Our trip to North Africa routed us through Denmark, providing us with a bonus stop – a full day in Amsterdam. And we made the most of it!
The train into the city from the airport was simple and short – about 40 minutes – delivering us to the center of town.
Emerging from the train station, one of the first things to catch your eye is the three-story bicycle parking lot, a great tangle of spokes, frames and pedals that one might mistake for a gargantuan piece of modern art. Bikes are far and away the preferred mode of transportation here, almost to the exclusion of cars. One can’t help but wonder how to locate and extricate your bike from the mass.
Fun fact: there are 881,00 bikes in Amsterdam, curiously more than the number of residents
Being cycling enthusiasts, we jumped at the chance to tour the city on two wheels, immediately helping us to feel like like locals. Our first stop was Mike’s Bikes, where we rented our rides and met our guide who gave us a morning introduction to the Singelgracht, the UNESCO-protected area of inner canal rings.
He pointed out that some of the buildings were leaning. Is that because the 11,000,000 wooden poles that are stuck deep in the mud to stabilize the below-sea-level city are sinking? Or are they pitched forward to allow for the hoisting of furniture from the street below to the upper floors (buildings are commonly outfitted with block and tackle for this purpose). Seems it’s both.
He pedaled us through the Red Light district where live models posed in the windows.
At one point, we pedaled through the section of the the city that is home to its well known coffee shops. We did not stop in any of these to sample the offerings, which include something appreciably stronger than coffee.
And he introduced us to a few lucky Amstedamians who made their homes on houseboats. If we were staying overnight, we’d rent a houseboat through Air BnB
But we did not have an overnight. We only had ’til supper. So we headed off on 2 wheels to the home of Anne Frank. The rooms where her family hid out during the Nazi occupation are now part of a museum that draws a great many visitors – so many visitors that it was important to get timed-entry tickets for our visit.
Online tickets to Anne Frank’s House open up 2 months in advance and grab yours as soon as they’re available.
When we left the House, the sun had come out and Amsterdamians were making the most of it. Couches were hauled outside and impromptu living rooms set up on bridges and canal banks. We found a small table, canal-side, and ordered a couple of Amstels.
Amsterdam is a city for art-lovers as much as bike lovers. Hard to choose between Vincent Van Gogh or the (Amsterdam branch of the) Hermitage, but in the end, we chose the Rijksmuseum. Naturally, one finds Rembrandt there, and a work that best evokes his chiaroscuro technique (use of dark and light to show dimension) is “The Night Watch.” I was amazed, when comparing a small photograph of the painting that is posted on the wall, to the actual oil work, to learn that the Amsterdam Town Hall actually amputated about 8″ off the left side of this precious work of art in order to fit it into the room.
Another noted Dutch artist, Vermeer, also worked magic with the interplay of light and dark in his paintings, and we stood before one of the Rijksmuseums prized holdings, “The Milk Maid,” to wonder about this.
The late sun called us back outside and we pedaled over to Vondelpark and plopped down on the lawn to relax. The sun-loving Amsterdamians were out in force – a mime performed in a circle of benches, an acrobat group practiced on the side grass, and the parade of bikes was nonstop.
At dusk, we booked 2 spots on the Pulitzer Hotel’s classic 1909 yacht, The Tourist. Winston Churchill took this boat tour himself in 1946 and today, you can tour the canals in this beautiful vessel of beveled glass, polished teak, and antique brass.
And finally, our last hurrah was dinner at De Silveren Spiegel. Translated as the Silver Mirror, this restaurant dates back to the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, and the building has been kept in its original state, retaining a charm and grandeur that would’ve left Rembrandt and Vermeer impressed
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