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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Welcome back to my blog. As I sail towards Indonesia for an encounter with dragons I thought I would bring you a port a little closer to home - Amsterdam!

Above: One of Amsterdam's many famous canals.

Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands with an urban population of 1,209,419. Located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country, Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea through the long North Sea Canal to the west of the city. Our ship, the Ryndam docked very close to the city centre and so we sailed through the Canal each time we docked in Amsterdam. The canal features several locks which the ship entered in order to negotiate the 2 metre difference in height between the city and the sea.

Above: Trams are a common sight in Amsterdam. The overhead lines get in the way of many photographs!

The city's name is derived from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city's origin: a dam in the river Amstel. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading centre for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed.

Above: Dam Square with the Royal Palace on the left of the picture.

Fanning out south from the Amsterdam Central railway station, the city's canal system is the result of conscious city planning. In the early 17th century, when immigration was at a peak, a comprehensive plan was developed that was based on four concentric half-circles of canals with their ends emerging at the IJ bay (where are ship was docked). These canals were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2010.

Above: Green spaces are common in Amsterdam - this is one of the largest parks.

Amsterdam has a rich architectural history. In the 16th century, wooden buildings were razed and replaced with brick ones (only two wooden buildings remain today). During this period, many buildings were constructed in the architectural style of the Renaissance. Buildings of this period are very recognisable with their stepped gable fa├žades, which is the common Dutch Renaissance style. Amsterdam quickly developed its own Renaissance architecture. tower house

Above: Quirky architecture in the city centre.

Amsterdam's main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops draw more than 3.66 million international visitors annually. However, a new national regulation could greatly affect the city's famed tolerance for drugs, and cut down on the number of foreigners coming there to buy marijuana.

Above: The red light district, a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world (and as a result, rather unfriendly towards pedestrians!) However, bicycle theft is widespread – in 2005, about 54,000 bicycles were stolen in Amsterdam! I should have rented a ship bike during my time in Amsterdam, but instead I decided to walk everywhere!

Above: Munttoren, a famous bell tower constructed in 1620.

On two of my three visits to Amsterdam I went to the cinema to see 'The Dark Knight Rises'! Most Dutch people speak English so luckily the movie was in English with Dutch subtitles. Although the cinema I went to was fairly unremarkable, there is a famous cinema in downtown Amsterdam called the Tuschinski. It is a heritage art deco building with a beautiful lobby and six screens and I was sad not to get a chance to look inside. I got a picture from outside though:

Above: The Tuschinski.

These visits were my first to Amsterdam, despite living fairly close to the Netherlands. It is a beautiful city and I would like to go back one day!

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