“Close one. They were in a hurry,” I thought to myself. I continued to wander down the street, observing Amsterdam at a relaxed pace.
Walking down the cobblestoned street, I casually admired the beautiful 17th and 18th century architecture with the multicolored, brick buildings. I watched the water in canals, lined with trees and chained up bikes, gently trickle by.
A series of canals separate the streets in Amsterdam, creating 1500 bridges and 90 islands within the city. Built in the 17th century, the canals were meant to allow easier development needed to accommodate an increasing population. They now create a ring area around the city center and give city dwellers a small piece of serenity.
Strolling down the streets, it’s easy to notice large, pillar-like structures jutting out of the top of each home, which lean forward only slightly towards the canals. Those beams are used for pulley systems and the houses lean forward to avoid breaking windows while using the system. As house owners are taxed by the square meter in The Netherlands, houses were built with extremely steep and small stairs – or should I say ladders – to save space. Therefore, the pulley systems are needed to get larger items onto one of the upper floors through the windows.
I moseyed down a street where I caught a whiff of a wonderful scent – tulips! Amsterdam is home to an incredible flower market, where tulips are sold as cheaply and easily as baguettes are sold in France. The Netherlands are famous for their tulip production, and miles and miles of blue, red, yellow, purple, and pink tulip fields surround Amsterdam.
Weaving around some cyclists, I entered Anne Frank’s hiding house where she stayed throughout the Holocaust to avoid the Nazis. Her house, now renovated into a museum, resides at the edge of a large canal lined with houseboats. The living quarters were modest, small, and dark as all the windows had to be covered to avoid discovery. A Jewish family, Anne went into hiding in 1942 with her family and stayed until they were discovered in 1944. She passed away from typhus while in a concentration camp in March of 1945. She is now famous for the publication of her diary which she wrote during hiding.
Exiting Anne Frank’s house, suddenly I heard, “ding ding ding ding ding ding!” A group of three bicycles came roaring up behind me, and I felt the woosh as they just barely missed my leg. I realized then that I really needed to be more aware of the cyclists.
And let me tell you, Amsterdam is infested with cyclists. It’s the most bicycle friendly city in the world and 60% of transportation within the city is done on bikes. Cyclists run the roads - literally.
After a handful of near death experiences, I spent the rest of the weekend constantly checking behind myself, always in fear of being in the way of the cyclists. One eye on the road in front, one on the road in back – by looking around so much, I surely didn’t miss any of the wonderful sites in Amsterdam!