We arrived in Amsterdam after having our original flight cancelled then changed by Delta and we were beat. The Holland America Line services agent picked us up at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and transported us to the Movenpick Hotel. It turns out this hotel is only 500 yards away from the cruise terminal itself and just a 20-minute walk to Dam Square in Amsterdam. We arrived at the hotel about 8:30am after a small delay with our motor-coach that needed a jump start. We were told that it was too early to check in and no rooms were available until after 3pm. However 50 Euro’s gained us access to a Premium room and we were off and running, or should a say sleeping. As we settled in for a mere 2 hour nap, our exhaustion got the best of us and we awoke 5 hours later. This was the view from our hotel room window:
After getting ready we headed out on foot for Dam Square. There were a few twists and turns that delayed us a bit (mainly the lack of clearly visible street signs). We eventually made it after asking a taxi driver for some directions. Once at the square we visited the Bavaria Euro Pub for some Guinness and Dutch Fries.
At 4pm we spotted a white umbrella in the square belonging to Free Walking Tours of Amsterdam. Our guide Josst was about 22 and from the area. He began by taking us to City Hall and explaining that the De Nieuwe Kerk Catholic Church has been upset with the city for hundreds of years. It seems that every 20 years the city promises to build them a new church tower then simply delays the construction for an additional 20 years. This apparently has been going on for a really long time and has become a news story with a cult-like following.
Next we walked a few blocks to a Coffee Shop were we were able to sample some local cheese. Beside the coffee shop was the Grey Area Coffee Shop which we were told was a favorite hangout of Snoop Dog himself. We learned a lot about Amsterdam on the tour and found that things in the city mainly revolved around Drugs, Prostitutes, Tulips, Cheese and Wooden Shoes.
The next noteworthy area we visited was the Red Light District comprised of businesses with small storefront windows of Prostitutes who offer their services to the weary passersby. We learned the color of lights, either Red, Red and Blue or just Blue have meanings for what type of customer the Prostitute is willing to entertain. We also stopped outside a large church in the district and learned that the whole Red Light District was built around the church as a means to give sailors a place to confess their sins.
Another interesting fact we gathered was that before there were street signs in Amsterdam, the city used a collection of Gable Stones so that townspeople would know where they were. We then walked through Medieval Square, an area designated for catholic women only. We were told that hundreds of years ago women had only three options since they were not allowed to work. They either become a nun, a prostitute or be married and start a family. For those waiting to get married, the enclosed area provided a place for them to live before marriage. Still occupied today by single women, the area closes promptly at 5pm to all male visitors. We just made it through the gates at 4:55pm.
We also learned that the water in the canals may look dirty but is actually very clean. This water is pumped and filtered every 48 hours and the dirty color of the water is mainly caused by mud in the canals. It was also stated that it is perfectly legal to swim in any of the canals and that approximately 1,000 bicycles are disposed of into the canals each year.
Amsterdam was founded around 1209 and since then many buildings have begun to fall over or lean to the left to right. The problem seems to have started in the 1700’s when building foundations were created using the trunks of tree’s. Those wooden supports are now rotting away and causing the buildings to lean. Another interesting fact is that buildings in Amsterdam were built narrow and tall because taxes in those days were paid based on the house width.
Next we saw the former HQ building of the Dutch East India Trading Company that went bankrupt in the 1600’s due to a French and German blockage of the port. This also caused ramifications for the City of Amsterdam and plunged it into financial ruin.
Our next stop was a building built in 1432 as a town gate for the City. The City has expanded well past this building today and it has been used over the years as a Market Weigh House, a Mortuary, a Firehouse and now a restaurant. The last thing we saw on our tour before heading back to Dam Square was the Oude Kerk Church consecrated in 1306 and the oldest standing building in Amsterdam.
All-in-all the tour lasted 2 hours and was very educational.
We hung around the area for a while and walked into a few shops, ate a cheese sandwich at Golden Age Cheese and sat to rest a bit. At 8:40pm our Gray Line Amsterdam canal cruise departed. We left from Damrak Pier number 5 and cruised the Kloveniersburgwal and Oudezijds Voorburgwal canals. The one thing I noticed throughout the cruise was the lack of people. All of the people from the day seemed to have just disappeared. Then on the last leg of the journey and with the sky turning into night we came down the Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal through the Red Light District. All the people have been found. They are all here. Thousands and thousands of them. This very relaxing canal cruise in an open top boat lasted 1 hour 20 minutes.
Now we were headed back to the Movenpick Hotel. About a 20 minute walk through both stately and dimly lit area’s and we were in bed.
Cruise Port: Amsterdam, Holland
19,366 steps logged.