I didn’t cover this in my first Amsterdam blog post, but I met a friend on the train from Berlin to Amsterdam. During the ride, Louise and I talked for awhile, she played some songs on her guitar, and taught me how to strum a few chords as well. It’s suffice to say that I have plenty of trouble finding rhythm on a guitar. It is a personal goal of mine, though, to learn guitar at some point in my life. It was a good way to pass the six-hour train ride! She was in Amsterdam for a wedding so we exchanged contact information and separated when the train pulled into Central Station.
But, at the end of the week, we decided to get together and go kayaking through the canals (grachts) of Amsterdam! Sunday started off as a mild 60° F (16° C) and drizzly, with a uniform grey blanket overhead. I packed my swim trunks but was not hopeful. The iPhone weather told me it would be partially sunny in the afternoon and warm up to 72° F (22° C). I had originally planned on a stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding trip but took the advice of the owner and renting the kayaks so we could go faster and see more. Thankfully, after five minutes of being in the water, the clouds parted, the sun started shining, and it was warm again.
Paddling through the grachts at a few feet above water level gave me a unique perspective of both the stationary and dynamic side of the city, and how I fit into that. Opting out of any type of boat tour, this was my first and only time in a boat in the grachts of Amsterdam. Because the grachts were so plentiful, I could easily imagine that the whole of Amsterdam was a body of water and the buildings and roads just sprung up from the seabed—which isn’t too far from the truth. This video explains that the area Amsterdam occupies was just a soggy marshland a long time ago. The first settlers dug out perpendicular trenches from the rivers and piled the soil up, making solid land to build on. Over time, sea levels rose, dams were built, the waterways changed, the land changed, and the city of Amsterdam was realized.
The amount of water traffic and houseboats also made it seem as if water was here first, and the buildings and streets came second. This is the only city I have been to where it is like this. I know Venice is almost the same but I have not had the pleasure of traveling there—yet. The large number of houseboats we came across in our kayaks was a surprise. I had not even explicitly noticed their presence while touring the streets, although that may be due to the fact that the houseboats are only located on grachts farther from the city center where the waterways are wider and less crowded with boats. The houseboats had a wide range of upkeep and levels of architectural design to them. Some of the houseboats were graying and overgrown with weeds—or maybe it was a green roof on purpose, I’m not sure. Others were obviously newer and had some style to them. Where most of them looked like mobile-home-esque, rectangular boxes, one or two of the houseboats actually had a boat shape to them, which was neat.
Most of the bridges we floated under were low, as one passerby on a large boat almost found out the hard way. Fortunately her friend pulled her down at the last minute. It was an exciting experience being able to paddle right along side the bigger boats in the canal and in turn capitalizing on a boat going faster than it should have by attempting to ride it’s wake in our kayaks. Louise and I pondered reasons for thinking that waving and saying hello to everyone seemed like the right thing to do, as a fellow gracht explorer. It felt as though all who were in the grachts were doing something special, and each boat of people we passed deserved that recognition in the form of a wave, a hello, and a smile. We politely asked a group of wine and cheese boat diners if they’d like some river water to go with their meal but for some reason they incessantly declined.
I absolutely love being in or near the water, either in a boat, swimming, or on the shore. I try to bring my swim trunks with me if there is ever the slightest chance of going swimming, just like on my bike tour in Almere on Friday. I’m not sure what exactly it is that I like so much about it but swimming makes me happy. Even just writing this and thinking about being in the water is making me smile. I think there’s a sense of freedom you get from being in a totally different world than most people are used to, me included. Plus, I’m always trying to get my adrenaline kicks in order, and being on the water, especially in my own boat, gives me what I need to keep going.