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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

4 November 2016

Can you have too many canals?

Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam canals

29 October 2016

The main memory I have of visiting Amsterdam as a teenage student was that it was a big, untidy, boring city with no real redeeming features apart from the strength of the beer. With hindsight, it was probably Belgian beer. Also with hindsight, I suspect that I never left the very centre of Amsterdam; the Leicester Square-ish streets full of cheap food places, packed bars, naff shops and of course the famously sleazy Red Light District. Because the rest of the city is beautiful.

Shop! Fashion!

Shop! Fashion!

In particular, we spent the whole day wandering along the canal districts (Grachten-gordel) west and south of the centre – De Negen Straatjes (The 9 Streets) and Jordaan in particular. Every other street has a canal down the middle of it, and all the canals are lined with trees, and on a sunny autumn day with the leaves golden and falling and the canals reflecting the blue above it couldn’t really have looked better. Okay, a cynic might say that Luton could look charming on a day like this, but it still wouldn’t have looked like Amsterdam. They’re proper canals too, with various boats plying under the low bridges where the roads inevitably cross, and many more moored at the sides.

We found good things too. We found a nice lunch of Spanish tortilla in La Oliva in the tongue-twisting Tweede Egelantiersdwarsstraat. We found a great salt liquorice

And cheese!

And cheese!

shop in the same road. We found a road in the 9 streets particularly full of cool clothes shops (Huidenstraat perhaps?) and at least one great chocolate shop. We found a shop full of eccentric natural oddities. We found an awful lot of cheese shops, and I know the Dutch like their cheese but I’ve a tiny suspicion that this may have become a “tourist thing”. And we found astonishingly pretty views around every corner. Hurrah for Dutch gables.

A couple of other impressions stick with me from the day. Firstly, the sporadic smell of marijuana smoke on the air. Not once or twice through the day, but at least a few times every hour. It’s not just a cute idiosincracy that you can smoke dope legally in the Netherlands, it’s clearly a common habit. The second impression was

Canals at night

Canals at night

of bikes everywhere. Chained in squadrons to canalside railings, sure. But the bigger impression was the certainty, growing throughout the day, that at some point we were going to take a step without looking left, right, up, down and backwards carefully enough and – BAM! – we’d be mown down by a cyclist. I’m sure that anyone who lives in Amsterdam long enough gets used to all the subtle rules and clues, all the little differences in street layout and road etiquette, that means hardly anyone bats an eyelid at all the near misses. A day isn’t long enough to get the hang of it!

So we come to the question: can you have too many canals? Because, inevitably, we ended up walking along just a few too many of them (out from 10am to 6pm) and now our feet feel like lumpen dead things and we’re knackered. Hopefully a grand tasting menu at &samhoud Places, and that’s not a typo, will restore our equilibrium and steady us for more tomorrow!

Dutch gables

Dutch gables

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