I’ve been to Amsterdam my fair share of times. For rave parties in Almere or lads parties in the Red Light District, I’ve traipsed up and down the canals of the Dutch capital more times than most. When an opportunity came my way to visit the city again during a weekend but taking an alternative method of transport to flying, my interest was definitely piqued.
Taking the train from London’s Liverpool St to the Essex port of Harwich on the Friday night, you board one of Stena Line’s massive superferries for the overnight journey to Holland. With 11 decks and a capacity of 1200 people, this is a serious vessel. The first order of business was checking into our cabins, which came complete with comfy beds, outside views and a flat screen TV.
The spacious cabins aboard the Stena Hollandica
Having settled in, we headed down to the main deck to the Metropolitan restaurant for dinner and a few brews. The last overnight ferry I went on was one from Melbourne to Devenport (Spirit of Tasmania for all your Aussies) and the food offerings on that paled in comparison to the sensational spread Stena Line put on.
The bloody delicious chicken stir-fry I had for dinner
After a fair few Heinekens (hey, we were going to Holland right?) it was time to turn in and I nodded off to the gentle sway of the ferry breaking through the waves of the North Sea.
Arriving in Holland
Waking up on board involves being roused by the sounds of Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” over the loudspeaker at the confronting time of 6:30am, which is definitely the most unique way I’ve ever rolled out of bed on a Saturday morning. The masses hit the breakfast buffet on the main deck for bacon and eggs and we are ready to roll.
Waking up to sunrise over the North Sea coast off Holland
Once you disembark at Hook of Holland in the morning, you jump on a train directly on the dock to Amsterdam. After a one hour journey, you’re in the centre, ready to get amongst the Van Gogh and the coffee shops. By the time we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal station it was only 9:30am, so we had the entire day ahead of us to explore.
We’d been hooked up with a guided tour of the city from Viator, which involved an extensive walking tour of the Red Light District, learning about the girls in the windows and the coffee shop trade that has made Amsterdam famous.
It all started in the 1600s, when Amsterdam was a busy port during colonial times. Holland was out in the Caribbean and what is now Indonesia, trading like crazy with the locals and making tons of cash. When Dutch sailors returned home after months away, you can guess what the first thing they wanted was. Yep, booze and sex. So this district of Amsterdam turned into a huge collection of dens of iniquity, serving up loads of alcohol and sex for sale.
These days the Red Light District is still making a roaring trade, with the laneways filled with 290 red-lit windows each with a girl showing off her product to passing blokes. As our guide heartily informed us, the going rate is €50 and apparently the average duration is just 7 minutes. That’s an expensive ride if you ask me. 😛
When it comes to the coffee shops, they’re a very serious affair. They serve no alcohol inside and can’t advertise outside either. It’s legal to smoke weed in Holland but illegal to grow and sell it apparently, so some of the supply chain still comes from shady means. Ignore what the press has been saying recently about them outlawing smoking weed for tourists. That’s only localised to the city of Maastricht in the south-east of the Netherlands due to them being all up in arms about it and such. It’s still all good to go in Amsterdam.
Do like the Dutchies do in Jordaan
After learning about the ins and outs of the Red Light District, we trundled over to a street behind Dam Square and picked up a few bikes. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without mounting up on a bike and touring around the canals and laneways. Given that all my previous trips to the Dam weren’t what you could call “cultured”, this was actually my first go on a bike in the city. Because of this, I couldn’t wait. The sun came out and we started off on a tour around the Jordaan neighbourhood.
Jordaan is an area west of the central part of Amsterdam that feels a lot more working class. Here there are no flashy bars, coffee shops, girls in windows or drunk chavs. The canals are lined with houseboats and families punt up and down them in their own little boats. There are quaint little cafes and parks to hang out in. It’s an old immigrant area and all the houses are original, having been built on mud foundations in the 1600s.
We parked out bikes up outside the old Heineken brewery and jumped on a boat to see the city from a different perspective. Being able to cruise back through Jordaan and out into the IJ (bay) in front of Centraal Station allowed me to see the city differently, all the while having important sights pointed out by the onboard guide.
Soon enough, the afternoon drawed to a close and it was time for us to jump on the train back to Hook of Holland for the evening sailing back to England. Even though this was just one day out, I’d seen so much of Amsterdam that I’d never seen before.
Why sail rather than fly?
Taking the slow route on a ferry is a great alternative to battling it out with families at Gatwick on a flight to Amsterdam. You get this feeling of “yeah, this a SEA JOURNEY” and it has a bit of nostalgia attached to it. Arriving refreshed after a full nights sleep and a good meal, ready to take on Holland really represents a viable alternative to trudging through airports in my books.