So, my first week in Europe has been spent exploring Holland, with most of my time spent in the great city of Amsterdam! I don’t even know where to start, there is so much that warrants discussion – great stories and observations to share – but I fear that if I were to write down absolutely everything, this post will never end and you’d not find the time to ever finish reading it.
I always knew that Amsterdam was a city of cyclists – everyone rides a bike, the travel guides warned. And it made perfect sense, its a beautifully flat country with bike paths along both sides of every road. But, never in my life did I imagine this many bikes. To every lamp-post, fence and railing, to every building facade, tree or bench, to pretty much every fixed object are chained scores of bicycles. Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones. Some with three wheels, and some with two or more seats. It is incredible. And if that isn’t enough, at main train stations and transport hubs are bicycle parking buildings, providing even more bike parking spots. At Amsterdam Centraal, a newly erected four level parking building holds space for over 15,000 bikes for commuters to fill up each day. And yes, they do fill up.
The Public Transport System
Works. Trains, buses, metro, trams, river ferries, canal ferries and currently under construction more underground metro lines in and out of the city. Services are frequent and reliable (although, today there is a strike and interruption in services against the proposed privitisation of the entire network). To use any form of transport, you load up your public transport chipcard, and by scanning in at the beginning of your journey and scanning out at the end, the appropriate fare is docked from your prepaid credit on the card. It’s Sydney’s T-Card system, but actually working! I’ve even fallen in love with the automated ticket machines at the train stations for those who don’t have a chipcard – so simple, so intuitive, so versatile and in four different languages!
The Culture and Heritage
I have never been to a place that has more museums! Everything has a museum. The National Museum, the Archeology Museum, the Van Gough Museum, The Rembrandt Museum, The Sex Museum, The Erotic Museum, The Museum of Bags and Purses, The Jewish Museum, The Historic Museum, and the list continues!
The older terraces in the heart of Amsterdam are also incredibly narrow (the most narrow one being only 1 metre wide!). To get furniture into them they each have a hook at the top of the exterior facade for furniture to be pulley-ed up and slid through the windows. Needless to say, the architecture throughout the city is stunning.
The Red Light District
It’s a shame that such a brilliant city is often only considered a sleazy sex and drugs infested capital. I’d rather call it a progressive and open city that embraces these social “taboos” as social norms, and it does it very well. The red light district at first was quite confronting. Half naked girls stand in windows scattered through narrow laneways and tap at the glass, wink and blow kisses at passers by. And again, there is something for everyone – white, black, latino, fat, skinny, tall or short – whatever your preference, you’d be hard lucked not to find it.
Oh, and did I mention that the red light district doesn’t sleep – unknowingly, I walked through the red light district streets at 9am one morning to get to Rembrandt house (which sits on the other side of the district when coming from Amsterdam Centraal Train Station), only to find girls already smiling and winking at me. I wish I had that kind of stamina for 9am in the morning. But then again, to many of them it was probably the beginning of a typical working day.
That’s all I’ve got time for, for now – let’s see where the rest of this trip takes us!