Seize opportunities, even those completely unexpected or lacking obviousness… that’s what we’re trying to apply as it always brings us something positive… So, as Oscar’s little bro’ called us to know if we would be interested in spending a last minute weekend with him in Amsterdam, even if we were in Normandy 500 miles away with no mean of transportation, even if it meant spending a night in a bus, we didn’t hesitate too long! Let’s discover the Dutch capital and have fun in family!
A city of canals
We don’t have much time to discover the city: 24 hours flat, so we start the day with a guided boat tour on Amsterdam canals. The city’s name comes from ‘Amstelredamme’, meaning the city was originally a dam around the river Amstel, which ends in the city center and connects to a large number of canals (more than 60 miles). The canal system in Amsterdam is the result of a conscious city planning and originally served for defense, water management (the city is built 2 meters below the sea level) and transport.
So we cruise around the city center, passing the Westertoren and church, Anne Frank’s house, the ring surrounded by Amsterdam medieval and Golden Age architecture, the science museum and crossing some of the 1281 bridges Amsterdam counts.
A nice ride that allows us to get a glimpse of Amsterdam history, atmosphere and architecture.
Bikes, Bikes, Bikes
But back on solid ground, this is a different pace. We quickly realize that bikes are absolutely everywhere and we better pay attention! There are more bicycles than residents in the Netherlands! Young professionals, housewives, teenagers, middle-age workers, it seems you must pedal if you live in Amsterdam…
As a pedestrian, be careful if you’re about to cross the street, you may have missed the fast coming bike in the distance! I don’t want to imagine how stressful it could be to drive a car in the narrow streets of the city, don’t forget to double check your blind spots!
Even idle, bikes do the show on sidewalks and bridge railings, piled up like wobbly metal sculptures, I’m still wondering how people manage to find their bike in this mixed up mess at the end of the day…
But on the concept, I’m convinced.
Riding your bike to go to work, to bring your kids at school or to do your groceries seem a pretty cool way of traveling within the city. Enhancing physical activity while reducing the pollution for everyone, supporting a safe way of commuting with a super developed cycling path network and promoting a healthier way of living as cycling lessons are compulsory in the Dutch school system are some of the many reasons bicycles are so popular in the Netherlands and why we should get on our bikes as well.
Tulips, crooked houses and old bricks
Once aware of the bicycle traffic around us, we can focus our attention on the city, and Amsterdam is a beautiful one.
On the flower market along the canal, we stop by the many stalls floating on the water, trying to think of that place in spring where smells and colors blossom. But we’re in February, and only bulbs, seeds and artificial flowers are on sale at this time of the year. Never mind, we’ll go to a coffee shop later, to stimulate our imagination… we still appreciate the market and its vivid atmosphere.
Strolling along the city center, its architecture amazes us. We’ve got the impression some buildings are about to fall down in the water, some others lack symmetry, or are so unbalanced they seem to transfer weight to their stronger neighbors. But don’t get us wrong, it’s not the beer we had at lunch, this is really how crooked Amsterdam houses are.
Originally built on wooden piles drilled deep into a wet soil, foundations sink unevenly in the ground, giving the narrow houses a tipsy look. With time, some have added top floors to their houses, making the weight of the building a little too heavy for the foundations and resulting into unbalanced facades. However, the leaning forward constructions aren’t the result of time or rotting piles, but an intentional shape: it allowed upper levels to be bigger to store and save more merchandise from flooding and prevented the rain water to enter the floors below. This architecture has even a name, it’s called ‘op de vlucht bouwen’…
Every corner along the canals and the old town is a surprise with very narrow houses, huge windows and colorful shutters. We especially like the design of the typical gables: bell shaped, triangular, flat or round, there is one for everyone’s taste here!
Some saturday night in Amsterdam
After having spent the day learning about the city past, wandering into the old town pretty streets and experiencing the every day life atmosphere, our next objective is to get a glimpse of the famous Amsterdam nightlife. Coffee shops and the red-light district are our next destinations…
Prostitution in Amsterdam, as well as marijuana, are controlled but legalized. The red-light district, in the middle of the city center, is a particular neighborhood. Composed by a network of narrow streets and small alleys consisting of a myriad of tiny apartments rented by sex-workers who attract customers from behind a window, it is recognizable by its red lights. A little bit overwhelming, we pass by this neighborhood pretty quickly, for the sake of the visit, but we like to sit in a cozy coffee shop better!
At the end of the night, we go back to our quarters, a last-minute hotel built in an old train wagon and manage to settle down in our 3 square meters bunk beds room for a well-deserved 6 hours’ night of sleep…
Good night Amsterdam, it was a visit worth to do! Good night Nils, it was a family weekend worth to spend, hope you liked it!