I slept really well last night! I’m so lucky to be staying in yet another place with true blackout blinds. I left home around nine since I had a walking tour booked for 10:30 and I hoped to be able to buy my Museumkaart at De Nieuwe Kerk beforehand as it was the best recommended place to get a Museumkaart (little to no lineup) and right on Dam Square, where my tour would start.
Google got me to Dam Square without any problems, but it seriously overestimated how long it would take. Here are some things I passed along the way:
Very expensive tacos:
A quintessential Amsterdam scene:
The work of a crazy person who drove an RV in downtown Amsterdam:
Houses leaning forward (I would later find out why):
And now, Dam Square:
And De Nieuwe Kerk:
Magna Plaza shopping centre:
And the Royal Palace:
I had almost 30 minutes to kill before De Nieuwe Kerk opened, so I wandered around a bit, sort of thinking of getting a coffee, but I was put off by the prices of 3 euros or more for a basic espresso. It was cool and damp, but I was comfortable. After I had almost circled back to De Nieuwe Kerk, I found a café that offered me an Americano for just 2 euros! I later learned that a coffee here is about 2.50 (compared to about 1.20 in Spain). So I did very well! It was still pricy and wouldn’t be a daily treat, but I was pleased. The clerk even assumed I’d want it to go. I had it black since milk was extra.
I continued my wanderings in the gloom.
The Royal Palace is included in my Museumkaart so I may squeeze it in.
The National Monument.
Another shopping centre. So pretty with all the lights.
De Nieuwe Kerk opened right on time and there was no lineup. My Museumkaart was just shy of 60 euros (almost 90CAD) and came with a really cute shopping bag that folds up into a pouch. Nice bonus! If I see all the museums on my list (not counting any of the possible extra ones I discovered on this tour), I will save 90 euros, or almost 140CAD! I really love this kind of card because it’s a one-time expenditure that forces me to get out so I maximise my value.
See the ship at the top of the Royal Palace? It symbolises the Dutch empire and its trading all over the world.
So that was the first thing of real note on my free Amsterdam walking tour with Marius. I picked this tour because it had the best reviews. The tour was a bit slow to start as people were really late showing up, long enough for me to realise that I was going to be cold if we spent a lot of time standing, just because the damp was seeking into my bones. But we finally set off. I will not be able to do justice to everything Marius told us as he was full of trivia, but I’ll do my best!
We headed first into the Red Light District and stopped outside Condomerie, which had a very festive Christmas tree in its window that should tell you everything about what the store sells.
We then went into an alley way and were directed to this plaque above a doorway, showing what would have been sold in this building in days gone by (this is apparently a roll of fabric, not rotten sausage).
These blue and white signs indicate that the home had collapsed in the muddy, unstable foundation and been rebuilt.
I noticed a store advertising all manner of magic mushrooms.
And then we went to see “the girls.” That was surreal, to say the least and I refused to ogle. It was interesting to learn about how prostitution works here. The ladies pay 150 euros per day to rent a window. This is double what they paid a few years ago because the government is trying to cut down on how many windows there are and so landlords jacked up the prices. Each woman is an independent contractor who pays taxes and has some benefits. I’ve known a range of prostitutes from the ones who are in the business to support a hard core drug habit to those who do it because they genuinely love it and find it an easy way to earn good money. So I definitely cannot generalise about the lives of these women. All I can say is that prostitution has always existed and so will likely always exist. The way to protect women is to empower them to do this job legally and safely, not to force them into back alleys.
On we continued.
This is the old church, as opposed to the “new” church at Dam Square.
An illegal sculpture that popped up one day.
The houses are crooked because the foundations are bad. There is now work being done to find the houses that are in really bad shape and about to collapse. It costs about 150,000 euros to secure them.
At the height of the tulip craze, a single flower was worth the price of a house!
We didn’t go in, but this is the entrance to a museum for a hidden Catholic church in an attic. Another one I may have to squeeze into my stay!
This house is crooked both to the front and to the side.
See that hook? Many of the houses slanting towards the front have them. They were used to bring goods up from boats on the canal. If the house had a straight façade, there would have been more risk of damage if an item moved in the wind.
Look at how high up the water comes!
I asked a few questions at this point.
- Do people routinely fall into the canals? Yes. They’re usually drunk.
- How deep is the water? 3 metres, 1 of mud, 1 of bicycles, and 1 of water.
- How dirty is the water? Not at all. It is renewed daily and only looks grungy because of the plant material. Any garbage floating on the canals is routinely cleaned up. (The canals do not smell at all!)
This is the oldest secular building in Amsterdam, the Waag (weighing place).
This was a hard place to stand, right where the Jews of Amsterdam were herded onto trains to be sent to concentration camps. Marius even showed us a period photo of the Waag surrounded by barbed wire.
Now looking towards what had been the Jewish ghetto. So many houses were left abandoned for decades until the 1970s, hence the more modern look to these buildings. There had been an attempt made to build a subway, which makes no sense for Amsterdam. The idea started a riot.
A skinny house (to save on taxes), but ornamented to show the owner had money.
Headquarters of the… Dutch East India Company.
Canal boats, even as modest as these, can go for 1 million euros or more. You pay for the spot, not the boat. The boat is worth nothing if you don’t have a place to park it. They have sewer, water, power, internet, etc.
This guy is going around looking for illegal parkers. Parking in Amsterdam is some of the most expensive in the world. Notice the three Xs? They are a symbol of Amsterdam. There is an urban legend that they stand for the great fires that prompted Amsterdam to be all rebuilt in brick, the Black Plague, and the flooding. But the use of the symbols actually predate the Black Plague.
A Banksy! At the University of Amsterdam.
There was another one here, but it was ordered covered up by this minister of education is apparently wants to jack up tuition prices.
Courtyard in the university.
A row of expensive homes, as signified by the fact that they are white and many have stairs leading up to the front door.
This cosy alley would have been very smelly back in the day. It is behind the rich houses.
Entrance to another hidden church. This is a residence for women only.
One of the last remaining wooden houses in Amsterdam.
Marius told me that Van Gogh liked to come here as he found it quiet and contemplative.
We did not go into this church.
But we did go into this one. It is not a museum so we popped in and out and were quiet the whole time. It was very beautiful. And warm. I was pretty cold by this point!
We then went into the lobby of the Amsterdam Museum, another one to add to my list…
Here’s those crosses again.
More of those occupational plaques, taken from torn down buildings.
“Woman riding a surfboard,” LOL.
“The dancing nun taking a selfie.” LOL!
Our tour ended shortly after this. Again, I have not done justice to how much information Marius shared. He was a wonderful guide, very warm and knowledgable about his city.
He directed me to an area with restaurants, which happened to be on the way home, so I headed that way. I thought I’d grab lunch and go to a museum, but I realised that I was done for the day as I’d already walked a ton. I haven’t broken in my new boots yet and so didn’t want to push their limits too much yet as they’ve been rubbing a bit since I don’t have the right socks to wear with them. Plus… work came in. Yes, after my clients told me not to expect anything, every single one of them bombarded me. Thankfully, it’s all easy work and will not ruin my weekend.
I investigated restaurants and prices were all above 10 euros. There are a number of Ethiopian restaurants around my house only open in the evenings that I really want to try, so I decided to go home and make a late lunch there instead since I had everything needed to throw together a curry. I mean, why pay for a meal out when I had a treat waiting for me?!
I got to this foreboding church…
…and cool house when…
… my ?@$%@% iPhone went from 40% battery capacity to dead. Amsterdam is not an easily city to get orientated in and there I was who knows where with no map or way to find my way home. I had a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself, that I could follow a number 1 tram back. I was too close to home to make it worth actually taking the tram, though.
That worked a treat and I got back to familiar territory very quickly, even if that route was a little less direct.
Amsterdam is a very dark, gloomy, and damp city, but there’s a vibe here that I wasn’t expecting. The city feels very much alive and its residents seem to be thriving. Most are friendly, even if the cyclists have no mercy, and being able to get served in English is a bonus. Dutch is really hard to pronounce, having a lot of guttural sounds, and there’s almost no point in trying.
Most food packaging at the grocery store has Dutch and French on it, which is awesome for me. Even though there are tons of words that look like English, I actually find Dutch food labels more intimidating than Bulgarian ones were because words that are not like English are not like anything I’ve seen and I can’t even make an educated guess. A good example is chicken, which is “kip” in Dutch. If there hadn’t been a picture of a chicken, I would have had no idea what was in the package. In Bulgaria, though, I would have seen пиле, sounded it out as “pile” (pi-lay) and thought, oh, that sounds almost like the French poulet (pou-lay) and made an educated (and correct!) guess. Or how about grapes, which are “druif” in Dutch versus “grozdov” in Bulgarian. The food available here is most like what I’d expect to find in a North American supermarket, with lots of foreign foods, and it’s easy to get things like unsweetened almond milk (my host picked up a carton for me!).
Tomorrow and Sunday will follow a similar pattern of an early morning of tourism (I have a time slot at nine both days!) and then coming home to do a little work. I’m actually rather glad for that because it’ll save me from burning myself out while I’m here.