Amsterdam Hotels Articles

August 27, 2010

Memoirs: Visiting Amsterdam

When I recall what those two words mean to me, I realize with surprise, that it is almost 40 years since I walked the cobbled streets of that magical city. It was July, 1969, a few days before the most magnificent achievement of the 20th century occurred, Man walked on the Moon. We were hitchhiking round Europe, my friend and I, barely 20 years old, and after spending our first night on the Continent in Bruges in Belgium, we hitched on to Amsterdam, arriving just after noon.

Bicycles, that was my first impression. Cobbles, water, tall slender houses, full of dignity and beauty, and bicycles. Whole families seemed to be attached to just one machine, everything was clean and sparkling in the sunshine, orderly, friendly. The scent of good cigars and even better coffee permeated the air. Though this was the city center, there were few motor vehicles, so no pollution. Big, bendy lumbering trams ran on metal tracks and overhead connections. It was so different for me, so laid back and just magic.

We had booked into the Youth Hostel on Klovenniersburgval for three nights, it was a tram ride away from the center. A wily old gentleman showed us how to get on in the middle of the bendy vehicle, then told us our stop, pointing to the rear doors. We followed his instructions, and so avoided paying, something he took great delight in, though it was never our intention to cheat the city transport company, but he enjoyed himself mightily.

The following day, we strolled in Dam Square, the Rembrandt Square, the streets edged with the shining water of the many canals. Remember, these were the days of love and peace, hippies and tolerance. That tolerance was and is, something that I am assured still pertains in 21st century Amsterdam. There were jugglers, musicians, pavement artists, silversmiths at work, life and color everywhere. We sat in a small cafe with red and white checked tablecloths, drank magnificent coffee and ate cake. The atmosphere was so friendly and relaxed, accepting of everybody, no matter what they wore or how they looked. I loved it.

In the evening, people sat on the steps of the Youth Hostel, facing the lighted canal, and exchanged traveler’s tales. Not sure just where we were going, but not caring, we set off to walk along the small cobbled streets, keeping the canal as our landmark for home. These streets were narrow, there were bars, a big dance hall or club of some kind, lighted windows with ladies on display. Men seemed to take a lot of interest in the two of us, with our plain tee shirts and shorts. As we moved back towards the busier roads, we realized we had just been in the famous Amsterdam red light area. Oh well, nobody bothered us, and we had seen some very interesting sights.

Next day, we took a guided tour on a canal bus, giving the city a whole new perspective from the water, the architecture was stunning, and going out into the harbor was exciting too. We visited the diamond cutters at work, sadly missed out on Anne Frank’s house and the art of Rembrandt, but I promise I will see them one day. Time was pressing and after those three wonderful days, we rode the tram to the outskirts of the city and stood, last in a line of eight hitchhikers, seeking a ride to Germany. Shortly, a VW camper pulled in at the head of the line. He was heading as far as the border, and he took all eight of us. What a fitting end to our short stay in that great city, filled with such kind and tolerant people. That was MY Amsterdam.

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