Amsterdam! by Kevin Casillo
One of the friendliest walk able cities we have found is Amsterdam. The capital city and most populous city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with an estimated population of 7 million enjoys 17th Century Canals that zigzag through the heart of the city is also the cultural capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters here and seven of the world’s 500 largest companies, including Philips are based in Amsterdam. In 2012, Amsterdam was ranked the second best city in which to live by the Economist Intelligence Unit and 12th globally for quality of living by Mercer. Which really is no surprise as it has an open “anything” goes attitude.
In the middle of this free and welcome self expressionism you can find the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, which is the oldest in the world. (sorry Wall Street) 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 nearly 4 million visitors annually (and that’s not just to the cannabis coffee shops).
We stayed in a 17 century boutique hotel that was rehabbed in a typical sheik mix of modern/retro. We chose it on-line, sight unseen as we often do. It sits right along one of the many canals carrying lovers in Gondolas and locals buzzing by on bicycles politely ringing bells as they pass by. The air in January can be brisk which is when we visited. The cool air heightens your senses as you stroll the cobblestone streets, dodging in and out of artist shops and coffee shops perched above the canal. Lunching in a café, with its sheer drapes filtering the midday light that lines the canal with a view of the Anne Frank House is something you’ll not soon forget. Locals sit at linen draped tables savoring afternoon coffee, reading their papers and books as their faithful poodle and companion look over the menu or perhaps hoping for a treat of their own. But no time to linger we’ve only planned a few days here (should have been longer) but we’ll return, and definitely during warmer weather. But it’s off to see one of the most famous houses in the world, Anne Frank.
We’ve all heard the story of Anne Frank, but to see where it happened is quite different than sitting in the comfort of our own homes. Facing one of the canals and standing proud is a testament to the people who once lived in this grand old house, The Anne Frank House. The only time I remember visiting a site in total silence excluding the occasional release of one’s breath was while visiting the Nazi Camps of Terezin in Prague. When you first enter the Anne Frank House you’re expecting to see what Hollywood has painted for you, and they are actually quite accurate. What I found most disturbing is that it even happened, there is total disbelief when you walk into the room behind the bookcase and you see just how small a space they all had to hide and survive for more than two years before being taken to the death camps.
Amsterdam, like much of Europe was ravaged during the war, fortunately, unlike Berlin, much of its beauty and charm remain. One of the interesting places we visited was the infamous red-light district. And it is just as you imagine with its own version of “window shopping”. Not for children, but definitely worth visiting. And in case you’re wondering, no we did not make any purchases.
A short train ride takes you to Antwerp, Belgium, where a visit to any Chocolatier is a must. Belgium chocolates are smooth and full of flavor and should only be washed down with a glass of dry red wine. Well, that’s my thought, when you go, you do whatever you like. I would suggest visiting the home of artist, Ruben. You will find it on a side street named, Wapper. It is obvious Ruben was no starving artist, he was as comfortable as our stay in Amsterdam.
We will return to this amazing city full of adventure and history. And I hope you do too.
Remember, put on a pair of comfortable shoes, old pair of jeans, take a sweater, leave the attitudes at home and forget reading maps, just get out there!
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