Monday, 14 April 2008

Amsterdam Part II

The next day it was off on a canal ride, a real must in Amsterdam, but I think every company follows the same route so it doesn't matter who you choose. Amsterdam really is a city of canals, it's not called the Venice of the North for nothing, though I wonder what the Italians think of that name? Anyway I saw a lot of pretty Amsterdam style houses and the canal driver pointed out that each house has a massive hook sticking out at the very top of the house that is used to attach a pulley to, so goods and furniture could easily be moved on and off the barges. He also said that Amsterdam has only had street numbers for 200 years, and before that, they just had very elaborate gable stones, I think he meant big stones on the tops of the roof. So people could find you by your particular gable stone, I think the numbering is perhaps a little easier.

I love the houses in Amsterdam, they were all built in the same style, the ones in this photo to the left are very typical of the buildings. They were all skinny and all different heights too, very individual. I could have spent all day just taking photos of the canals and the houses, they were that pretty!

One thing I loved about Amsterdam is that bikes are king there, seriously they rule the roads and everyone else better watch out, including tourists who may accidentally wander into the cycle-lane whilst taking photos. The nice thing about having bikes as kings on the roads is that the cyclists know that if they hit someone they are liable to hurt themselves too, unlike car drivers who are perfectly safe in their metal box so aren't too concerned about running down cyclists or pedestrians or their own children if they own a big 4WD.

I think the pecking order on the roads was cyclists, scooters, pedestrians, trams, cars, how awesome is that! It must be so easy to ride there just because it is so flat, the only time there is any sort of hill was when you cross a canal. The strange thing was that whilst everyone rides a bike they are all incredibly dodgy with massive chains to lock them up, there must be a roaring stolen bike trade going on. I imagine there is just some massive, circular bike swapping thing happening. In that when you get a bike stolen you have to go out a buy another one which would also have been stolen. I suppose it is a bit like a registration fee for bike riders except it goes to bike thieves rather than road upkeep.

After the canal tour I went to the Rembrandthuis museum, which is what it sounds like. It is a house Rembrandt used to live in before he went bankrupt and had to sell all his stuff and leave. They have recreated the inside as to what it would have looked like when Rembrandt was there, they used old letters and paintings and things. It was kind of interesting, but really the reason you go is in the hope to see another Rembrandt painting, but sadly there were none there.

I also went off to the Oude Kerk (the old church, great name), which is right in the middle of the red-light district and is the oldest church in Amsterdam, hence the name. This was one of the least religious-feeling churches I've been in, I think partly because there was a photography exhibition on display inside and so that didn't really match the surroundings, what with all the nudity.

The last place I went to was the Stedelijk museum which is the modern art museum in Amsterdam. Normally it is in the same area as the Rijksmuseum and houses art by Matisse, Picasso and Warhol to name just a few. At the moment though the building is undergoing a long, drawn-out renovation and so there are only temporary exhibitions held near the main train station. A lot of the stuff I didn't really like, just bizarre modern art, but I really loved their photography exhibit and it was by far the most popular of all the sections. It was celebrating 60 years of Magnum Photos which was formed to allow members to cover things they were particularly interested in, rather than only ever working on assignments for magazines. So basically the exhibit showed photos from the best photographers of the last 60 years, so you could see all those images that are now part of your consciousness, they are that famous. I'm pretty keen to buy one of their books now that I know something like this actually exists.

This picture is Dam square, the main square in Amsterdam and that building is the town hall (I think, it could be the Palace instead, or perhaps something completely different)

This statue is in the middle of Rembrandtplein, the golden guy is Rembrandt and the statues in front of him are set out just like they are in his painting The Night Watch, pretty cool, now you don't need to see the painting.

Pretty Amsterdam houses lining a canal.

One of the many houseboats lining the canals. There are something like 2500, legal, houseboats in Amsterdam and they have running water, sewerage, electricity and gas. Some of them looked really comfortable, though the ones on the canal tour route would get tourists peering through their windows all day which I can imagine could get a little annoying. I suppose the advantage with living in a boat is that it is pretty easy to move.

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