Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sightseeing and flea markets in Amsterdam

Amsterdam must be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but is especially pretty in springtime.

Wandering around its canals and squares, you're surrounded by tall townhouses, each one completely different to the next, with some lovely colour combinations. The streets are lined with trees and parked bikes, the canals dotted with houseboats, and every cafe and bar had people outside. I was so busy looking around I had a few near misses with bicycles.

There are a million things to see and do, without even venturing into the sex museums and coffee shops. Some of our sightseeing included a canal boat tour, the Heineken Experience (stained glass windows pictured), the cat museum, and the Rijksmuseum, where I was a bit more taken with these beautifully designed copies of Wendingen magazine than I was with all the Rembrandts.

As for the food, we had some great cheese sandwiches - 'old cheese' (which I think means mature), served with pickles and zingy mustard, and of course a small beer. Apple tart and cream is of course a must, and we also found a place called Village Bagel on Vijzelstraat doing the best bagels with fig jam, must buy some. We also enjoyed Cafe Katoen and Cafe Langereis for chilled drinks and lovely atmosphere.

We also had a chance to go shopping a bit. We did try the Nine Streets (9 Straatjes) which we heard had a few vintage shops, but it seems most of them are only open from 12ish and some only on a Friday and Saturday. Thankfully the flea markets we discovered more than made up for it.

IJ Hallen
IJ Hallen is a flea market held all weekend, each month, in a shipyard in north Amsterdam. But it’s not just any old flea market. It’s absolutely huge.

There are hundreds of stalls laid out in a maze in the massive warehouse when you first walk in, and then you wander over the car park and find another warehouse of a similar size. It's overwhelming. According to their website there are 750 stalls in total. You pay about four euros to get in, but fortunately the ferry to get there is free, and zipping over the waves is a pretty nice experience on a sunny day.

In amongst all the second hand clothes and random crap, there was a lot of lovely kitchenware (especially the red enamel, wanted this so badly), kitsch stuff, old Dutch books, gadgets, furniture and prints. Meanwhile someone's blaring out the Beatles, you can smell pancakes from a nearby stall, and there's generally a really chilled vibe. Lovely. It was all a couple of euros over what I'd pay, but perhaps you're meant to haggle - or maybe I was spoilt by my adventure touring the Kringloopwinkels a couple of years ago.

Disappointed by the nine streets on a quiet Monday morning, we headed north up Prinsengracht and came across the Noordermarkt.

This is another big flea market, mainly in a churchyard but spilling out onto the surrounding streets. This one had a bit more of a British market feel in some places, with canopies over the stalls, 3-for-2 deals on cleaning products and a shouty fruit and veg section. But the pottery, stamps, vintage postcards and taxidermy were well worth a rummage.

Due to luggage limitations and hangovers I managed to go to both these lovely markets and not buy anything - it was still a cool experience and I came away with some interesting ideas of things to look for over here (been scouring eBay for classroom style anatomical or botanical diagrams, so cool).

As a cheap and portable souvenir, I ended up getting a couple of bits from Hema - it's like a cross between Woolworths and Ikea, but you can't argue with cute and simple crockery for two or three euros a pop. We need one here!