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Travelogue: In The City of Bicycles and Canals

The first thing you'll notice in Amsterdam is that the bicycles outnumber the people (with 880,000 bikes to a population of 800,000 city dwellers), thanks to a well-established network of bike paths and a relatively flat landscape. The young and the old get around town effortlessly in their two-wheelers, and perhaps because the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, the bicycle seats seem much higher than I have seen anywhere else.

Amsterdam is also called the Venice of the North, boasting over 1,000 km of canals laid out in a concentric half-circle pattern known as grachtengordel (literally 'belt of canals'). Much of Amsterdam is built on reclaimed land and the houses that line the canals are built on wooden piles drilled deep into the soil. Back in the 16th century, the authorities taxed the people based on the width of their houses, which resulted in the skinny buildings you see today. The structures lean forward on purpose, because it makes it easier for the owners to lift their furniture and goods up and down without colliding into the walls or windows. Look up at the top of the buildings and you will see a hoist beam to that end!

There are people who visit Amsterdam for their coffee shops and red-light district, but we were told that these are the tourists that the government wants to avoid, for good reason. They have plenty else to offer- the picturesque canal views and stunning architecture, the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk museum, damn good coffee, street food and all the cheese you can eat, easy day trips to the surrounding areas like The Hague, Rotterdam and Zaanse Schans (more on that later). We unfortunately had to miss out on Anne Frank's House because it has been booked out months in advance, and I highly recommend you buy your museum tickets online to avoid the long lines at the door.

P/S: We stayed in an AirBNB that was in a traditional Dutch house, and the impossibly narrow and steep stairway appear like they have been distorted in a House of Mirrors, but we quickly got used to its quirkiness. It added a daily dose of reality of life in Amsterdam, and we wouldn't have traded it for anything else!

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