Discover the Jewel Box city of Amsterdam: A photoblog…
Walk it, bike it, or get a languorous cruise…the ‘canal’-ity of life will inevitably entice you in Amsterdam. Surprise, surprise. The throbbing nerve-centre of Netherlands has a predictably unoriginal name, literally meaning ‘Dam on River Amstel’. And a soul which is just the opposite….daring, independent, vivacious, lively. Over 4.5 million throng every year to admire its wonderland of 165 concentric canals, arched by 1500 graceful bridges and lined with trees and gable-crowned townhouses. And talking of surprises, try this: Venice lags far behind, with just 409 bridges.
From swampy marsh to sophisticate city
Jump on to one of the small canal-cruise catamarans to drift along the calm waters and absorb the atmosphere. Rewind to the 16th-17th centuries. Swampy soil all around. Merchants and immigrants, rich from investing in the Dutch East India Company, spice import and slave trade, flooding in. Reclaiming the area, constructing houses, bridges, and canal walls over oakwood pilings from the Black Forest in Germany. Keep your eyes peeled for the three massive canals from the bygone days: the Herengracht (gentlemen’s canal), Prinsengracht (princes’ canal) and Keizersgracht (emperor’s canal). Notice that the houses on the Keizersgracht are grander…inspired from palaces of the Roman Empire, perhaps. Many exclusive, luxury hotels are housed here now. Feel the transition of the centuries melting in your line of sight?
Jewel box town
Marvel at the way the frugal Dutch dressed up these simple buildings. Elegant cornices, fancy mouldings and ornate gables (shaped like steps, vase necks, bells and points). Its a jewel box city! Most buildings are narrow, maybe 30-feet wide or less, with the slimmest side facing the canal. Interesting reason for that…taxes used to be based on the width of the house. Creative floor design…everything was made to fit in, shops on the ground floor, family residence in the middle, and warehouse in the attic. Notice how the houses proudly bear ‘establishment dates’…there’s one from 1616!
Very few windows have curtains. No brainer…it allows more light. Prying eyes are obviously no concern here…mutual trust and respect for privacy solves it all. Slim houses, narrow staircases. you will see someone transporting furniture with the help of a pulley and lifting it in through removable windows. Handy idea. Some houses appear to lean towards the water, others are misaligned. Crookedly cute. One of them has open louvred windows on all floors, painted red on the inside. The vibrance is even more striking against the stark black painted brick facade. Black houses…only in Netherlands. Never say never.
Several houseboats are docked along the canals…there are nearly 2,500 floating homes in all. Living on the water despite the dampness and gloom, or a forever-on-vacation feeling? Play ‘I spy’. Take a peek. Some are basic, others luxurious…gardens and hammocks on terraces, folding chairs on the front, colourful flower pots hanging from wooden walls, a library lined with books visible through a window, a table for four laid out on a floating porch. Some houseboats even have addresses and mailboxes. If the owner moves up the canal, would he change his address?
Two wheel drive
A million people and a million bikes…a terrific vantage point to observe a swirl of the biking Dutch…doing chores, flirting, delivering, texting on two wheels. Suit-clad office goers with laptops, women with two toddlers in child seats, school boys and girls in cargo bikes, a man with a pet dog on a leash, shoppers with four grocery bags, an elderly man balancing a rolled mattress neatly on the cycle back. No latest models or hi-tech gadgetry being flaunted…just laid-back coolness. It’s infectious…having the urge to sell off your car and buy a bicycle instead?
All streets are cycle-friendly…bike lanes run next to the sidewalks with smooth surfaces, separate signs and traffic lights, wide enough for side-by-side cycling and overtaking. Cars are parked along the canal side and lower down, at the edge of the banks, row of boats are tied to the railings…which outnumbered which?
Past to present
The cruise ends at the huge main port, where the river hits the sea. Modern ships with huge masts and sails are docked, where once upon a time, merchant ships from faraway lands used to sail in, loaded down with material delights (silks, spices, and porcelain). The world’s richest city, an international sea-trading port, and the cradle of capitalism, has metamorphosed into a vibrant, modern, fun, liveable city, top of every traveller’s bucket list. Feeling the vibe yet?