Mon 21 Oct - Amsterdam, Netherlands

First full day in the land of canals...

We slept well with the window open to bring in cool air and awoke before the sun had risen fully after 7am. Realizing that nothing here moves before 9am (except McDonalds and Burger King which both open at 8am) we lazed in our room for a while, ate some fruit, and only headed out around 9am.

The only noise that disturbed us during the night was from our open window, being party noice from another room, as the window opens onto a light and air shaft that we share with others. This morning we got a look at the shaft in the daylight and realized that we should not be worried about leaving it open for security reasons - you would have to be a serious aerial gymnast to get into our room. And if you are, there are probably bigger bounties elsewhere in Amsterdam.

We booked ourselves onto yet another Sandeman's "Free" Walking tour for this morning. The tour started at 11.15am at the National Monument in the centre of the old town. We ate an ok breakfast (at Burger King - we had little other choice and breakfast was not included in the price of the room at Hotel Mozart) and made our way slowly towards the tour's starting point.

Some Amsterdam canals are very picturesque, although probably not improved by us in the foreground.

A modern houseboat is usually connected to main sewer, water and electricity. We later learned a license for a prime location like this one could cost up to €700,000. The boats are normally cost around €100,000.

You can't take too many canal pictures whilst in Amsterdam. It is a really lovely place to wander.

On the way to our tour we passed this statue. It's not of Einstein although quite a lookalike but of a guy named Multalti, who was probably the only Dutchman who spoke up about the poor treatment of Indonesians by Dutch people several centuries ago. Multalti's book on the topic raised the awareness of the maltreatment and the Indonesians gave him the title of "Sir" in recognition of his efforts.

Although there is a similarity to the houses, they are quite beautiful and interesting to look at. Also, Amsterdam like so many cities in the western world is expanding their tram network and we could see track work in places.

Amsterdam is a trendy, arty and very tolerant city and this shows through in fashions too. This shoe shop displayed a limited set of shoes, just one shown, that can be worn if you pay the high price of €1500. It can take a while to work out the toe and heel. Also, not totally clear if that price is for one or two shoes...

This image may summarize the tolerant Amsterdam, a store selling all kinds of soft drugs paraphernalia and also "magic mushroom", see yellow sign to the left, and is next to and in front of a church.

The building to the right is the Royal Palace and in front of it, at the square known as Dam, is a fully fledged amusement park, much more to the left of this picture. It looked a bit odd, but we later heard that the rides etc are only there for a couple of weeks. The rest of the time the Dam is quite empty.

There was a significant amount of different pastries for sale. We didn't get tempted by these deep fried treats but instead had a coffee at the adjacent, and behind us, coffee company called... Coffee Company.

Just before 11.15am, we were at the Natioaal Monument and gosh, there were plenty of punters there. The walking tour was eventually split into 4 groups of around 30 punters each. 2 of the groups were with Spanish commentary and the Spanish contingent is what you see here.

Our guide was called Kor and he was born and bred in Amsterdam, had some good stories and at times a very expressive way of telling them. Kor was clearly enthusiastic about his city but did not shy away from some of its ugly history, such as the Dutch being involved in the slave trade for another three decades after the English abolished it and how during WWII some Amsterdam locals turned over their Jewish neighbours to the Nazis to get a bounty (even though the Netherlands was trying to be neutral).

Learning from this, Kor told us that Amsterdam became a hippie town after the war (sounded a bit early...) and has remained a free loving tolerant place ever since.

Kor also said that 3 golden rules dictate the behavior of the Amsterdam citizens. It is OK if...

  • It is good business
  • It does not harm anybody else
  • It is handled discreetly

This goes some way of explaining the nature and social fabrics of Amstersdam.

Here is Kor getting so fired up he almost falls into the canal.

Kor took us quickly through the local streets, almost too quickly as Hans had to stop and dash to return to the group, pass this "condomerie". Amazing...

Needless to say, at this time we headed into the famous, or infamous depending on your views, red light district in Amsterdam and yes, we saw plenty of girls and women and grandmas behind dimly lit glass doors with red fluro lights above. One problem, you can absolutely not take any pictures of the ladies, Kor warned us very clearly on this, but apparently several of the punters in our group did.

Result, one black lady, a "Supervisor" ran out and started squirting water(?) on the offending parties and one of the ladies behind one of the glass doors, noticing that another offending party had not been made to punish for this indiscretion, also ran out and smeared some liquid in the face and on the glasses of that offender. To us, that looked like a common assualt, but apparently that is the price you pay. No, we didn't dare to take any photos here. Sorry.

Moving on, this is a picture of a church. A Catholic Church. Once upon a time, part of the home and attic of a wealthy Amsterdam merchant was converted into a church so that rich catholic merchants could come here and discreetly pray in a Protestant country.

Rumor has it that a Protestant "well-meaning" citizen once went to the local cop and tried to dob in this outrageous behaviour and worship, "there were 200 men in there worshipping"... Apparently the local cop, fully aware of the three golden rules mentioned earlier, thought about for a while an then replied that "well, you know it's Sunday and you as a Protestant knows that we don't work on a Sunday." Case settled.

The building has had many reincarnations, starting off as the gate house to the town of Amsterdam to current day use as a restaurant.

We were told that modern capitalism once started here at current day University of Amsterdam. The building was once the Dutch East India Company's headquarters and that company was the first to be "floated", I.e. shares were sold for punters happy to take a risk and gamble in its future success. The whole exercise lead to behaviour not uncommon in modern times including during the GFC, with excesses and scams. Lovely building nevertheless and this is inside its courtyard.

We were also told that Amsterdam once had 45% of the world's money and their neighbours, England, France and Germany eventually took it all.

This is a gateway to an old cemetery, the skulls are a bit of a giveaway, and the shield is the Amsterdam emblem. All peoples' remains have gradually been moved out of the city as they needed all space they could get, but the old facade remains today.

There are lots of unique museums in Amsterdam, but this museum tops it all. Only here could something like that be celebrated.

Many of the older houses in Amsterdam have various angles of leaning. Most of them lean forward (deliberately) but many have old sinking foundations so start a sideways lean as well.

Neighboring houses sometimes seem to prop up the leaning ones, but people live here with sloping floors and everything else on an angle as it can cost upwards to €200,000 to fix the foundations and make the building more horizontal.

After one and a half hour, we were back at Dam Square for a quick coffee and loo break as the walking tour continued after that.

Another pic of the amusement park in front of the Royal Palace. The rides looked good as silhouettes.

This is perhaps the smallest house in Amsterdam, being only 1.5m wide. The taxation system depended on the size of the land used, so less money equalled less house.

The woman who lives here now was working on her laptop on the middle floor and her laptop takes a quarter of the width of her house.

Squeezing in homes wherever they can fit makes sense in a city where all the land is reclaimed and at a premium. Hans liked this triangular example.

Our walking tour finished not far from our Hotel Mozart and we couldn't help but take a photo of what our guide said he thought was one of the prettiest canal in the city.

We wandered back towards our hotel as the time was already close to 2.30pm and we knew there were lots of cheap eateries nearby, neither of us being particularly hungry.
After our filling breakfast we felt we only needed a snack and this place caught our eye - a snack bar specializing in Kroket (Croquettes) and Hamburger (the same word it seems in most languages). You insert the correct amount of coins, open the little window and take out your hit snack. For £1.60 we had to try one, and then another. Quite tasty and several varieties and it was busy and popular.

The place was called Febo and we went back at night too, because it's fast, cheap and fresh. Perhaps not our best day nutrionally...

We went back to Hotel Mozart for a short rest after our "lunch", during which time we booked ourselves on a 4.45pm canal tour. Everyone said we had to see Amsterdam from the water and this cruise was quite long and covered areas we were not likely to see on foot.

We had also switched on Runkeeper as we left our hotel in the morning and had it on until we got back after "lunch" and this is how it turned out. Our Hotel. Mozart is at the red dot at the bottom of the picture.

The cruise group was easy to find some 15 minutes walk from our hotel. Their directions were "opposite the Heineken Experience". Yep, easy to pick. This is only a small fraction of the Heineken building.

Our canal cruise operator and their boats.

We bought a cuppa each and jumped on board just before 4.45pm. The cruise group supplied headphones and (quite bad) commentary in 17 languages.

A self portrait once we settled in (note the headphones).

Here is just a small part of the route taken by the cruise.

We were underway with only 7 punters on board plus our captain, who seemed to have done this a thousand times before. We felt a bit sorry for him as it must be quite boring to follow the same canal route many times each day.

The first 15-20 minutes were through the Singel Canal, then onto the Prinsengracht, which is the only Amsterdam canal to reach the open water, well the lake at least. Not many photos here because it was a little bit of a repeat from this mornings walk. We did like the houseboats and each is quite different.

Then our boat turned into the shipping and ferry areas of Amsterdam. The captain timed our cruise well to dodge a few local ferries.

The architecture here gets modern and interesting. This is Palais du Justice (not sure of the spelling)

This is the maritime museum and has a tanning beach and amphitheater on the roof.
Of course you might expect to see a Hong Kong style floating restaurant in Amsterdam - remembering the first rule of Amsterdam - if it is good business then it will be allowed or encouraged here.
We turned away for the seaway and back into the canals and the Amstel River as the evening started to approach. The Amstel River is the only natural waterway in Amsterdam and where the city got its name - originally from a dam on the Amstel, which over the centuries was distorted to Amsterdam (from Amsteldam).
Up until the early 1900's Amsterdam had a series of locks to try and protect the city from the tides of the sea (as much of it is below sea level). Lock Masters controlled the locks and lived right alongside them. This lovely old house, now a bar, is one of the old Lock Master homes. And yes, it was significantly leaning, but the captain noted that after enough of alcohol, it may no longer do so.
There are supposed to be more than 1700 bridges here and many of them are not this high or sturdy.
We liked this lovely old pedestrian and bike draw bridge. There were a few bridges like that.

The Amstel Hotel is probably the most grand of hotels in Amsterdam and apparently a good place for celebrity spotting.

At 6pm on the dot, we returned to where the cruise started, feeling that we got to see Amsterdam from a different angle and also having seen part of the town that we were unlikely to see in our short 3 night stay here. Yet another shot of the Heineken Experience in the background and direction signboards targeting cyclists.

As we slowly wandered back towards Hotel Mozart, the streets of Amsterdam were well and truly alive at 7pm.

The roadwork we have encountered is actually to replace cobblestones or to extend the tram system. Cars are not a priority. Bikes rule!

After a quick Febo snack for dinner, we bought some more bananas to start tomorrow morning and headed back to Hotel Mozart for an early night, both a bit worn out from a big touring day. Yep, we thought we had really seen a lot today. Good night.


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