We have just returned from a five night family trip to Amsterdam. This was not, therefore, a ‘Lost Weekend in a Hotel Amsterdam’ of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions variety – ‘twenty-four gone years to conclude in tears’ – but a family orientated museums, canals, food and markets kind of trip. That said there was a few lessons in life for my teenage daughters as various questions like “why do they call it a coffee-shop when it sells weed?” and “what exactly is that rubber suit in for?” needed to be answered as we passed the ‘special’ shops in the red light areas of town.
But – and I want to stress this BIG time – Amsterdam is much, much more than a weed smokin’ /red light /stag weekend destination. In fact, that is a minor, minor part of its attraction. With 44 museums, a city centre that escaped devastation in the 2nd World War and the worse excesses of 1960s modernism (and is now a World Heritage Site) it is a phenomenal city. Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and more trees than Paris. It’s got more Rembrandt’s, Van Gogh’s and Vermeer’s than you can shake a stick at. It’s liberal – in the best sense of the word – open, tolerant, welcoming and multicultural.
The Dutch have a word for its charms, which is gezellig, which means convivial. The cafés & restaurants all seem to have time for everyone, the service is great. For a major city it has very little traffic as everyone gets about on a bicycle, this includes Queen Máxima, the Argentinian born wife of King Willem-Alexander.
As you can probably tell I have become a big fan of Amsterdam in only five days. The French philosopher René Descartes wrote in 1631 of the Dutch Republic:
“Where else in the world can one enjoy all the comforts of life and all the interesting things that a person might wish to find? What other country is there in which one can enjoy such perfect freedom …?”
In my opinion Descartes was right and it’s all still true today.
There are many storylines to be told about Amsterdam – the world trading city of the 17th century; the city’s expansion and the building of the canal rings; the tulip economic bubble; the awful years of the Nazi occupation and the loss of so many of the Dutch Jewish community to the concentration camps – including Anne Frank and almost all of her family (only her father Otto survived). And then there is the modern, multicultural, design orientated, open, world city of today. I won’t pretend to be an expert so I suggest you read up a bit and then book a trip. Try the Iamsterdam website for visitor information. The airport at Schiphol is a world hub – so getting there from anywhere is easy and you can get the train direct from the airport to the Centraal Station.
As usual, my family were subjected to me getting up early for the golden hour light, going out after dark to try and get the perfect night shot of the canals (failed!); occasionally complaining that the light was ‘flat’ and they had to put up with my seemingly endless fascination in photographing odd things like bins, graffiti, concrete, blank walls, reflections in windows – when all the time there is perfectly good ‘normal’ view available. Hopefully, these snaps will give you a least an impression of how it feels to be in Amsterdam. Warning a more ‘minimal’ Amsterdam blog will follow which will feature out of focus images, blurry images and, my current favorite, a picture of air vents! But for now enjoy these.
PS: the canal house photos turned out a bit weird and blurry – I wonder why? Anyone work it out?
This trip was not sponsored in anyway – all bought and paid for out of my own pocket! I would, however, recommend staying at Mirthe & Aranka’s fantastic house in the Jordaan district. Mirthe & Aranka will direct you to the best ice cream, best apple pie and best pizza available in the neighbourhood!
PPS: If you don’t get the Lloyd Cole and the Commotions reference – you’re too young – 1985 single – peaked at No. 17 in the UK charts.