Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ;-)

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ;-)

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ;-)

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

A glimpse of Amsterdam on one chilly yet sunny winter day

Two years ago when my sister came over for a 2-week visit, the two of us went to Amsterdam for a day of sightseeing.  Amsterdam is a must-see place for anyone visiting Holland not because of the soft drugs or the Red Light District as what the city seems to be known for but the city with its many well-preserved buildings is very much like a living museum itself.

There are nice nooks and corners to discover such as museums which are home to priceless collections like Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum or the home of Anne Frank.  And if the weather is nice, sitting outside the terrace of a cafe watching the world go by is just fun to do.

We skipped visiting museums this time because we already did that together when she came over for a visit a few years earlier.  Instead, we just wandered around the city and simply enjoyed playing tourists for a day.  My rule is that when the weather is nice, skip the museums.

While we were at the very center of the shopping area, we discovered one narrow passageway that led us to a charming garden surrounded by old houses.  This place is known as the “Begijnhof”.  The houses in the courtyard were once occupied by devout celibate Beguine nuns and are still home to single women today.

We still included the Red Light District in our must-see list for a visit to Amsterdam will not be complete without that.  The place as usual was bustling with tourists amongst others.

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