The last time I was in Amsterdam the only thing I saw was the inside of my hotel during a 12-hour layover on the way back to SFO from Cannes. So it was with great anticipation that I awoke before dawn to catch the first train out of Gare du Nord, tagging along on a friend's pre-planned trip.
One of the first things I noticed upon entering the city proper was the way that the old town (the part that includes both the red light district and infamous weed-friendly "coffee shops") resembles something out of a Tim Burton movie or Dr. Seuss book. And not because of the interesting characters drawn to the area, but due to the buildings that lean every which way in structural design-defying ways.
Walking around the various neighborhoods reminded me of the Scandinavian cities that I visited this summer. To me, Amsterdam had the old-world charm of Copenhagen combined with the grungy/hipster/rebellious streak of Stockholm but with more ethnic diversity than either of the two others. I was both surprised and pleased to see lots of Asian restaurants that were pretty authentic-tasting (and appeared to be run by people of the corresponding ethnicity). We had good sushi and Thai food, but also saw lots of Chinese, Brazilian and Argentinian restaurants.
Another thing I enjoyed about Amsterdam? The coffee culture. (I'm referring here to actual coffee shops that specialize in products that come from beans, not dried flowers). Even though I only drank it once or twice over the entire weekend, I found it comforting to walk around and feel surrounded by cafés sporting lattes and the like because it reminded me of Seattle. Paris does a lot of things well, but coffee is not one of them.