Amsterdam is a city that needs no introduction. Easily accessible by high-speed rail direct from Hannover, this city has been near the top of our destination list for an entire year. Finally the opportunity arrived for us to take a long weekend away to spend 4 days in Amsterdam, which was barely enough time to scratch the surface of this multi-layered city.
From arrival, the most evident and relevant fact learned about this city is the omnipresent nature of the canals. Bordered by a river on the north side, concentric rings of canals circumnavigate the city center, which provides the city true beauty and fascinating layers that one must pass through to get to the center. In the past, these layers helped keep a buffer between the wealthy residents and working class. Today, these canals provide character and an appealing foreground in photographs to the delight of tourists from throughout the world.
Amsterdam has played its fair share in world history and culture. Vincent Van Gogh was born and spent the first 16 years of his life in the Netherlands, and his works are home to one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam. Rembrandt also hails from the Netherlands, and in addition to his work being proudly displayed at the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), you can visit the house where he lived and worked (before it was repossessed due to not paying the mortgage). There is also a popular square named after him with a 3D rendition of his famous Night Watchmen painting. The other famous historical figure, who stayed for too short a period of time, is Anne Frank. The jam factory with a secret annex where her and her family hid in for years is situated on a picturesque street near a famous church. These church bells are the only contact that Anne had with the outside world.
Deanna, the planner for all of our trips, discovered that it was restaurant week during the time we would be in Amsterdam. On our first night, we took a heavily discounted dinner cruise through the canals. The tour boat operator pointed out sights and told stories while the wait staff prepared and served a restaurant quality dinner. One of the highlights was stopping at a point where you can see seven lighted canal bridges in another. On our second night, we ate at the traditional Dutch restaurant D'Vijff Vlieghen (the five flies). Dutch food is not particularly well known on an international scale, however this elegant restaurant certainly did not disappoint with a succulent beef dish as the main course in a style that represents a blend of nearby German and French cuisine.
Outside of Amsterdam, the Netherlands is well known for windmills and tulips. Unfortunately, neither of these two characteristic traits are well represented in the city. While tulips originate primarily in central Asia, they were brought into the Netherlands over 500 years ago and became immensely popular with the residents. They were also extremely expensive; the value of one single tulip bulb was the same as an apartment! Of course, the tulip bulb bubble burst not too long afterwards. Windmills are also something that is associated with the country, but there isn't much room in the city for them. The only real windmill we saw, outside of those in all the souvenir shops, was situated next to the Brouwerij 't IJ beer pub, where the craft beer scene is alive and hoppin'.
Kevin recently came into possession of a DSLR camera, and during the research before this trip, we stumbled upon a photography tour of Amsterdam. Aimed at people who were upsold to a fancy camera but only know how to use it in Auto mode, we were taken on a three-hour tour of the city while simultaneously learning about the basics of photography. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and basics of photo composition are now topics we are familiar with, and hopefully that will begin showing up in our pictures. One thing that you will definitely notice within many of our Amsterdam photos are the bicycles. Like Münster, Amsterdam is an extremely bike friendly town, which offers fantastic opportunities to spice up photos.
No visit to or discussion of Amsterdam would be complete without the Red Light District and the coffeehouses. The RLD is a relatively large section of town where prostitution is legal, and the method of advertising is the girls posing and dancing suggestively in a full body window. A red light glows out from these windows, giving the area's name another meaning. Walking through during the day, the area seems dirty, out of place, and in all meanings of the word, undesirable. At night, the area transforms into a buzzing hotspot. The streets are packed with onlookers, partygoers, and customers. Walking through the area for about 30 minutes, it becomes apparent how it works. The men show interest, and the sex worker opens the window like a glass door to negotiate the price. When agreed, the man enters, and the curtain is drawn.
The coffeehouses are present throughout the city. These shops are where marijuana is legally sold and smoked. With the coffeehouses come large groups of 18 year old British kids. There were rumors a few years ago that the Netherlands would no longer sell to tourists, but that does not apply to Amsterdam. Looking for a real coffee without the buzz? Try a cafe. Overall, they didn't seem to have a negative effect for the city itself. Except for coming across the distinctive stench here and there, the only downside of these shops comes with the types of tourists that it attracts. The mere distance of Denver from other cities and states makes this type of tourism less likely in our minds, but only time will tell if Denver becomes the Amsterdam of the US.