Sunday, 9 June 2013

Amsterdam: Houses, Boats and Houseboats

On one of the the coldest days in May, a varsity friend and I decided to visit Amsterdam. 
In hindsight, a bicycle city tour might not have been the brightest idea, but of course we only realised that halfway through the tour when the cold wind and rain had already transformed our fingers and ears into puffy red ornaments.

Nonetheless, we were in Amsterdam and the city was meant to be explored! This time on yellow, instead of blue bikes. Besides, our local guide, whose surname was Beentjes (Little legs), had sped off like the yellow-jerseyed forerunner of the Tour de France and we had to pedal hard to keep up with his ironically long legs. 

There are 881 000 bicycles in Amsterdam, a staggering 1.1 bicycles per inhabitant. As Katie Melua indisputably pointed out, the number of bicycles in Beijing are ten times more, but if we lived in a world where song titles were based on bicycles per capita, Katie would have had to find a word to rhyme with "dam".
It also meant that our yellow cluster had to avoid 880 990 others as we maneuvered over bridges and around sharp corners. The back-pedal braking system furthermore promised to make the ride very entertaining indeed.

Yellow Bikes

If I had to do the impossible and summarise Amsterdam in one word, it would be this: Water. 
Water was everywhere and with 165 canals it was not surprising to find water around every turn in the city. On this rainy spring day, the water was experienced in abundance by all our senses. The backdrop of clouds heavy with rain, however, converted every picture into a work of art.

Water: Above and Below

If I had to summarise Amsterdam in three words, I would handpick the three elements that enhance and emphasise the city's canals and transform every image thereof into a striking scene of splendour: Houses, Boats and Houseboats.

The houses lining the canals are fascinating. Like colourful lego blocks that have been stacked gallantly high, they tower over the canals with their colourful facades. Their big glaring windows and pointed rooftops seem to drag them towards the water's edge, as if they're leaning in towards the ripples whispering at their feet.

Colourful and Crooked

If you get a suspicious feeling that the houses are sloping towards you like towering terrors, your inkling might be caused by more than cannabis spores wafting in the wind. The houses have deliberately been built top-heavy and crooked. In the sixteenth century residents were taxed on the width of their houses; therefore houses were built narrow and high. (The residents of the red house above are probably shuffling along sideways in the narrow space).
The houses slope towards the water so that big objects can be hoisted up by means of a hook, which is proudly sported at the top of each house.

This was one of the reasons Anne Frank's family could stay hidden in a house in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Although the family's business premises seemed like a narrow building from the street, it lead into an annex in the back that could be accesses through a secret entrance. Eight people stayed hidden in the small space of 75 m2 for two years, after which they were sadly discovered.

Anne Frank's Hiding Place
(next to the house with the pitched roof)

Boats were sprinkled on every canal in Amsterdam like colourful drops of confetti.

Boats, Boats, Boats

Picture Perfect


2 500 Houseboats are floating on Amsterdam's canals, their decks displaying everything from sun-chairs to potted plants.



We cycled past museums, coffee shops (where you won't find coffee), cheese shops (where you will find cheese) and parks. When we reached the Red Light district, our guide did the responsible thing and signalled for us to get off and push our bikes down Walletjie street. Apparently accidents occur easily when cyclists' heads are twisted at a 180 degree angle in order to gawk at the window displays. If you're waiting for any pictures of the RLD, I will have to disappoint you. It is strictly "verboden".

Around Amsterdam


Cheese & Flowers

After cycling, we had a lunch of kroketten, poffertjes and koffie verkeerd, the Dutch version of a cafe latte. It might have been koffie "verkeerd", but it was oh so right.

Poffertjes and Koffie Verkeerd

Since the newly renovated Rijksmuseum had recently been re-opened to the public after a ten year makeover, we had to pay "De Nachtwacht" a visit. What a visit it was! The painting, renowned for it's size, is also well known for the contrast between shadows and light and the depiction of movement.

De Nachtwacht

The painting, completed in 1642 by Rembrandt van Rijn, was actually cut smaller in 1715 (gasp) because it couldn't fit into the space where it was originally displayed. Today the painting is so precious that it is difficult to put a value to it. 

Nachtwacht Details

In the picture above, the motion and emphasis by means of light are clearly visible. It is speculated that Rembrandt included himself in the painting and one of his eyes can be seen peering out from behind two figures. The women, standing in a pool of light, is said to resemble Rembrandt's wife, Saskia. 

Inside the Rijksmuseum

The rest of the collection is also worth viewing and consists of magnificent paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Johannes Vermeer and Frans Hals. Most characters depicted in the paintings of the Rijksmuseum are also fully clothed, unlike the ones in the Musee D'Orsay. You can decide for yourself weather this is a pro or a con.


There are loads more to be seen and done in Amsterdam - a city that welcomes all with open arms.
IAM Houses. IAM Boats. IAM Houseboats.

And I.. IAM cold and wet. 
But thrilled that I got to explore a little bit of Amsterdam.

No comments:

Post a Comment