After my brief stay in the lovely Hamburg, I headed west by train toward Amsterdam (the German DB is fantastic). And am I ever glad that Amsterdam is the city that rounded out my trip. Not only is it a simply gorgeous city — with colourful architecture, tonnes of trees and parks, and of course all the canals — but it is one of the most interesting places in the entire world. Its history is fascinating, and it has so much of it — from the Dutch East India Company, to the Protestant revolution, to the mystifying policy on recreational drugs, Amsterdam is just bursting with interesting stories. I took a “free tour”, which is not actually free (well, I suppose it could be if you’re really cheap), but you pay what you can (the tour guides make their money only from the tips you give). It’s definitely worth it, because the tour guides are usually awesome (mine was, and friends who have taken the tour before with other guides rave about them, too), super-knowledgeable, and are remarkably adept at making you fall in love with the city. (Not that they have to try too hard. The city largely does that for itself.)
Aside from the tour, I spent most of my time walking around, taking in the beautiful architecture and greenness of the city, pausing here and there to stuff myself with delicious food. I visited the Amsterdam Museum (a museum of the city’s rich history) and its bright new library (which is enormous and has a restaurant with a great view on the top floor). I sampled delicious pickled herring from a street vendor parked outside Bloemenmarkt (the world’s only floating flower market). Oh, and I tried to pretend the constant rain wasn’t soaking my jacket through, but I don’t even feel that one could call that a downside. The rain is one of the main reasons the city is so green and lovely, after all.
I adored Amsterdam (and really want to go back). Unlike Paris, it not only met my expectations, but exceeded them and then some. I liked all the bicycle infrastructure (especially in newer parts of the city; the very old centre of Amsterdam has streets that are a little too narrow for bike lanes) and the relative harmony between cyclists, drivers, public transport, and pedestrians. (Though the cycling locals do not like tourists who walk into their path, blithely unaware of their surroundings.) I liked the seemingly simplistic and yet oddly beautiful architecture, with the tall, narrow buildings that stretched deep beyond the façade. I liked that, despite how dense and cramped it is in some areas, Amsterdam is a very clean city.
I even liked Amsterdam’s ridiculous version of stairs: so narrow and steep that you damn near have to go on all fours to climb up. Imagine having to go back down! (By the way, my head suffered on this Europe trip of mine. I can’t even tell you how many times I banged it against some ceiling or wall or piece of furniture. Walking down a particularly steep set of Amsterdam stairs and slamming my forehead into an unexpectedly low ceiling was the worst, though.)
There is so much that I liked about Amsterdam. If you never go anywhere else in the world, go there. It’s a fantastic place and impossible not to enjoy. (Well, maybe not impossible — but you’d have to try pretty hard.) It’s a city I definitely want to visit again.
How awesome would it be to live on the bottom floors of one of those buildings? This is the canal that runs more or less perpendicular to the train station.
Another canal (a little east of the train station), with a raisable bridge.
I don’t know what this is, but it’s a beautiful building sitting on the water with an old ship next to it. I like it.
I want that house! How awesome would it be to live on the water like that?
Oh, to be a part of this community of canal-house dwellers.
Oh, Amsterdam architecture…I swoon for you.
Oh, look! A canal!
The National Monument — and a statue of a big, roaring cat.
The Waag. This used to be a city gate into Amsterdam in the 15th century and was part of the walls that encircled it. It was also the “weighing house”, where goods coming into the city were weighed to determine how much tax had to be paid. According to the tour guide — and reinforced by the mother of all reliable information, Wikipedia — the Waag at one point served as an anatomical theatre, where the public was welcome to watch surgeons and scientists cut open and experiment on cadavers. Might sound grotesque, but a few centuries ago, Amsterdam was one of the most scientifically advanced places in the world.
The Dutch East India Company (VOC), founded in 1602, used to be housed in this building. It was the most powerful company of its time, until the second half of the 1700s, when it all started to go downhill. By the turn of the 19th century, the company had collapsed due to bankruptcy. It was the first global corporation to grow, innovate, become über-wealthy, get greedy, overreach, and collapse in spectacular fashion. One of its greatest pitfalls was heavy involvement in the slave trade. You would think we might have learned something from this example, but apparently not.
Colourful buildings crowding the canal.
Guess which district this is located in.
The Oude Kerk (Old Church), located in the Red Light District. (Like I said — fascinating history.)
Begijnhof, a quiet garden courtyard surrounded by female-only housing. Originally, this was a semi-monastic community for women, and even now many of the women who reside here are deeply religious, though that isn’t a requirement. (What is, though, is that the woman be single. The waiting list for a residence here is something like 15 years.)
A lovely street, with the entrance to a delicious crêpe café called Upstairs Pancake House in the forefront.
You don’t want to know how long I stood in front of that bookstore’s window display and debated whether or not I should buy that map. I really wanted to. The only thing that finally turned me off the idea was that it came in parts — because then, of course, I saw where all the parts were glued/taped together, and thereafter could see nothing else. And so I went on my merry way, mapless.
Look! A ship going through a bridge that has been raised specifically for it to go through! How exciting!
Inside the Amsterdam Museum.
Satirical map of Europe in the Amsterdam Museum.
Who wouldn’t want to live here? I thought everyone wanted a toilet in their kitchen. –In the Amsterdam Museum.
There certainly is no shortage of beautiful canals in this place.
On the right is the Bloemenmarkt.
A bridge stretching across a particularly wide canal.
Passing by a construction site, I noticed something the tour guide was telling us about earlier: the wooden beams that, centuries ago, had been sunk deep into the ground (moist ground — after all, Amsterdam in pretty much its entirety sits on land that was reclaimed from the sea), and on which the majority of Amsterdam’s foundation rests. I can’t believe they’re still standing, rotted away as they are. (I’m assuming they’re being replaced with more modern, more durable infrastructure.)
View of Amsterdam from somewhere east of the train station, on my way to the library.
View from the top floor of Amsterdam Library, which is a few blocks directly east of the train station.