What happens in Amsterdam.....stays in Amsterdam

Trip Start Aug 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 29, 2010

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Had wake up call at 7:00am, and after a nice breakfast in the hotel, we made our way into Amsterdam. Amsterdam has many names.  It is known as the Venice of the North, Sin City, or the Party Capital of Europe.  Each of these titles was appropriate, and we soon became aware of why.  Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.  It boasts an incredible array of activities to enjoy such as the arts both modern and traditional, museums, historical buildings and churches, working canals, and a most "interesting" nightlife. 

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.  I had to be disciplined to not want to stop every 50 yards to take a new picture.  I knew that it would be impossible to capture on film what my eyes were taking in.  Thinking back, I wish I would have purchased a small video camera to take along to chronicle my journey.

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.  There are approximately 750,000 residents in the city, and well over 1 million bicycles.  They even have a parking garage that is about 5 stories high in the middle of the city, which houses nothing but bikes.  The bicycles are parked everywhere, and they all seem to be fairly plain looking.  This is probably due to the fact that people tend to steal them, and there is quite the black market for just such a thing.  People don’t tend to report stolen bikes in Amsterdam, they just take another bike in it’s place.  Looking around, you see very few obese Dutch people.  You can see why, since everyone rides these bikes to work, to play, and then they have the stairs to get up and down in their homes.  Because of this, there doesn’t seem to be a chance to be like a stagnant and lazy American.

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.  It was disconcerting to have them fly over your head while white stuff came out of them and landed on the ground around you.  Doubt I will look at them the same ever again.  The Dam Square is the national square of the Netherlands, and is located in the oldest part of the city.  Located on these grounds are the Royal Palace, which unfortunately was covered in scaffolding, and the Gothic looking Nieuwe Kerk, meaning New Church, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.  The other side of the Square is erected a white stone pillar to memorialize the victims of World War II.  At first I had thought this was an obelisk, but upon further inspection, it was more in the shape of a phallic symbol, which after checking out the “Red Light District” was fairly appropriate for the area.  The Square provides a great place to people watch as there are street entertainers throughout the area and large circles gather around them to watch them perform.  It really reminded me of the city of Boston and it’s Quincy Market area.

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.  If you order water here, they assume you want seltzer water.  They ask you if you intend it to be “still” or “sparkling”.  I was a little confused, and told the waiter, I wanted the “normal water”.  He grinned a little, and as he walked away, I could tell he was thinking to himself “……stupid American”.  Along those same lines, I remember in Belgium I was asked if I wanted “gas” or “no gas” when I ordered the water.  Strange, very strange.  I think I like American way when it comes to ordering water.

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.  We passed the Rijsmuseum where they hold the famous Dutch paintings such as Rembrandt.  This museum was under heavy construction to the outside and inside, and as a result was just open to a limited amount of space.  We decided to spend our time and money elsewhere since we were under a severe time restraint to get back to the hotel and meet our party for dinner.  We took our picture at the famous “I Amsterdam” sign in the Museum Plein, and then made our way back north to the Flower Market for a quick souvenir shopping session. 

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.  Within these walls one could find “soft drugs” as they were called.

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.  Needless to say, they had grins on their faces when their time was up.  As we walked around the streets and came upon the windows, it was interesting to see many of the ladies were just sitting in a chair in bikinis and talking or texting on their phones.  I saw one rather large lady who we watched eat an ice cream cone, and later was eating a burrito.  I guess that would appeal to someone, but I’m sure it turned off quite a few other patrons.  While out on our journey, we ran into a couple from Idaho, that gave us several pointers on our future travels to other European cities and sites.  They were very friendly, and at one point when they found that we had not visited a coffee shop as of yet, asked us if we wanted to try.  We politely declined!

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?”.  I nearly froze and then stiffly continued to walk.  I heard the request again, and was just about ready to turn and acknowledge the worker, when Christine behind me said, “walk, keep walking, walk faster, don’t you dare stop”.  Our pace quickened, and I was totally prepared to break into a run as I got out the front door and off the steps.  Luckily, the bartender must have given up on her quest to bust the obstinate Americans, and we continued much relieved from our naughtiness.

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.
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Neal on

Haha, good story Doug!
Sloterdijk means; ditch-floodbank.

Have fun in Berlin with the returnees!

Guested on

Red Light District is a lifetime experience!
But, to be sure to have a unforgettable time, you should check out this The Amsterdam Red Light Guide

daan on

Game Museum Amsterdam is the first permanent hands-on videogame museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
On different levels in this museum you’re about to experience the videogame history by playing on retro consoles from Atari, Sega, Nintendo and other systems that you probably remember from your childhood.

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