Day 4: Venice of the North

Wednesday, 19 Oct ’16

The first thing that strikes me about Amsterdam during the light of the day is the city’s architecture. From historical buildings to canal houses to innovative modern designs, Amsterdam must surely be a delight for design lovers.

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Beautiful houses lining the canals of Amsterdam

Among its many other novelties, is the love the denizens have, for bikes. Following the fierce activism of the 70s and the 1973 oil crisis, cycling became a popular choice of transport, with the government even proclaiming a series of car-free Sundays. The result is that today, Amsterdam, and in fact all of the Dutch country, has a lot of bikes. And a lot of bike lanes. And a lot of bike riders. Who won’t wait for you to pass, or cross the road. Bikes get their own lanes, segregated from motorised traffic. This is a country where pedal power has priority, taking precedence over all types of street and even pedestrian traffic.

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For the love of bikes

To me, an Indian, who lives in one of the most populous cities of the world, this is an entirely alien concept. If you have lived in Mumbai or have experienced the roads and traffic for even a short duration, you’d know that lanes, traffic rules and sometimes, even traffic signals are a thing to be ignored, on most days. Most traffic transgressions occur, not first by looking at the flow of traffic, but rather by looking out for the traffic cop, for of course, if you were caught by one, a fine would be in order. Amsterdam introduced me to patience, or shall I say deference, that cars and pedestrians give to bikers. This is not a sport or a recreational activity; cycling is a lifestyle for the Dutch.

After looking left, then right, then left again, to ensure that I don’t get in the way of a biker, for I worry that if I get hit by a bike the penalty shall lie with me, I cross a few lanes and find myself standing in front of the Heineken Brewery. “Oh!”, I find myself exclaiming. Among beers, and I do not have much of a palate for it, Heineken is one of those rare brands I would choose. I didn’t expect though, that I would find myself standing outside its brewery and see a long queue outside its doors, waiting to immerse themselves into the world of beer, with the Heineken Experience. I bet quite a few of my friends would have been envious of me if I had decided to take the tour. But I didn’t.

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Heineken’s Brewery

Instead, my day was spent exploring the city from the vantage of Prinsengracht canal, the longest of the main canals in Amsterdam. The city has a total of 165 canals and is also nicknamed as, “The Venice of the North.” To be honest, riding on the canal was not nearly as exciting as I imagined it would be. But a few highlights, which do stand out in my mind, beg mention.

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Prinsengracht Canal

The first was the view of Anne Frank’s house. This was the hiding place for her and her family during World War II, as they tried to escape Nazi persecution. The sight of that house standing there after all these years, even after the end of the war, and the death of Anne Frank herself, is a living tribute to the 13-year old girl, who is one of the most recognised figures in Jewish history and the Holocaust. I’d highly recommend reading her diary if haven’t already done so.

At a short distance ahead is Westerkerk, a church built in the Renaissance style. Its church tower, Westertoren, is the highest church tower of Amsterdam. Westertoren is frequently described in Anne Frank’s diary. The chiming from the tower was a great source of comfort for Anne.

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Westertoren, the church tower

After the cruise on the canal, I spent a couple of hours roaming the streets, admiring the colours of autumn, having lunch at a local bistro that served pizza, steak and tiramisu. Not quite a Dutch fare, but good food still.

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Colours of autumn

Amsterdam came to a close for me around mid-afternoon. And then onward to Rhineland in Germany. A five-hour drive. On the way, I completed another challenge from DS.

#TravelChallengebyDS (2/18): Have Chai
I tried this at a vending machine in one of the supermarkets we stopped at on the way. In German, the beverage said “Tee”, and I recalled that DS had put this up for me on the challenge list, so I decided to try it. Not nearly as good as the Indian Chai, but anything for a challenge, eh?

Arrived in Rhineland around eight, famished. The German dinner that night was a forced affair because I was too exhausted to go and explore options outside, so decided to settle for the whatever the restaurant was serving. Which wasn’t nearly as appetising.

Conclusion: I don’t much like German food.

Called in an early night, and looking forward to another great day tomorrow.

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