Amsterdam is beautiful and thrilling! I love the water; I love the streets; I love the houses; I love the craziness of the bikes, walkers, mopeds, trams, and cars. I have seen no other city that looks like this. The appearance of the street pavement and cobblestones may be similar to streets in Prague, Italy, or some other old European walking city, but the houses are like nowhere else. They are characterized as tall and skinny in shape and are painted in deep color or off-white. Some have brick façades and complementary colored window frames. If you tilt your head, you can see that some of the townhouses are also tilting. I thought this probably had to do with the large amount of water in the area causing instability of the soil. But according to two blogs I found, that is not the case. The houses were apparently designed to tilt forward so that large items could be drawn up the front of the house by homemade cranes without hitting the façade. Houses were designed to be skinny because property taxes were based off of the building’s frontage. This made for skinny staircases!
This first day in Amsterdam I made a beeline to the Beijnhof Gardens, the oldest group of houses in the city. It used to be made up of “Beguines,” housing communities similar to the semi-monastic Roman Catholic Sisters of the Church. Residents living in the Beguines took a vow of chastity but could leave at any time to get married. The current, inner court still houses only women. I watched one of the older residents break up a mêlée between two cats.
I paused in the courtyard for about 10 minutes as tourists came and went. Two churches occupied the courtyard. One was the original I believe, located in the center, and the other was smaller and in line with the other townhouses. I entered the smaller one and sat in the pews for about 20 minutes. The atmosphere of the church made for well-spent time relaxing and reflecting.
The Anne Frank Huis beckoned next. Located along one of the canals, it wasn’t any different than the other houses in Amsterdam, and nor should it be. Tickets should be reserved weeks in advance if you would like to visit this historical place, as the line extended around the block when I was there. If you don’t go in a tourist spot, or even if you do, I recommend reading about it while you are there. I think it is good to be at the location and read about what has happened there at the same time. I use an app called CityMaps2Go where you download all the offline maps and accompanying Wikipedia pages for tourist attractions and more, so I read the Wikipedia pages for the Anne Frank House. Because the GPS in your smartphone works even in airplane mode, the offline maps still tells you exactly where you are, making navigating a breeze in a new city. No longer are you at the mercy of having to interact with strangers to ask where to go—as a common millennial might say.
Read my next post to learn about state-of-the-art bike lock mechanisms, a visually mouthwatering (eye-watering?) oasis, and the thrill of city biking.
Kyle’s Travel Tip: It is such a stress reducer to buy a metro/tram/buss pass for your entire stay in a city, especially if you haven’t planned. You don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to buy a ticket, whether to walk or take the tram, and more. It was only €32 to get a 7-day pass here in Amsterdam. Berlin was similar.