One of my favorite cities in the entire world is Amsterdam.
It's a beautiful and chill city to wander around, and it has a really creative laid-back vibe. I love the Dutch aesthetic- it's not as minimalist as Scandinavian design and it's quirky and fun. None of the houses have shutters or blinds on the windows, and people generally put some object d'art in their window.
Despite it being as European as they get, it has a much more New York feel to it than you would think. Maybe it's just New York flaunting its Old Amsterdam roots. It's not as xenophobic as France and there's a huge mix of ethnic populations and really fantastic food. Oh, the food. I made sure this trip to do a little research beforehand and got some recommendations. None of it disappointed.
The whole city is a feat of engineering, and many people are looking to the Dutch to protect their cities from rising sea levels. It used to be a sea-front town, but enough land was reclaimed around it so that it is now surrounded by a freshwater lake, and the sea is kept at a distance.
There are hordes of stag parties and drug tourist that make the red light district a wild place. Coffeeshops are scattered everywhere in the city, and most of them are friendly and helpful. Even the Red Light district isn't a terrible place- I have never felt more than perfectly safe. I have traveled here alone in the past, and I've never been bothered by anyone other than briefly by the canal-side drug dealers casually offering hard drugs. The rest of the city is filled with friendly locals.
There are more bicycles than cars, and almost every street has a two-lane huge bike lane. The bikes here are simple single-gear affairs as the biggest hill you will encounter here are the gentle rises of the bridges that cross the canals.
The lovely 800 year old Ould Kerk is now right smack in the middle of the Red Light District. The reformation hit the Netherlands hard, so the church intérieurs are austere and buttoned-up Protesten affairs. Also, because the ground is a swampy wet affair underneath, they can't build these big heavy stone-pillared churches, and most of them have wooden roofs as well.
Amsterdam is not without its hazards:
This guy was leaning against a public urinal getting his picture taken next to the canal. Gross.
The Royal Palace was the center square of the city.
The interior of the Palace reflected a very Napoleonic influence, as he installed his brother as King here to control the Netherlands for a spell.
This ceiling fresco is about as French as you can get:
I'll have more pictures soon...as usual, I took thousands of them and it takes me a few days to get through them all.