Monday, May 21, 2007

Amsterdam I – Canals

After calling Schiphol airport my second home for the best part of five years, it was time to leave the departures lounge and explore the Dutch capital. Better known for its vices, I strayed from the tourist trail of the Dam and Red Light district to find a genteel and tranquil beauty.

The Western and Southern Canal Belts are a walkers (and bicyclers) haven. Away from the tourist trade, the “Venice of the North” developed to house the growing wealth of 17th century merchants while the Jordaan became home to their artisans. (Even nosed around inside at the grandeur.) After watching Edinburgh develop into a thriving tourist hub, I was amazed at the quietness I found in Amsterdam and the fabulous local cafes. Even Queen Beatrix welcomed me. (Apparently in residence, I caught a glimpse of her on her way to a reception.)

I had the good fortune of meeting a local who was preparing for a visit from Canadian friends to show me around the Western Canal Belt and Jordaan one afternoon… canals and hidden almshouses… apple cake and coffee…

This is quite possibly the smallest doorway in Amsterdam at 1.8 meters, although it does open into a full 5-meter wide building behind. So what? Well, residents are taxed on the width of their property rather than the square meters. So, tall and lanky is all the rage! The only way to get your mattress up to the forth floor is via a hook and pulley conveniently placed on the gable. (Imagine trying to remove a bathtub from the fourth floor, as a few builders in the Jordaan were one sunny afternoon. Hysterical!)

Even floating homes have a bit of a giggle. (Although I’m dying to know how tall wooden ships with masts and sails manage to navigate the low clearance of some of the bridges.)

The world’s oldest floating flower market on the Singel.

I skipped most of the major museums (those are for rainy days or Friday nights when the Van Gogh Museum has live jazz and canapés – absolutely fabulous way to see art, in my opinion) in favor of street markets on a lazy Sunday afternoon…

Chess on the Leidestraat (left); hide and seek at an homage to Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in Rembrandtplien (right).

I’ve never seen an instrument quite like that before – street theater at the Dam (left); Bourbon Street Bar just off Leidestraat (right).

But where are those illustrious tulips?

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