Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

the three most interesting things I did in amsterdam...

On my recent three-day trip to Amsterdam, I combined work and play, along with new and old. Amsterdam is always worth a trip, no matter how short or long, but this time I wanted to squeeze in a couple of new experiences in order to get to know the city better.

Since I'm always looking for tips and ideas of what to see when I head to a new city, I thought I would share the 3 most interesting things I did on my most recent visit.

1) I took a boat tour...of course. There are more canals and waterways in Amsterdam than there are in Venice, so I had to get on the water. In fact, I have gone on a boat tour every time I've been here, but each time it feels new. I just can't get enough!

The perspective from a city's river is always unique, but in Amsterdam one gets a whole new scale of originality. Some of the canals are so narrow that you feel like you're cruising the veins; the lifeblood of the city. The vibrant history of how the Dutch created a dam and the ensuing canals is ingenious, and fascinating. Basically, the Amstel River flooded one day and the people of the little town thought, 'huh, there are all these fun waterways, why don't we keep it like this all the time!' The original dam is now covered by the Damrak, the long main avenue in the centre of Amsterdam.

As Amsterdam grew, the Dutch created companies, such as the East India Company in the year 1600, so forward-thinking and ahead of their time, that they not only took control of new markets, they created them. It wasn't only water that began to flow freely through the lanes of Amsterdam, but money, goods, and sailors.

So, do what I did, and lean back on the red vinyl bench of a canal boat, or press your face against the window pane, and listen to the thrilling history of this city for yourself, while you cruise up and down Herrengracht, Prinzengracht and all of the other probably won't be your last time.

2) On the Sunday morning I toured the Rjiks Museum. You just have to. Whether you're young, old, rich or poor, this is one great experience. This is like the only museum in the entire world where you can take as many photos as you want, and then do whatever you want with them! It's quite extraordinary. Buy your tickets for the museum online ahead of time to avoid the lines, and get to the museum before 11am so that you can enjoy actually seeing some paintings, instead of just other tourists' backs. And then snap away...that's what I did!

All of the Dutch masters are here...which really means, all of the world's masters are here. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Cuyp, Bol, Van Gogh, Rubens, Steen...and also one of my favourite paintings hangs here, Vermeer's 'The Milkmaid'. I took a photo.

'The Milkmaid' - Johannes Vermeer
Another cool thing about this museum is their interest in wanting you and I, and everyone else, to use art and incorporate it into our own, everyday lives. In the museum, they want you to get into the paintings, learn everything you can about them and really experience the artwork. On their website, you can create your very own Rjiksstudio - collecting your favourite pieces of art onto your own platform, so that you can look at it whenever you want.

Large cards are provided to give detailed information about the artwork displayed - so handy!
And, as I already mentioned, you can take photos of any of the artwork in the museum and do whatever you want with them. Now, it's not as if the museum is thrilled when Van Gogh's self-portrait lands on a million coffee mugs around the world, or 'The Last Judgement' is turned into a dog pillow, but, if people, young and old, with dogs or without, are interacting and investing in the art then the Rjiks Museum says 'go ahead!'...

... transform your favourite work of art (and believe me, you will find a favourite here) into a tablecloth you will love to stare at over dinner, or a hat that everyone will look at when you walk down the street. And if you can't come up with any ideas, the museum already has some (of course). The funniest thing I saw, was Rembrandt's arguably most famous painting, 'The Night Watch' transformed into a playmobil set. So cute!

3) And though not the best segue, from Playmobil to the Red Light District, the last but certainly not least highlight of my recent weekend in Amsterdam (seriously), was the Offbeat Walking Tour of the Red Light District, led by a very knowledgeable local. Don't worry, the following photos are all VSFW (very safe for work).

I wanted to go on this tour because I didn't understand how sweet, beautiful Amsterdam got this reputation as THE place to host every European guy's bachelor party. I just didn't understand, because I don't know any drugged-up, sexed-up Dutch people. All of the Dutch people I know are completely normal, sweet and simple folks. They have an elegant style; a bit Ralph Lauren meets JCrew, and I just didn't get how this world-famous district for drugs and sex wound up in a city as lovely as Amsterdam.

So, I decided to go on a walking tour, promised as offbeat and historical, and fun...led by a really nice, really entertaining local Dutch guy. Our group ended up being a mixture of couples, friends and many females. Most of us were just interested in learning more about this part of the city...or just curious, but too afraid to go wandering about alone. Fair enough.

Well, to simplify the history of the district, it all comes back down to the money and sailors that started to flood Amsterdam in the 17th century. Combine that with the Dutch mentality of innovative, tolerant thinking and you have an environment of 'to each his (or her) own'. Basically, the Dutch are a very non-judgemental folk, and so as long as you aren't hurting anyone else, go ahead and do whatever you want.

Our guide explained it to us this way, the women who decide to work in the Red Light industry (named that way for the brothels lit by red lights to let men know where they are) are tolerated, without judgement. Each woman has her own business license and a panic button in case they need help. The police station is located within these few red-lit blocks in order to keep the women safe.

Our guide, who has interviewed many of the women, said that for someone to get into this line of work, of course there is most often a difficult and painful history, often involving abuse or addiction, or both. He said that the hope is that when the women get enough money together and have a stable, safe income that they will choose another line of work; a healthier one. But, it is left up to each of them to do as they see fit, with many resources and support readily available. The city, and the residents who live within the red light district, (because yes, there are families and daycares and normal activities happening here - it's smack dab in the middle of the old town) treat each other with respect. And, you know, I really respect that.

Now, I could go on about the disgusting behaviour I saw from groups of guys towards each other, but that would be a whole other blog, and not a fun one for me to write. Some men should just never drink alcohol....but that's another story.

I'm glad that I got to know more sides of Amsterdam - it really is such a special city. I hope to get back soon!
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