Spring break in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM, MARCH 2002 - You probably know this feeling – you want to go away but do not have the time nor the opportunity.  So what can you do ? …seek for some change in the close neighbourhood.  I went to Amsterdam, which is only a couple of hours by train from my home.  So close, but yet so different – one of the strong points of Europe.
After waking up at an impossible hour, probably after having woken up the neighbours too, I was on the road for the the first leg of this train travel, about one hour to Antwerp. Before I met my friends in the station, I had time for some breakfast, and watched the people passing by so early in the morning on a saturday. 

We all got together on the platform and within minutes we were on our way to Amsterdam.  The train had Dutch carriages and a Belgian locomotive.  Some stops later the train already got crowded with Dutch people, which could be easily derived from the Dutch accent in their conversations – to them we speak ‘as funny’ as they do, but anyway we had our little laughs – and I already felt a little bit like a traveller.

Bicycles and the canals
Soon we arrived in the beautiful station of Amsterdam and as we walked out and into the center of the city, the first thing that struck me was the abundance of bicycles.  What a difference compared to most of Belgian cities!  One really has to watch out constantly, because unlike in e.g. Asian countries where they just move along with the crowd, they really get up to speed over here.  A lot of people use their bicycle to go to work, do shopping, etc… – later on we saw quite a few people on the bike carrying hockey sticks (a popular sport in the Netherlands).  The city of Amsterdam has been adapted to the bicycles, and riding a car is not easy over here.  

First remarkable fact about Amsterdam : bicycles rule.  You don’t have to walk far into the city before coming in close contact with the famous ‘canals’.  Along the sides of them are the even more famous Dutch houses that originate from the 16th to 18th century.  And also another thing to watch out for : the little poles along the side of the pavement, the ‘Amsterdammertjes’.  Be carefull not to bump into one when you are gazing at the old housing.  Onto the canals, not only little boats for tourists, but these waterways are really used for transportation too.  And some people actually live on the canals, in the houseboats.  Some of these don’t look like boats anymore but are just floating concrete structures with wooden houses built on top of them.  Soon after WW II people started to live on boats due to lack of other housing.  During the sixties and seventies, flower power made it an ‘in vogue’ thing to do.   Second remarkable fact : people live on the water over here.

Amsterdam Canals Amsterdam Houseboats
More contrasts of Amsterdam became soon apparent.  Amsterdam has old ‘typical Dutch’ drawbridges, a couple of interesting churches and a beautiful 16th century beguinage; you can visit typical ‘poor man housing’ built around an inner courtyard, and admire the wonderfull art of Rembrandt and Van Gogh in the museum.  You can watch jugglers practice in ‘Vondelpark’, and see streets artists performing on the ‘Dam’ square.  But at the same time, also body piercings and tattoos can be seen everywhere, and ‘coffee shops’ will legally sell you some hash or marijuana.  Not to forget the world famous red lights district, where prostitutes can work next to the church… Amsterdam, the city where everything is possible. 
Amsterdam beguinage
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