What happens in Amsterdam.....stays in Amsterdam
Trip Start Aug 08, 2010
21Trip End Aug 29, 2010
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Our first activity was to drive to one of the many canals and take a cruise. We started in one of the newest canals which dated into the 1800's, and weaved through some of the older canals which were from the 1600’s to 1700’s. I was amazed at the narrow houses which lined the walkways. The canals in the city make a crescent shape or almost a spider web throughout the area. Everywhere you go, you find a picturesque view with lovely bridges and colorful and narrow looking houses that seem to lean every which way
The canal houses, were narrow and relatively tall buildings, crowned with ornamental tops. Each of these houses possessed a hook at the top of the fašade for purposes of moving furniture in and out of the houses like a pulley system. We were told that often when the man had too much to drink, that the wife would attach them to the hook pull him up and then leave him dangling out their all night. This was later called the “Dutch Hangover”. J Many of these buildings are built on a marshy soil, and are gradually sinking. You can see this in the fact that they tend to lean and slant in all different directions, which is a little uneasy when you walk beneath them. Because of the narrow houses, the stairways up to the upper levels were very steep. I would imagine that many people have broken legs trying to get up and down these stairs. They are almost like a glorified ladder.
Another thing you need to know about Amsterdam is the fact that most of the locals get around by use of bicycle
After experiencing the canal tour with our local guide, we drove to the Fashion and Museum District near the Rijsmuseum building and had our traditional tour through the Coster Diamond Factory. Here we received a demonstration on how the diamonds were cut and how they are graded. They tried to get us to purchase our own, which I was in no mood or position to partake in. After a short one hour presentation and a sales pitch, we were finally allowed to escape. We again boarded our bus and had a guided tour of Amsterdam with our local guide, Linda. She led us through the many areas giving us pointers on what places we may want to view on our free time later in the day
At 12:15 we were dropped off at the Central Station, the Railway for Amsterdam. While some of our tour took an optional excursion to Volendam & Zaans Schans in the Dutch countryside, Christine and I decided to take our luck in walking around the city of Amsterdam and experiencing it for ourselves. Christine is a girl I met while on this tour, who currently lives in Richmond, Virginia. I guess she was forced to team up with me on our journeys since the other members of our tour are couples. Too bad for her, since she had to put up with me all day. We’ll see if she tries to distance herself in the coming days….haha.
Despite the warnings that it was a long walk, we were surprised to find that it was only a short 10 minute walk to the Anne Frank House. Here we waited in line for an hour and 15 minutes to get in. There was no photography allowed inside, which was very disappointing. This was very worth the wait, and I compare the experience to that of visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. It was a solumn experience, but one that I found rewarding to take all in. I was glad that I had happened to watch the Diary of Anne Frank on the AMC Movie channel about 3 months ago by chance, so everything was fresh in my mind.
After going on the tour, we made our way to Dam Square. Such a strange name for a public square, but we quickly found out that it was appropriately named since there was also the Dam pigeons all over the place. As peaceful and relaxing as these may appear to be when watching them fly all over the place, I came to the conclusion that they are really just flying rats
From the Dam, we found a recommended place to eat called O’Reilly’s Pub. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, which was quite tasty. One thing I will note is that we often take for granted in the U.S., the endless supply of water while we eat out in restaurants. This is not the case in these European restaurants, and when most people eat out here they order beer or wine
I was pleasantly surprised to find that most people in Amsterdam including the locals were fluent in English. I rarely ran into someone who could not converse with you in English, and they were usually proud to do so. This is a good thing since I learned the “g” sound in Dutch is almost like clearing your throat or hocking a luggi. One of the tour members commented that it was like someone choking on a chicken. I imagine that this (having the locals speak good or fluent English) won’t be the case as we travel on this tour, so I took advantage of this luxury.
After a nice meal, Christine and I continued on our way south, crossing several other canals on our way back to the Museum District
By this time it was 5:15, and we had to meet our group back at the hotel by 6pm. We literally ran back up the rest of the way to the Central Station Railway and caught a tram to the Airport terminal. From here we were to meet a complimentary shuttle to our hotel. However, the shuttle only came every half hour and having just missed one, we knew we would be limping in nearly 45 minutes late to our group meal. To our surprise, we arrived earlier than the rest of the group, since they had been stuck in traffic coming back from the optional tour. We didn’t have the nerve to tell them we had been late ourselves.
At 7:45 we went on an optional tour with the group back into Amsterdam to the Red Light District. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is an area within the city that ladies of the evening appear in large glass windows and “coffee shops” outnumber any other business around. First of all I will tell you that a “coffee shop” is not quite the same as you and I would be use to. It is not the same as the “Coffee Houses” that also appear throughout Amsterdam. It is not like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or Dutch Brothers that you would find in the U.S
One other interesting thing I noticed was the red flags in the district with 3 black x’s on them. The typical American would think that this symbol had something to do with triple x rated material present in the area. However, we found out that this is the official motto or coat of arms for the city of Amsterdam. It stands for Valor, Resolution, and Mercy, and is represented by the three crosses of St. Andrew’s. A popular tradition we were told also links the x’s to the three threats to the city of Amesterdam as Water, Fire, and Plague or Pestilence.
After about a 2 hour tour with our local guide throughout the district, we left our group and decided to enjoy the sights even further on our own. After walking around Amsterdam for awhile, we noticed that businesses were beginning to close, and most everyone was migrating back down toward the “Red Light District”. Therefore, we decided to wander back into that area ourselves. I noticed several collections of bachelor parties, and other large concentrations of guys. We watched several patrons wander into these houses of ill repute, draw the curtains, and then 10 minutes later, return to the street level again
At midnight, my knee was again bothering me, so Christine and I decided it might be time to start heading back to the hotel. About this time, I had developed a desire to find the water closet (wayside chapel, toilette, bathroom) and it dominated my existence for the next 30 minutes. Our guide had suggested to just walk into a business or restaurant with confidence and act like you knew what you were doing. After finding a fairly busy pub, we did just that. Locating a sign for toilette at the back of the establishment, we hurried toward our goal. Much to my dismay, it brought forth one of those dreaded ladder stairs downward to the basement level. After agonizing with my knee down the stairs, I gave a sigh of relief when we found the doors unlocked leading into the bathroom. Even better, the bathrooms had a well stocked supply of toilet paper, which was an even bigger bonus. Now it was time to make our way out of the pub without being caught. I had tunnel vision as I approached the front entrance. Just then, I heard the dreaded voice of the bartender “excuse me, do you have the key?”
Christine and I made our way back to the Railway Station and caught the tram back to the Airport. One sign in particular caught my attention on the ride back. It was advertising a place name and it read “Sloterdijk”. I thought this was appropriate for the place we had just visited, especially if you pronounced the first part of the word as “slut” and the second part as “dike”. I had seen a person that Christine or I had not been able to determine whether they were more inclined to be a woman or a man. It had either been a very masculine looking woman or the ugliest guy in the history of mankind.
Unfortunately, the free hotel shuttle was no longer in service when we arrived at the airport, so we were forced to pay for a taxi, which set us back 15 euros.
All in all, I was very impressed with Amsterdam. I enjoyed the steep history, the friendly people, the diversity, the fun loving mentality, and the unique liberal minded culture. It was something that everyone must see for themselves and experience at least once in their lives. I also have come to the conclusion that every city should have a canal, not for the functionality that it provides, but for the beauty and peace that it adds to a setting.
I was struck with the way that the Dutch people have carefully preserved their fine city. It was a welcome change when comparing it to New York, where for a time it was vogue to tear down the guilded old houses of the Vanderbilt mansions for example, to build bigger and better skyscrapers. It is unfortunate that we didn’t learn our lesson from the Dutch that to preserve these old buildings for posterity is the wiser investment.
After checking my facebook page, I limped back into my hotel room and got to sleep sometime after 1:45.