If you have a travel wish list, and Amsterdam isn’t on it, I’d suggest you add it. At the top of the list. With its canals and bridges and beautifully preserved if decidedly tilting houses and classic European architecture, it’s lovely. Bells chime all day and night (in the Jordaan district, where I’m staying, anyway), the sidewalks and canal banks are full of cafes that are full of people eating and drinking, talking and smoking (whatever they want) and there is the excellent coffee and fresh, diverse and tasty food you’d expect of any city.
What’s so striking though, is the way the element of bikes, as a mode of transportation as common as walking and more common than cars, transforms the central city. Here, on the narrow streets, there are three-way checks for oncoming traffic all the time — walkers check for cars and bikes, bikers check for walkers and cars, cars check for bikes and walkers. The dance of transportation has the extra element of bikes, which completely changes the steps for everyone. Not only does it give pedestrians more clout in the jostle for street space, it changes the sound — fewer motors, more talking.
Then there are the boats, which are in abundance also. The hosts of our AirBnB flat have a small boat on the canal in front of the building, and took us for a ride on Wednesday afternoon, one of the first sunny days in what has been a cold and wet summer. Everyone seemed to be out, and it was a treat to get introduced to Amsterdam by riding in a boat, getting dropped off at the other side of the city, then working our way back, via many wrong turns and at least one circular trek, to our place.
Today we visited the Anne Frank house which a friend told me was “the best museum in Europe.” It is quite astonishing to stand in the rooms where 8 people lived in hiding at the back of a canal house for two years. The world knows Anne Frank through her diary. At the Anne Frank house you get to know her as one of the threads in a web of courage and horror and fierce kindness on the part of the Dutch resisters who worked every day to keep the hiding Jews safe.
Then on to the Van Gogh Museum, another outstanding visit. The curation of Van Gogh’s paintings in a simple structure and design make the museum accessible, both as a way to understand Van Gogh’s development as a painter, and as a museum that doesn’t leave you on art overload.
And to get to all of these places we walk along canals and cross bridges and more bridges and more canals. It’s a city of waterfront galore.