After landing at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, we caught a train for a 25-minute ride into Amsterdam. At the downtown railway station, we inquired about catching a cab to our hotel but were told that it was located nearby. And so, with bags in hand, we set off through the streets of on our short walk! We needed to stretch our legs in any case.
The walk turned out to be about a kilometer before we arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Nadia.
Amsterdam as we soon learned first hand as many canals. And we soon understood why its called the “Venice of the North”.
Hotel Nadia is located on the Keizersgracht Canal in Amsterdam, which is one canal over from the Prinsengracht (Prince’s) Canal.
The Prinsengracht (Prince’s) Canal is the longest main canal in Amsterdam, and it was named after The Prince of Orange. In this picture that we took from the top of the Westerkerk (West Church), you can see a street corner on the left side of the picture. Across from this corner, on the other side of the canal, is 263 Prinsengracht.
263 Prinsengracht is the building with the massive green doors, in the center of the photograph. It was in this building that Anne Frank and her family came to hide on July 9, 1942.
Anne’s uncle, Otto Frank, ran a business at 263 Prinsengracht, and it was at the back of this building that Anne would write her famous diary.
On July 11, 1942, Anne wrote this about her new home on the Prinsengracht, “It may be damp and lopsided, but there’s probably not a more comfortable hiding place in all Amsterdam. No, in all of Holland”.
In the courtyard behind Anne’s hiding place is a large garden with a massive chestnut tree. When we took this picture, the tree was in full bloom. Anne spent much time staring out a small window at the sky, birds and this chestnut tree. She wrote about this tree three times, the last time being on May 13, 1944. She wrote, “Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It’s covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” Today, her tree is protected by the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation.
Just as Anne described the building she hid in, many of Amsterdam’s other buildings also exhibit distinct lists, or leans, to one side or the other. Much of this is due to the nature of the wet land upon which they are built.
The four main canals, which were built in the 1600’s, still flow into the Amstel River. Much like in Venice, rising water and flooding is constantly eroding the soil upon which the houses are built. And with climate change, the sea level is rising which has two out of three people in the Netherlands living below sea level.
The other outstanding feature of Amsterdam’s downtown core is the variety of stately towers on all the old buildings.
These impressive towers sit atop the Magna Plaza, which back in 1900 was Amsterdam’s main Post Office building. Today, it is a shopping center, but shopping center aside, the beautiful building features excellent examples of neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance designs.
As we strolled along and over the many canals that flow through Amsterdam, one bridge afforded a view of the tower of Oude Kerk (Old Church). This church, the oldest in Amsterdam, was built in the 14th century. The tower was built in 1325.
Across from our hotel was Westerkerk (West Church), and it is here that Rembrandt is buried in a pauper’s grave. Today, fittingly, the surrounding community is home to many musicians, writers, and artists.
Beyond the old architecture that surrounds you in Amsterdam, another big standout is, of course, the bicycle culture. Bikes line the fences and walls everywhere.
There is no doubt that Amsterdam is “The City of Bikes”. In fact, we learned that there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam…881,000 bikes and only 780,000 people.
Bike riding in Amsterdam is a truly Dutch experience, and given the tight roadways, cycling is the most popular means of getting around. But Amsterdam is an intimidating place to ride a bike with a confusion of people, bikes, and traffic, so Bob and I delayed our bike riding experience in Holland until we were out in the countryside.
Bikers in Amsterdam have a reputation of being very proud of owning the road, a fact that has caused a few problems with cars. Inevitably, the cars have learned to get out of the way.
A few bikes fight for space next to a flower vendor.
Bike theft in Amsterdam is also a big problem, and even the best lock will not necessarily stop the clever bike thieves. Many bike owners, therefore, decorate their bikes outlandishly, all in an effort to make their bikes standout, and also to make them less attractive to the thieves.
This tightly locked up bike was painted in the official state color of the Netherlands, the color Orange.
After a couple of Heineken Beers, a ride on this vintage bike seemed a logical thing to do….Just kidding.
Even single-wheeled bikes, like this unicycle, were not uncommon.
This is a typical bicycle parking lot, not unlike our parking lots filled with automobiles. And so in a world of bikes, we decided to call it a day.
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