Amsterdam – the city which wants you to be and stay happy

amsterdambynight10

Amster­dam is the city cap­i­tal of the Nether­lands. I would shortly say it is about beau­ti­ful peo­ple, hap­pi­ness, sport, fast liv­ing, multi cul­tur­al­ity, Anne Franck, open minds, sexxi­nes and tasty food. Did I say bicy­cles? How did I for­get about that?


the 1.000.000 Bicycles of Amsterdam

Ams­ter­dam has about 1.000.000 bicy­cles and 842.000 inhab­i­tants. That makes the city very green and I like that.

I have almost got run over about 10 times by dutch peo­ple cycling. They really look brain washed when they ride and that could be scary in the first days. But with time, you start to find it funny. In Ams­ter­dam I have learnt that before I want to cross the street, I have to rely first on my eye­sight, not on my hear­ing, alone. You do not hear a bicy­cle com­ing, but you def­i­nitely will feel it. A cyclist almost crushed into me on pur­pose, just to show me how annoyed he was by the tourists not pay­ing atten­tion to cyclist. Actu­ally, the cyclists here have prece­dence over pedes­tri­ans in any sit­u­a­tion. Yes, you read right: any. And this is kind of oppo­site to what you are used to any­where in Europe and not only.


cycling and multitasking

Oh, the dutch have shown the world how ver­sa­tile cycling is. Every­thing can be done when cycling…almost: Writ­ing text mes­sages, kiss­ing, answer­ing emails, car­ry­ing your fam­ily, gro­ceries, TV or fur­ni­ture. Who rides in Ams­ter­dam? Every­one. And they do it fast. I have never seen a heav­ily preg­nant woman cycling, before I arrived in Ams­ter­dam.

Pic­ture a young woman, car­ry­ing her three chil­dren, the gro­ceries and a dog all at once, on a sin­gle bike and do that with style with­out, for a sec­ond, look­ing over­crowded or out of her game.

Of course acci­dents hap­pen: I saw many aban­doned bro­ken bikes, then a biker with a bloody fore­head and bleed­ing knee.

Every year 10.000 bicy­cles are fished from the Dam river. They fall, are thrown over or too bro­ken to carry home. These bikes are then taken, ser­viced and put up for sale on the local mar­kets. This means it is not uncom­mon to see some­one rid­ing a very rusty bike through the streets. Any­ways, the cheap­est bicy­cle I have seen in a sec­ond-hand shop was 150 euros, which is not cheap for a piece of rusty metal, as that one was. But there is a high request, I guess.


love in Amsterdam happens while cycling

bikesamsterdamCycling and kiss­ing in the same time, you never thought would be pos­si­ble? Well, I will have to admit. Nei­ther did I.

But, bik­ers kiss­ing while wait­ing for the green light or while pedaling…is so com­mon. The locals are so used to be mul­ti­task­ing while cycling that almost any activ­ity is to be done on the move.

This one  guy was writ­ing on two smart phones  in par­al­lel while ped­al­ing, with­out look­ing where he was going. I think he just felt it.


sex in Amsterdam

As my guide said: Ams­ter­dam is not only about sex, drugs, wind­mills, tulips and cheese. But we can­not ignore the sex­ual aspect of the metrop­o­lis. Because it sells sex. I used the word sex  4 times in one para­graph and I haven’t yet began to talk about it.

So, like any curi­ous girl trav­eler I vis­ited the Red Light Dis­trict. A cou­ple of times actu­ally.


What is the Red Light Districtamsterdambynight613

It is net­work of alleys with 300 room cab­ins rented by women who offer their sex­ual ser­vices from behind a win­dow. The rooms are illu­mi­nated with red lights.

Here I saw the women stay­ing in the vit­rine …noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar so far. But what I wanted to know is how the sell­ing rou­tine goes. So I found a com­fort­able spot with a wide view, and I started observ­ing how this ser­vice is being offered and enjoyed.

I spe­cially looked at a vit­rine closer to my sight, where at the ground floor of the house, an attrac­tive blonde women in her 30’s was  smil­ing at tres­passers, women and men just the same. She was doing some kind of dis­crete dance to turn the eyes on her and I liked that. It was nei­ther vul­gar, nor opu­lent. Every men pass­ing by would stare at her, some longer if they were alone or with their male com­pan­ions, some shorter if the girl­friend was near.  In half an hour about 5 men wanted to know more about her ser­vices and one also ben­e­fited from them. She seemed to have rejected the other 4 as the con­ver­sa­tions were brief and she was the one end­ing them.

I asked my guide about the prices of the ser­vices and he said its like going to eat a pizza. If you just want a Margher­ita, you pay 50 euros. For any­thing you want to add to make it bet­ter, you pay extra. I found the expla­na­tion pretty jolly and fun.

Pros­ti­tu­tion is legal in the Nether­lands, with the excep­tion of street pros­ti­tu­tion. From Jan­u­ary 2013 the legal work­ing age of a pros­ti­tute in the Nether­lands was raised from 18 to 21.


The Amsterdamese

They are full of life. In the after­noons and week­ends you will find them in parks, drink­ing beers, smok­ing a joint with friends or laugh­ing with their loved ones.  In Ams­ter­dam hap­pi­ness is a job. The city seems to tell you, find your way to be good, no mat­ter what makes you happy. Make love, ride, smoke, drink, sail, swim, dance, walk on the Amstel, hire some­one to love you or go to the coun­tryside if that’s your thing.


Eat amsterdam

there are end­less places you could drink deli­cious cof­fees and enjoy dutch dishes. One that I can rec­om­mend  with­out a doubt is Cof­fee & coconuts.


17 interesting facts about Amsterdam
1. The Church in the Red Light District

oldestchurchinamsterdamThe Red Light Dis­trict has an intrigu­ing his­tory. The Old­est Church in Ams­ter­dam is in the heart of the dis­trict. How did that hap­pen?

It started with the sailors who were seek­ing pros­ti­tutes while on land and then going to the church to ask for  for­give­ness. The Church real­ized it can­not stop the pros­ti­tu­tion, so rented the dis­trict houses which she owned and came also with a pre-paid abso­lu­tion plan. Sailors and any­one inter­ested could buy their for­give­ness for 10 for­ni­ca­tion in advance. I don’t know if this story is true, but this is what the guide told us.

The old­est church of Ams­ter­dam is in the Red­light dis­trict. The 800-year-old Oude Kerk (“old church”) is Amsterdam’s old­est build­ing and old­est parish church, founded ca. 1213.


2. The Tulips

Tulips were the sym­bol of wealth in the Golden Age. “Tulipo­ma­nia” was a period in the Dutch Golden Age dur­ing which con­tract prices for bulbs reached extra­or­di­nar­ily high lev­els. At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some sin­gle tulip bulbs were sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled crafts­man.


2. skinny, crooked houses with hooks

crookedhousesamsterdamHouses are nar­row and tall because the wider the house fac­ing the Dam river was, the higher the taxes.  So, they decided to build on the ver­ti­cal to avoid high taxes. hooksonhousesTall and skinny house come with tight and nar­row stair­cases – which makes nearly impos­si­ble mov­ing fur­ni­ture and other large items. So they ini­tially built the houses with a for­ward lean and a  hook. Items could be tied to this hook and pulled up to the desired floor. This is why some houses are so crooked. But later, they came with a bet­ter idea. They made the hooks on the top longer and have built the walls straight.


3. Floating homes

boathouseamsterdam

Hol­land counts many house­boats, but Ams­ter­dam holds the record with approx­i­mately 2500 house­boats. Liv­ing in a house­boat on a chan­nel became a phe­nom­e­non in the 70’s.

But, although house­boats in Ams­ter­dam are bet­ter to live in, they usu­ally aren’t much cheaper than equiv­a­lent apart­ments.

The first thing that comes into ones mind when you see a float­ing house on the river is that its inhab­i­tants were seek­ing some peace and quiet, away from the crowded urban areas.

Well, most of them have got that. Espe­cially if they have cho­sen a spot away from the old town cen­ter chan­nel ring. Hav­ing a float­ing home close to the old town is like liv­ing between two high­ways. Small or big­ger boats are rid­ing the Amstel chan­nels until late at night. And it is note­wor­thy to say that they host par­ties, with happy, loud peo­ple. This is why house­boat sale agent advise buy­ers

to choose the neigh­bour­hood with care as You can repair or even change the ves­sel, but not your spot.

The city of Ams­ter­dam does not give new per­mits for moor­ing on the chan­nels any­more. If you have one already, it will be annu­ally renewed.


5. sinking city

Ams­ter­dam like most of the coun­try was built by drain­ing wet­lands.

In dutch his­tory there is a feared leg­endary fig­ure, which is the water­wolf. It rep­re­sents the water force, flood­ing and eat­ing the lands. If you had a roman­tic view of the  10.000 Wind­mills from the Nether­lands, you should know that half of these mighty machi­nes were con­stantly pump­ing out water.

Amt­ser­dam is con­stantly sink­ing into the North Sea. Hol­land has been sink­ing since the Mid­dle Ages, and it never stopped doing so. The sink­ing is caused by the old peat and clay beneath Diemen slowly com­press­ing the under lay­ers. The limit to which an area can be allowed to sink by is 20 cm: after that point,  the pave­ment cracks. The rate at which neigh­bour­hoods are sink­ing can vary: some areas need work every five years, oth­ers only once every 50.

On the other hand, if the water level rises too high, the city’s cel­lars  fill up like bath­tubs.

The rais­ing of the city is accom­plished by, lift­ing up the sink­ing area, adding another layer of sand and soil, and then lay­ing the pave­ments, tar­mac, play­grounds, et al. back down again.

Organ­i­sa­tions tak­ing care of the com­pli­cate water defence and reg­u­la­tion sys­tem were founded some 700 years ago. And they still do the job today.


6. City built on polesamsterdam1

The city of Ams­ter­dam lay’s upon around 11 mil­lion sup­port poles. The Royal Palace in Dam Square has more than 13.500  poles under its struc­tures.

Since early times, the houses in Ams­ter­dam have been built on wooden piles,  laid deep into the clay, peat, and water until they reach the first layer of solid sand. Even some of the trees in Von­del­park have a  wooden piles sup­port to keep them from sink­ing into the marshy ground.


7. roots of tolerance and multi – culturality
pride parade 2016
pride parade 2016

Ams­ter­dam is home to the high­est num­ber of nation­al­i­ties com­pared to any other city in the world. Also, in 2001 the Nether­lands, became the first nation  that granted legal recog­ni­tion to same-sex mar­riage.

It is com­mon that dutch peo­ple speak a sec­ond and third for­eign lan­guage.


8. It is in top 25 of the safest cities in the world

I bet that comes as a sur­prise, regard­ing the con­sume of mar­i­juana and pros­ti­tu­tion in the city. But the secret is that they are under legal con­trol.


9. the narrowest house in Europe

smallesthouseinamsterdam

The big­ger the house facade, the higher the tax you need to pay? Of course you build on the ver­ti­cal.

The nar­row­est house in Ams­ter­dam is reg­is­tered as a national her­itage site. It is 2.02 m wide and whole 9²m sur­face and is located at Oude Hoogstraat 22 in the old city cen­ter of Ams­ter­dam. The house’s quirky size can be explained by a build­ing tax which cor­re­lated with the width of the house’s facade. The smart owner cir­cum­vented these taxes by build­ing an entire house across sev­eral floors, yet with a tiny facade and nar­row width.


10. The secret church

thesecretchurchofamsterdamOur Lord in the Attic is a secret church. Why was a secret church needed? Because in 1578 the Catholic city author­ity was dis­missed by the Alter­ation. If you did not want to give up your catholic reli­gion you were not per­mit­ted to hold or attend pub­lic reli­gious ser­vices. There­fore, this church was built in the attic by a Ger­man mer­chant who was a Catholic.  400 catholics were secretly attend­ing the ser­mons each Sun­day.

Imag­ine 400 peo­ple dis­ap­pear­ing on this small alley, every Sun­day morn­ing. I admit I watched it for min­utes, going back 300 years ago and see­ing all those crowds sink­ing into that alley and then into house. Impres­sive.

It’s also incred­i­ble to think that in a city pio­neer­ing tol­er­ance,  peo­ple had to hide to prac­tice the Catholic faith.


11. amsterdam mass resistance  against nazi regime

Although The Nether­lands had pro­claimed neu­tral­ity when World War II broke out in Sep­tem­ber 1939, just as it had in World War I, Adolf Hitler ordered it to be invaded any­way. The city of

Amster­dam orga­nized the only mass resis­tance against the Nazi regime and against the pros­e­cu­tion of their Jew­ish fel­low cit­i­zens,  ever in all of the Nazi occu­pied areas. Indi­vid­ual sto­ries of efforts to hide Dutch Jews have been doc­u­mented and cel­e­brated.

Due to the well-orga­nized pop­u­la­tion reg­is­ters which doc­u­mented reli­gion, social sta­tus, eth­nic­ity of the dutch cit­i­zens, it was very easy for the Nazis to find the jews cit­i­zens. That is also why the Nether­lands has the low­est rate jews return­ing from work­ing camps com­pared to other euro­pean coun­tries.

As a  reminder of the jews who per­ished,  stand the Stolper­stein. I have found them walk­ing on the banks of the river Amstel.  They are name plates on one side of the river point­ing in the direc­tion where the homes of the deported cit­i­zens were.


12. Electric cars get free electricity

How cool is that?  557 elec­tric charg­ing sta­tions invite you to charge your car for free. They are wind or solar charg­ers, which adds to the city’s eco friend­li­ness.


13. The garbage underworld

There are small, dis­crete trash bins on the streets. Under­neath them, there is a chan­nel of garbage col­lec­tion net­work. So, if you throw a big sack in and won­der where it all goes, the secret is out.


14. Amsterdam’s Canal Ring – UNESCO heritage

amsterdambynight9Amsterdam’s Canal Ring is unique in the world for its urban devel­op­ment and archi­tec­tural art­work. It is also the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the major eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and cul­tural growth of the city dur­ing the Golden Age.

In 2010 UNESCO enlisted the Canal Ring of Ams­ter­dam in its her­itage, rais­ing the total num­ber of listed sites in the Nether­lands to nine.


15. The Hangover centers

hangovercenteramsterdamAs many of the city’s vis­i­tors come for very clear rea­sons, one of the top 5 being drink­ing, these hang­over cen­ters just do their headaches jus­tice. You do no longer have to call a good friend to tell you what to do or look for a phar­macy. These hang­over cen­ters are in the heart of the old town. The won­der cures come in small bot­tles.


16. the coffee shops which don’t sell coffee

In 1976, the gov­ern­ment of the Nether­lands began to take steps to decrim­i­nal­ize the use and pos­ses­sion of cannabis. Now a days you can buy drugs at the stores which have the Cof­fee Shop sign out­side. If you are just  look­ing for a cof­fee, look for shops that do not have this sign.


17. The windows without curtains

amsterdambynight11

In this city, cur­tain retail­ers do not make a long-last­ing busi­ness. The win­dows in this city are see-trough, with­out cur­tains.  But the locals do not stare inside somebody’s home, like I did. They are shy about that. I was not. So when I was walk­ing in the evenings on the Dam chan­nels, I could see fam­i­lies and friends din­ning together, sin­gles read­ing a book next to a glass of wine, or watch­ing TV.  Actu­ally the TV watch­ing was extremely rare. I think the Ams­ter­damese just prefer to be out and social­ize.

When I first arrived into the flat I stayed for 10 days with my friends, I needed some time to get used to the fact that every­one across the street could see inside. At some point you don’t care any­more because nobody both­ers to check what you are doing and you enjoy the abun­dant light that comes in.

One of the things that made me adore Amsterdam

amsterdambynight12

was its archi­tec­ture and that feel­ing of inti­macy you expe­ri­enced,  when walk­ing on its old town streets late at night.

It is a haven for inte­rior design as there is at least one bou­tique for any­thing you could imag­ine from latex swans to  hand stitched socks.


reality check

Ams­ter­dam is very crowded and on week­end days espe­cially, the old city is over flooded with not-sober, dizzy peo­ple. It is not the right time to enjoy the city, unless you want to see also how this touris­tic vibe feels like.

Also the old city smells, espe­cially in sum­mer. Some­times it is the water from the river, or the usual metrop­o­lis smell of open air toi­lette.

It is also not cheap. I stayed with friends and needn’t care about accom­mo­da­tion, but if you do need to book, get a flat in the out­skirts and take pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Tick­ets comes much cheaper if you buy a 5 euro pub­lic trans­port card because you pay by dis­tance. If you do not have it, you pay a stan­dard one hour ticket of  2,80 euro, no mat­ter if you travel 5 min­utes.


would i return to Amsterdam?

Oh, yes.

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