Sitting on the banks of Tuscany's river Arno, Florence is…
Amsterdam simply means ‘a dam on the river Amstel’
Naturally, water figures highly in this part of the world, you’re surrounded in the form of canals running in all directions, it’s no wonder Amsterdam is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North.
Amsterdam rose to prominence during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century, becoming one of the most important ports in the world. What the Netherlands effectively achieved was to transform itself into a global economic power, its maritime trading engine rolled out in the form of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), an amalgamation of rival Dutch trading companies. It was a forward thinking investment and trading powerhouse that generated massive wealth for the county and Amsterdam. The VOC has the honour of being the world’s first formally listed public company.
Where wealth is generated, it’s inevitable that this filters down to the architecture and artisan sectors, which indeed was the result, evident in the beautiful buildings of the Amsterdam streets, and in the artworks that abound in museums and art galleries.
I have to say that the city has immense charm, there’s something quite cute about the narrow fronted, heavily glazed facades that all face onto the canals, many bearing winching frames high up, installed in order to lift valuable goods to upper storeys for safe storage. Evidently merchants were key residents of the city and were numerous to say the least.
It’s deceptive that the canal side buildings actually appear quite modern in appearance, probably helped as mentioned earlier, by the excess of windows space and the copious use of brick.
There are various aspects to Amsterdam that how shall we say, could be considered contentious. Well know for legalised prostitution, the Red Light District of Amsterdam is widely recognised and it can be disconcerting if you inadvertently walk down one of the district’s streets to be confronted by young ladies and suchlike plying their wares from streetside windows.
Equally, the smell of cannabis being smoked is unmistakable. Quite why you’d wish to partake of this herbal treatment is beyond me, but the sale of cannabis in small quantities is allowed by licensed coffee shops in the Netherlands. But let us not pass judgement, everything goes in this weird and whacky human world of ours.
If you haven’t visited Amsterdam, I’m happy to say that it’s one of those places that forges a place in your memory. You’ll certainly never forget your visit, it’s a totally unique place.
National Maritime Museum
A veritable gem for those interested in maritime history is the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Dutch). Housed in what was once a naval storehouse named ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn built in 1656.
The range of exhibits is impressive, from a fully restored sailing vessel, through to a cartography department, where you could literally spend a couple of days milling around admiring the artistry. Also they have a beautiful collection of model sailing ships, complete with sales and rigging which have been built at quite a large scale, some standing height.
Of particular merit is their ship figureheads section, I’ve can honesty say I’ve never seen anything like it. The detail lavished on these is a real eye opener, with all manner of modelled characters. A very common theme seems to be ladies with full bosoms on display. If you peer over to the top right it’s evident what I’m saying here. Riebald humour would have been the mainstay of mariners who would be at sea in harsh conditions for months, even years at a time, without the presence of women. The Het Scheepvaartmuseum is a most engaging place for those who love their history.