I never quite understood why foreigners are so fond of Amsterdam. Sure, you can smoke some fine pot over there, but fine pot is available all over the country, not just Amsterdam. The prostitutes are expensive, the tourists annoying, the Amsterdam-people spit at their food before they sell it to you. When it’s raining (about 90% of the year), smelly brown raindrops come down and pollute the area. Citizens that complain about the matter are ignored by the local government.

As for sex. When you’re ugly in the US, you’re ugly in Europe too, and won’t get any for free. And those prostitutes want to get paid, rather than laid. Tough shit when you’ve run out of cash.
As for drugs. Drugs aren’t only expensive, you also can’t take any drugs home with you. Pretty nasty when you got addicted to a certain drug in a few days.
As for tolerance. Dutch people always poke fun at tourists in their native language. When I worked in a small shop in the “Kalverstraat”, we laughed at your clothes, your manners, your hair and your stupid jokes. We ridiculed and humiliated you, while you thought we were being our kind selves. Dutch people don’t discriminate more, but certainly not less than people in other countries.

Walk a mile through Amsterdam and you’ll find condoms and used needles sticking to your shoes. You’ll find out your wallet, photo camera and 4-year old daughter are missing, find out you can’t find your way back to the hotel, and that Dutch people aren’t all that nice when it comes down to it.

Amsterdam has good sides, as well as bad sides. I do not wish to destroy the Dutch economy. I do wish, however, that foreigners have a realistic image of the city. The best thing about Amsterdam are the city’s main museums, the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. When you want sex, make contact with that girl/boy you secretly always had a crush on. When you want to get stoned, learn chemistry. When you want tolerance, get a dog.

The main museum in Amsterdam is not the Stedelijk. That's the modern art museum and a wonderful place it is too, with Mondrian, de Koonig, Van Gogh, Cartier-Bresson and Klee.

No, the main museum in Amsterdam is the Rijksmuseum, also on the Museumplein. That is the place where they keep the Vermeer, Rembrandt, Hals and Durer. Go there first, I say.

Between the two lies the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's premiere concert venue. If you can get tickets, go hear something there but even if you can't, go inside just to see it.

October 2002: Leo Beranek and Takahiko Yanigasawa have conducted a study and declare the Concertgebouw to be the fifth-best acoustic environment in the world. Details in Concert Halls and Opera Houses: Music, Acoustics and Architecture.

The arts scene in Amsterdam seems to be something that people, read AMERICANS, never seem to mention. Several incredible museums, symphony houses, opera, history-Anne Frank's house, tulips, and on ad nauseum. The only thing that you could learn from most people regarding Amsterdam is how great the dope is, how hard you can party in the open and how fucking cold it gets there even when you are high. And the Europeans look at us as if we are stupid???
Where does art go to die? Nowhere. It dies right in front of you with its hand outstretched clutching at the thin air that it has survived on for all of its measly existence. "You only become famous after you die" is one of the truest axioms ever said about art. People have shortsightedness bred into them at his stage of evolution. Look at how high I got in Amsterdam dude!! Yeah but did you go in the Van Gogh museum and see his father's bible with the worn down spots in the book where he used to place his hands during sermons, trip on that, how could growing up in that environment have influenced his art? Walk around the museum and see for yourself. Get out, get involved, if that was a drug you couldn't give it away....whoa,I'm ranting, I think I need a bong hit.

Amsterdam is the constitutional capital and largest city of the Netherlands. It lies in the province of Noord-Holland (North Holland) on the IJ, an inlet of the IJsselmeer. The name Amsterdam is derived from the old name Amstelredamme, which in turn comes from the the fact that it is situated where the small, bifurcated Amstel River (which empties into the IJ) is joined by a sluice dam (originally built c.1240). Amsterdam is also known as the "Venice of the North", due to the fact that the city is cut by some 40 concentric and radial canals that are flanked by streets (most often on both sides) and crossed by some 400 bridges. Almost the entire city rests on a foundation of (wooden) piles driven through peat and sand to a firm substratum of clay.

Amsterdam was charted as a city around 1300. In 1369 it became a member of the Hanseatic league. In 1578, after accepting the Reformation, the people expelled their pro-Spanish magistrates and joined the Netherland provinces. In the late 16th century Amsterdam grew rapidly, due to the decline of Antwerp and Ghent, and a large amount of refugees coming in from other nations (Flemish merchants, Jewish diamond cutters and merchants, and French Huguenots). The city's growth was further increased by the The Peace of Westphalia (1648), that closed the Scheldt (Escaut) to navigation. The Golden Age for Amsterdam came in the 17th century, after the succesful conclusion of the Dutch wars for independence from Spain. Because of its tolerant government, it became a center of liberal thought and book printing. Amsterdam became the chief commercial centre of northern Europe. The beautiful houses you can still find flanking the canals today were built in this period by wealthy tradesmen.

This situation of prosperity ended in the late 18th century because of the silting of the Zuiderzee and the British blockade before and during the Napoleonic wars. The city was captured by the French in 1795 and became the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was ruled by Louis Bonaparte. In 1894 the constitution made it the capital of the Netherlands; the sovereigns are usually sworn in at Amsterdam and reside in a palace outside the city. However, The Hague is the seat of government. In the latter part of the 19th century, commercial activities revived with the opening of the North Sea and North Holland canals. During World War II Amsterdam was occupied by German troops (1940–45) and suffered severe hardship. Most of the city's Jews (c.75,000 in 1940) were deported and killed by the Germans. The port was badly damaged, but it has since been rebuilt and improved.

Amsterdam has been home to some famous Dutch people: Rembrandt (who was born in Leiden), Anne Frank, Mondriaan, and Spinoza, in no particular order.

For the interested tourist, there are a great many things to do in Amsterdam apart from the (in)famous Red Light District. To see the city from a less usual point of view, take a trip on a canal boat. The tour will lead you along many beautiful spots and the guide has interesting things to tell about Amsterdam's history.

Amsterdam has many museums. Among them are the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House mentioned above. You van also visit the Historical Museum, the Allard Pierson museum (archeological) or Nemo, a science museum. Less sophisticated are Madame Tussaud's, the tattoo museum and the sex museum.

Amsterdam has loads of monumental buildings, many of which are the merchant's houses that can be found along the canals, but also bridges, churches, towers, gate buildings and courtyards. Amsterdam also has the oldest Dutch zoo: Artis.

In short: enjoy your stay and be sure to look further than the next coffeeshop.

For tons of information try www.amsterdam.nl/e_index.html

Amsterdam, die grote stad,
is gebouwd op palen.
als die stad eens ommeviel,
wie zou dat betalen?

Amsterdam, the big city,
it was built on piles.
if this city would fall over,
who would pay for that?
A popular nursery rhyme that I learnt growing up as an Amsterdammer. Although the chances for Amsterdam to tumble over are pretty slim, it is true that almost every building in the city is supported by piles to stop them from sinking in the muddy soil. For instance, the Beurs van Berlage; the old stock exchange building designed by the famous architect Hendrik Peter Berlage is supported on almost 5000 piles. Many buildings and houses along the canals still have their centuries-old wooden pile foundations. It is a very costly operation to have these piles replaced by modern ones.


Speaking of the canals (gracht, pl.:grachten), that is of course what Amsterdam is famous for (see also Amsterdam Canals). The four major canals go in wide semicircles around the Dam (or Dam Square), forming the city center. Historically, they were created in several waves of city expansion spanning a few centuries.

Amsterdam was formed at the end of the 12th century. It was a small settlement around a dam in the river Amstel (hence the origin of the name Amstelodamum, Amstelredam) at the current location of the Dam Square. Amsterdam received its city rights in 1300 or 1306 (exact date unknown).

The first serious urban expansions were in the 14th, and especially the 15th century. Most of the houses from this period were made of wood. There are still two houses remaining; a house on the Begijnhof (1425), and one on the Zeedijk (1550). However, many houses still have their original wooden frames. Larger buildings from this period were made of stone, such as the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The entire city was surrounded by a wall, and a canal (nowadays at the location of the Singel). There are a few structures (gates and towers) remaining from this period: de Waag, Schreierstoren, the lower part of the Munttoren.

The most important period of growth for the city was the Gouden Eeuw (Golden Age), from 1585 (marked by the siege of Antwerp) until 1672 (French occupation). The city expanded drastically, and in order to accommodate the influx of rich merchants, the city limits marked by the Singel were expanded with extra canals (first the Herengracht then the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht). You can find many nice houses from this period along the canals. Also, the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace, originally the Town Hall) on the Dam was built in this period.

The period from 1672-1795 was a period of economic recession for the Republic. France occupies the country for a short period in 1672, but after their retreat, Amsterdam remains neutral in the various wars that surround the republic. As a result, the city maintained its leading role in world trade.

In 1795, the French again occupy the country, and the occupation lasts until 1813. In this period, the economic recession leads to a population drop, and neglect of many historic buildings.

From 1813 until 1940, the city recuperates from the French occupation. The industrial revolution leads to an increasing wealth and population growth (referred to as the nieuwe Gouden Eeuw, the new Golden Age). In this period, the city starts expanding rapidly outside the limit of the canals.

From 1940 until 1945, Germany occupies the country, but fortunately Amsterdam is spared from serious bombings like they occurred in Rotterdam.

Coat of Arms

Three St. Andrews crosses aligned vertically:


The crosses are set in a black stripe, with two red stripes on the flanks. Two lions hold the banner and a crown rests on top of it. The origin of the Arms of Amsterdam is not clear. The black could symbolize the water. The three crosses either refer to the crusades of an important family de Heren van Persijn, or perhaps to the three disasters that Amsterdam endured in its history.

In 1489, Emperor Maximilian I allowed the city to carry a crown in its Coat of Arms, as token of appreciation for its support (Amsterdam was host to the Emperor during his illness). In the 16th century, the two lions were added to the Arms.

Queen Wilhelmina allowed the city to add the logo Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig (Heroic, Determined, Merciful) to the bottom of the Arms, because of its role during the German occupation.

Postcard from Amsterdam

Early one morning in Amsterdam, I watched a boy leave for school.

A canal. Dark brown, still water, curved into combed wakes as boats pass, flags at their sterns as brave as happy dogs' tails. How can a city be so quiet? Trams slip by, bicycles wheel almost silently. You walk down the brick-lined, tree-enfolded canalsides, up over the slightly humped bridges, pushing through the stream of air; it curves into combed wakes as you pass. We all create a wind as we walk. Is this, then, a wind story, an air story?

The boy pulls his bike down the stoop, its tire bouncing on the pavement. He props it against the railing as he shrugs on his backpack, then mounts and is off in one continuous, dancelike movement. The wind ruffles his hair as he rides, pushing it off his forehead, mild May wind, roiling behind him in the wake of his passing.

The winds of all our passings are roiling memories. Where there are many automobiles, the winds become a hurricane, too fast, screaming by, scouring out our thoughts instead of nourishing them. The winds of our passing when we are not involved in it, when we are not walking or pumping pedals or pulling oars, those winds blow too furiously for us to keep up. But, silly humans, we think we can.

Babes, weed and clouds of cigarette smoke

(Attitudes about Amsterdam that may not be particularly true)

Mention you are visiting Amsterdam, and you may get a wink and a nudge. It's true the city has a certain reputation for sexual freedom and drug use. But the city we found on a recent visit didn't fit the hedonistic mold. The guidebooks we studied were almost as bad as our insinuating friends. They had us steeled for situations we never encountered. Among them:

  • Sex everywhere. Yes, prostitution is legal -- and regulated. There's a red light district. You can visit it if you are so inclined, but the trade doesn't spill out into the rest of the city, where people seem to go earnestly about their business. And we didn't see public displays of affection of the sort you often encounter at the local shopping mall.
  • Aggressive bicyclists. Bike riders would probably prefer that you stay off the designated bike lanes, but they aren't rude about it. They also stop for pedestrians at intersections.
  • Cigarette smoke everywhere. Many, if not most, restaurants are smoke-free. Folks tend to go outside if they want to light up. With typical tolerance, the Dutch don't prohibit smoking -- it was allowed in our hotel room, for instance -- but most people are too polite to smoke where it could bother others.
  • Marijuana. Possessing weed is illegal, but smoking it is tolerated. Part of the reason it's tolerated is that it isn't in your face. We didn't have time to check out the "coffee houses" where various types of grass were on the menu, but neither did we encounter (or smell) anyone smoking it on the street.
  • Dirty streets and smelly canals. The writer of the National Geographic guidebook to Amsterdam in particular seemed dismayed by the "often squalid state of the city's streets." That wasn't the experience we had in our forays from our Konigsplein hotel. There was some graffiti; there was the occasional dog dropping. There is in American cities, too.

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