Ahhhh Amsterdam. Another place where accidental learning for children is a definite possibility.
On our way from Germany to Belgium, we made a detour through Holland to visit fellow volunteers who had returned home from Tanzania. We also took the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and Zaanse Schans.
Apparently 20 million people visit Amsterdam each year. Our guide told us that while only about six per cent of the local population smokes marijuana, visitors make the marijuana use rate skyrocket. Sure enough, we noticed the clouds of smoke as soon as we left the train station!
Apparently pot is technically illegal in Amsterdam. However, a “personal use” clause allows coffee shops to sell amounts no larger than 5 grams to adults.
Note that if you want coffee, go to a cafe. Coffee is not on sale in a coffee shop!
Apart from the smell of pot, the most striking impression of Amsterdam is of bicycles. Cycle track haters would hate it here, because bikes are everywhere. There are apparently more bikes than people (881,000 bikes to 811,000 humans), and around 100,000 are stolen each year. Needless to say, we saw some heavy-duty locks.
We wandered through the streets with our guide who pointed out the narrow houses. Property tax used to be based on the width of your house, so some were built incredibly narrow. We walked by the skinniest house in Amsterdam that measured 2.02 metres wide by five metres deep.
I’d never spent any time in Amsterdam before, so I was surprised how much it felt like Venice. There are more canals in Amsterdam than the Italian city, and their combined length is approximately 100 kms.
All the water means that houses in Amsterdam are built with the help of poles to keep them from sinking. Many of the houses seem to lean precariously, and our guide said every year houses are deemed uninhabitable and require remedial work.
We took a lovely picture of one such building; then we noticed the friendly lady in lingerie waving at us from the window down below. Yes, there were more interesting discussions with our children after that!
One of the important sights that I wanted the kids to see in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House. We waited in line for an hour to go through the secret annex where the Frank family hid from the Nazis during WWII.
We weren’t allowed to take photos, but it’s a place that will stay in our memories forever. I couldn’t imagine being quiet all day long and not being able to see outside. Visiting the house makes you understand that much more the atmosphere that Anne describes in her diary.
We didn’t stay in Amsterdam, but we rented an apartment next to an historic windmill village. Starting in 1961, buildings of historical value were taken to Zaanse Schans to highlight typical Dutch life of the 17th and 18th centuries. Along with windmills there are barns, houses and small museums in the village.
We explored a windmill that powers a saw mill, and talked to a friendly volunteer who described how the saws work (there was no wind so we couldn’t see them in action.) Forty per cent of the revenue from the windmill is derived from the wood that it sells, with the rest coming from admission charged to tourists.
It was pretty cool to see how wind power is still useful for things other than generating electricity. And our apartment next to the village was a great place to stay away from the sometimes craziness of Amsterdam!