In the city of Anne Frank

In the winter of 2015 I went to Amsterdam. It was an amazing trip in the city of sex, drugs, water canals and Anne Frank. It was cold but I still enjoyed the city a lot.

 

Facts about the city:

There are 165 canals in Amsterdam. In total these waterways add up to more than 100km. The Seventeenth-century canal ring area became part of the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010. There’s also 2,500 houseboats in Amsterdam that are occupied by residents but some are available for rent to visitors.

Amsterdam is the most bicycle friendly city in the world. In fact, over 60% of trips are made by bicycle in the inner city. There are over 813,562 people living within the city limits of Amsterdam, however it is estimated that there are well 1,000,000 bicycles. How bizarre!

amsterdam-bicycles

In November I went to a city I wanted to visit for a long time: Amsterdam. We traveled with Transavia. We arrived by train to Central Station, an imposing building. In fact, the whole area surrounding the station is very beautiful. Amsterdam Centraal was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and first opened in 1889.

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We stayed in Hotel Iris which was very cozy, with steep stairs and a nice view of a canal. It was to have a Lidl right in front because it allowed us to go there for food everyday. Hotel Iris is located at Sarphatikade 17. We paid €311 for a double room for three nights. That is, €51 each, per night. The hotel also had a very beautiful back garden with Buddha statues.

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It was raining every day but I loved the city. I loved the water channels of the Amstel River, very photogenic: Jordaan, Prinsengacht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht, etc. Amsterdam has more than 100km of grachten (canals), about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges.

The three main canals (Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht), dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. Alongside the main canals are 1550 monumental buildings. The 17th-century canal ring area, including the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan contributed to Amsterdam’s fame as the “Venice of the North”.

I hardly saw cars in the city and the bridges were full of bicycles. Even with rain it’s amazing how we always have to be careful not to be hit by someone on a bicycle.

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We did not go to the Heineken Museum, but we went to the Rijksmuseum, where is the Museumplein, which is a square with a lake and the famous giant letters saying “I Amsterdam”.

The current main building was designed by Pierre Cuypers and first opened its doors in 1885. The museum has on display 8,000 objects of art and history, from their total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200–2000, among which are some masterpieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer.

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In this museum we saw the self-portrait of Van Gogh and Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch picture:

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We also went to the Hard Rock and the Anne Frank House, a writer’s house and biographical museum dedicated to Anne Frank. During World War II, Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution with her family and four other people in hidden rooms at the rear of the 17th-century canal house, known as the Secret Annex. Anne Frank did not survive the war but in 1947, her wartime diary was published. In 1957, the Anne Frank Foundation was established to protect the property from developers who wanted to demolish the block.

The museum opened on 3 May 1960. It preserves the hiding place, has a permanent exhibition on the life and times of Anne Frank, and has an exhibition space about all forms of persecution and discrimination.

I read the book for the first time just before the trip and it was indeed exciting to see the place where they were hidden so long and it was also very interesting to see, at the end of the visit, a gigantic book named after all those who died in the Holocaust. The queue to enter the house never ends! But it was worth the wait.

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We have also been in squares like the Leidsplein, Dam Square (where the Royal Palace is) and the Rembrandtplein. We also went to the Vondelpark (opened in 1865) and the so-called 9 main shopping streets of the city. That’s when I bought the souvenirs (I bought, for example, beautiful little music boxes with songs like Let’s Be by the Beatles).

 

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We had dinner in a typical Portuguese restaurant called Portugália that we found there (the owners are Portuguese emigrants). Another day we decided to have dinner at a sushi restaurant and went to a pizzeria.

At night we visited the famous Red Light District. De Wallen is the largest and best known red-light district in Amsterdam. It consists of a network of alleys containing approximately three hundred one-room cabins rented by prostitutes who offer their sexual services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

Window prostitution is the most visible and typical kind of red light district sex work in Amsterdam and the “kamers” are a large tourist attraction. The area also has a number of sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, a sex museum, a cannabis museum, and a number of coffee shops that sell marijuana.

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Another interesting aspect of Amsterdam are the coffeeshops. These are establishments where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities. Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by licensed coffeeshops. The idea of licensing the sale of cannabis was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.

We bought an herb called Lemonhaze in a store where we could choose from a number of different types of cannabis, and then we went to coffeeshops to smoke it. It looked like a giant candy-and-gum store, but where they sell drugs instead. In these stores you can smell the weed but they do not allow you to touch it.

The first coffeeshop we visited was calm and we stayed at a table below, just for us. The drugs really hit me, I was super talkative. Then we went to a more upscale coffeeshop with a Moroccan feel (one of the famous coffeeshops of the Bulldog chain) but I smoked just a little bit. The annoying part of the coffeeshops was that even if you bring your own weed, you have to buy something, so we were always spending money on bottled water.

The coffeeshop we liked the most (we went there like three times) was Dolphins. The decor was awesome, it felt like we were in a cave under water. The top floor was for those who smoked pure joints and below, for those who smoke joints mixed with tobacco. It was always full. Because of this, the staff was always forcing us to sit in tables where there were already other people and socialize.

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We also went to one with a separate room for smoking, with tables that were like counters on the wall. We went to another coffeeshop, outside of the city center, only with locals and no tourists.

When we were in this place we saw in the Dutch television news that the Islamic State had just carried out attacks in Paris, the Bataclan and a soccer stadium and, until the end of our trip, this news were everywhere! The increase of the security in the airport was notorious when we returned home.

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To finish our trip, we took a boat cruise through the canals, which passed through all the emblematic sites of Amsterdam. I really enjoyed the boat houses on the canals. Yes, there are people who live in the river. Despite the bad weather and the madness of the city, I really enjoyed Amsterdam.

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