After a pleasant train to Amsterdam we were ready for a new city.  Most of all we were looking forward to the ability to cook our own food, this might sound boring and simple, but when you have been eating out every day for 2 weeks then you appreciate just being able to eat some vegetables and go at your own pace.  So after a nice steak and (several) vegies dinner and desert of a brilliant Dutch apple pie we enjoyed a very relaxing evening.
Stone markers that appeared above doors
during the golden ages made it hard
to find houses and shops
The next day we had made our own breakfast (simple pleasures!) and ventured out on a walking tour.  These tours have been fantastic, they are awesome value and the guides are extremely informative and interesting to listen to as they show you all of the important facts of the city that you are in.
More crooked houses
Our tour started in Dam Square in front of the Old Palace as we listened to the story of how Amsterdam was started, the legend goes that there were two sailors caught in the middle of a viscous storm and they prayed that if they survived the storm they would build a city where there dog fell asleep.  As it happened their dog decided to slumber in the city that we now know as Amsterdam.  Atop the old palace is a wind vane that has the two founders of the city in a boat.
Double story Bike Parking
One thing we realised quickly about Amsterdam especially, but in Europe in general is the prevalence of bikes, or as our tour guide affectionately referred to them as “the two wheeled monster”.  Amsterdam has an estimated 1.6million bikes for its 820 000 people, the city is designed for bikes over cars, and there are several areas for bike parking including a few multi level bike parking lots.  Interestingly the cyclists here have taken over both the roads and the footpaths and you need to keep both eyes open and sharp in order to avoid getting hit.
The Weather Vain with two men in a boat
After listening to our tour guide for about 15 minutes we set off on the tour with the first stop through the well known Amsterdam Red Light District.  The city is world famous for their attitude to what goes on here, prostitution is legal and regulated by the government.  The sale of Marijuana is ‘tolerated’ and a person over the age of 18 is legally allowed to purchase up to 5 grams although I will go into this more later.  Even during the day there was a lot of activity with several girls working and several businesses open to operate.  The Dutch saw that the benefits of legalising and regulating this industry would make it a lot safer for the girls working (and tourists) but it would help prevent human trafficking and eradicate organised criminals from operating within the area.
Church right in the centre
of the Red Light District
Our first ‘stop’ in the red light district was a church – ironic that it is right in the middle – this church had grown considerably over the last few hundred years architecturally, the reason for this was because Amsterdam was primarily a sailing port hundreds of years ago and the sailors being Catholics believed that if they had any sins on their conscience and died while at sea they would go to hell, thus this church was an where they confessed their sins.  The church allocated a ‘cost’ associated with each sin, so when the sailors confessed, the priest would calculate the cost of their penance and that would bankroll the expansion of the church.
The Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam
As we moved through the red light district we started to notice a couple of interesting things about the houses that are located within – almost all of them lean, and they all have hooks on them.  The reasons for this are said to be because when new people would move in they would have to carry their belongings up all the stairs, so they installed hooks so that they could operate a pulley system and hoist their stuff straight to the top of their house.  The lean is said to be so things wouldn’t smash windows or get damaged on the way up.  It is suggested that perhaps the houses leaned forward to create an impression of grandeur with house owners trying to outdo each other.  Some of the houses also lean to one side; these phenomena are likely the result of Amsterdam being built almost entirely on reclaimed land from the North Sea.  As the land is unstable the weight of the houses – constructed out of bricks after many city wide fires – is causing the lean.
Look closely for the crooked houses
Amsterdam was once the epi-centre for European finance and boasts credentials as the world’s most international city with citizens from 175 of the countries represented at the United Nations currently calling Amsterdam home.  The reason for the wealth of the Dutch during the Golden Ages resulted directly from their prominence as a sailing hub.  We walked past the ‘The Weigh’ where shipments would be sent to calculate the taxes due.   We also saw the old offices of the Dutch East India Trading Company, once the biggest companies in Europe.  This company was set up to co-ordinate the trade of goods to the East, spices, silk, cinnamon etc.  The founders of this company quickly realised that it takes 1 boat the same time to sail to Indonesia as it does 30 boats or even a 100.  They sought permission to form a militia and raise a navy so they could protect the boats that they would send out from pirates and other navies looking to plunder the sailing boats.  At the height of its power the East India Company had close to 6000 boats in its fleet, and was responsible for a lot of the colonisation that the Dutch did.
Some of the little streets in the city
We walked through the Jewish quarter of the city and heard how the Jews in The Netherlands suffered during the war, and how when the war ended, the Dutch a neutral country that was invaded were disgusted at how their own police force had rounded up their fellow Jewish citizens to be sent to the camps.  As a result of this there was a big movement to change everything about the city to forget the past, however when the Jewish quarter was rebuilt with a radically different design they decided that changing the facade of the city probably was less of a priority.
I AMsterdam sign
Our tour guide also took us past a few ‘coffee shops’ and why they sell muffins and cookies they are probably not the type that first springs to mind.  As the sale of Marijuana is tolerated in Amsterdam and you can apply to the government for a permit to sell it there is an area of Amsterdam where there are 1 in every 4 shops that will sell you weed, or ‘edibles’ with weed baked into them.  There are a couple of interesting facts about this trade that I will outline.  Firstly the growing of Marijuana in Amsterdam is not legal, the importation of Marijuana is illegal as much as it is at home, a shop is not allowed to buy from anyone who grows their own and are not allowed to have more than 500grams on premises at any one time.  A couple of interesting questions raised here, one being how can the better coffee shops move over 3000 grams per day?  The general acceptance is that the back door is a mystery; however once it comes in the front door it is a more regulated business.
Great view of Amsterdams Waterways
Whilst not being completely legal in Amsterdam it is widely ‘tolerated’ as many things are.  I have mentioned tolerance a few times, there are three unofficial rules and these rules are as follows;
1.       Don’t hurt people
2.       Be discreet
3.       Be good for business
The reason that Marijuana is so openly for sale in Amsterdam, literally right under the noses of patrolling police is because Amsterdam brings in over €4 billion and about 30% of people openly say they want to visit a ‘coffee shop’.  Money Talks.
The Narrowest House in the Red
We also saw one of the world’s most narrow houses.  A surprisingly skinny 1.8 metres wall to wall this house stretches over 3 stories and is the red coloured house in the middle of the photo.  Many years ago the Dutch paid tax on how wide their houses spanned, thus this house would have attracted one of the lowest tax rates.
Amsterdam Red Light District by Night
We finished just outside the Anne Frank house and heard the story of how they lived, but more on that later.  After our tour had finished we went on a cruise of the canal to get a great view of the city by the water.  The tour was not bad but a lot of the sights we saw were similar to what we saw on the tour.
We enjoyed a Thai dinner that was apparently the best food in town (we must get spoiled back home because it wasn’t the best I have had) and took a tour around the Red Light District.  It was very interesting to see this part of the city come to life at night.  We saw all aspects of arguably the most famous attraction in the city, all of the businesses that make money out of selling sex or on the back of the world’s oldest profession.  We also got an insight into what the regular Dutch on the streets think about this trade and their relaxed attitude towards it, something extremely different to how things are back home.
Amsterdam Red Light District Shops
The streets are bustling with people, although it is largely tourists on the streets these days.  Our guide explained the history of how this area has developed and pointed out some of the key areas, he also suggested that with the right budget you can find someone to party with, and if you can’t you should keep your money and get help.  One of the things I was most surprised to see were the number of families that took their young children through the district.  Another interesting thing was the signs saying hold the hands of your children as you walk through.  Am I the only person who thinks that perhaps the Red Light District isn’t the right place for children?
The Night Watch by Rembrandt
The next day we had a slightly later start than anticipated, partly owing to a sleep in, but partly owing to waiting over an hour and a quarter in the Dutch hi-speed rail office.  These people make Metro look like industry leaders it was unbelievable, however not wanting to let that spoil our day we headed to the Rijks Museum which has an impressive collection of Dutch History and Paintings.  We spent several hours looking around at the museum and seeing the magnificent artwork, the most famous being ‘The Night Watch’ by Rembrandt.
A replica of a Dutch Warship
After this we made our way to the Anne Frank house museum.  The story of this little girl, only 14 years old is truly quite remarkable.  As a result of an increasingly worsening situation for the Jewish population after the Nazis invaded her father made plans to go into hiding.  Some 70 000 out of the 80 000 Jewish citizens of Amsterdam were sent to the concentration and death camps during the war.   Anne and her family hid in the attic of her father’s business with another family and a doctor for close to two years with the assistance of loyal employees in her father’s business.  Anne wrote her experiences in a diary, and we got a feel for what their living environment was like.
Unfortunately after hiding for so long Anne, her family and the others were discovered and sent to the death camps, with Anne dying of Typhus not one month before the end of the war.  Her father survived the horrors of Auswitz and upon returning to Amsterdam learned that he was the last remaining survivor of the family.   Anne’s diary was subsequently published and has been translated into 70 different languages making it the second most translated book to the bible.
The Rijks Museum
After spending a third night relaxing in Amsterdam we are catching a train to Paris in the morning.
The Highlights:
Seeing all the sights of Amsterdam and getting a bit of a different taste to what have been used to seeing in touring the red light district.  The Red Light District tour was interesting to get an insight into how this trade differs from other countries in how the Dutch deal with things.
The Anne Frank House was an interesting experience, seeing where her family lived and hid from the Nazis for almost 2 years.
The funnier things I saw:
The sign says it all
This sign appears all over the city, especially in the red light district which I thought was really weird, and also next to many of the coffee shops in the city.
Go Karts can be registered here apparently
This sign made me laugh – and so did this car.
The sign that appears outside all of the
coffee shops and throughout the
Red Light District
The Final Word
Amsterdam was a wild and fun place!  Would definitely go back, I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t go on a pub crawl but I have had a cold that flared at exactly the wrong time.  I hope you enjoyed reading.

 

 

Great View of the Cannal

 

 

 

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