Amsterdam is usually on top of tourist’s bucket list because of the red light district and their world renowned “coffee shops”. However, there is definitely more to Amsterdam than getting high and walking past the ever famous windows. There are canals, beautiful buildings and deliciously Dutch delicacies.It’s a place where history comes alive when you visit Anne Frank’s house. It’s a place that intrigues you when you get told tales about the church and the ladies by the window and a place where many of Van Gogh’s paintings give you a glimpse of the man behind the paint brush.
Amsterdam was once tormented with a large population who dealt with the hard drugs so the government decided to reduce the surge in crime by legalizing a number of the softer drugs. Soft drugs come in the form of rolled joints and baked goods and are still illegal. However, the rules are bent slightly in Amsterdam.
We arrived in Amsterdam on Friday night and decided to explore the old town area. You cannot walk through old town without walking through the red light district. Plus, this is what Amsterdam was known for, so we were a little curious.
Nothing could have prepared me for how creepy it felt to walk down the narrow alleyways where each room was rented out by a woman that appeared through a glass window. They were scantily dressed and beckoning for the men to join them in their boudoir. Some of the men bargained and entered while the other men were just there to check out the women. I was happy to exit the red light district. I’m not judging, it’s just not my scene!
The Church and the courtesans
We joined a walking tour the next morning. We admired the royal palace which was once home to the first King of the Netherlands. I loved the horse and carriage at the front as it gave the palace a hint of old world charm.
The tour guide stopped just outside of the church and looked down at his feet. Just below him was a golden hand which had its fingers wrapped around a golden object. I could see a chain, a lock and a key. When I looked closely at the object, I realised that it was a statue of a hand cupping a woman’s breast.
Apparently, many years ago, this statue appeared discreetly next to the church and locals maintain that it has a hidden meaning.
It represents Amsterdam’s openness to sexuality. It also represents the women in the windows who independently make a living in their rented rooms and also represents the fact that these women do so on their own terms. Now I don’t know how much of this is true as I have seen many a documentary stating the opposite, but I was intrigued by the fact that the statue has not been removed and remains so close to church grounds.
As my tour guide says, Amsterdam “businesses” are allowed to flourish as long as the business fulfils three things:
- It is discreet
- It is good for business
- It doesn’t hurt anyone
Interesting rule don’t you think?
We loved wandering through Amsterdam to enjoy the architecture and view of the canals. It is very easy to explore Amsterdam on foot especially if you want to walk around the ring of canals that surround the city.
Amsterdam was not built in a day. As the city expanded, an additional ring of canals were built. Rick and I spent the day following the ring of canals and walked through the alleyways that are shared by bicycles and pedestrians alike.
We even managed to spot a violinist who was playing classical music on a vintage vessel.
We visited the beautiful Begijnhof Monastery, once home to ladies who committed themselves to chastity. There are many historic buildings in this court including a wooden house which dates back to 1528 and is the oldest wooden house in the city.
The monastery was such a tranquil place in a bustling city.
The Diary of Anne Frank
The only reason why I visited Amsterdam was to see Anne Frank’s house. When I was in high school, I read a book named “The Diary of Anne Frank”. I remember reading this book about a little girl not that much younger than me, a girl who lived and died through World War II.
She was just like any ordinary girl who wrote in diary about every day issues but what made this book so interesting was that it was a poignant account of how Anne felt when her family was forced into hiding during World War II. She wrote about her life with her family as they hid in a secret annex that was located behind her father’s office. The secret annex could be accessed only by a book shelf which doubled as a door.
When I walked into Anne Frank’s house, it triggered memories about the book that I had read. I loved walking through the door and examined the pictures that she had stuck onto the wall. I imagined the place filled with furniture. It meant a lot to see this place for real. I will be honest though, the place left much to the imagination. To the untrained eye, it’s just an empty space. However, to me it represented a girl with strong character, who hid from the Nazis with her family, was eventually captured and sent to a concentration camp, and who died just weeks before the war ended. She wanted to be a writer and now her book is read by people all over the world.
Van Gogh has to be my favourite artist and it all boils down to one thing. In primary school, we were asked to replicate a painting that we had loved and admired. I selected the famous painting of the Vase with sunflowers. I was about 8 years old but painted this picture with all my heart. It was the first time that I truly recognised my love of art.
We waited in line for half an hour to see the Van Gogh museum and the only thing that I wanted to see was this painting. I loved the painting even more in real life and was glad that we visited the museum.
Now, for those who do not like Van Gogh but you love waffles, just walk away from the Van Gogh museum to the grassy park. There is a waffle stand where they make fresh waffles with caramel, served with hot tea. My friend recommended it and I was not disappointed!
Last but not least, we also sampled some amazing Dutch delicacies. We sampled a delicious traditional meal of mash topped with sausages and a savoury crepe topped with ham, cheese, spinach and tomato. We also sampled some not so traditional burgers from Burger Bar, where we built our own burger! I’m a burger girl so this was one of my favourite meals.
So now that I end this post, I have a question for you guys. Amsterdam – is it naughty or nice?
- The beauty of tolerance – a blog post about Amsterdam
- Van Gogh’s painting of sunflowers
- Things to do in Amsterdam