Tag Archives: canals

A few days in Amsterdam

We arrived at Schiphol around eleven in the morning and caught a taxi to our hotel. Banks Mansion is a boutique hotel on the edge of the Herrengracht in central Amsterdam. The usual check in time for hotels is 2pm, which is always a pain when you’ve just been en route for well over a day. The reception staff were great – friendly and welcoming. Yes, the room was ready. If we’d like to come this way?

As you might have guessed, the building used to be a bank converted into a bed and breakfast hotel. The room was comfortable, furnished in a style to suit the building, with an added en suite bathroom. And then there were the extras. There were decanters of liquor in the room and a mini-bar, all included with the tariff.

The breakfast buffet

A la carte

Breakfast was also included, of course. But what a breakfast. Each morning we went down into the cellar which was set up as a dining room. The Dutch tend to eat bread, cold meat, and cheese for breakfast, and they were there in abundance, taking me straight back to my childhood, remembering small goods I hadn’t tasted for years. Cereals, porridge, fruit toast, juices and the like were all on offer, laid out like a country kitchen. And there was also a chef, Portugese or Chilean if I remember right. He would cook bacon and eggs how you like them, and omelettes to your taste.

Every evening the hotel had a ‘happy hour’ in the lounge room opposite the reception desk. Guests could imbibe wine, beer, or spirits and nibble on a selection of finger food, all part of the deal. But guests had to venture elsewhere for lunch and dinner. Pete and I didn’t venture far on our first evening. It happened to be Liberation Day, when the Dutch commemorate the arrival of Canadian troops into Amsterdam on 5th May, 1945. It’s a festive day with celebrations throughout the city. Although we heard sounds from outside, we were too tired and jet-lagged to even go and look. We found a nearby Italian restaurant, ate early and went back to the hotel to bed.


Amsterdam is one the world’s most picturesque cities. The water in the arch of canals provide light and reflections on even the dullest day. The seventeenth century buildings, the water, and trees create a play of light and reflections that is a photographer’s dream.

Reflections in still water

Architecture, people, bikes, bridges

The Oude Kerk tower, boats, cars, bikes

Those boats are houseboats, permenently moored

Boats and people everywhere

The Dutch love their water. You’ll see them everywhere, taking advantage of any glimpse of sun to go out boating on the canals. The rest ride their bikes, finger ready on the bell to warn off errant tourists. Bikes have right of way and you’d better not forget it.

Abandoned some time ago

Years ago, the first time Pete had been to Amsterdam, we were met at sparrowfart at the airport by a colleague from KLM. He took us for a walk around the canals. Pete gazed around, wide-eyed, as Gerton explained it was all fresh water, and the canals were ‘flushed’ every day into the Amstel River, which flows to the sea. There used to be hundreds of breweries in Amsterdam, all drawing water from the canals.

Pete asked, “How deep are the canals?”

“Three metres,” Gerton answered. “One metre of mud, one metre of bikes, and the rest water.”

Note that solid lock on the first bike

And it’s true that bikes end up in the canals. And the occasional car. And in the past, horses. In Australia, the powers-that-be would have insisted on fencing, but the best you’ll see is nudge bars to stop your car rolling into the water. As well as ending up in the canals, bikes are often abandoned, and also stolen. People grab a bike from the many bike parks, such as the one at Central Station, ride it somewhere and leave it. Nobody wears a helmet, but they do carry bike locks.

There’s nothing better than taking a tour on one of the many tourist boats that take visitors around the waterways, but we’d done that a couple of times before, so we strolled along beside the Herrengracht and had a look around. The Rembrandtsplein was not far away. It’s a garden square with a statue of Rembrandt and a group of bronze statues crafted from the figures in the famous painting, The Night Watch. We’d taken photos there before. This time, though, the rhododendrons were gone, as were the Night Watch statues. The square looked like a wasteland. So disappointing. It has been renovated since then, I’m glad to say, but back then, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

In the afternoon we met a distant relative of mine. I’ll cover that next time.


A lazy Amsterdam weekend

Ferries dodge around the larger traffic

The weather cleared a wee bit on Saturday, so we mooched around enjoying the city. We’d spent quite a bit of time up on the eleventh floor admiring the efficiency of Amsterdam’s transport system. From up there you can watch the trains filtering in to the central station via the dozen or so lines and the myriad of points. Trams shuttle people along the tracks beside the Ij, and ferries dart backwards and forwards across the waterway to North Amsterdam. They have to be sharp, those ferry captains. The trip takes all of five minutes, but the waterway is busy with traffic – barges, pleasure boats, work boats and the occasional small liner headed for the cruise ship berths. And the ferries are always packed, both ways.

Standing room only

So we wandered down through the central station’s central thoroughfare – filled with shops catering for working people, offering pre-packaged meals, flowers, coffee, bread and the like. Queues of people, quite a few with bikes and scooters, waited at the ferry landing. We joined them and shuffled on board with everybody else as soon as the boat cleared of the passengers coming this way. It’s standing room only, pack ‘em in but without shoving. Then you’re off for the short trip, where you shuffle off again. We never did find out where all those people were going, but we wanted a look at the artsy looking building we’d seen from the room. It was the film museum, part of the university of arts. Not our thing, so we used the loo, then went back to the central station.

Wandering around Amsterdam is always fun. The canals provide a sense of space and air and brightness you don’t often find in European cities. We went down to the Singel Gracht to the flower markets where you can get T shirts, drank some coffee, took some pictures.

That evening we found the Mexican restaurant Vicky and Bruce told us about, just across the canal from the hotel. It wasn’t the greatest Mexican I’ve ever had, but Pete enjoyed his steak – and both of us enjoyed talking to the waiter. He was a Syrian refugee, hoping to be accepted for Dutch citizenship. He has a Christian background and it was interesting listening to his take on the refugees who come to European countries expecting that the host nation will change to suit them. This sort of man – willing to work hard, learn the language and so on – would be welcome anywhere. He spoke excellent English, which he already knew before he left Syria, so I’d say he’s an educated man starting again from the ground up. Good for him. We never got round to asking him how he got out of Syria and into Amsterdam. But he did say that if you came from Syria you automatically had refugee status.

The next day we found out why we hadn’t been able to book rooms in Amsterdam for this weekend. Sunday was “Dam to Dam” day, a charity run between Amsterdam and Zaandam. We watched the riders, walkers, runners gathering down on the road along the front of the station until they were off, then we went down to transfer to the rivership.

The competitors congregate before the start

As it turned out, the Amaverde wasn’t berthed at the docks behind the hotel, she was over at the Westerdok, which meant a short taxi ride. We managed to fend off the touts trying to rob taxi drivers of their fares, handed over our luggage to the APT crew, and went off for a well-earned glass of something.