In this city, the bicycle has the right of way. That's right - NOT pedestrians, who have to look both ways four times, and NOT cars. Bicycles outnumber cars two-to-one in Amsterdam and residents claim automobiles will never conquer their city. The many hump-backed bridges sporting narrow cobbled streets over picturesque canals are meant for pedestrians or two bikes abreast. Rush hour brings bike grid-lock, as well as canal grid-lock ("lock-lock"), though trolley lines and bus routes are efficient.
It is a city of many roles - capital, world port, transportation hub, university and world banking center, world trade center (diamonds are still sold on every corner), venue for world-renowned concert halls, and gathering place for the avant-garde in the arts. It is lively and high-spirited, with a laissez-faire attitude. The Red Light District is a stop on walking tours. Legal cafes that cater to pot-smokers display a special decal in their windows. Needles are dispensed to drug addicts at free clinics.
|Cafe selling cannabis|
If you plan to visit at least 4-5 of them, there are options to save money:
- Museum Pass (allows you no entrance fee)
- Combination Canal Cruise and Museum Entrance or hop-on-hop-off bus and/or boat
- Museum Boat - provides up to 50% discount on entrance to museums on its route
- Amsterdam Card - comes with other benefits, such as discounts at
attractions and restaurants and free use of public transport system
Most museums are closed on Mondays with the exception of the Rijksmuseum (Netherlands' National Museum with over 1,000,000 works of art), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum (National Museum of Modern Art).
We took a canal cruise and a half-day walking tour which covered most of the major landmarks in the city. Before our departure from the States we'd purchased tickets to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum for specific days. In both museums we purchased headphones for self-guided audio tours.
The crowds at both museums were enormous at 10:00 a.m. and also at 4:00 p.m. We chose to follow only highlighted items on the self-guided tours but couldn't follow the sequence in the Rijksmuseum. We wound around bodies, trying to peer at numbers on the paintings to push our audio buttons. Sometimes we could only get a glimpse, although the larger the painting (e.g., Rembrandt's "The Night Watch"), the easier it was to get up close. Because of the number of people, there was little room for them to step back so that others could step forward.
|Hotel de l'Europe, Amsterdam|
The experience that we will remember most from the city was our visit to the Anne Frank Museum (also prepaid for a specific date and time). The house is preserved as the family left it when arrested in 1944, with the exception of display cases featuring Anne's diary. It is an emotionally gripping journey to climb the stairs behind the hidden bookcase to the rooms eight people inhabited, including the sink where they prepared meals, the toilet that couldn't be flushed because of noise, the radio with news from the BBC, the attic that allowed a view of blue through a skylight (all windows were covered with blackout curtains), and the bedroom where Anne and her sister spent two years tacking posters of movie stars and phrases from books (still on the walls).
|Facade and front door to Anne Frank House|
We traveled to The Hague, the seat of government and official residence of Queen Beatrix, an hour outside Amsterdam. It is home to diplomats and international organizations, including the International Court of Justice and prison that held Bin-Laden, with dozens of embassies and official residences. The Binnenhof complex, facing a little lake, houses Holland's two-chamber parliament and elaborate Knight's Hall, used for state occasions.
The gem of The Hague is around the corner. The Mauritshuis is small as museums go, situated in a 17th-century palace. The paintings have been acquired since the 18th century by the princes of the House of Orange. The works were seized by Napoleon in 1795 and taken to France, returned to the Netherlands in 1816 after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. In 1821 they were transferred to the Mauritshuis and exhibited publicly the following year. The collection is known for its enchanting Vermeers, its many Rembrandts, and a full panoply of Dutch and Flemish masters. There were no crowds and we stood directly in front of Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring," his "The View of Delft," and Rembrandt's "Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Nicolaas Tulp," among others, as long as we liked.
|Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring," courtesy of the Vermeer Foundation|
One note of caution: DO NOT let your limbs wander near any of the furniture on display! Charley's sleeve grazed a gilt Louis XIV desk as he jokingly declared what a nice touch that would add in his office. Bells and alarms sounded as we back-pedaled away. Two guards appeared at our sides. "His foot," our tour guide explained in Dutch, pointing to the base of the platform under the desk. "It must have tripped a wire."
"Happens all the time," said one of the guards.
|Flower market, Amsterdam|