Floating up the river Amstel past the crooked houses of Amsterdam, S looked very chilled sipping her prosecco. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and everything seemed right with the world. I had put down my wine to do a bit of photo snapping, and there was plenty to snap. The waterways, the bridges and the gabled buildings alongside the canals were particularly photogenic.
Many artists found the city picturesque. As we cruised away from the ZuiderKerk (South Church), our captain showed us Monet’s impression of it from a bridge just ahead of us. It felt as if we were drifting through his painting.
We had seen the narrowest house in Amsterdam next to facades covered in windows. Captain Skye explained that there used to be a property tax based on width, so the narrowness was a form of tax avoidance. Our drinks hostess, Lotte, informed us that many other residents of the city were keen to maximise their tax bills – yes you read that right! In the days when there was a window tax, people covered their facades in windows to show off how wealthy they were. Flaunting how much tax they could afford to pay was the historic equivalent of parking a Rolls Royce in the driveway.
Lotte and Skye told us lots of interesting and querky facts. The upper stories of the canalside houses are subtly outward leaning with hooks just below their roofs. This is because the stairs are too narrow for furniture, so items have to be winched upwards and come in through windows. The outward lean ensures they don’t crash into lower floors as they are raised. We also learnt that Amsterdam has more than 4 times as many bridges as Venice and more bicycles than people. A team are employed to retrieve bikes from canals and they pull out around 15,000 per year.
We passed houseboats that are severely restricted in number due to the city’s water pollution laws. For this reason, moorings along the canals are extremely expensive. Pondering all this called for another sip of wine.
The relaxed atmosphere seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle we’d experienced in the morning, wandering from Central Station past numerous souvenir shops to Dam Square, where I took photos of the Royal Palace.
We were quite glad to escape into the initial calm of the Amsterdam Dungeon, which luckily had no queues first thing on a Monday. My daughter F had previously wanted to go to the London Dungeon, but as we’d never got around to it on our visits, I booked the Amsterdam version. It was full of actors scaring us with tales of ghosts, gruesome murders, press gangs and torture – all done in a very entertaining fashion. Younger children may find it scary but for F, it wasn’t scary enough! There was a certain amount of involuntary audience participation. S looked like a rabbit caught in headlights as she was dragged to the front of a court to be tried as a witch. She was so speechless she couldn’t defend herself. Naturally she was found guilty but was surreptitiously handed safety instructions on how to survive being burnt at the stake. If only she’d brought her reading glasses! We watched as the flames rose up around her before being ushered into another room. Miraculously, S was already there having escaped anyway. The whole experience was fun and my only complaint was that despite the ticket saying a free drink was included, we didn’t get one as the bartender had rung in sick.
Thirsty, we headed out into the throngs but as we crossed canals, the crowds got lighter. Luckily, we found food and drink at a pleasant canalside café before heading for the water.
After disembarking from our boat, we headed for the Jordaan district which I’d read was a pleasant place to have a stroll. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and walked into a nondescript residential neighbourhood. On the plus side, we found a playpark. Eventually, we found our way back to a bar beside the Prinsengracht canal.
After spending some time watching the world go by with a beer/wine/apple juice, we continued our stroll alongside the canals. As it was a family holiday, we steered clear of the notorious red light district and didn’t stray into any coffee shops. For the uninitiated, “coffee houses” and “coffee bars” sell coffee and light meals. A “coffee shop”, however, does not sell coffee but is a euphemism for a retailer of….erm… something stronger. Our walk was enjoyable, criss-crossing delightful waterways while admiring the traditional architecture, but I have to say Amsterdam is a city best explored by water – especially when there’s a bar on board!
Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, 79kms north east of Rotterdam and 212kms north of Brussels
Amsterdam Central Station has direct train links from Brussels (2hrs), London (4hrs) and many other European cities. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is 22kms south of the city and connected by regular train services to Amsterdam Central
The city has a wide range of accommodation, although we stayed in Haarlem, about 15 minutes away by train
Our canal and river cruise was with Flagship Amsterdam, departing from outside the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht. There are many other operators in the city. Click the links for information on the Amsterdam Dungeon and Amsterdam
If you enjoyed this, you may wish to read my blog on Haarlem