Sir Walter Raleigh once said that ‘romance is a love affair in other than domestic surroundings’. But as I passed winding canals and leafy streets with my lover, through a city that varied from fun and seedy; to cool and quirky with each turn, all I wanted was a life here, together in Amsterdam. To be part of the constant buzz created by the Dutch who cycle and eat and flirt on these streets. Now if you have visions of Amsterdam being all elegant tall houses leaning into each other, then first impressions will disappoint. The only things falling over on the main street Damrak, are the drug dealers and stags swarming outside saunas and souvenir shops.
So head for the Jordaan. The Notting Hill of Amsterdam, this district has it all. The myriad canals meander around handsome houses, drawing you past windows displaying Mexican kitsch (Kitsch Kitchen, Rozengracht 8-12) and Dutch designer (SPRMRKT, Rozengracht 191-193); via antique shops where impossibly smooth owners languor over a Gauloises. And there are flowers everywhere: on rooftop gardens, hidden courtyards, covering designer houseboats.
The houseboats that sprinkle this area’s waterways are a voyeur’s dream. Many should be in Wallpaper* magazine, all floor to ceiling windows and Droog furniture. Some should be in a scrapyard, as mannequins give you the finger from the deck. But every boat is both fascinating and envy-inducing.
If you get peckish during the day, snack on golden chips flaked with salt and thick mayonnaise from an outdoor stand. By night, let Bistro Bij ons (287 Prinsengracht) envelop you to her bosom. Chintzy chandeliers sway over pictures of Elvis and ceramic pigs, while hosts Esther and Carla sing along, without irony, to the traditional Dutch music that rings in your stew. And nestled into this candle-lit cavern, you will feel impossibly lucky, as late couples are constantly turned away.
Visit the Red Light District the next morning. You are about to jump out of your skin, as mannequins start winking and pouting at you from their windows – living dolls. This area is made up of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam. Everything is in miniature, from the cobbles to the alleys. And the contrast between the Old Church and the neon-lit peep shows that surround it is especially, startlingly sad. Let the Jodenbuurt district placate you with its classic Dutch icons: big cheese, big tulips and a little windmill (de Gooyer windmill, Funenkade 5).
For the big cheese, head to the daily flea-market at Waterlooplein, filled with flowers and dairy. A word from the recently made wiser, unless you want to feel like you belong in a red-lit window, do not wear tights that give the illusion of being suspenders in this largely Muslim community. Leave them for the bedroom, and beat the Dutch at their own game. This place is great for people-watching.
As you stroll back towards Centraal Station, climb aboard NEMO (Oosterdok 2), the ship-shaped science museum for free views across this beautiful city. Then take a free ferry from the station to Amsterdam North. The direct boat whips you out of Amsterdam’s sleazy city heart, into sleepy Dutch town in minutes. And delicious spices tumble through the air from Halal shops, as you head for parks peppered with ducklings and grand weeping willows.
And you will wish you had more than a couple of days there. You will wish Sundays were blankets and hot coffee on a Jordaan houseboat together.
And that is romance. You may even say those three little words, about Amsterdam. Now that, is love.
**This short Travel Story was submitted as part of the Holiday Travel Writing Competition. All short-listed entries such as this one are published in our online Travel Guide**