Amsterdam, a stone(d)’s throw from Brussels. Weekend of 05-06 January 2013

Thinking of Amsterdam, here is what springs to mind first:

165* canals, no less than 1280* bridges (!), 881.000* bikes (but could be more!!)
*figures from a promotion brochure
Charming canal houses with their unique facade, and -if the strolls along the canals are not romantic enough- lovely houseboats for the adventurous
Van Gogh, Vermeer & Dutch Masters
Weed, Coffeshops & Red light district
Liberal ideology, tolerance

But if there was just one thing to admire the Dutch for, this would have to be their ingenuity and craftsmanship in re-designing their city, their country for that matter, a huge part of it being below (or just above) sea level, to safeguard it from the devastating power of water.

Beginning at the 17th century, they first designed the city ring of canals, an unparalleled technical achievement of its time.  Much later, on 1st August 2010, the whole canal ring was placed on Unesco’s World Heritage list. Having been faced with their fair share of flooding damage, in the 20th century they undertook the protection of (a large area) of their country with the massive Delta Planby constructing dams, locks, dikes, barriers, you name it… But they didn’t stop there: they went on with the Zuiderze Works, their largest hydraulic engineering project by far, a project of dams and drainage works, and reclaimed their land from the North Sea. The mere fact that this was initially designed in the 17th century but lacked the technology to be put in practice, speaks volumes of the Dutch progressiveness.

But enough technical talk, how about a very short (but all too pleasant walk) on a clear and frosty day?

After a total immersion into the Glass/Wilson/Childs magnificent world of ”Einstein on the Beach” at the Musiektheater, which we shared with a 1600-strong, international crowd the previous evening, and were we made a new acquaintance from Brussels – funny small world it is, we had to travel to Amsterdam to meet someone from back home! – we took off from our hotel, near the Museum square, towards the Central Station, where we would board the train back to Brussels later on.

On our way we passed:

The vast impressive building, housing the City Archives;
Canals behind Dam square and Oude Kerk, with coffee shops, sex shops, ”window girls”, a Hash Museum, a Sex Museum, lovely and animated at all times, with the sweet aroma of weed lingering along all day long; that same sweet aroma that follows you all around the city…
Went on to the Prinsengracht – Keizersgracht – Herengracht area, called De Negen Straatjes (the Nine Streets). An upbeat area with galleries, design shops and cafes, attracting a large crowd; not my favourite but we were compensated with a simple lunch in a cute little place with great homemade soups (remedy for the cold) and organic bread, called Toos & Roos, in Herengracht.

Finally, along the Singel, to the Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library), apparently the largest of its kind in Europe, situated right next to the Central Station. User and family friendly too. You can browse through its seven floors, sit and relax, read, play the piano close to the entrance at the ground floor (only if you can actually play please, says the sign), keep your offspring occupied at the children’s own little library-come playroom, visit an exhibition, surf on-line (free wi-fi after registration), eat on the 7th floor in a place called… La Place. Food for your body and soul in abundance.  And to top it all up, a fantastic view over the city! Lucky and spoiled for choice these Amsterdammers are…

It was so relaxed and comfy in the Library, that we were late for our train. We run the few metres to the station but after that, it was an uneventful trip (notwithstanding the teething problems the new service FYRA is going through). It felt like we were away for a week!

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2 thoughts on “Amsterdam, a stone(d)’s throw from Brussels. Weekend of 05-06 January 2013

  1. Yes, you are right. Amsterdam somehow manages to keep its unique character and yet be a ‘real life’ city as opposed to a ‘postcard’ one. Or an ‘otherworldly’ one, although I can’t really grasp what Vegas might be like, I have yet to reach your neck of the woods…

    About the coffeeshops, unfortunately Californians got it right this time (almost)… The deal is that, bizarrely, the Dutch passed a new law prohibiting non-nationals to buy cannabis in coffeeshops! But after a huge outcry by absolutely everyone involved (including Amsterdammer authorities), who feared they’d loose huge sums of revenue, it was decided that every city is free to enforce the law… or not! Amsterdam was quick to declare that foreigners are welcome as usual in their coffeeshops, so we can all relax! In fact the whole story had started on account of people crossing to border cities like Breda or Maastricht just to buy dope and create trouble, which the local authorities didn’t appreciate.

    I must confess I didn’t have my space tea this time though; perhaps I was too high from my experience with the Beach or I’m just getting old…

  2. When I was living in Europe I would go to Amsterdam every now again, for business or for pleasure. It’s a wonderful place, because somehow, it manages to be like no place else. I have spent weekends there which felt like a lifetime, and I don’t mean that in the way that people expect a weekend in a place like Las Vegas to be, shall we say, “otherworldly”. Your post reflects the city’s unique character at a time when so many (otherwise interesting) places feel so very similar on the surface. I’ve never been to the Openbare Bibliotheek: I will be sure to go next time I have the chance and also to check out La Place.

    From where I am sitting (in California, where I live), the only thing I ever hear about Amsterdam is that the coffee shops have been closed to foreigners. I’m not much of a pot aficionado myself, but medical cannabis is all the rage here and the Californians seem very competitive about it, perhaps because California is now on the receiving end of a lot of cannabis consumption motivated tourism. Do you know what the deal is with the coffee shops in Holland, then? For some reason I suspect there is some sort of misunderstanding in the minds of the Americans. I simply cannot imagine The Netherlands (even if the Dutch are actually quite conservative as a people) cutting themselves off from all that business. It doesn’t make much sense.

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