Jennifer and I took a morning flight out of Geneva to Amsterdam to visit Lex. It’s such a great feeling to reunite with friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time at the airport. 🙂 Especially so in Europe because I took the planes at ungodly hour (I think we left Lausanne slightly before 4 am) and it’s so touching to see them waiting for me early in the morning at the airport. Amsterdam was once the most important port in the world during the Dutch Golden Age but now it is (sadly) famous for being a city of vices – drugs and prostitution (its famous red light district) and a travel destination that is friendly towards party-goers and homosexuals.
Apparently, the Dutch had to build urinals by the canals to stop the drunk and/or high people from urinating into the canals. I didn’t witness any of these urinals in use while I was there though.
We visited the flower market and it was pretty interesting: there were stalls on the side of the canal which sold flowers (especially tulips) and on the ground floor of the houses next to the flower stalls were souvenir shops and drugstores. We entered one of the drugstores out of curiosity and overheard how the person at the drugstore told a customer how to avoid being caught in his own country. That was a really interesting experience.
1) Canal rings and bridges
Dubbed as the “Venice of the North”, Amsterdam has a total of 165 canals in the city center. We began our tour of Amsterdam with a boat tour on the canals. The boat-ride was quite informative as there were audio tracks in different languages which introduce the city. The houses by the canal are enchanting, apparently the house owners can’t renovate their houses whatever way they want because some items are considered “heritage” materials. As the stairways for the canal-side houses are especially narrow, people have to transport their furniture via a pulley system using the hook on the top of the house. I really like the boat houses, I would love to stay in one of them one day.
There are a total of over 1200 bridges in Amsterdam and among the many beautiful bridges, I really like the liftbridge near the Carre theatre. Lift bridges were made to allow bigger ships to pass. The tour-boat was not big enough so it didn’t warrant lifting of any bridges but it was quite some fun to try to touch the base of the bridge as our boat passed through it.
The boat tour also brought us out of the canal rings and I found this sight really interesting – a manifestation of East meet West.
2) Amstelkring Museum (Church of Our Lord in the Attic)
Church of Our Lord in the Attic was an interesting museum, we got to first see the interior of the old 17th century Amsterdam house (the stairs are steep and narrow!) and we learned about the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in Amsterdam during the reformation of the Netherlands. Back in those days, Catholicism was frowned upon by the Dutch. Apparently, a rich guy acquired three houses next to one another, knocked down the walls on the uppermost floor to form a chapel in the attic and every week, 150 people gathered to pray to their God. We got an audio guide before visiting the museum – it is quite a fancy audio guide (frustrating at times), you have to point the laser of the audio guide at the number to get the guide to talk to you. I remember us sitting down, listening to our own respective audio guide and falling asleep at the same time. We opened our eyes roughly at the same time, looked at one another and laughed at how equally tired we were. I miss these wonderful friends so much. 🙂
3) Anne Frank House.
After learning about how Catholicism was oppressed in the 17th-18th century in Amsterdam, we visited the Anne Frank House and learned about the persecution of Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s. Anne Frank, the author of the famous “The Diary of a Young Girl”, stayed with her family and another Jewish family for 2 years and 1 month in the Secret Annex in this house. The Secret Annex was the rear extension of the house and it was linked to the main house through a passageway concealed by a bookcase. Unfortunately, the Secret Annex was exposed one day and the people in hiding were sent to concentration camps. The Anne Frank House makes Anne’s diary come to life as it deliberately constructs an experience for its visitors in a chronological order. It doesn’t have too many exhibits; the building itself is the main exhibit. The museum allows Anne’s quotes plastered on many of its walls, interviews with Otto Frank’s helpers and Anne’s friends and models showing how the house looked like at different time point to send a powerful message to the visitors that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity. I remember when I exited the museum, I saw flowers placed by the Anne Frank statue and dead leaves swirled around the statue by the strong wind and I felt melancholic. Anne Frank is not a war hero; she is just an ordinary girl who yearns for an ordinary life and yet she is unfairly denied such rights because of her religion. But such crimes are still going on elsewhere in the world, has the human race really learned from our mistakes?
On a lighter note, we saw the most narrow house in the world near to the museum. It is less than 1m wide, really cute!
The Rijksmuseum essentially showcases the Dutch civilization and history. It has a wide collection of exhibits from models of Dutch ships, ceramics, scientific inventions to paintings arranged in a roughly chronological order. The paintings are quite interesting, according to Lex, some of the paintings are routinely used in their history classes to depict important war events, for example the Battle of Waterloo. It’s quite interesting that before the technology of cameras and photography came about, people recorded events (big or small) by painting and in doing so, the sources have an added layer of subjectivity introduced by the artist. Now with photography, it seems like things are depicted objectively when in fact, there’s always a storyteller controlling how the story is told. We also saw people crowding around some paintings, such as The Potato Eaters, and frantically took photos of them. It’s really quite strange how people looked, took photos of but never really saw. There were also paintings depicting Amsterdam from the 20th century, the city indeed didn’t change much.
5. Van Gogh Museum
The Van Gogh Museum was located very near to the Rijksmuseum and it narrated Van Gogh’s life in a chronological order. Do not expect to see famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, such as The Starry Night, because they are all displayed elsewhere in the world. I remember seeing The Starry Night among some other of his works at Musée d’Orsay in Paris last year. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam narrates his life story and shows how his painting techniques changed over the years as he experimented with different colours. From this museum, we also learnt that many of Vincent Van Gogh’s works are actually paintings over old paintings because he was too poor and had to recycle the canvas, he made used of complementary colours in his paintings and he was very influenced by Japanese art. That is rather interesting because I always thought that Japan was a closed economy until the 20th century but apparently there was some interaction between Europe and Japan back then.
Amsterdam is also a very bicycle-friendly city, I was quite impressed by the trains which have allocated space for bicycles. Apart from bicycle lanes, there are traffic lights specifically for bicycles too. Apparently, it is common for Dutch people to own multiple bicycles and park them in different parts of the city for convenience and it has in fact manifested into a unique problem for Amsterdam- http://thisbigcity.net/too-many-bicycles-amsterdam-problem.