It seems a little heathen when asked for my most abiding memory of Amsterdam to cite a slice of cinnamon-spiced Dutch Apple Cake but four years later, I’m still in the thrall of that first unbelievable explosion of flavour. We were in ‘t Nieuwe Kafé restaurant which is housed beneath the stunning Gothic Nieuwe Kerk church in Dam Square. You can see the cafe just to the right of the church entrance in the picture below.
Right at the heart of Amsterdam, Dam Square is home to the extraordinarily evocative memorial to the 22 local citizens who were celebrating liberation in 1945 when they were shot by German troops. For such a small city, Amsterdam has a disproportionate number of memorials, museums and galleries but, with a keen interest in domestic architecture, I was here primarily to view the stunning 17th century homes characterised by their tall, narrow design. This was my first visit and I was enchanted.
The houses lean slightly forward and often have a beam sticking out from the top. This was so that goods or furniture could be winched up since the narrowness of the buildings made it difficult to take them up the stairs. The forward angle stopped the goods banging into the front of the house. It’s also thought that the owners of the grandest liked the forward lean so that its facade could be more easily viewed from the canal. The decorative gables above the uppermost windows on many of the houses indicate the profession of the original inhabitants.
The vibrant city centre is compact enough to explore on foot but why would you when for just a few euros you can enjoy the very best of the sights by taking a leisurely cruise on a glass topped boat along a section of the 100km of canals which cover a quarter of the city. Add to this the bonus of avoiding the risk of being flattened by one of the many thousands of bicycles that hurtle around the streets and there is no better way to enjoy the opulent mansions and houses at close quarters. Equally fascinating were the house boats, originally permitted by the council during the 1960s as a cheap solution to the housing shortage. Chatting to our very knowledgeable guide on our boat, I discovered that today they are highly desirable and only the wealthiest inhabitants can afford to live in them.
One canal better viewed on foot is the Singel. A sweet floral aroma announces Amsterdam’s Blomenmarket long before your eyes light upon the abundant blooms adorning the floating flower stalls. Founded in the 1860s, the market exports tulips all over the world. Opposite are shops which are accessed via steep steps. The display in the cheese shop drew us in and the tasty samples kept us there!
We ventured in to the Red Light District where, in the evening, prostitutes tout for business from shop windows alongside clubs advertising live sex shows. Here, less ordered than in the more salubrious parts of the city, the architecture confuses with a confused jumble of old houses with modern picture windows, and delights with the oddly designed buildings which lean at peculiar angles. It is undoubtedly seedy but the local council, in an attempt to capitalise on this tourist attraction, are working towards making it more of a cultural experience, tidying up the surroundings and closing down the most notorious clubs.
There is so much to see in Amsterdam and, although our visit was intentionally short, there was always the proviso that we would return soon if we wanted more time there. We have done so, and yes, we did partake of another slice of that sublime apple cake. I want to go back again.