Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Amsterdam, part III: Canal knowledge outside the Red Light District

Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Having walked through the Dam several times before, we wanted to visit when it was quieter. Early in the morning worked a treat, and the square in which Amsterdam was founded in the thirteenth century was passed through by a few locals heading to work rather than the usual cluster of tourists taking photos in front of the Royal Palace (see picture above, in which I got to take such a photo). Originally the town hall, but Napoleon's brother changed that and it's the official residence of the royal family to this day. 
Wandering everywhere was a great way to get to know Amsterdam. Around every corner would be a string of attractive buildings and sparkling canals. Another wanderer approached us to ask if we knew where he could find wifi. Having already sussed it out, we informed him that the usual offenders (Maccas and Starbucks) were conspicuously lacking in the wifi department, but coffeecompany were awesome for it. He invited us to a coffee shop for "space cakes", but we politely declined. He said he understood, stating that he hadn't been fully functional for three days from all the pot and beer. We witnessed a great effect of this on the metro when two young Polish men introduced themselves to us. Their eyes were glazed as they munched their way through chocolate covered raisins followed by sandwiches followed by cookies followed by chocolate covered raisins. 
While I had no idea what these buildings were, I loved the look of them for their bright shutters and bold font. I could guess that Fabriek may have been a fabric store, but as for Vettewinkel I'm at a loss (apart from knowing that winkel means shop).
At the Archives, we had seen a set of tools that had been used in the canal expansion of the early seventeenth century. Population growth meant that more land was needed, and the marshy area outside Amsterdam's medieval walls required irrigation. The canals served this purpose, as well as for transport and adding to the city's beauty. Nowadays their purpose has been somewhat marred by large tourist boats and smaller two-man paddle boats. These came together when at a four-way canal intersection a traffic jam occurred: a speedy boat carrying bourgeois French smirkers with their own camera crew nearly caused a pile up with a tourist ferry and a boat towing a half-sunk paddle boat behind it. 
A stroll along the Golden Bend provided a few views of the richest mansions in Amsterdam, many dating from the mid-1600's. From its description I was hoping for a lot more, and was disappointed to find that the buildings, while wider than usual, didn't look much different than any other in the area. 
These strangers were taking a while getting their photo snapped with Miffy, so I got a picture with them in it. The super popular bunny was here pictured in traditional Dutch garb finished off with clogs. That reminds me - I actually saw a labourer wearing a pair of clogs. While working! Surely they can't be comfortable, and in this day and age when the rubber clog has been invented (ahem Crocs), why would you go with wooden? Needless to say, Miffy's creator is Dutch. He made Miffy female when he decided he preferred to draw a dress rather than trousers. A long line of Miffies in different outfits can be found round the back of the Rijksmuseum. 
The famed Bloemenmarkt (floating flower market) is not floating nor flowering. It may have once been gardeners' boats of flowers strung up to the canal, but now it's all shopfronts. Sure, they jut out into the canal, but they're hardly "floating". And as for the tulips, they're bulbs. And seeds. I know that fresh tulips aren't in season, but I was expecting so much more - even a few daisies or roses! 
It seems that the Dutch love freshly squeezed orange juice. Even in tiny supermarkets in the middle of the city, they have machines for customers to make their own. I was too scared to try it as the instructions were in Dutch, but it's a wonderful idea. Each day before returning to our campsite via the metro, we would stock up on ice for our chilly bin and food. One day at the checkouts, a man in front of us reached over to squeeze our ice cubes bag, testing the contents and saying "Ice cubes? I did not know they sold that here" in a generically European accent. That's exactly why we love the Albert Heijn supermarket - they always have ice. It's difficult to find in the Netherlands. 
Pubs also offered fresh OJ; to give our feet a rest and our tastebuds a tickle we stopped by De Pieper. As old as the mansions on the Golden Bend, we sat inside with the locals while the tourists sat out under the umbrellas with a view of the canal. The barkeep inquired about our travels and didn't quite understand why we wanted to visit Utrecht, as he preferred Amsterdam, but said that it was only an hour's drive back if we didn't like it. The bar's toilet was down the narrowest and steepest set of stairs I've seen outside of a boat, but I relieved myself unscathed. 
At night, the Reguliersgracht (canal of seven bridges) makes for an even more majestic sight than in the sunshine. With Thorbecke looking across at us from the Thorbeckeplein, it was the perfect way to end our trip to Amsterdam. If we had been part of a drunken stag party, we may have taken a nighttime visit to the Red Light District, but as it happened we only saw it in the daytime. I wasn't in the mood to be swamped by rowdy ruffians, nor was I in the mood to have a go on a prozzie.