Cosmopolitan, ecological, photogenic.. all of these adjectives that fit perfectly in the description of my city.
To my liking, the word, and concept that define this city is tolerance.
Tourism in Amsterdam is very difficult to define, the truth is that the city doesn’t have huge monuments, but when people wander around it, the canals surrounded by bikes, and it is possible realizing the only thing in the city.
How it all began
Amsterdam emerged, like many other cities on the border of the ocean, it was developed from a little fishing town. In the XII century, the construction of a dam over the Amstel River gave it its name, to the town that was there: Amsterdam.
It is one of the cities with the most ambient in Europe, it has very young tourism and you can see it at night, a very long and intense night.
This city is not far behind and is at the forefront in Europe for shows, arts, and museums. To my taste, some of the most interesting and big exponents are exhibited in the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, or Rembrandt’s House.
With the industrial revolution, the city took a turn. This means the new richness changed considerably the urban scenery, it was a time where big public works, new museums, and the Central station Concertgebouw, and the opening of new canals.
During the First World War, the Netherlands was neutral. In the Second World War they tried to be neutral but the Nazi troops didn’t allow them and invaded them on the 10th of May 1940. The persecution of the Jews in Amsterdam was one of its dark pages, 100,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps. One of the victims of this pursuit was the famous Ana Frank.
And, even though to know and understand the history of each city where you travel is important, I must make it very clear that Amsterdam is a city that goes beyond history.
Everything works on two wheels
Today Amsterdam is still the cultural center of the Netherlands, an industrial city (size of diamonds) and of services (Schiphol Airport).
A city with multiracial character with a great percentage of immigrants and the universal symbol of tolerance and freedom.
Amsterdam is a city made for public transportation, the difficulty to circulate through the city center and the high cost of public parking make that the Amsterdammers think twice about using or buying a car.
Something that surprised me was that every day there are more than one million journeys in public transportation, something that is astounding if you take into account Amsterdam’s population which is only 750.000 inhabitants and most of them have at least one bicycle.
And, this without a doubt is the most fascinating aspect. I have always heard that the bicycle is the favorite method of transportation for the Amsterdammers. But once I got to the city I have seen it with my own eyes and was in shock.
More than 400,000 bicycles roam the roads of Amsterdam which have the privileged infrastructure.
There are bicycle parking spaces everywhere and bike lanes that go around the whole city. Amsterdam has more than 15,000 kilometers of bicycle lanes.
It is surprising the great number of bicycles that roam around the city. Bicycles in every corner, every type, size, and shape. Approximately half of the traffic of the city is realized by bicycle.
Without a doubt, the Dutch are very proud of their cycle culture and you can see them pedaling under the sun, rain, or snow (and never with a helmet). The bicycle lanes are connected throughout the whole country and the cyclist is respected on the roads, making that cycling would be an efficient, healthy, and ecological manner to move from one side to another.
Something that was very clear to me is that Amsterdam is made for bicycles. It is practically anarchy that only works there.
Even though it may seem a topic, exploring Amsterdam on a bike is the best way to discover the city. Also, the bicycle gives you a sense of independence and freedom at the time of getting lost through the city that you would not have in any other way.
Where to go and what to see
My first recommendation is to go to Dam Square, the place in which Amsterdam was created. Although if there are just a few days in Amsterdam, the city is very compact that you can see and do everything.
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” -John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.
After crossing the canal through Damstreet (name of the street), we arrived at the Redlight District. I didn’t know what to expect, it was an overload of information that invaded my mind.
Between the different television programs, movies, and friends that had visited the city, I didn’t know what to imagine.
It is a place that has a sordid past and has evolved to a more frivolous and touristic present. The truth is that it seems like any other neighborhood, at night it changes. The doors are guarded by men of wide backs, and aggressive looks, red and blue neon that is reflected in the water.
Streets are lighted by neon lights, the women in the storefront and offered every type of service and pleasure of the body. Crowded by tourists, nocturnal people, regular clients, couples, married, and bachelor parties, a little bit of everything.
As was expected Coffee Shops on every corner. There are in all sizes and inside them all types of people. What are they? Basically, they are bars in which it is legal the selling and consumption marihuana but they do not offer alcohol.
For me, it was essential to sleep in a central place. We stayed at a boat hotel. The truth is that it was narrower than we had thought it would be, but the experience we had to live it. In the silence of the nights filled with stars, the coming and going of water, the endless landscape were some of the things that stayed in my mind.
The central station was one of the main meeting points. Movement never stops. There you find the train, the tram arrives there, taxis, buses, bicycles, auto, etc. It is possible to get on a boat that goes through the canals, which has a special perspective. Many of the canal routes end in the Central Station, very close to the Red Light District.
About museums and cheese
Walking or riding a bike is the way to go when wandering around this marvelous cosmopolitan. So one of the musts to visit is Oude Kerk, a church built in 1302, that is conserved as the most antique building of the city. In this journey, you can take advantage to go and eat.
After we walked through the flower market. A beautiful space since 1862, it is the favorite place for the locals and tourists to buy all kinds of flowers and plants. When the Bloemenmarkt was founded, everyday boats arrived to sell flowers and plants. It is possible to find all kinds of flower tulips of all colors, seeds of a wide variety of plants, and gardening articles.
While one is walking through the zone, one can feel the tranquility of the neighborhood in every step. The elegant houses that were built decades ago exalt the looks.
Pleasantly I realized that eating is a true pleasure. The salmon, haring, the cheeses, or the beer is worth going to Amsterdam just because of the food. Without a doubt, my favorite is the cheeses! The truth is that if you don’t try the cheese, the millions of varieties, it’s the same as not going to this city at all.
The second day was dedicated to museums. The first one was Van Gogh Museum. This is the most visited museum in the city. Every year 1.5 million people visit! There are more than 200 original works of the dutch artist.
The second one was Rijiksmuseum (national museum), which is one of the best museums in the Netherlands, famous for its impressive paint collection of the Dutch golden century. Close to 1 million yearly visitors. It was built by the same architect in charge of building the Central Station, it is remarkable.
To my liking, the Rembrandt Museum was and will always be one of the best activities and visits to do. Starting with the fact that it isn’t a common museum, it is located in the house where Rembrandt lived.
Each room tells a part of his story, as his life as an artist. Everything is decorated with his belongings. And, one of the activities that surprised me the most was that there are samples performed live as he did his job.
About its history
This city has a lot of history and a lot of fascinating truths. One of them is that the houses are built in a narrow and elongated form. This makes it really complicated to bring furniture up.
So, to give it a solution they installed on the top of the houses a type of hangers-on which you place pulleys to lift the furniture and place the furniture in their households.
Another of the images that will be forever with me after this visit, is that it was always surrounded by XXX. And there is a reason for this.
This was left very clear to me, its meaning is very difficult to explain and not even the same Dutch can agree on the origin of this acronym.
One of the theories assures that Saint Andrew, one of the apostles the patron of Amsterdam, died in a cross with an x form.
Others say that the three x represent the value, determination, and mercy, which are the three adjectives in which were designated by Queen Wilhelmina.
The third theory says the x represents the disasters that have affected the city in its history. These are fires, floods, and the plague.
The first encounter should be through the canals, declared World Heritage, and more than hundreds of kilometers of aquatic roads. The framework of bridges, the canals, the barge house, and typical facades of the city seems to take a new form when seeing from the boat. The second, on the bike and zig-zag around the history of the houses. The first visit to “the northern Venice” lasted 48 hours. But without any doubt, I will go back. Every corner, every corner gusted my breath and let me dream of the unthinkable.