I found a walking tour on the internet that seemed to do a good job of including all the major sights, so after we dropped our things, we began to follow the route, which conveniently started at the train station. The goal for the day was to simply walk and get a feel for what the city is like. Since we were unsure about how far we’d actually be walking or a general idea of how long it should take, we didn’t linger too long in any one spot and didn’t go into any of the buildings for tours or snooping around. I told myself that if there was something I really would like to see more in depth that we do have time at the end of the trip to go back to the city if we like.
There are two things about Amsterdam that immediately become obvious: I’ve never ever been anywhere where I’ve seen so many bikes! (Not even Mackinac Island), and there is water everywhere. I’ve seen pictures and knew there are canals and water –just not how extensive the canal system is. The population of Amsterdam is around 813,500 people. The estimate is that there are 800,000 bikes in the city –compared to 263,000 cars. It seemed like most of the 800,000 bikes were parked at the train station – it was amazing to see. My pictures show how crammed in they are, but not how they stretch almost as far as the eye can see.
There is 500K (310 miles) of dedicated bike paths. On many of the streets, bikes have completely separate lanes that look like a single lane road and they have their own traffic signals. It is all very organized. In a city with so many bikes –it’s probably not surprising that an estimated 50,000-80,000 bikes are stolen every year. We did notice that most of the bikes were more clunkers than shiny and new…probably to reduce the chance of having the bike stolen. We also saw some extremely big locks and chains.
There are about 62 miles of canals in the city. Mike saw a fun fact on a menu about how many bikes are dredged up from the canals in a given year – it said 25,000. I Googled it and I could only find reference to 12,000-15,000 bikes. In the same article it said that 100 people and 35 cars also end up in the canals each year!
Of course that many canals means bridges are necessary –and there are 1500 of them. There are also 90 islands. The bridges are of all sizes and shapes. Many of them are draw bridges – some tiny and quaint, some quite large. Each bridge seemed to have its own “look” and many were quite charming. I took a lot of bridge pictures.
Our first stop on the walking tour was Dam Square. To get there, we first followed the street outside of the train station, Damrak, which was very busy and active. After several blocks, we turned down a side alley, arriving at a parallel street called Nieuwenduk, which is a pedestrian shopping street and one of the oldest in Amsterdam.
We followed Niewendijk to Dam Square which is the historical center of Amsterdam. This is supposed to be the site where the original dam was built on the Amstel River in 1270. I’m not sure how accurate that is –because there really wasn’t any water nearby. However, there are many impressive buildings on the square: The Royal Palace, built in 1655 as a city hall and converted to a palace in 1808, the New Church, built in the 15th century. There is also a WWII memorial. The building that Madame Tussaud’s is located in was apparently built for a department store in the style of the square’s buildings.
Our next stop was De Oude Kerk (The Old Church). On the way there we passed an interesting store – one we don’t have at home!
We walked over a small bridge and into a quiet square where we found the church. It is Amsterdam’s oldest building, consecrated in 1306. The original wooden chapel on the site was built in 1213. Rembrandt’s children were all christened in this church. The entire floor of the church is graves.
The church is on the edge of the red light district, which was our next stop. We walked along the side of the church and took a couple more pictures.
As we turned from the church and began to cross a road, I wanted to take a photo of the cobbles and I noticed this in the cobbles.
At first I just thought it was a bronze hand. OOPS! Evidently this was placed there by an anonymous artist one night –and there it stays.
Our next stop was the Red Light District. Some of the window boxes for the red light district are actually within view of the church, which seems odd. I have heard that photos are not really encouraged in the red light district –so I kept my camera in my pocket as we scurried through the few streets to “safety”. We were there during the day and it was very quiet. The guidebooks say that night-time is when this area is hopping. We didn’t feel the need to go back and confirm that information!
We took a short-cut at that point which brought us along a few blocks of Chinatown as we followed the walking tour to Nieuwmarket Square. The point of interest to see was De Waag, which is the weigh house.
Back in the day, cities had weigh houses to weigh goods being brought into the city for trade so that taxes could be levied. Another use for the building from the mid 1500s to the late 1600s was for witch trials. The building was originally one of the city gates in the city walls. The city walls were built in the last 1400s. In the early 1600s the walls were taken down and the gate was repurposed as a weigh house in 1617.
As we arrived at the square, I noticed a statue off to the side along side a canal with an interesting railing. Turns out the statue was of an Amsterdam poet and playwright who lived in the late 1500’s.
As we continued walking, we arrived at the Waterlooplein Market –which is basically a flea market There are more than 300 stalls selling all sorts of things. Mostly old clothes from what we saw.
We missed a turn (and half the market) and had to improvise a bit. We came across a small square where there was a small lock and an old lock house next to it.
As we crossed a street, we were a bit surprised to see Rembrandt’s house and museum -as it wasn’t on the walking tour we were following. The house was where Rembrandt lived and worked between 1639-1656.
We were now close to the Amstel River and were ready for a lunch break. We stopped here:
After lunch we quickly returned to our route and as we worked our way to the next “highlight” we took a few more (million) pictures:
Our walk next went through Muntplein, which was an intersection of 6 streets creating a small square. The tower here was also part of a city gate. At one time it served as a mint.
The flower market was our next destination. It is a floating market on the Singel River. This market was founded in 1862 and sprang up as a floating market because in the early days the flowers arrived from the countryside by boat.
Our first sight of it was from the river side. We walked down the street in front of the stores. On the river side were flower and bulb shops and on the left were a lot of cheese shops.
We began to meander more through neighborhoods – different bridges, houses and canals keeping our attention.
Before long we arrived at the Westerkerk, which was built between 1620 and 1631. It’s claim to fame is that it has the tallest church tower in Amsterdam – 279 feet.
Not far beyond the church is the Anne Frank house. Tickets to the museum sell out months in advance. You can go there later in the day to stand in line for a same day visit –but you know how we are about lines…and the line was very long…and we were tired.
The last area on the walking tour was a “gentrified” neighborhood with trendy cafes and shops. We’d been walking more or less in a broad loop and were now quite close to the train station. Because we were tired, we skipped the last neighborhood and went more cross-country toward the train station and our hotel.
It was nice to go back to the room and relax (nap!) for a couple of hours. We ventured out once more (just to the lobby) to have a drink and some food –and after that, we called it a night. After being up for over 30 hours, we were ready!
Two other interesting things from today – I forgot to mention that a couple of the neighborhoods smelled “funny” :-)… and after we got back to the room, Mike was sitting by the window just watching the world go by out front when he saw what he thinks must have been a bachelor party passing by on a boat down below. What caught his notice was the fact that there were two female guests on board with them and they seemed to have lost their clothes!
(Up next: Part 2, Amsterdam to Uithoorn)