It was a cool, grey morning in Amsterdam, and the city was just waking up: businessmen were riding bikes to work, mothers were toting along young children, and street vendors were hawking newspapers. I, on the other hand, could barely keep my eyes open. I was traveling through the Netherlands with a group of journalists, and due to a train timing mishap, we had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight. I was the walking definition of a bleary-eyed traveler: displaced, disoriented, and exhausted. How could I possibly come to appreciate this city when I was feeling so disoriented?
That's when we hooked up with Like-a-local, an organization that connects travelers to locals who are in-the-know. Founded by three Amsterdam locals who felt disconnected while traveling abroad, this company has created a new type of insider traveling experience. Like-a-local has tailored programs that allow travelers to Live! Go! or Eat! with locals. With these programs, you can stay in a local historic home, tour a neighborhood with a local guide, or eat an authentic home-cooked meal for almost the same price as any hotel, restaurant or tour (dinners can cost between €30 to €50, with an additional €15 reservation fee). But the experience is much, much more satisfying.
Upon meeting my first local guide, a pretty young woman named Jonah, the skies opened up in a deluge. "Jump on the back of my bike," Jonah shouted, who then swiftly pedaled us to shelter under a footbridge. Jonah used this seemingly opportune moment to talk about Vondelpark; it is the largest public park in Amsterdam and is vital to young Dutch people, who flock here for outdoor concerts, picnics, and social gatherings. When the rain subsided, we stopped for cappuccinos at Vertigo (www.vertigo.nl), a lovely outdoor café in Vondelpark. It was muddy, but as the sun came out, the park transformed into a portrait of Dutch leisure: children watched a performance at an outdoor children's theater, young couples picnicked, and waves of bicyclers rode past. I left Vondelpark rejuvenated and ready for my next local experience: a boat tour of the canals.
I had been to Amsterdam before, and I had cruised along the city's labyrinthine canals in the past, but never like this: private and relaxed. Our captain, Wouter, took us on a private boat tour of the city, pointing out landmarks, bridges, and historic houses along the way. This boat tour, with Captain Wouter, costs €34 per person. We sipped red wine while another local, Flo, told us of the city's nightlife hotspots. Flo, a self-proclaimed nightlife connoisseur, insisted that we simply must go to Jimmy Woo (www.jimmywoo.com) and Melkweg (www.melkweg.nl) -- the city's hottest and most selective nightclubs. (Later that week, we ventured to Melkweg for a music festival, and true to Flo's advice, we had a great time.) We floated through the tiny, winding canals, past stationary houseboats and rows of canal houses until we arrived at our destination: a small canal house.
With their almost regal leaning facades, these canal houses are an integral part of the city's architectural makeup. I had always imagined that the interiors of these homes would evoke a scene from a Johannes Vermeer painting, and I was ecstatic to see what they might actually look like on the inside. A local family welcomed us into their home, a charming, slanted canal house that was built in 1630. The home had relatively modern furnishings in a very traditional frame -- absolutely nothing like a Vermeer painting. Hanneke, the owner of the canal house, served us Scharrel Ijwit, an organic, citrusy Dutch beer, and Genever, a strong Dutch spirit that burned my throat, like any good liquor. Her young children, dressed in costumes, served us traditional Dutch appetizers: herring on crusty bread, white asparagus wrapped in ham, eel on cucumber slices, and an array of Dutch cheeses.
Traveling can make you feel like an outsider, but Like-a-local aims to bridge a gap in the global community. Meeting locals who show you the way can make travelers feel more connected and in-the-know -- I certainly felt that way. Although Like-a-local started in Amsterdam, it has expanded its Live! Go! and Eat! services to many more locations, like Paris, London, and Lisbon, to name a few.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers about Amsterdam on our Netherlands Message Boards.