Walking tour of the bicycle capital of Europe – Amsterdam

Table of contents for Amsterdam

  1. Well grounded in high flying Amsterdam
  2. Canal cruise in “Venice of north” – Amsterdam
  3. Walking tour of the bicycle capital of Europe – Amsterdam
Amsterdam - the bike city

Amsterdam – the bike city

Amsterdam is the bicycle capital of Europe where BMWs and limousines are sidelined by this pollution-free and healthy alternative. This city with a population of around 8 Lakh people boasts of around 6 Lakh bicycles and it is very easy to spot a white collar executive cycling to work. Cycling is such a preferred mode of transport that civil authorities had to build a three-storey bike parking stand

Three-story bicycle parking

Three-story bicycle parking

and even that remains jam packed most of the time.

Close-up of the bike stand

Close-up of the bike stand

Dutch delight for bikes can be understood by the fact that the Netherlands has around 15000 Km of cycle track.

If multi-level car parking of rest of the Europe has metamorphosed in multi-level bike stand, car thieves of the rest of the Europe have got re-incarnated as bicycle thieves in Amsterdam. These bicycle thieves are a big headache for local police. The used-stolen bikes are later thrown into canals and around 18000 bikes are retrieved from the canals twice a year. Well there are some traces of Indian genes in these bicycle thieves. The practice of throwing bikes in Amstel River seems similar to our habit of washing our sins by taking dip in holy rivers.

Bikes everywhere

Bikes every where

There is a local saying that if you are drowning in canals of Amsterdam you might get a bike for company. I am sure that when Dutch people will learn about Hindi proverb “डूबते को तिनके का सहारा” (support of straw for a drowning person), it will become support of bike for a drowning man in Amsterdam :)

A glance at the roads of Amsterdam and it becomes clear that why bikes are so popular. Running in almost the middle of the road and cutting it down in equal halves is the tram line. Each half is further divided into bike lane and pedestrian lane. So if you are planning to drive in Amsterdam, the remaining portion is for you! But, drive only if you must, have to and dare to.

A city road

A city road

Amsterdam is essentially a walking city and truly it’s the best way to discover its charm. In our case we decided to explore the city with the mix of walking and hopping trams to move fast from one place to another.

Rachit never forget to click his objects of interest

Traveling in trams was inevitable. Rachit loves traveling in all possible modes of transport. On our arrival at Amsterdam as soon as he sighted trams, a promise of several tram rides was taken from us.

We boarded the tram from “Central Station” and stopped at a place where an old brewery was located.

The old brewery, Amsterdam

The old brewery, Amsterdam

Just by its side, we spotted this beautiful well-kept windmill. Looking at it, my imagination soared up to view the majestic and awe-inspiring sight of hundreds of such windmills working in perfect unison.

The windmill

Windmills are among the first very few things that come to my mind when I think about Amsterdam and a trip to the Netherlands is incomplete without a visit to windmills. No-one in the world has harnessed wind-power as much as Dutch have done. In the 19th century the Netherlands had around 10,000 windmills. This is the largest number that ever existed.

After 1850, their number decreased steadily, at first slowly and later on more rapidly. After the war in 1946, the prospects for windmills were extremely gloomy, a great many of them had been damaged or destroyed by acts of war. No repair was done for many years. It was then the Dutch Windmill Society decided to protect and repair them. Today around 1200 of these windmills have survived.

Windmills are the main foundation on which Dutch economy was built. For centuries these windmills have helped Dutch people to fight water shortages and provided them renewable, non-polluting, abundant source of energy to drive sawmills, grain mills and mills to keep low lands safe from flooding.

Dutch have almost elevated windmills to an art form. Planted solidly on the earth, these windmills seemed like they had grown naturally from the soil. They form an integral part of their countryside surroundings and give Dutch landscape an aura of Romanticism. Spread throughout the Netherlands they are the pride of the country and there are 8 of them in Amsterdam alone, just waiting to be admired and adored.

The windmill, Amsterdam

The windmill, Amsterdam

In The Netherlands 11th May is celebrated as National Wind Mill Day. On that day windmills are adorned with flowers, garlands, figures of angels & Dutch flag is unfurled on them.

After enjoying the tranquil surroundings of this windmill and letting our camera snap prolifically we boarded another tram to reach “Bloemenmarkt” – the flower market.

Amsterdam is a Tulip Nation and Yash Chopra imprinted these images in our minds with the unforgettable and visually rich song of Hindi movie “सिलसिला – देखा एक खवाब तो यह सिलसिले हुए”. Early months of summer are the perfect time to witness the abundance of colorful blossoms and long rows of red, yellow, pink and white tulips in the nearby town of Keukenhof.

Tulips are so much synonymous with The Netherlands that I was surprised when I came to know that this beautiful flower is not an original native of the Netherlands. In the 15th century, Tulip bulbs were imported by sailors from Turkey. Today 4000 different varieties of Tulips are grown in The Netherlands.

The Tulip bulbs

The Tulip bulbs

That was my second visit to this flower market in Amsterdam. Last time when I visited it I was disappointed. I was expecting many varieties of Tulips on sale and found none. Therefore, this time my expectations had been subdued. Au-contraire, this time, I enjoyed it. It might have been due to my lowered expectations or perhaps due to my wife who gives me different perspectives to see the same thing.

This floating flower market is situated around one section of Singel Canal (the oldest canal of Amsterdam). It is unique as it is worlds only floating flower market”. Don’t expect to see floating flowers there (it’s not a floating-flower, market); in-fact the complete market is floating (it’s a floating, flower-market).

The glass covered shops are built on barges and docks. This time also there were no tulips. The tulip season was already over. But the tulip bulbs were being sold in almost every shop like onions and potatoes.

Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

There were also other cut flowers on sale giving a very colorful look to the market.

Flowers on sale

Flowers on sale

Flowers were all around us – we smelt them, photographed them,

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sensed them

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and almost spoke to them.

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A few beautifully decorated apple-balls were hanging overhead.

Apple Ball's

Apple Ball’s

These flower shops also sold souvenirs. I believe that the best souvenirs of a travel are the memories, and the imprints of a place that one brings back on mind, memory card and photographic film.

The souvenirs

The windmill souveneirs

Still, I enjoy exploring through souvenir shops as they give an instant feel of the true spirit of a city.

Souvenirs on sale

Souvenirs on sale

Those who love collecting souvenirs from their travels, one of the most original items to bring back home from Amsterdam are Clogs – The Netherlands’s traditional wooden shoes.

Clogs - Klompen in Dutch

Clogs – Klompen in Dutch

Clogs date back as far as 1367, probably even older. Today these clogs are mainly made for tourists and only a very small population of local farmers still wears them. But in The Netherlands’ wet and cold climate, these clogs kept its populace’s feet dry and warm for several centuries. These shoes are light to carry and soft to wear. Though it’s not easy to walk with them, but they are easy to put on and walk in the mud. These shoes are made from Balsa-White Poplar Tree that is especially grown for this purpose.

The clogs

The clogs

In the flower market a faint perfume of flowers drifted in our nose and it lingered.

As we came out, we started to walk around. Like most of the European cities, with the help of accurate maps, Amsterdam is easy to navigate. Though, at least, citizens of two countries face problems – Americans because they can’t read maps and Indians because they can’t believe that maps can be so accurate!

We were walking along the canals, viewing beautiful canal houses.

A house with beautiful windows, Amsterdam

A house with beautiful windows, Amsterdam

Close-up!

Close-up!

Houses in The Netherlands have unique architecture and its best exemplified in canal houses of Amsterdam. Most of the Amsterdam has streets lined by these houses that are tightly packed together. Land was always precious in The Netherlands and so people squeezed themselves into every possible space.

Canal House

Canal Houses

In Amsterdam’s canal belt, everyone, even the wealthiest merchant had to comply with a set of strict and detailed planning regulations. In particular at the time when these canals were dug and town planning took place, then council prescribed the size of each building plot – the frontage was set at 30 feet and depth 200 feet and with it the government imposed house tax that was paid according to the width of houses.

Compactly packed canal houses, Amsterdam

Compactly packed canal houses, Amsterdam

Houses that were built during the earlier stages of excavation of canal typically had step gable, the architecture of renaissance period. Gable is front upper part of a house. Fifty years later houses were built with neck gable that looked like neck with a collar or bell gables that looked like bell. For wider houses there was cornice gable that just went straight across. In 18th century, some of these older gables were replaced by classic front piece attic with balustrade.

Canal houses in souvenirs

Canal houses in souvenirs

Most of these houses have steep and narrow staircases to maximize space efficiency. Many of these houses protrude or lean outside to get furniture over the building. It is not possible to take furniture on top floors of these houses and Dutch have to use pulley to pull furniture up to their apartments.

Several houses with hooks, Amsterdam

Several houses with hooks, Amsterdam

Hook Close-up, Amsterdam

Hook Close-up, Amsterdam

Hook in canal houses, Amsterdam

Another!

Amsterdam’s labyrinth of winding cobble stoned back-streets and broad serene canals are the most desirable place to get lost in. The whole atmosphere of this quaint little city is laid back.

Restaurants being prepared for the customers

Restaurants being prepared for the customers

People were expected to arrive soon in these restaurants and they were being prepared for the dinner.

We were also able to squeeze a visit to Madam Tussauds about which I will write in my next post.

Houses with different gables

It was around evening and we were exploring Amsterdam and enjoying its beautiful canal side. Houses around canal started to get lit from inside. The crimson sun was getting overwhelmed by dark clouds on the azure blue canvas with canal houses in foreground. Its rays were scattered all over the canal waters. It was a picture-perfect scene – very soothing and very relaxing. We tried to click what our eyes were seeing, but in vain.

House with balustrade gable can be seen in the picture

It was a perfect day as Rachit was very happy that he traveled in trams to his heart’s desire. Jaishree was happy to enjoy the beautiful city in company of cheerful Rachit and do I need to say anything about me :) As we were returning to our abode – we were very satisfied and contended with our tryst with this beautiful city.

15 Comments

  • Sudhir says:

    Well, what do I comment.
    Awesome and colorful pics which capture the mood of the city. A well researched description. The bicycles…too good and I thought of Amsterdam as a city of tulips and windmills only.Even I am contented with your tryst with Amsterdam.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks a lot Sudhir with this beautiful comment. Its my pleasure that you enjoyed joining me in this walk in Amsterdam :)

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Too exhaustive. Too comprehensive. You have mercilessly butchered my appetite to visit Amsterdam. Ive been there and seen that with you and theres nothing left for me to explore on my own. Too bad.

    Opening to a rather gloomy photograph, the post quickly gathers momentum and pedaled me through centuries of art of living (let Sri Sri preach), interspersed with humorous bits holy dip of bikes being the most notable and beautiful flowers.

    Oh, well, theres still something left and I know you are going to skip that area ;-)

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    :) I agree with you, reading so many posts at ghumakkar and viewing photographs, I too get the same feeling that I have travelled lot many places, then I actually did. But in our hearts we all know that every travel experience is unique, so I am sure that when you will visit Amsterdam, you will say Oh no, its so different from what Manish wrote about :)

    You find first photograph gloomy! I thought that its one of the most beautiful one and hence I put it at the top, hoping that may be it will make people click on the post :)

    Are you sure that I will skip any area in Amsterdam ;) let us see ?

    On serious note: Thanks a lot, for joining me on the exploration.

  • Cuckoo says:

    Yeah, I agree with Patrick, the first picture looks gloomy but beautiful. :)

    Oh you have covered so much of Amsterdam, I feel like going there once again.
    When I first went there, I thought India could adopt to cycling instead of making more cars. Environment friendly and economic.

    Thanks for linking to my post here.

    You have covered all for which Amsterdam is famous for… cycling, canals, windmills. Have you noticed many of the houses there are on triangular plots ?

    And yes, I too have those shoes as souvenirs. :)

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    This post was ready when you told me about your travels to Amsterdam & when I peeped in cuckoos nest (http://cuckooscosmos.com/) I found the missing link there. Now for those interested in knowing more about it Keukenhof is not a name, , there is complete information about it with beautiful pictures. And after reading your post many would like to include Keukenhof in their travel plans :) So thanks for making the article complete.

    Picture looked both gloomy but beautiful – So you have disappointed neither me nor Patrick :) Have you ever consider becoming a diplomat ;)

    I agree with you Cuckoo, travelling in Europe esp Amsterdam & looking at physicaly fit Europeans, one always wish that cycling could be similarly widely used and safe in India too :)

    No I was not aware that these houses are on triangular plots. Any specific reason for it ?

    Thanks Cuckoo.

  • nandanjha says:

    PJ, MK – Its a family channel (even after 12). I hope that we dont peep enough.

    MK – This reads like a ‘Shodh Patra’, what research and what effort. Amazon. Wow. I thought Canal interested you or may intrigued you (since you come from Rajasthan) and so you put all your heart and mind in knowing everthing about Canal but I guess I am completely wrong (yet again). From bicycles to wind-mills to Tulips to architecture.

    What does one say in the end. On to Madam Tussauds.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Its recession time and I am trying my hand at all possibilities. What about becoming Manish Guide on the streets of Amsterdam :)

    I wish I would have tried doing my doctorate under you, Dr. Manish, not a bad salutation ;)

    You correctly caught me, Rajsathanis have special attraction for water.

    Thanks Nandan for your lovely comment. Well, I love to write about places in detail so that anyone reading it can know something more about it and also I know that it had immensely helped me to understand the true character of Amsterdam :)

  • Vamsee says:

    Hi Manish,
    This is my first time at your blog and I must say that I am very impressed. I loved the details in your trip report. Most people gloss over details when they read/write travelogues, but I think that is what makes these places so charming.
    It is quite easy to visit a place, take a picture and be happy, but the real way to see a place is to understand why things are the way they are. You did a great job explaining that.
    Coincidentally, I wrote my Amsterdam travelogue a few months back. You can check it at
    http://letsgoforavacation.blogspot.com/2008/06/amsterdam-may-2008.html

  • Manish khamesra says:

    Hello Vamsee,

    First of all thanks for your warm comment.

    I think its in me, I can’t stop myself from digging deep into a place.

    In the mean time I was typing it, the link to your post opened & I stopped here and had a look at your post. I just browsed through it. I am awestruck with the wonderful photographs and a detailed description (I still have to read in detail).

    Now, I am in two minds, should I write more about myself or should I wait and comment only after reading your posts. I think I should do the second …

    Please keep on visiting us at ghumakkar, your comments are very welcome and if it pleases you, you can also contribute at ghumakkar. I am sure that you will have a fan following :)

  • Ram Dhall says:

    What a splendid write up! The ease with which you take the readers around the places and the detailing, with which you hold their attention, is simply awesome. The pictures are equally well supported. The first picture is simply amazing.

    Look forward to your next post.

  • Manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Ram Uncle. I am glad that you liked it. Its always a very pleasant feeling to get a comment from you :) and appreciation makes it further encouraging ;)

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