Impressions of Amsterdam

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We’re just back from a short break in Amsterdam. The first time we’ve been to the city (if you don’t count the times I’ve changed planes at Schipol airport!) even though it’s been on my list of places to see for some time. So it was good to finally get there, even though The late August weather was decidedly autumnal and we got drenched in very heavy downpours several evenings (luckily the rain largely held off during the daytime when we were doing our main sightseeing).

We stopped in a hotel at the top end of the Herengracht (one of the three main canals in the canal ring – Grachtengordel in Dutch) which had been created from three adjacent historic canal houses and to get up to our room on the second floor we had to climb the original, narrow, spiral staircases.

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Our room was at the front of the hotel so we had views over the Herengracht

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and the Brouwersgracht (Brewer’s canal)

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We were only there for three nights, which was enough to get a good feel for the city and, as usual, we packed a lot into the time we had. But there was more I would have liked to have seen and so we’ll have to go back.

There’s a lot to write up about the trip, but here’s my general impressions.

The City

  • A relatively small city centre so all the main sites could be easily reached on foot
  • Beautiful architecture throughout the city centre
  • A relaxed atmosphere (we kept away from the dodgy areas in the Red Light District at night)

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  • The authorities have a tolerant laissez-faire attitude to soft drugs and prostitution. The former not a bad thing (although I have some reservations). However, I was not at all comfortable with the way women’s bodies are displayed like cattle and although we did our best to avoid it, it was difficult as they were encountered unexpectedly a few times outside the main Red Light District.

The People

  • Generally friendly and helpful although (and I know this as I have some Dutch friends) they can be rather brusque and don’t always appreciate British irony and humour.
  • Everyone speaks English – generally better than I do! Just as well as Dutch is not an easy language, even pronouncing the words is an almost impossible task.

Getting around

  • A very walkable city – but cycling is the main way most locals of all ages get around. We found cyclists difficult as most seemed to ignore the rues of the road and had little regard for pedestrians.

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  • A good tram and bus network, although we didn’t need to use it during this visit
  • Boats everywhere on the canals. At one time they were the main form of transport.

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Eating out

  • Lots of places to eat and plenty of choice in all  price ranges with good value food available in bars and cafes.

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Museums and Galleries

  • The main art galleries and museums are well known and their reputations are deserved. But the queues were horrendous. They can be avoided by buying in advance over the web. We did this for the Van Gogh Museum. But horrendous queues also meant horrendous crowds inside!
  • Many interesting, smaller museums, that don’t suffer from overcrowding.

Architecture

  • My main reason for wanting to visit the city was to experience the well preserved canal side streets with their characteristic canal houses and warehouses. I wasn’t disappointed.

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  • Thousands of houseboats moored on the canals and in the old docks

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  • Limited Modern architecture in the city centre, but plenty of new buildings in newly developing areas of the city. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time for exploring outside the historic areas so that will have to wait for another time.

Some examples of modern buildings we did see

The Nemo Science centre designed by Renzo Piano

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The concert hall and office developments in the old east docklands

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