Sunday 16th September
Our days normally start with a morning walk but our late sleep-in put that out for today. Our morning walking tour started at 11 am and so we focused on making that our goal for the morning; that and a load of washing. Our guide for the tour was Sergio again and, for me at least, this was a positive as I loved his energy and enthusiasm. There was a bit more of a focus on ‘history’ in this tour and each of the stops along the walk dealt with a particular aspect of Amsterdam’s culture. Some of the points that caught my attention are listed below:
- Holland: so named as it looked like a land of ‘holes’ due to the swamp-like landscape.
- Holland is the swampy part of the Netherlands.
- 1/3 of Netherlands lies below sea-level.
- Clogs: wooden shoes were needed to cope with the swampy conditions.
- Sergio reinforced that the Amsterdam’s tolerant culture derives from being a City of Merchants and this has shaped much of the development in the City: different ethnicity and behaviours tolerated if financially beneficial for the City.
- The national colour for Amsterdam is Orange and derives from William of Orange who led the 80 yr War of Independence against the Spanish Inquisition and the rule of Catholicism.
- In the following years, after the Reformation, the Dutch allowed Catholics to stay but they needed to celebrate behind closed doors and, hence, the 20 ‘hidden Churches’ throughout the City; but now only 4 remain.
- Marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam but tolerated: people are allowed 5 grams or 4 plants and Coffee shops pay a tax on this of up to 58%.
- The ‘tolerance’ of Marijuana is credited with Amsterdam having low rates of abuse of other harder drugs.
- Amsterdam was the only country to go from being a Republic to a Monarchy: The Town Hall, built in 1600s, became a Palace in 1799 when Louis, brother of Napoleon, was sent out to rule Amsterdam. The people of Amsterdam chose to keep a monarchy, after Napoleon was defeated, and asked William of Orange to come back to rule.
- ‘Coffee shop’ name coined to identify a venue as a source for Marijuana as ‘Tea shops’ were known for their supply of Opium.
- The Golden Age for Amsterdam was a result of the Spice Trade and they became the wealthiest country due to success here. This wealth was accredited to two main factors:
- VOC (The United East India Company) : The VOC shipping company was created and it sold stock to raise funds to build ships and, in this process, Amsterdam established the firts ever stock exchange. The ‘Dividend’ from VOC was high at 40% and, later, 20% per year helping to build wealth foll all the population. VOC ended up employing 2 million sailors and had more ships than the rest of Europe combined. The Company does not exist today as it went bankrupt after about 200 years.
- Persecuted Jews, who were seeking safe haven in Amsterdam from Portugal and Spain following the Inquisition, were asked to go back to Portugal to steal maps to enable sea navigation from Amsterdam. It took three years but they were successful in this endeavor and this led to the rapid expansion of the VOC and successful spice trading.
The walking tour finished at about 2.30 pm and we wound our way back to the Newmarket region to find somewhere for lunch. We had spied a guy drinking paddles of craft beer whilst on our morning walking tour and so I suggested to Mark that we try and find this venue for our lunch and that’s where we ended up; at De Bekeerde Suster. During lunch we planned the rest of our afternoon and decided to take one of the many canal cruises that were on offer. Our participation in the walking tour granted us discount access to cruises operated by Boat Amsterdam so we chose a 70 minute tour for 4.15 pm. That, and the fact that this company offered free beer and wine, helped to make up Mark’s mind. So, after lunch, we made a quick stop-off at the apartment before walking down to pick up the cruise.
The canal cruise was well worthwhile and we opted to sit near the back of the boat whereas most folk sat towards the front. This proved rather fortuitous as we then had the ear of the Captain of the boat. It turns out he, too, is an avid cyclist so Mark and he had lots to talk about. He was a very well informed and well spoken young man and gave us further information about the history of Amsterdam and the Canals. We later discovered he is close to finishing his medical degree and planning to specialise in Gynecology so that helped to explain his competence and ease of communication.
The cruise completed and we were returned to our starting point by about 5.30 pm and so we headed home with just one stop-off to purchase supplies for dinner. However, after one glass of wine and a beer in the sun on our balcony, we decided we were too tired to bother cooking or eating and so made do with the calories from the accompanying cheese and bread.