Amsterdam is the only city in the world where 15,000 bicycles are retrieved from the bottom of the canals every year. I wonder why...
Notoriously known as the land of freedom, or Marijuana central, Amsterdam is more than just consumable plants. London-based young entrepreneur, Hashim Batterjee, is a big fan of the city. Hashim is the Amsterdam connoisseur, and the person to ask about the city’s hidden gems. He has earned the title of "Amsterdammer" around his circle of friends. With Amsterdam entry stamps filling more than half of the pages of his passport, Hashim is undoubtedly your enhanced version of a touristic guide, except that he has all the information that tourists don’t know and locals protect. The "Amsterdammer" reveals some of Amsterdam’s secret hideouts.
Grey Area is a local coffee shop, hidden in the back alley of Oude Leliestraat street. People often pass by it without noticing it. As soon as visitors enter the alley, they are greeted by the pleasurable herb aromas. Grey Area is a very small shop, with literally three tables only. The cue therefore is interminable, and extends all over the block. The wait, however, is worthwhile. As soon as clients enter the place, they are transported to a Rastafarian universe with Bob Dylan music playing in the background. The walls are covered in posters and filled with notes that people left before departing. The ambiance is quite cozy, relaxed and bohemian. Whilst clients are cueing, they pass on the herbs menu simultaneously. The marijuana is sourced from California.
Grey area is renowned for its premium quality of herbs. The menu changes by season because it is a plant, evidently. Rumors amongst locals have it that there is an old hipster that practically lives in the coffee shop and smokes the leftovers. Although Grey Area does not provide culinary treats, the laid-back ambiance and fine product quality make it worth cueing. Customers interact amongst each other. It’s a cultural experience; people from different countries meet and connect. No matter where they come from, they all share a common passion of peace living, freethinking, all pursuing immersive and authentic experiences in the city, which is what brings them together under the Grey Area roof.
Just across Grey Area is a hidden burritos place that only locals are acquainted to, called The Original California Burrito Company. Young Dutch employees work there part time in order to pay their tuition fees or make a decent living. The eatery only provides organic products to its clientele, and prime quality beef. Amsterdammers tend to eat the delicious burritos or tacos on the go. Not only is the food at a reasonable price, but it is also made with fresh, organic ingredients and most importantly, with care and love. Originally launched in Manhattan, this burritos shack is nothing like fine dining. Located in the same bohemian and laid-back neighborhood as Gray Area, both places have the same price range as they cater the same group of clientele.
Another street that is definitely worth visiting is Haarlemmerstraat Street, packed will small coffee shops that only locals know. These hidden gems are emblematic of the city’s culture and lifestyle; from Popeye, to Dambkring, to Green House down the road. However Green House is slightly more commercial than the other coffee shops because renowned rappers have marked the coffee shop at the top of their “Amsty” hit list. The owner is an activist who travels all around the world looking for new strains from Brazil to Africa.
Nearby the more or less commercial coffee shop is Barney’s, a lower key one. Across the street is a Barney’s lounge, one of the very few places where tourists can actually enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage whilst smoking. The combination is heavenly for Amsterdammers and returning visitors. However the Barney’s lounge does not sell herbs like the rest of the coffee shops in the city. Clients can also indulge in watching a heated football game whilst digging in a tasty meal at the lounge. The food is said to be exquisite. The experience and combination of treats is by far one of a kind, hankered by all Amsterdammers at heart.
If visitors are craving a delicious seated meal, to change from the burritos and tacos on the go, Envy is a local Michelin star restaurant that only Amsterdammers go to. Similar to Barrafina in London, the restaurant comprises a bar where customers can see the talented chefs prepare their delicious meal. Whilst the masters are cooking in their stations, patrons can nibble on appetizers and tapas. Customers are promised an unforgettable culinary experience. All ingredients are fresh. The menu is mainly inspired from the Belgium cuisine, with seafood specialties ranging from oysters, shellfish, and renowned meat cuts. The typical Flemish dish - mussels with fries and mayo - is a bestseller. The crowd in the restaurant is relatively young, ranging from mid twenties to mid forties. It is an occasion for them to dress up, after a long day of cycling and laying back in coffee shops. Although not exactly as affordable as the previous named coffee shops, with an average prove of 50 euros per head, Envy is definitely worth every single penny.
Aside from eateries and coffee shops, Amsterdam is a city with a lot of historical and cultural heritage. “I am fascinated by the architecture of the city”, states Hashim. Unlike artificial upcoming countries and cities such as the likes of Dubai, where “nothing is authentic”, Amsterdam is a man made city. The perfectly aligned bridges date back to 700 years old, and are all man made constructs. Amsterdam is characterized by its unique symmetry in its architecture. The tops of most of the buildings resemble stairs, and are all geometrically shaped. Conveniently enough, there is some sort of fixture pointing out that is used to fit furniture in the apartments. This is because the living space there is too narrow making it impossible to move any sort of furniture through the doors. The city is characterized by its constricted alleys and its cozy vibes.
The living standard is also not to be taken lightly. Supermarket products compete with established worldwide cities such as London. All products are fresh and premium quality, from cheese, to wine, to milk, to chocolate… the munchies list is long and delicious. As a Londoner, Hashim is convinced that the products’ quality in Amsterdam beats his country of residence.
Dam Square also hosts annually during winter season something similar to London’s Winter Wonderland. Shops, tasty food from crepes, hot dogs, mulled wine and hot chocolate and a few rides are guaranteed to take tourists’ mind off the cold.
“I AMsterdam”, proudly concludes Hashim as he takes a deep breath. And if you follow the above city guidelines, you too will be Amsterdam. A few days in the city will forever be engraved in your memory and provide you with all the escape you need from your everyday hectic life. Let us all Amsterdam, the local way, shall we?