Most readers will know where Amsterdam is but, for those who don’t know much about the city, here is a brief introduction. It is the nominal capital of the Netherlands as the seat of government is in The Hague. It is situated on Ijselmeer or Lake Ijsel in English, an inland bay into which the Ijselmeer River flows, on its way to the North Sea. It is one of the younger cities in Europe in that it is just 700 years old. The city itself has a population of 1 028 600 whereas the whole metro area is 4 times the size with just another 400 000. As in most older cities in Europe, the streets are narrow and they are served by cars, trams, buses, pedestrians and, of course, bicycles. About 20% of employees cycle to work. In the old part of the city most of the homes are from the 17th and 18th centuries.
As planned, we were up early to discover a grey day with light rain, but we were not perturbed. After a lovely breakfast we walked up to the bus stop, 50m up the road. We decided to take a bus to the airport first to see if we could travel with Viking Cruises to the boat on embarkation day. We walked around searching for an Information desk only to learn that the only one was in video format. While we tried to work out what we had to do to speak to a representative, a gentleman came and showed us which button to push. A lady appeared on the screen and as we told her that we were wanting to contact a Viking agent based at the airport, the gentleman who had assisted us turned around and said that he was from Viking. His answer to our question was that our agent would have to make the request for us to cadge a lift to the boat. We left and sent an email our agent who was informed that it was not possible to get a ride with the Viking passengers coming in by air.
We believed that the King’s Day celebrations lasted just one day but we were to discover that there were still hundreds of people still in town. Our first knowledge of this was that 3 buses went sailing past, full to capacity. The fourth one was almost empty as it had come from a different direction. We purchased a 3-day pass which covered all public transport in the city and the trip into the city was approximately 20 minutes. We had no specific plan for the day as we enjoy walking around a new place and making our own discoveries. Outside a home we saw a number of teddies arranged the base of a tree and a few more in a window. We learnt later that there was a gentleman who started this during the Covid pandemic to entertain children. We wandered up and down the streets admiring the beautiful houses and boats on the canals. Unlike other towns and cities we had visited, there were not lots of sculptures and statues but there were a couple of beautiful parks and gardens. What did surprise us was how dirty the city was, probably from the celebrations of the last few days, but there did not appear to be an effort to clean up.
Houseboat with bird houses
We did see one statue, the bust of an author named Herman Heijermans. At its base is a plaque which reads:
The original bust of that writer Heijermans, met with resistance in 1929 and was possibly therefore destroyed by vandals. A new version was placed in the Leidse Park in 1935. Later, the statue was damaged again. After restoration, it was only put back in 1964, exactly 100 years after the birth of Heijermans, and unveiled by Hilda Krop. (Translation by Google Translate)
In the early afternoon we arrived at a Canal Boat Tours Office and decided to go on a trip around the canals. How can one visit Amsterdam and not have a canal boat ride? It was a small boat and we were the only passengers for the ‘Captain’ whose name was Joka, pronounced Yorker in Dutch and Joker in English. He spoke excellent English and had a lot of knowledge. Old Amsterdam is made up of about 90 “islands” linked by almost 1300 bridges and viaducts. Some of the bridges are very low allowing only small and/or flat-shaped boats to go under them and there are 2 which can be raised to allow taller boats to pass through. There are 165 canals in the old city covering a total of 50kms or 38 miles. One canal has a lock due to different levels of water. We were fortunate to be in a small boat as we could explore the narrower canals and low bridges.
It was lovely to sit back and admire all the beautiful old homes as well as the houseboats which lined many of the canals. Most are permanently occupied but some are used only for leisure. If a houseboat is left unattended for up to a year, without the city authorities being informed and a permit for docking not issued, it can be removed once the owner has not responded to warnings.
As we sailed along, we saw a few volunteers in their boats clearing litter out of the canals to prevent harm to the Gulls and other birds which sought food and shelter there. As has been mentioned, there are thousands of bicycles, in fact Joka said over a million, in Amsterdam and they get parked all along the canal banks. About once a year a big clean-up is done and up to 10 000 are removed from the water. How do they get there? Cars have been known to bump them in, drunken revellers battle to get on to their bicycles but, most popular, is for friends to ‘have fun’ and throw them into the canal. Recovered bicycles are turned into scrap metal, even if they appear to be in good order. Others removed from the streets from being parked too long are taken to a pound near the city and owners can reclaim them but seldom do.
On our return to the mooring at the Ticket Office, we went to a small Spar to get something for supper and returned to our hotel. Although we pressed the bell to get off the bus, it went straight past our stop and, when we asked why, the driver said that we had pressed it too late. We must do so when we leave the previous stop. That seemed ridiculous but it was what we did on future bus rides.