400 years of Amsterdam’s canals

It might seem strange to some people that I – the travel addict that I am – haven’t been to Amsterdam yet. And especially considering this lovely city is less than a three hour drive away from where I live.

But yesterday, December 14th,  I finally got around to it.  And I couldn’t have chosen a better time because there was a lot to celebrate in Amsterdam. In 2013, the city celebrated the 400 years existance of their canals, the 175th anniversary of their zoo and the Rijksmuseum was once again open to public after renovations.

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On top of that, the weather was lovely for December. A mild 8 degrees celcius, no rain and even the sun made its presence know sometime in the afternoon. Also to Christmas lights were already hung up in trees and on buildings, so yes, perfect timing.

The only thing I regret is that I wasn’t able to stay a bit longer. One day definitely isn’t enough for such a lovely city, but it was all I could afford timewize.So here is a little summary of what I did during my short day in Amsterdam and what I thought of it.

It was about 10 am when we finally arrived at the Amsterdam Arena – the soccer stadion of Ajax – where we parked our car. From there we took the metro to the city center. It’s only a fifteen minute trip, and I would recommend this arrangement to everyone. It’s a lot cheaper to park your car at the arena – only eight euros instead of five euros an hour in the city center -, and you get the metro ticket for free.

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Our first stop – where we got off the metro – was the Amsterdam Central Station. This is probably one of the most beautiful buildings of Amsterdam as regards the building style. The Netherlands have always been known for their more sober buildings.

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After that we walked towards the Jordaan, which is a district in the city of Amsterdam. This district is situated in between the many canals – “grachten” – of Amsterdam. The most famous canals are the Prinsengracht, the Leidsegracht and the Herengracht, and they sort of form three circles around Amsterdam. On the picture on the right – which is not mine while all the others except those posters above are – you can see how the canals are situated in the city.

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But before we got there, I made a short stop on the Singel, where supposedly the smallest house in the world is situated. It’s only as wide as the door, which is about 1 meter. What is hidden though, is that the house gets wider after that, so in fact it isn’t really the smallest house. Nonetheless, it’s quite cool and I wish I could have gotten a look inside.

So moving back to the Jordaan. The Jordaan district is a really typical neighborhood with many little  houses and lots of beautiful views on Amsterdam’s many canals. There are also various markets where you can buy fruit and vegetables for little money.

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After buying a bit of fruit to nibble on, we moved towards the Nine Little Streets – “Negen Straatjes”, which is another neighborhood in Amsterdam. Basically, it are a few side streets between the main canals which has many small shops and restaurants. The names of each of those streets remind of the types of work that used to be carried out there in the past.

By visiting Jordaan and the Nine Little Streets you get a nice view of Amsterdam’s canals and the typical houses. What I also noticed while walking through those neighborhoods was that many of the houses are really crooked.

Leaving the canals behind us – as far as that’s possible in Amsterdam – we moved on to the Leidse Square. Because of the holiday season, the square was filled with Christmas stalls selling all types of food. But what caught my eye was the Burger King. We don’t have that fastfood restaurant in Belgium, so whenever I have the chance to go to a Burger King, I take it. So yes, I had lunch at Burger King in Amsterdam.

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With a full tummy, we walked to theRijksmuseum (and passed the Hard Rock Cafe). The Rijksmuseum is Netherlands’ biggest and most famous state museum dedicated to arts and history. It displays more than 8 000 works of art but in total the museum owns more than a million pieces of arts and history including paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit the museum considering I only had one day in Amsterdam.

In front of the Rijksmuseum, on the museumsquare, are the famous I AMSTERDAMletters. Lots and lots of people are climbing the letters and taking pictures in various poses. Of course, I had to climb it as well – the “e” of course -, which proved to be quite difficult. And then getting down from it was even trickier. Luckily I didn’t break any bones, so I would call it a success.

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After the adventure of the letters, we walked around the square, where you can also find the Van Gogh museum, the “Stedelijk Museum” of Amsterdam and the Concert Hall. Once again, I didn’t have enough time to visit either of those, but from what I’ve heard they’re definitely worth a visit. Amsterdam also has a lot more interesting musea about all kinds of topics going from the canals to the coffee shops. So if you are going for an extended stay, there is definitely enough stuff to do.

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Leaving the museum square behind us, we headed towards the city center situated inside the Singel canel. By then the sun had come out and the canals looked even prettier. We walked past markets, where the famous Dutch tulip bulbs were sold. But that wasn’t what drew my attention. While Amsterdam is famous for it’s canals, it’s also very known for it’s weed. I knew that you could buy the soft drugs in the various coffeeshops in the city, but  on that market you could buy it as well. Quite funny actually because there were also weed lollypops.

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SONY DSCAfter that, we went from the hustle and bustle of the city, into the serenity of the Begijnhof. Being founded in the Middle ages, it’s one of the oldest inner courts of the city. The Begijnhof can be easily overlooked as you have to go through a door and then a small hallway before you can enter it, but it’s quite remarkable how you can hardly hear the sounds of the square that’s only a few meters away.

Going back into the loud sounds of a capital city, we walked towards the Dam square, where you can find the Amsterdam Dungeons, Madame Tussauds, the Royal Palace of Amsterdam and the Bijenkorf mall. Once again, no time to visit all of those because of our limited time. But because by then we were all getting a bit cold then, we went into a little, cosy café – Tisfris – for a hot drink. When we went back outside, it was already getting dark pretty quickly and all the lovely (Chistmas) light were starting to come out.

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One of the other things you must do in Amsterdam, is of course going to the “Walletjes“, the red lights district of Amsterdam. It is situated in the oldest part of the city and in the evening the lights are quite pretty. You just have to ignore the scarcly dressed women.

After that, we enjoyed the Christmas lights a bit more before heading to our last stop of the day – the one I had been looking forward the most. The Anne Frank House at the Prinsengracht. We had reserved our tickets and that is definitely something you should do. If not, the waiting line could be more than an hour. With a reserved ticket you can enter through a special entrance and are led into the museum right away. It’s not allowed to take pictures in the museum so I can’t show you any, but the house and the museum are definitely worth a visit. The museum shows Anne’s brilliance at her young age and the horrors she went through during the Jewish wartime. Especially the passage with the bookcase that led from the house visible from the front to the Secret Annex was really striking. Knowing eight people were stuck in such a small space for more than two years without really being able to go outside just gets to you.

After that, it was time to go back home as we still had a long drive ahead of us, but I really had an amazing day in Amsterdam. There is still so much I want to see – and see again – so I’m pretty sure I’ll go again in the near future.

To conclude, I can definitely say that Amsterdam is a city with such a lovely atmosphere and the people there are so friendly. Well, maybe except when they’re on a bike. You really do have to pay attention to all the cyclist because they do think they’re the “boss” on the roads. And while there are so many cyclists in the city, I still recommend visiting Amsterdam by foot. Everything is within walking distance and I don’t think you would really enjoy the atmosphere while driving your bike. To end the overview of my day in Amsterdam, a few more pictures of the lovely Christmas spirit in Amsterdam.

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I hope this all gave you a little overview of what Amsterdam has to offer (during the winter season) and if you have any questions, you can always leave me a comment or contact me. And for more information on Amsterdam and visiting this city, you can also take a look at these websites:

Amsterdam – Nine Little StreetsRijksmuseum – Van Gogh Museum Begijnhof Amsterdam DungeonsMadame Tussauds –  The Royal PalaceAnne Frank House

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

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