Amsterdam

Posted by on Dec 11, 2011 in Europe, Netherlands, Travel | 0 comments

Amsterdam

A city like no other, within the first hour of walking the streets of Amsterdam we had seen (and smelt) several ‘coffee shops’ (marijuana houses) and witnessed and a near death bicycle accident.  You have to be on high alert of the speeding bikes, which silently creep up on you and seem to only ring their bell when directly behind you.  We decided the best thing to do was hire our own bikes and join in!  It actually is quite a fast and practical way to get around.

Approximately 20,000 bikes are pulled from the 165 canals of Amsterdam every year.  They end up there from thieves disposing of them, or youths having throwing competitions.  Often after a soccer match between Amsterdam and Rotterdam (a nearby city) cars meet the same fate.

 

Looking down at our bikes from our apartment

Looking down at our bikes from our apartment

 

The stairs in our apartment were the steepest, narrowest stairs we have ever tried to navigate, particularly with a pack on your back.  When we moved in we were warned not to get too stoned as we would most definitely fall down them!  Overall we loved the apartment and would definitely recommend it, you can read more about it here.

Amsterdam prides itself on being the city of tolerance and welcome everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation or religion.  They were the first place in the world to legalise same sex marriage and have a gay monument in the city.

The February 1941 strike in Amsterdam was the only time during the whole of WWII in which non Jewish people took a stand against the Nazi’s for their persecution of the Jews.

 

The narrowest house in Amsterdam at 1.8m wide

The narrowest house in Amsterdam at 1.8m wide

 

The houses in Amsterdam were built so narrowly because the width of your house determined the taxes you would pay.  The story goes that the man who lived in the above house could not even lay down straight across his house because he was too tall!

There are coffee shops everywhere and you feel like you’ll get high just from walking the streets.  Interestingly of the population of Amsterdam only 5% actually indulge in marijuana, and the coffee shops are primarily for tourists. Surprisingly New Zealand is actually the country that uses marijuana the most.

Marijuana sale, possession and use is (despite common belief) not legal in Amsterdam, however it has been decriminalised.  Around the 1970s and 80s hard drugs like heroin were extremely prevalent, and the users would become violent trying to get their next fix.  By decriminalising marijuana the police were able to focus on curbing this more serious problem instead of the harmless marijuana use.

We walked through the red light district and saw a variety of women in their windows on display.  When we were there in 2011, 50 Euro was the base rate and would buy you 15 minutes.  We were there over a weekend and there were a lot of British bucks parties there ready to party.

Amusingly there is a church in the middle of the red light district where people could simply pay to confess their sins and be assured that they would be free from hell.  Being a port city often sailors would have to leave early in the morning when their ship sailed, so the church made it available (for twice the price) to be able to confess your sins in advance, outlining all the sins you planned to commit that night!

We rode our bikes to the flea markets at Noordemarkt Square where there were tonnes of locals bartering for cheap fabric and clothing.  There were some great finds here and we got some unique gifts to take home.

 

Flea markets at Noordemarkt Square

Flea markets at Noordemarkt Square

 

We explored Anne Frank’s house, the now well known Jewish girl who hid from the Nazi’s in a secret annex in a house with seven others (her family and friends).  Unfortunately they were eventually anonymously reported, subsequently arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Tragically Anne died one month before the liberation and her father was the only one to survive.  After her death her father was given her diaries which had been rescued from the house, and in 1947 managed to get them published, realising Anne’s dream of being a famous writer.  The diary has since been translated into 70 different languages.

It is unimaginable never being able to go outside, having to tiptoe around in case you are discovered and killed for something over which you have no control.

 

Riding our bikes around the beautiful Vondel Park

Riding our bikes around beautiful Vondel Park

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