The first morning we arrived we went on a walking tour of the city that brought us around the major sites and told us the story of the city. Amsterdam is a beautiful city and very easy to navigate as a pedestrian, except for the crazy bikers, watch out for those. The tour began by taking us through the Red Light District, which gets its name from the lights on the windows where the prostitutes stand. Even early in the day quite a few women can be seen standing in the windows, although most look disengaged and are playing on their phones. This is where we found a church which was in the business of selling forgiveness, Amsterdam is well connected via many canals that run throughout the city making it very easy to export goods. The sailors who often stopped here after a long time at sea were looking to have certain needs met but also were not interested in burning in hell for their sins, so a church was established right in the heart of the city so the sailors could make amends before heading off. Some sailors were uncertain as to when they would be called back to duty but also did not want to leave without forgiveness in the chance that their ship should sink and they would be damned for eternity, the church was kind enough to offer a pre-forgiveness. The sailors would stop in prior to committing their sins so that they could rest easy knowing their spirit was safe.
Hidden within these buildings, is another church. This is where we learned that in Amsterdam, you can pretty much do anything you want as long as you follow three rules. Rule number one: Make somebody money (which means making the government money). Rule number two: you must not be hurting others. Rule number three if whatever you are doing is frowned upon it must be discreet, this is where this church comes in. This catholic church was built at a time when Amsterdam was a very heavily protestant city. Catholics were not very free to be open about their religion. Churches are not the only places we talked about that survive in Amsterdam by abiding by these three rules. Many people believe marijuana is legal in this city as it is so famous for its coffee shops, however the story is not as clear as you might first believe. Weed is officially illegal in this city yet as long as people meet the three rules, there is a staple on top of the law that says it can be ignored (as it is explained to us).
The buildings in Amsterdam look like they may have been partying too hard as well. They lean front and backwards, left and right, leaning on each other for support. The forward and backward angle is a design initiative to make it easier for the business owner to get goods in and out of the building as the staircases are very narrow ( the narrow houses are because the skinnier the house the cheaper it is in taxes) in the pictures at the top of the building you may notice a pulley system that made it so things could be transported up and down and through the window. The left and right lean is because the city is built on wood and the sediments are shifting. The Dutch have doubled the size of Amsterdam in the last 800 years with these wood piles. This makes it so the city has to tightly regulate the water of the canal, dry wood must stay dry and wet wood must stay wet. The houses that do not have pulley system in place, are wider, or have a large staircase outside are the houses of people who like to flaunt their wealth as it was a symbol of status to have those things. The most narrow house in Amsterdam is the red one in the second picture, it is 1.8 meters wide, it would not be hard to touch both sides at the same time!
Amsterdam is a city full of canals, this was a way for people to expand their trade from the city to the world! The Netherlands at one time had colonies in different places in the world and they would often trade between them. The canals made it easier for the merchants to get their products from their warehouses (often above their house) to the sea, and eventually to other people. The canals are still in use today, however one of the most popular methods of transport in the city is biking. Everywhere you go in Amsterdam there are bikers in the streets and bikes parked by trees or bike racks. They even have multiple level bike parking lots. There are so many bikes in the city in fact that 60 thousand bikes are stolen every year in Amsterdam!
Our food stop for Amsterdam was at Cafe Sonneveld. A nice restaurant with a cozy feel. Here we had our Dutch food experience.
To start we had some delicious beef croquets, breaded meat ball bites. We then had a house special, a steak stew with beat salad and mashed potato with stampot, a meatball on top of mashed vegetables.
Sights and people
Amsterdam is well known for tulips, windmills and the giant Amsterdam signs that pop up as you walk around the city. At this time of year, the tulips aren’t up yet. The other two, we did manage to see!
Of course, there are always signs of important people in the city. The Anne Frank Museum is in Amsterdam, but nowhere near this street, the street is in the jewish sector of the city and is just another reminder of how important this young girl still is even now over 50 years after her death.
Another important person from Amsterdam is Vincent Van Gough. He was a famous artist, and someone you hear a lot about walking around the city. The Van Gough Museum houses many of his paintings and tells a story of a hard working man, constantly trying to improve himself. Most of his art is related to the middle class, labourers working in fields, people eating at small tables in dark rooms. He had many moments in his life when he would re-create himself, however in the end of his life he was a troubled person, when his brother was starting to think they may need to break off their business relationship Van Gough, unsure of what he might do next, he created one painting a day for a year and then shot himself through the chest in a field.
When the Victoria hotel decided they wanted to build in Amsterdam, they thought it would be great to have a location on this specific corner of the city. The location is great, right near the central train station and a short walk away from many of the important tourist attractions. They did run in to some problems however, when they were all decided on their location they had to start buying up the lots. The brown house you can see in the middle of the hotel is an owner that decided he didn’t want to sell. The hotel made many different offers and after years of going back and forth, decided they would simply build around the house! It is still there today many years after the this whole debacle.
On our way out of Amsterdam, we made a quick stop in the city of Antwerp. All we got to see was the train station but maybe some time this will be its own stop on a trip.