I arrived in Amsterdam Sunday Morning. The flight left Toronto at 7pm and I arrived at 9am Amsterdam time. I took the train into the city centre and grabbed a cab from the Centre Station to my hostel. Cabs in Amsterdam are extremely expensive and public transportation is very good. So avoid them if you can. I was exhausted and just wanted to drop my bags off but I quickly regretted taking a taxi. Check-in at the hostel wasn’t until 3pm so I dropped my bags off and headed out to explore the city (It was only 10am so I had lots of time to kill). I had also booked a walking tour with Sandemans for 1:30pm.
Amsterdam is like walking through a postcard with cobblestone streets, flower lined window-cills and bicycles everywhere. The houses are built up because in the Golden Age, you were taxed on the width of you home. Take a moment to stop and look up, many of the houses have hooks for pulley systems attached to them. These pulley systems are still used today when people move in and out of homes. I located the Anne Frank Haus and wandered into a cafe near by to get a cup of coffee and catch up on a few emails. My tour was to meet at 1:30 outside of the national monument in Dam Square. The weather in Amsterdam is a little bi-polar, you can experience all four seasons in one day so as I walked out of the cafe it started to rain. I arrived at Dam Square early and decided to pop into the H&M there to see if I could find a cheap rain jacket. I couldn’t and it soon cleared up outside but I found out later on my tour that that H&M was the SS Headquarters during the war. This is where the Frank family along with two of their helpers would have been taken on the morning of their discovery and arrest.
The walking tour was Amazing and I strongly recommend it. It’s free first of all, although I’m sure you will want to tip the guide when it’s done. You should be tipping around 15 euros for a 3 hour tour. We started in Dam Square and walked to a church in the red light district. Our guide Sam explained that that church and red light district were built around the same time. The catholic church had priests living there and the priests had mistresses an those mistresses needed a place to live and a way to make money. So they lived near the church and as Amsterdam is a port city they would service the sailors when they docked here. The red light district gets it’s name because the girls would wear a red scarf, red feather in their hair or red stockings to signal that they were available for business. The dutch are very business minded people and the prosperity of the red light district didn’t end there. The sailors having sinned and not wanting to go to hell if their boat sunk at sea would go to the church to confess their sins, the priests would charge them a sum for forgiveness, even more savvy than that since the sailors were in town for such a short time and would often leave at night or early in the morning when the church wasn’t open, the priests allowed you to pre-confess your sins before you had committed them and they charged more for this.
The dutch to this day allow certain things to occur as long as they are good for business, aren’t hurting anyone and you can turn a blind eye to it. For example, marijuana is still illegal in the Netherlands it is just decriminalized. Coffeeshops are allow to exist because they bring in a lot of money and they don’t officially sell “weed”, they just sell coffee, officially. I was thinking isn’t this a missed opportunity in taxable income. Well seems the dutch have that covered as well. Their tax form has a spot on it exactly for this purpose where you can declare “other” income but you don’t have to mention what the source of this income is.
Sam was an amazing guide. He moved to Amsterdam full time this year but has been living here on and off for a number of years now. He has worked in the Middle East in Iraq at a Syrian Refugee camp in Education. His family is from India but he grew up in the United States and also has family from the Netherlands. You can tell that he loves Amsterdam and is passion for this city was contagious. He spoke of tolerance and secularism two of the things that fascinated me about this country and the Dutch people as well. We are facing one of the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen and right now that tolerance is being tested. He tied this in at the end of the tour. The relevance of the history to the present and the future of this city.
We walked past the Dutch East India company and spoke about how they were one of the most profitable companies in history. Think, Apple, Google, and Microsoft put together, multiply that by three and the Dutch East India company was still worth more. They were also the first company where the public could buy shares and if you bought a share in the Dutch East India company the value could multiply by 400% in a month. But the Dutch East India company was also heavily involved in the Slave Trade.
During the French Occupation of the Netherlands after it was defeated by Nepolean and given to his brother to rule a few changes were made. One is that the Dutch had to have surnames, before this they did not. If you were Michael and your father was David you would be Michael Davidson and so on. When the French arrive the Dutch had to make up Surnames and most of them took practical ones related to their profession. However, a few rebels took on crude names (Example Naaktgeboren – means born naked ) many are still in circulation today and a lot of the Dutch that have these last names are starting to legally change them. The French also brought with them house numbers, before the arrival of the french there would be a mural above your door depicting who lived in the house, for example the baker would have something to do with bread, therefore everyone would know the baker lived there. Nepolean’s brother who was made king of the Netherlands by Nepolean really wanted to fit in. He started to consider himself Dutch not French and he even went as far as changing his name to Lodewijk Napoleon instead of Louis. He wanted to deliver his first speech to the people in Dutch so he practiced and practiced but when he go on stage he got nervous and lost his words so rather than say he was the “Koning van Holland” (king of Holland), he told the people he was “Konijn van ‘Olland” (the rabbit of Holland) and was known henceforth as the rabbit king.
It’s hard to walk through Amsterdam without noticing the Canals. They are what makes Amsterdam the picturesque city it is. There is over 100km of canals in Amsterdam and they were all dug by French migrant workers escaping persecution and looking for work here in the Netherlands.
My second day in Amsterdam I woke up early and went to visit the Anne Frank Haus I highly recommend you do not leave Amsterdam without visiting the Anne Frank Haus. I decided to re-read the book on my plane ride over and I’m so glad I did. It was surreal to be there and stand in the rooms that she lived in and wrote about. It was so dark, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been being stuck inside that tiny secret annex for two years. Unable to go outside or have personal space or interact with the outside world. Seeing the video of her father Otto speak about her after the war, it was tough to hold back tears and anyone who knows me knows that I don’t cry very easily. He said he had a close relationship with Anne but he had no idea she has all those deep thoughts or that she was so deeply critical of herself. He mentioned that maybe parents never really know their children. Annie is an inspiration to me and should be an inspiration to us all. She is proof that one doesn’t need to be a great hero to change the world. She puts a face to a tragedy. A personality to a statistic. Six million Jews were killed during the holocaust and the Netherlands suffered the greatest loss of Jewish life. Anne did not die, she was murdered because she was a Jewish girl. Sometimes we forget that each one of these victims was a person with thoughts, hopes and dreams. She also teaches us tolerance. I’ve learned this through my travels as well. No matter where we come from, what our background is, religion, sexual orientation, race, nationality, we all want the same things. We all want love, acceptance, a chance to pursue our dreams, safety, hope for the future. We all have the same insecurities, we all want people to love us for who we are. We all wonder what mark we will leave on this world. We want to know that we will be missed, remembered, mourned. If we kept this in mind more often the world would be a better place. We are all people. We are all the same.
During world war two the Dutch refused to surrender and resisted the Germans for five days. After the bombing of Rotterdam in which the city was completely destroyed the Dutch surrendered to the Germans because they did not want this to happen to all of their cities. They also thought that maybe they were a part of the German Aryan race or master plan. They were sadly mistaken. After world war II the Dutch cherished their freedom and never wanted to another human to live through that suffering again. This lead to secularism, tolerance and radical policies that would have been impossible elsewhere. In 1946 he first ever gay and lesbian rights organization was formed in the Netherlands, they were also the first country to legalize gay marriage and they continue to lead the way in many areas of change and liberation.
This has been a theme throughout my stay in amsterdam. It was also mentioned at the Rijksmuseum which I visited in the afternoon on my second day here. It’s a stunning building and it’s huge. If you can find your way up to the third floor through the grand hall you will see the gallery of modern art. When you walk into the gallery this blurb is on the wall. “Freedom – after wwII, freedom was cherished as a great good. Thanks to economic aid from the United States, the post-war recovery and reconstruction got quickly underway. Under foreign pressure, the Netherlands relinquished its colony, Indonesia, in 1949 and turned increasingly to Europe and the United States. An unbridled drive for freedom fed both small-scale artistic experimentation and industrial innovation. The urge for innovation that spawned in the post-war years reached it’s apex in the turbulent 1960s. All artistic and social mores were turned upside down. The liberal climate of the Netherlands drew worldwide attention. Protest was not suppressed here with brute force, and taboos could be broken in a lighthearted fashion.” This museum is worth a visit. You will also find the iamsterdam letters here. It’s 17.50 Euros to get in but you can also hang out in the garden for free. If you can afford it, spend some time inside and look around.
My last day in Amsterdam I walked around the Jewish Quarter which was destroyed in World War II but has since been rebuilt, the architechture is vastly different to that of the rest of the city.
I also jumped on a canal cruise. Amsterdam has 100km of canals and they are worth exploring. You can see the city from a whole other angle.
What were some of your favourite things to do in Amsterdam? Leave them in the comments 🙂