while children and dogs scuttle about. Deliciously wholesome. Best of all, dirt-cheap: 1.70 euros ($2.70) for a pilsner, 2.20 euros ($3.50) for a stronger 9 per cent brew. And for a taste of Dutch simplicity, there are hard-boiled eggs for 0.60 euro ($1). A couple of eggs and a beer: The most efficient tipple I’ve ever had.
I hop back on tram No. 9, then wander through the red-light district. Just so I can say I did.
DE DAMPKRING COFFEESHOP
The smoke here is heavy enough to get a second-hand buzz. But c’mon, when in Rome… And it’s only 3 euros ($5) for a pre-rolled treat.
Obligingly, Dutch convenience stores stock the best munchies: Stroopwaffles for 1 euros ($1.50). Imagine caramels between thin, flat waffles. Mmm.
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I have just enough for one drink at this tiny bar just behind the red-light district. I admire the Art Deco tiled floor and stained-glass windows juxtaposed with orange and blue neon lights. The barman fires up the milk steamer for my order: A hot chocolate with Baileys for 3.50 euros ($5.50). It’s just the right nightcap.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Thirteen hours, 14 kilometres and 23.50 euros (about $37). I’ll take tired legs and a pleasant buzz over an overpriced three-course meal any day.