25 June 2012

Amsterdam means canals

Ever since I saw Puppet on a Chain (twice in one sitting) way back in 1971, Amsterdam has meant canals to me and naturally they were a key part of my city break there.

The hotel that I chose was sandwiched between two of them, each about 20m from the front door.

All my many walks around the town involved walking alongside them for long stretches and crossing over them frequently too.

In the centre of the town the canals are narrow and slide neatly between tidy residential streets. The small boats along each side are testament to the continuing usefulness of the canals for getting around the town.

The wider canals take bigger boats and while these days they are designed to be shallow enough for all the bridge this was not always the case and many of the bridges can lift to let taller boats through.

For some reason they did not pick one one design and keep to it and their are a variety of lifting mechanisms in place, some of which are still used. Others are kept for decoration, and I have no objections to that.

The paths either side of the canals vary greatly too.

A few are so narrow that they only allow pedestrians and the ubiquitous cyclists passage. Some are just about wide enough for cars who have to fight for space with the other road users. Only a few of the larger canals have the familiar (to us) roads and pavements.

Amsterdam is one of the cities that is sometimes known as the "Venice of the North" but the comparison is mostly false.

It is just the Red Light District that has the small bustling lanes that characterise Venice.

Elsewhere the tourists are far fewer and the city is remarkably quite even in parts of the city centre.

The canals also carry the proud hallmark of careful planning as they form a series of orderly horseshoes around the centre.

Canals mean bridges and, as with the paths, a good few of these are for pedestrians only and that only heightens the sense of calm.

Helpfully some of the bridges are clearly named with signs that decorate as much as they inform.

Amsterdam's canals are it brand. They are etched visibly across the city and they define it and shape it. They are a barrier to some and provide passage to others, they drag peace in to the heart of the city, and they provide vistas like no others.

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