Saturday, August 25, 2012

I Amsterdam

Amsterdam Central Station

We took the train from Amersfoort to Amsterdam and 45 minutes later, arrived at the Central Station, which was pretty convenient since it's  located close to most tourist attractions. I quite enjoyed those train rides, passing by farmlands, cows grazing lazily and getting glimpses of other cities along the way. 

What used to a small fishing village along the banks of the Amstel river is now the largest city and the capital of The Netherlands. Amsterdam is famous for its many intersecting canals. A canal cruise is a perfect way to explore a beautiful city and it is surely something NOT to be missed when you are in Amsterdam!

 1 hour canal cruise for 8 Euros. 

Amsterdam has more than 100 kilometers of canals and about 1,500 bridges. Three times a week, they flush the canals clean by opening the locks and allowing seawater from the North Sea to flow in.
Amsterdam waterways
We took the blue route on the map, passing by several attractions along the way such as the Amsterdam VOC ship, the Maritime Museum, Anne Frank House, canal-side terraces and a lot of those beautiful Dutch buildings. You can also hop on this route if you want to drop by the Artis Royal Zoo. Enjoy the view on a rondvaart ride. 
miniature Amsterdam VOC Ship at Madurodam
The Amsterdam VOC Ship

This replica of the VOC Ship is found next to the Maritime Museum (behind). The VOC ship was an 18th century cargo ship used by the Dutch for trading goods in the East Indies. The real Amsterdam VOC ship or what's left of it lies submerged in the mud and sand in the bay of Bulverhythe in East Sussex, England. They say you can see a bit of the shipwreck on low tide.

These are a few of my favorite leaning houses. Some also lean out over the street. Many of the houses, mansions and public buildings in Amsterdam are built along the canals. Since Amsterdam is located on a marshland, most of these houses rest on long wooden beams made from entire trees 13 to 20 meters long. These wooden beams are buried deep into the marshy subsoil and kept under water to avoid rotting. Nowadays, they use concrete beams. Doesn't it remind you much of the city of Venice? 

miniature Royal Palace with Magna Plaza on the right and the National Monument at Madurodam

Koninklijk Paleis (The Royal Palace) at the Dam Square

The Royal Palace was originally built during the Golden Age to serve as a city hall. It became a Royal Palace when Louis Napoleon, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, was appointed as king over Holland in the 1800s. These days, the Royal Palace is used by the Queen for state functions. When it is open to the public, tourists can go on guided tours to visit several rooms inside the palace.

inside the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis)

Admission fee to The Royal Palace:  7.50 euros

National Monument
Every year on May 4th, a ceremony is held at the National Monument to commemorate all those who have lost their lives during the 2nd World War.                   

Magna Plaza outside (left) and the large hall inside (right)

Magna Plaza used to be the Amsterdam Central Post Office turned into upscale shopping center just behind the Royal Palace. It is a Dutch UNESCO Monument built in the 1899.

The coffee shops in The Netherlands serve something other than coffee.

Weed is legal in The Netherlands in small amounts. In the past years, people from Germany, France or Belgium would go to the coffee shops along the borders of Netherlands just to get some weed but recently, the Dutch government have made their laws a little more strict. These days, only those with the cannabis card (which is only given to Dutch citizens) can buy weed. 

If you want a good cup of cappucino, go to the "cafes" instead.

Using the toilets anywhere in The Netherlands is almost never free. Sometimes you still have to pay to use it even if you are a customer (McDonalds). It doesn't cost a lot, about 0.30 to 0.50 euros but it does add up if you need to go to the toilet several times. 

As you can see, this toilet is occupied.
While having a leisurely stroll along the streets paved with worn red bricks, admiring all those beautiful crooked buildings, a nasty foul odor wafted by. It turns out that funky smell came from street toilets (only for men) that you can use for free. That green cylindrical cover standing behind the lamp post is actually a street toilet. What do you know? There are free toilets after all, just not for the women!

When art imitates life..... (Red Light District miniature at Madurodam)

Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District
This little trip down those alleys was quite a shocker. Think huge glass windows with women, barely wearing anything, posing behind the glass...European, African, Asian, petite, tall, slim, large... you name it, they have it. Prostitution is allowed in the Netherlands. Streetwalking is illegal.

What shocked me the most was that the church was just around the corner from the Red Light District.

Hoe laat is het?  (How late is it?)

I believe that the best way to explore any city is by walking. It's not for everyone and at the end of the day, there's a really big chance you get ugly blisters on your feet but hey, if you can overlook that little sacrifice, you get to see so much more than if you are riding  on open-top hop on-hop off tourist buses or canal boats. Plus you can take better photos too. Amsterdam has everything to offer for everyone, even weird tourist attractions like The Torture Museum.

A little snack after walking for hours.. I've never seen so many flavors of Magnum before. In the Philippines, we only have 3 (chocolate truffle, almond and plain). 

While we were looking for the Torture Museum (don't ask why), we stumbled upon the flower market in Amsterdam. It's no wonder really that this country has a lot of beautiful Tulips and flowers. They have the perfect weather for it. Too bad the Tulips only last for a couple of months from April to May. 

I've read somewhere that the Dutch people are the tallest people in the world (the Danish come 2nd, the Swedish + Czech + Norwegians come in 3rd). The average height for men is 184 cm while for women is 170 cm. Imagine how I feel at 154 a hobbit lost among giants! Apart from good genes, great healthcare system and environment, this might also be attributed to the Dutch diet and that is consuming a lot of dairy products. 

I'm always a sucker for free tasting. How can you possibly say no to these really?! I'd say my most favorite was the pesto cheese, which was just right and not overpowering and the plain Gouda. These are pretty expensive at around 10 euros a wheel. There were other cheese too that smelled funky and tasted even worse. Personally, I prefer a mild flavor. 

pesto, pimiento and plain
So there you go, folks. I hope you enjoyed reading this post about my little visit to Amsterdam.  =) 

Have a nice weekend, everyone!