We really didn’t know much about Amsterdam before we arrived. With only two days of planning we didn’t have time to do our usual routine of research before we left (I should say my routine of relentless Google stalking). I really didn’t realize the extent of the canal system. I knew they had canals, but I didn’t know they dominated the city like they do. As soon as we got there and realized how important they were to the entire identity and structure of the city, I knew we had to spend a day touring them.
Boat tours seemed easy to come by. We saw signs everywhere offering all types of tours. Some had breakfast, some had music, some had champagne, and all seemed to have huge numbers of tourists in them lined up like kids on the school bus.
We’re not tour snobs, sometimes those tourist tours are the best way to learn about a new place, but we didn’t want to be packed in like sardines, and we didn’t like the idea of the impersonal cookie cutter info they all seemed to be covering.
And once again, our B&B hosts were our tour angels in disguise.
Wout and Lia own a little boat. Actually, they have two but the slightly bigger one was undergoing some work so they offered to give us an up close and personal canal tour in their little boat which can fit eight people in a pinch.
I’m glad there were only six of us though, it really was kind of tiny.
Wout and Lia, Brian and I, and another couple who stayed in the B&B for the weekend all hopped in the boat and had our own little personal canal party. What’s better than a boat on a sunny day, some five hundred year old canals and houses, and a bucket of cold drinks with new friends? Not much.
As we putted along under bridges and through the city we had to keep an eye out for those big tour boats. They like to go a bit fast, and they don’t care if a tiny boat full of six people is in their way.
Half way through a tunnel and a tour boat comes your way? You better reverse your engine and get the hell out of his way before he runs you right over.
And try not to make too many angry hand gestures when the operator laughs at you as he passes, almost swamping your little skiff with his wake.
No matter though. Once your heart rate slows down after your near collision, you’ll have so many picturesque sights to see you’ll soon forget all about it.
There are rows and rows of old warehouses lining the canals which have now been turned into houses and apartment buildings. There are churches, museums, a floating flower market, hundreds of house boats, big hotels, little restaurants and anything else you can imagine running along side the canals.
Anything. you. can. imagine.
Did you know it’s illegal to take photos of the prostitutes in the windows of the red light district? Well, it is, so I can’t show you that particular peek into society but it was quite a sight to see right there next to a big church on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
But, you know, business as usual in a city of commerce. No big deal.
The thing we found most surprising? The crooked buildings!
Some of these buildings are close to five hundred years old, and were originally built on top of wooden pilings in a marsh.
They’ve settled, sunk and leaned over the years. They’re also protected, so if you own one you can renovate and level up your floors and interior walls, but you can’t fully get them straight again.
Some are clearly only still standing because they’re leaning on the building next door. One good California style earthquake and I think they’d just sink and disappear completely.
But they’ve lasted this long, so I guess they’ve stabilized?
“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house”
The canal system is huge, made up of concentric rings all connected by cross canals, some huge, some only big enough for our little boat.
We spent a couple of hours exploring, people watching, snapping photos and asking a million questions.
I’m glad Wout was driving the boat. He offered to just give us the boat for the afternoon while he took the bus back home, but we realized quickly that we’d be totally lost without him, and we’d probably get run over by a tour boat while we were driving in circles trying to get back.
Thank goodness he stayed with us or we’d still be out there.
Not that we’d mind. We were having a blast.
What started out as a last minute whim turned out to be one of our favorite memories of the whole trip.
From the inner city brothels and warehouses to the outer neighborhoods with their parks and families, we loved it all.
Seriously, get yourselves to Amsterdam if you ever have a chance. It’s one of those places that has a personality all it’s own. It’s not like any other city we’ve ever been to, and there is so much to see, such a variety of sights, you’ll never be bored. There really is something for everyone.
On the map: Click here to see this location on our Google Map.