Sleeping in is the best thing to do on vacation. “Vacation”.
Today started by getting brunch with Kathleen at Bagels and Beans. I had a pomegranate mint tea with the special smoked salmon bagel sandwich. It was really good and the weather today was so nice, so the cofeeshop had nice sunshine streaming in. Bagels and Beans reminds me of Espresso House which is all over Scandinavia except that you can order from your table which was weird. Also it was the first place that accepted my credit card while in the Netherlands besides Round&Round which was a pleasant surprise.
After that we parted ways and I headed to the center of town. I had registered for a walking tour today, so I wanted to kill some time before heading to the meeting spot. The meeting spot was in front of what used to be the old city gate, but what is now known as Cafe De Waag. To kill time, I wandered around the Dam Square area and finally found the Primark. The prices were pretty good but nothing really seemed like something I wanted right now, so I ended up not buying anything. They have charging stations and free WiFi though which was nice.
The walking tour I took was from City Free Tour. It was a really good tour, so I felt bad afterwards when I didn’t really have loose change to tip the tour guide. I guess this, in a sense, is my payment for the tour. The tour started at the old city gate. My tour guide explained some of the history of the city first, such as why there were so many canals in the city. Apparently, Amsterdam was built on a swamp like land which lead to how it is today. In fact, the draining of the swamp area led to 1/3 ofthe country being under sea level which was interesting to me.
Along the canal, he showed us what is the widest house on the canal. In the Netherlands, you pay taxes based on the width of the house along the canal, not based on how deep or tall it is, so to save money usually you build a narrower house. A wider house means you’re pretty rich. The widest house on the canal was known as the Trippenhuis, but is now home to the Royal Academy of Science. Across the street is what is known as the Small Trippenhuis which is the width of one of the doors of the Trippenhuis. It’s a smaller white building which you might miss at first.
One of the other people on the tour asked about the religious situation in the Netherlands. Apparently, Holland is currently majority non-religious which is interesting. Later on, we learned there were a lot of religions in Amsterdam at different times, but they changed with the times based on social and economic events.
We got to see the former headquarters of the Dutch East Indian Trading Company which you only ever hear about in history books. The company was one of the first you could own shares of which ushered in the start of the stock exchange. They had a monopoly over trade with Asia as well as a later monopoly over trade of spices which was what made the Netherlands so successful so fast. The style of the building was what is called “Dutch Renaissance” since it takes its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance style but has a Dutch twist. It’s a very beautiful building and a very quiet area in the city.
After this, we walked by the first Protestant church, Zuiderkerk, and then stopped briefly near Jondenbree Straat or Jewish Broad Street. On this street was the Rembrandt house and museum which was where he lived while he was a prolific painter. The reason that area was Jewish Broad Street is because lots of Jewish and other religious refugees fled to Amsterdam which sparked the Golden Age. This is why the Jewish call Amsterdam “New Jerusalem”. However, during WW II, the Dutch basically sold out the Jewish residents (13% of its population in Amsterdam) by creating a map of where all the Jewish lived in town. 80% of the Jewish residents in Amsterdam didn’t survive.
Next, we walked near the Amsterdam City Hall which is where the first same sex marriage occurred in the city. There’s also a large market near here that happens daily I think although our guide described it as a bit of a “hippie” market.
We then walked through the University of Amsterdam area which used to be nunneries in the past. There’s also a daily book market that occurs down one of the large walkways at the University. We were also introduced to the Kooy Canal Cruise which is apparently one of the cheaper cruises in the area (10.50 euros for an adult).
One of the best parts of the tour was one of the courtyards we went into. Amsterdam has lots of small little courtyards that are either private or are public and that you can duck into for some peace and quiet. The one we went into was Begijnhof which was really cute. It’s situated in the middle of a residential area where only unmarried women can reside, even now. There’s an English Reformed Church in the middle of the courtyard as well as one of the only “secret” Catholic churches left in the city from the time period when Catholicism was outlawed.
The Amsterdam Museum has a really cool free art walk you can walk through nearby where there’s a large carpet that shows the 188 different nationalities present in Amsterdam. This museum used to the an orphanage, but is now a museum that apparently has some really neat stuff. We didn’t go in, but the small sample we saw was really nice.
We also saw the canal ring which is apparently now a UNESCO World Heritage site which is neat. Our guide also talked about the century of queens that they’ve had in the Netherlands and also the celebration of King’s/Queen’s day and the whole celebration they have. At the very end of the tour, we walked by the Red Light District and Old Church which was actually safer and less sinister than everyone makes it out to be.
After the walking tour, I caved and bought McDonalds before heading back to Kathleen’s apartment. We chilled for a while then went to dinner at one of her friend’s places which was really cool. Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but that’s totally okay.