Amsterdam has one of the highest population densities in the world, and it shows. After the countryside of Putten and the quiet country bustle of Utrecht, Amsterdam was a sea of humanity. Stepping of the train, you get the same feeling you get when you step off the Hyderabad-Bombay train. Everybody moves with a purpose, not many people are ambling and you feel terribly out of place. For all the Mumbaikars who keep talking about the difficulty to get housing in Mumbai, in Amsterdam there is a 10-year waiting list for houses to rent. The easiest way to live in Amsterdam is to buy a house there, the cost of houses start somewhere in the tune of 6.00,000 Euros.
For the tourist visitor my advice is to go straight to the tourist office and pick up the Amsterdam card. They came in three varieties – 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour. They cost Euro 31 per day. This pass allows you entry into most museums for free, you can also use the local transport for the specified number of hours for free, the canal ride is free too, a lot of discounts and a map.
Since we had just half a day in Amsterdam, which is way below what is really required, we caught the tram to Museumplien.
As you ride through the city, the first thing that strikes you is that unlike in Rotterdam, the trams here don’t have right of way. They compete for road space with pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, cars and buses. The second thing is the bridges. When people talk about canals running through the city, it is easy to imagine and even romantic, but one never imagines the bridges. When you have as many canals as Amsterdam has, you need a lot of bridges. The third thing is the architecture. Everything is old, very old, brick facades, high and overlooking canals – very romantic.
Every house in Amsterdam wears a “bindi”. That is not the official term, but it should be. Just below the roof of every house there is a hoist. They are there because the crush for space is so much that stairways inside the houses were built narrow and are not conducive to lug up your furniture when you move in. So things are hoisted up and moved in through the much larger windows. The practice continues to this day.
Our first port of call was the Rijksmuseum. This museum has on display works of art from some of Netherlands’ best. Rembrandt is the most famous painter whose paintings adorn the walls of the museum. Apart from paintings, the museum also has art from places that it had colonized. Popular weapons and ships too are on display. At best give yourself 4-5 hours, there is a lot to admire and cherish throughout the museum.
From the Rijksmuseum, we hopped over to the Van Gogh museum. The Van Gogh museum was set up by the Van Gogh’s after the death of Vincent to showcase his work. The works were donated to the Dutch government as a national treasure. You would do well to set aside 4-5 hours of the day for this museum. The works are compelling, hold you in their grasp and just refuse to let you move.
At all the museums you can hire headphones which allow you to listen to information about the paintings.
The next item on the agenda was the canal ride. The ride takes you through the entire canal system of Amsterdam. You get to see a boat’s eye view of the city and it is very different from the roadside view, although you are essentially looking at the same things.
Amsterdam has about 2500 houseboats and the government has frozen the figure at that. These houseboats are parked all along the canal and many of then are very tastefully done up. You have some houseboats which have gardens on the rooftops. They look really beautiful and romantic.
The next port of call was the famed Red Light District of Amsterdam. In the days when Amsterdam was the largest port in Europe the Red Light District catered to the pleasures of the sailors who landed there after long days at sea. Pubs offering wine, women and a good time line the canals of this area. Today it is more a tourist attraction than anything else. But the wine, women and good times are still available for the ones looking for it.
We also visited the world’s only sex museum. The museum has a show on “Sex through the Ages” which outlines the transformation of sex from a method of propagating the species to an act of joy, romance, love, and lust. There are exhibits on the development of pornography through the ages and various sex toys that have been used by men and women for “pleasure”. Some of the stuff was truly intriguing.
With this my tour of Amsterdam came to a close. At the end, I was left with a feeling of incompleteness. I was sure that there was a lot I had missed, some that I could name and others that I cannot, because I don’t even know they exist. Someday I hope to be back.
Amsterdam requires a week, all told for a visitor to even begin to feel that he has seen everything that the city has to offer.