After Simon's ridiculously early morning walk, we did the conspicuously touristy thing and took our guide-book in hand and proceeded to follow the author's self-guided walking tour of central amsterdam. We started out at about 8:30 which meant that many places were not yet open, but in some ways this was nice too as it also meant we had many places to ourselves - and seeing as we walked back rather than following instructions and catching a tram, we also had a 2nd opportunity to visit the places that were closed earlier. Having said that, we're really bad indoor tourists and I don't actually think we set foot inside a single recommended building. Ah well, we were happy. Despite walking more than 7km, mostly in the rain.
Where did we go and what did we see? Well, a lot of it was more about just taking it all in, enjoying the architecture, observing the customs and spotting all the small details. And noticing how even everyday things become less familiar when you're half a world away from home. Such as fruit. We walked past a number of fruit stalls today and invariably they were selling many fruits we were unfamiliar with, along with varieties of usually familiar fruits that were far from it - like the strawberries that looked almost like raspberries, except that I am aware that strawberries are the only fruit who wear their seeds on the outside, and these little guys clearly had their seeds on show. Anyway, I digress!
We wandered from our place (I find I fairly quickly refer to where-ever I'm sleeping as 'home') across a few canals and through a few alleyways until we reached Damrak - the main street that stretches from the Centraal station down to Dam Square. From there we wandered along Damrak to Dam Square observing sights along the way. We joined the street at about the Beurs - the old stock exchange building, which apparently is an early example of a "modern building, emphasising function over looks". Personally I think it far more attractive than most 'function over form' buildings I am used to! Apparently Simon didn't like the photos he took here, so if you're curious, use Google. Wait! My crappy Mac skills are to blame (oh, did I fail to mention our apartment also has a Mac for our use?!) Found a glimpse of Beurs.
We reached Dam Square and I did the cheesy deed and read out all the details about the various buildings and monuments around the square. I personally found the guy cleaning windows in the palace the most notable feature. I don't know why, but he was quite fascinating! And the buildings of course were absolutely gorgeous. I remember at some point wandering through here thinking how fabulous it felt to be back in Europe.
Next we wandered down on to the pedestrian only Kalverstraat. Here we stumbled upon the 'hidden catholic church'. I was again taken with the small details - the parrot and dude with set-square carvings above the door. Is he a mathematician? Or a priest? Or who? Wandering off to google briefly... Didn't help. If anyone knows, please comment and enlighten me! The parrot is explained, but not the dude with the set square.
Directly across the road from this was a McDonalds where we were amused to see a traveller hunkered down with laptop in hand, taking advantage of the free-wifi hotspot. I'm really not sure why he didn't just go inside and sit more comfortably and order a coffee or tea.
Next we were meant to wander down an alley to the entrance to the Amsterdam Museum, but it was not yet open, however we still photographed the entrance and learnt about the use of XXX and the crown in the Amsterdam coat of arms. Apparently the 3 Xs symbolise heroism, determination and mercy, whilst also representing the crucifixion of St Andrew - the patron saint of fisherman. And the crown dates back to the 15th century and Maximilian I. (I'm not relaying details here, I'm sure wikipedia has it all for the curious).
We also popped in to the Begijnhof, however photos were strictly not allowed, despite the man clomping around taking photos from pretty much every angle. I appreciated the peace and tranquility of this interior courtyard surrounded by connected houses.
Our next point of particular interest was the flower markets lining the western side of the Singel canal from the Mint Tower back towards Centraal. Our first sight of this was from the other side of the canal.... (yes, Simon has hat hair - persistent rain and coat-hoods will do that. The guidebook is also quite damp by this stage).
The array of flowers, seeds and bulbs on display, ooh and cacti, was just amazing. Every single shop had something new and fabulous to admire or marvel at. The bonsais were wonderful - including a bonsaied olive tree, and the variety of colours of tulips simply amazing. There was in all honesty, far too much to try and take in along this stretch. And a few too many photos to boot. I've tried to keep it the bare minimum! (The canned marijuana seeds were export quality btw.)
From here on, the notable points for us were once again in the little details. The cheese shop, the park full of bronze lizards, the clothing shop "NZA - New Zealand Auckland", the madness of parked bikes - what to do if yours is at the back?, people riding bicycles whilst holding an umbrella.
Once we'd completed the prescribed tour we randomly wandered back to Kalverstraat in search of somewhere to have lunch. And lunch is the subject of a further blog post.