Postcard from Amsterdam

I could’ve said this was a postcard from EuroPerio9 but it doesn’t have quite the same ring does it? And, to be fair, I only worked three days at the exhibition giving my beloved a helping hand. It’s virtually impossible to set up, run and take down a stand single-handed. Fortunately, one of his German clients spent two days working with him leaving me free to enjoy some of the many delights of Amsterdam.

It wasn’t my first visit to the city, probably my sixth or seventh. My previous one was fleeting as we flew into and out of Amsterdam for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France 2015 in Utrecht. Most of my earlier trips to Amsterdam have also been relatively brief and generally connected in some way with dentistry. However, back in the late 1980s, one of my husband’s clients, whom we’d known for sometime, invited us to spend a long week-end with his family in Amsterdam.

They kindly put together an itinerary which included all the well-known places, plus many favoured only by the locals.  My stand-outs from this trip are all handily located close to one another in Museum Sq: the Rijksmuseum (Dutch national art and history museum), the Van Gogh Museum (works of Vincent van Gogh) and the Stedelijk Museum (modern art). These are all well worth a visit.

On that trip we also learned something of the city’s history. Amsterdam was founded around 1250 with the building of the Dam that gave it its name. Aeme Stelle Redamme is Medieval Dutch for: Dam in a Watery Area. The first canals were dug both for water management and defence. As the city expanded in the Middle Ages, successive defensive moats ended up inside the city walls, losing their original function but acquiring a new one: local transport of merchandise.

rondvaart

The Dam is still there as the heart of the city. But today this former barrier between the River Amstel and the Southern Sea is one of the few places in the centre of town that you cannot reach by boat because there’s a subway line  being built in the old riverbed.

Amsterdam, known as “The Venice of the North” has canals and harbours accounting for over a quarter of its surface area. Amsterdam’s 17th century Canal Belt, built during the Dutch Golden Age, was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2011. Its medieval centre (its Red Light district) is still undergoing extensive renovation with Project 1012 which aims to reduce prostitution and to highlight the historical aspects of this oldest section of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is the only city in the world where the medieval centre is a Red Light district. Ale-houses were established in the Middle ages around its first harbours, along with the first brothels, mainly in the Warmoesstraat and the alleys around it.

The Gentlemen’s canal (Herengracht) is considered the most important one in Amsterdam. Built for the city’s richest merchants and its most influential people who resided in buildings alongside it. An address on the Gentlemen’s canal is still considered prestigious today. The official residence of the Mayor is at number 502.

Keizersgracht Canal Beginning

The Emperor’s canal (Keizergracht) is the middle one of the city’s three main canals and was named after Emperor Maximillian of Austria. It’s the widest canal (31 metres) and its construction was also started in 1612.

prinsengracht

The Prince’s canal (Prinzengracht) is the third and outermost of Amsterdam’s main canals which together form the so-called “Fourth outlay” of the city, an four-time extension project started in 1612 and completed 50 years later.

Now, you’re not going to see quite as many photos as usual because I didn’t have my iPhone. If you’ve read my Monday post, you’ll know why. Instead, I had to rely on my ailing, soon to be traded-in, iPad. A wholly inadequate substitute as its battery runs out too quickly – built-in Apple obsolescence.

We were staying a short stroll from the centre, near the RAI exhibition halls in a charming residential area, well served by restaurants and cafes. Our trip coincided with a four-day celebratory festival in Amsterdam, so the place was full of exhibition goers and tourists.

Amsterdam’s a lovely city to wander around. I tend to stick to walking up and down the three canals mentioned above and the small alleys that criss-cross them, admiring their architectural heritage and finding lots of small, charming, independent boutiques, restaurants, cafes and food shops.

Amsterdam’s oldest building is the Old Church (Oude Kerk) built in 1306. The oldest wooden building The Wooden House (Het Houten Huys) is in the Begijnhof and was constructed around 1425, one of only two remaining wooden structures. In the 16th century, Amsterdam’s wooden buildings were razed and replaced with brick ones in the Dutch Renaissance style, recognizable from their stepped gable facades. Mostly built according to the principles of architect  Hendrick de Keyser. A fine example of which is the West Church (Westerkerk).

During Amsterdam’s Golden Age, 17th century Baroque architecture came to the fore most notably with the splendid merchants houses designed by Philip Vingbooms. Throughout the 18th century, Amsterdam like elsewhere was heavily influenced by French culture followed subsequently by Jugendstil or Art Nouveau though this was largely in the neighbourhoods around the city centre. However this apparent mish-mash of architectural styles is very pleasing to the eye.

As the commercial and cultural capital of the Netherlands, and one of the top financial centres in Europe, many large international companies have their headquarters here in Amsterdam. Consequently, there’s also a wealth of modern architecture in its business district.

If you like book shops, and who doesn’t? Amsterdam has plenty, many with English language book sections where I happily whiled away many an hour. Luckily I had space in my suitcase to take back one, or two, or three….I definitely need more bookshelves in the flat. A girl can never have too many.

As I wandered along, looking upwards at the decorative features of the buildings lining the canals, I had to be careful not to wander into the bike lines. It’s so easy to cycle everywhere in Holland, I’m very envious though I’m not a fan of their heavy sit up and beg bikes. I’d definitely go for a fixie. After all it is pretty flat everywhere, except in Limburg.

Amsterdam is also a very green city with many parks, open spaces and squares throughout. We were staying in Zuid, opposite Beatrixpark, named after the queen, through which we could easily walk to the Rai. Although the hotel where we stayed had food and drink on tap, we also investigated many of the neighbouring bars and restaurants. One of the best was just at the entrance to the park. A former chapel, it was now a restaurant and cultural spot and overlooked the wild grass lands bordering the park’s lake which was home to some large and noisy wildlife.

All too soon our little Dutch escapade was over and we were heading back home, footsore and a little weary from both the work and the sightseeing.

4 thoughts on “Postcard from Amsterdam

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