After Bologna, our next destination was Amsterdam. We first flew from Bologna to Paris and took a train up to Amsterdam, passing Brussels on the way. After the train delivered us to Amsterdam Central Station a little earlier before midnight, we were picked by Rediet Abiy, a wonderful longtime friend who would host us at his apartment with his girlfriend, Ana Rodrigues.At their place, we were fully rewarded with good conversation and the comfort of belonging (for four days). On the day time, we were on our own, as Rediet and Ana were working. Locating places using a map was kind of exciting and challenging. We had to go out and figure out the directions of the museums without someone pointing us in the right direction.
We covered the city on foot and on the trams, photographing the beautiful architecture, people and scenery, getting a feel for the place for four full days. It was great to stroll, marveling at the houseboats along the canals. I’ve come away beguiled by its energy, beauty, charm, diversity and tolerance. The city’s history is reflected throughout the metropolitan area and in the stepped gable façades of the merchant houses. The architecture is charming, quaint, and cute. We learned that the building style is highly regulated, which helps to keep the city’s charm intact. There are rules on what you can do to the facade and how tall you can build. Regarding the architecture, attention to detail is displayed in every building.
It has a number of well-known museums. There’s even a section of the city called Museum Quarter because there are so many of them. The Rijksmuseum with its classical Dutch art (including Rembrandt’s most famous masterpiece De Nachtwacht) was closed for years due to renovations and had just reopened shortly before we arrived in Amsterdam. We never made it to Rijksmuseum but we visited the Van Gogh Museum which is right nearby (which currently has a wonderful exhibition on called “Van Gogh at Work”, looking at the way his style developed over the course of his career).
The museum contains a vast collection of art works by the renowned Dutch artist. Nearly 700 of his works are represented, including his paintings and drawings.
One fascinating thing about Amsterdam is the bike culture. I was struck by the number of bikes thought out the city. The city’s transportation network puts a priority on bicycle riders, and pedestrians over car owners. The streets are narrow and dominated by pedal traffic. Cars give way to the more numerous bicycle riders and walkers more often than not.
Several trends are shown in the bikes, including bicycles commonly painted big bright color. Amsterdam residents like using their cell phones while riding their bikes, many bikes are outfitted with big buckets on the front for serious shopping deliveries.
The infamous red light district is a huge part of Amsterdam and it was a surprise to see women displayed in windows, offering their services to passerby.The windows are often bordered by dark, polished wood. And the girls stand there, and tap on the glass, to get your attention.For someone who is used to considering sex as a “behind closed doors” type of affair – it takes some getting used to seeing it sold like fruit in a market.
Amsterdam is also famous for its coffee shops where light drugs such as marijuana are sold for personal use. You can select from a menu of cannabis products and light up in full view indoors or at a sidewalk table. You can’t miss those cafes. They are everywhere. Did I smoke any weed in Amsterdam? No, at least not first-hand. But again, as the center of the city smells marijuana at every turn, it was likely that I have inhaled a smoke.
The highlight of this visit though was our day in the countryside just outside of Amsterdam (which we reached using the excellent public bus), visiting Zaanse Schans. It was only 50 minutes from Amsterdam Central.
I’m really glad we opted to visit the charming neighborhood and restored heritage area, complete with tidy green houses, real working windmills, wooden shoe workshops. It is a town full of well preserved architecture and traditions – one that’s capitalized on its authentic atmosphere.