Amsterdam is the capital of Netherlands and its most populous city. It is often called the Venice of the North due to the large number of interconnected canals which form a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A little bit about The Netherlands:
The word Netherlands literally means “lower countries” in refernce to its low elevation. Only about 50% of its land area lies atleast one meter above sea level. More than 26% of its area lies below sea level and nearly 17% of its land area has been reclaimed from the sea or lakes . Since the 16th century , large areas of this country are preserved through an elaborate drainage system comprising dikes, canals and pumping stations. This brief introduction shows the vision , hard work, elaborate planning and execution that has gone into making this land what it is today. In order to understand some of the peculiarities of the places we are going to visit, this background information is essential.
Amsterdam: A short preview:
Amstel, the river in Amsterdam was dammed to control flooding and the city now derives its name from that. Originally a small fishing village in the 12th century, the inhabitants built dikes on both sides of the river to protect themselves from floods and subsequently built a dam between these dikes.
Amsterdam grew to become a port and a leading financial and trade centre in the 17th century called the Golden age. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded further and grew to what it is today.
The canal system in Amsterdam requires special mention. It is the result of continuous city planning. In the 17th century itself, this canal system was planned in the form of four concentric half circles with radial canals forming a spiderweb pattern and connecting finally to the North Sea. The canals served for defence, water management and transport. Today the city is famous for the hundreds of houseboats that line its canals. Parts of the city lie below sea level and some on land reclaimed from the sea or marshlands.
The city of cycles….Amsterdam is equipped with an elaborate network of cycle paths, so safe and comfortable that anyone can use cycles as the easiest mode of transport. As Amsterdam grew, the traffic increased and roads were laid to accommodate traffic. With increased traffic, there were many accidents. This led the local people to think that they needed safer streets and they held demonstrations and finally got clear cycle paths. This is true not only of Amsterdam , but all over the Netherlands.
Observe the large number of cycles parked on this bridge!
Though Amsterdam is the capital, it is not the seat of the government which is The Hague and the Royal family resides only occasionally at the Royal Palace in Dam square of Amsterdam. The city lacks monumental architecture , wide squares, arches or imposing statues unlike many other European cities.
Coffee shops selling drugs and the famous Red street are some of the other peculiarities of this place.
One sight which attracted me in the Netherlands was the sound barriers along the highway. These are barrier walls set up in residential areas along the highway to prevent noise pollution and disturbance to the residents. It actually reflects the care and concern for the quality of life here.
Sound barriers along the highway
Amsterdam Canal Cruise :
One of the most interesting and popular tourist activity in Amsterdam is the canal cruise.
There are many tour companies that organise these canal cruises. Usually it is a one hour cruise along the canals. In fact due to the interconnecting canal system, it is the best way to get around without missing any of the highlights of the place.
The boat piers from which these cruises start are very beautifully maintained with flower beds. The boats have glass roofs and there is an audio system at every seat from which one can hear the live commentary of the places as we sail along.
The glass ceiling boat used for the canal cruise
The flower beds at the pier and the audio system with live commentary
Once the cruise started, we sailed along the canals which were of varying width. The buildings along the sides of the canal looked very traditional .
Some places had traditional Dutch buildings.
Every now and then we sailed below ancient looking bridges which had people and traffic crossing the canals…
Bridges cutting across the canals.
Many of the canals have house boats anchored along the sides. Some are the residences of the locals while some are available on rent for tourists to stay and enjoy the ambience.
At places boats were anchored along the sides of the canal.
A house boat
Some of these house boats are commercial establishments too….like this one which has a tulip museum!!
A houseboat converted into a museum
Along the canal side, there were beer parlours with seats set outside along the canal for a relaxed evening for the customers.
A canal side beer parlour
As we reached the newer parts of the city, the canals were lined with modern buildings on either side.
Modern buildings along the canals
A wider part of the canal system with modern buildings and a high end yacht
We also reached an area looking like a lake where there was an old ship anchored. This ship is now a museum displaying Dutch history.
The museum ship
How are these canals maintained?
A very well organised system keeps these canals functional during the high and low tides. Each of these canals have locks and is under the control of a lock keeper who plays a very important role by opening and closing the locks as per the tide levels. Next to each of these locks is a lock keeper house too , so that he can continuously monitor it.
The lock system in the canals
Dam Square :
This is a square at the centre of Amsterdam. The main attraction here is the Royal Palace. The palace is used by the monarch for official receptions, award ceremonies etc.
The Royal Palace
Van Gough Museum :
An art museum dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gough, this museum has the largest collection of Van Gough’s paintings in the world. Unfortunately we could not visit the museum but we saw it as we went along.
The Van Gough Museum
Red light district
Den Wallen, Amsterdam’s red light district is internationally known and is a major tourist attraction here. It offers legal prostitution and a lot of coffee shops selling marijuana!
The brothels here have a red light near the door which is the indication that it is a brothel. The practice started initially when the women would use red lanterns as a signal to the sailors who visited the place. This was subsequently replaced by the red bulb.
The red light district
Enroute Amsterdam, we had a halt at The Hague too from where we visited Madurodam.
This is a miniature park close to the Hague. Every object in Madurodam has been built at a scale of 1:25. It contains working models of many of the Dutch landmarks. The park strives to show a realistic view of Netherlands in a scaled down environment. Everything including the flora and fauna is scaled down and in many places models of the Dutch people can also be seen.
At the Entrance to Madurodam
A working model of Schipol airport
A working model of the canal system and its locks
A model train
A model windmill
Model Tulip garden
And finally…an over view of Madurodam
After the nice cruise and a city tour of Amsterdam, we returned to our hotel looking forward to more of The Netherlands the next day.
See you next week with more beautiful sights from The Netherlands. Till then, keep your comments coming and do subscribe below.
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