A Travellerspoint blog

Netherlands

Amsterdam

Canals and a bike. Could one need anything more in life?!

rain 10 °C

The first thing that comes to my mind after all this time when someone mentions Amsterdam are the canals, and walk I did along these 400 year old canals as often as possible during my stay in this lovely city which is a world unto itself. I did not know until my visit here that Amsterdam has more bridges than Venice - three times more than in all of Venice!!!

At first glance, Amsterdam appears to be bursting with people and is a lot more compact than I had originally imagined. Such a marked difference from the rest of Europe where amidst extreme development and vast spaces I’ve seen a sparse population. Took the tram from the Centraal and smiled every-time I heard the sound of the bell on the tram. I’ve been on trams in so many major European cities but I've never heard any of them make that sound.

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To me this is a typical Amsterdam-postcard and this picture could have been taken anywhere in this beautiful city on a sunny day. The canals, the narrow Dutch houses on the side, bicycles parked everywhere, bright flowers in bloom on bridges and before I forget - ferries and house boats. I loved it here and as my time here proved, you can walk for hours along the canals and explore every corner that seems to be teeming with adventure making for very few dull moments and a very exciting holiday.

Went on early morning walks and took in the sights of incredibly narrow but very tall houses with decorated gables. The stairs appear very steep and almost go straight up and the door to each apartment rests on a narrow landing. During one of my walks I visited the Begijnhof, which is an enclosed courtyard dating back to the early 14th century. Heard a guide mention that this was originally a community created for single and widowed women during the time of the crusades where the women lived almost like nuns, but did not take vows and still live in these houses that line the courtyard. The courtyard houses the oldest house in all of Amsterdam and is also home to the beautiful English Reformed Church that has a service in English on Sundays only.

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Amsterdam supposedly serves the best Indonesian food outside of Indonesia. My palette has no past reference when it comes to Indonesian cuisine but the dinner I had at a lovely restaurant called "Kartika" was nothing short of spectacular.

During one of my walks, I came upon the Flower Market and looked around at the masses of bulbs and potted plants available for thoroughly cheap prices. Was disappointed to know that they do not having the floating market in operation anymore.

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The more time you spend here you cannot help but fall in love with the Dutch bike culture. It makes for such a lovely sight to watch people and families riding around this city on their bikes in all types of manner and in all kinds of weather. I heard a local say that “whether the sun is shining or it is snowing, we always are on our bikes!”. Seems to be such a practical and sustainable mode of transport and says so much about the Dutch as people. They say that there are more bikes than the number of people in Amsterdam, apparently 1.3 bikes per citizen old enough to ride. No wonder then that it has the distinction of being the most bike-friendly city in the world.

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A visit to the Anne Frank Huis was a bone-chilling experience for me. Joined a fairly long queue at 6.30 in the evening and it took about an hour and a half to get to the front, in the meantime it started raining (because, hello!!! you're in the Netherlands) but the museum staff came by with umbrellas for those of us who needed one. Walked floor to floor climbing steep stairs to reach the secret annexe hidden behind the bookcase where Anne and her family along with Peter’s family hid during the second World War. I learnt that in addition to her diary, Anne was a budding writer and was writing novels too during their period in hiding. Seeing her red-checkered diary with pages filled in Anne's handwriting brought history to life in a very disturbing way. Being in this space allows you to gain a different but profound perspective from the one gleaned by reading pages from her diary.
At one point I looked around and found people reflecting after taking the tour, a few looked horrified and some were wiping away tears. I left feeling completely emotionally drained.
NOTE : Photography is not allowed within the Anne Frank House but that in my opinion heightens the entire experience.

The Rijksmuseum is a beautiful and houses works of art by many Dutch masters including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Frans Hals and others. Most people tend to make a bee-line to visit Rembrandt's famous works especially "The Night Watch", but I found myself being partial to Vermeer's works - "The Milk Maid" in particular.
Side Note: Do make goofy pictures by the IAMSTERDAM sign out front (if you can find some space that is!)

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For me Amsterdam was less sin and more city. But having said that, I did pay a visit to Amsterdam's notoriously world famous attractions which I figured deserves all the curiosity and was definitely worth a visit.

A walk through the Red Light district alone was such an empowering experience. Walked through pink neon lit alleys and watched girls in windows tempting and teasing the people separated from them only by glass, found stores plying every imaginable toy that I'm pretty certain would not be found in India, I even laughed at loud-happy-drunk men "window-shopping".

It was easy to spot people who were here to provide business versus people who were there out of sheer curiosity like the large group of American senior citizens who were a part of a walking tour looking around with shocked expressions at the sight of it all, girls celebrating hens night and curious tourists - who much like me who looked extremely intrigued. I think this part of the city has something to offer for everyone - from the more adventurous to the merely curious.

Found an extremely interesting bit of history about Rossebuurt from one of the guides of the walking tour - apparently this section is the oldest part of Amsterdam and 900 years ago when this was just a small fishing village, sailors would dock their shipping vessels and meet women carrying red lanterns near the port for some good times while they were on land. Found it hilarious that it was forbidden for married men and priests to enter this area for a very long time.

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Spent countess hours being happily lost, walking around canals whose names I couldn't even find on my map let alone pronounce correctly.
Oh this city is amazing!!! With its bikes, canals and happy ways - it leaves you with a feeling of fresh romance.

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Doe-doei Amsterdam!!! (plus three kisses)
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 07:34 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bikes canals flower market amsterdam light red netherlands holland district tram frank anne rijksmuseum bejignhof Comments (0)

Zaanse Schans

CLOGS, WINDMILLS AND CHEESE - A TRUE SLICE OF HOLLAND

rain 9 °C

This little village was the very postcard of Holland I had carried in my mind. Beautiful majestic windmills, ladies wearing Dutch bonnets, wooden clogs and gorgeous countryside dotted with cows and sheep. If only I could have found tulips, my postcard would be complete.

There is a direct bus 391 that leaves every hour from the Amsterdam Centraal to Zaanse Schans and the entire journey takes a little over half hour. I was staying at a B&B in a quiet village around the small quaint city of Purmerend because I wanted to experience the Dutch countryside for longer.

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Pretty much the minute I got to the village I ran into my first roadblock - how to navigate through the vast Dutch countryside? My happy B&B owners thankfully answered my present dilemma when they wheeled out an old bike they had in the woodshed for me to use during my stay with them. At this point, my behind hadn’t been on a bike saddle in more than a decade but once I got on, it was as easy as going for a spin on my scooter back home - only the view was better and much more scenic. As the transportation problem solved itself, I was moving right along and even caught myself smiling like a kid again as I pedalled away.

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Biked all the way to Zaanse Schans from my little village (8 kilometers!!) on a bike path parallel to the road that cuts through farmland and marshland. The roads were not at all busy and as I passed by fields, dairy's, lily ponds, farms and ranches, all I could hear was the rustle of the reeds bordering the small canals dividing the fields and the hum of the tyres on the smooth path. The constant drizzle added to the overall experience and made the landscape appear lush green.

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Zaanse Schans is picturesque to say the very least - complete with working windmills, green wooden houses, small hump-backed bridges, a clog workshop and a million picture opportunities at every corner (Side note: I realised during my time in Holland that you get prone to keeping your eyes open to signs of all things clichéd-ly Dutch). The village currently has 6 windmills in working condition, but a plaque I read inside one of the windmills "De Kat" stated that there were almost a 1000 windmills dotting the landscape of this village a few centuries ago therefore, being referred to as the first industrial site in the world.

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What an experience it was to watch the sails of the windmill go faster or slower depending on the speed of the wind. The way they sound when you are inside one of these mammoth machines is something that is better experienced than written. I recommend you go up the steep ladder and step out on to the deck as the sails of the windmill pass in front of you.

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Note : It costs 4 Euros to gain admittance and there is a lovely little coffee shop on the ground level inside the windmill that serves hot chocolate and little else. But My-God they serve that hot chocolate with flair!
The two options available are :
Hot chocolate with whipped cream and
HOT CHOCOLATE WITH DARK RUM AND WHIPPED CREAM!!! ;) ;) ;)

The Clog Workshop in Zaanse Schans was a place you could not have pried me away from even if you tried. One has to experience what it feels like to clomp around in klompen because one has to! Spent hours at the workshop being a child with no inhibitions and every time I slipped into a quirky handcrafted wooden shoe, I would hopelessly succumb to giggles. There was an interesting demonstration on clog making by the gentleman at the workshop which was a very insightful experience into a tradition that date back a thousand years. Along with work-clogs, sunday-clogs and clogs made as a wedding present, I saw smuggler's clogs too.

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This wonderful Dutch village has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world.
I’m leaving you with happy pictures.

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Tot ziens!!
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 10:18 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

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