The International Writers
air was full of airborne seeds in Amsterdam, with spring in the
air. Drifts of them lay on the sides of the roads, along with
the petals of pink cherry blossom. They fly into your face as
you run to take the tram, they floated along the sides of the
canals while we took the canal boat ride - what the heck are they
I wondered till Paap told us!
"There are 50,000 Elm trees planted in Amsterdam," revealed
Paap our Dutch boatman with an American accent, as he steered us down
the canal. "These are the seeds of the Elm which is our national
tree and every Dutch child when he learns to draw a tree, draws an Elm"
And to think when I first saw all these similar trees sprout their seeds
with the first rustle of spring, I thought, " God! These Dutch are
so boring, dont they have any creativity? Just plant one tree across
their country?" Well now I know better! They are still all Elms but
so many different varieties!
These are the kinds of gems Paap plied us with while he took us around
Amsterdam on his unique canal tour. Seven of us Erasmus Mundus student
journalists - Cuckoo, Ruta, Rose, Al, Munni, Bamrung and I took a two
hour trip which cost us a princely four Euros and we got off with a wealth
of information which was priceless.
Since Amsterdam is below sea level it has a continuous battle with keeping
the sea water out. In fact the whole city is built around canals. Amsterdam
was originally built on the shores of the saltwater Zuiderzee, but with
centuries of land-reclamation the city now borders the freshwater lake
The center of old Amsterdam is shaped like a horseshoe, with four famous
canals which Paap took us along to enjoy. Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht
and Prinsengracht and what made it more exciting is Al lives on Prisengracht
which is considered an upmarket area. Definitely the best way to see the
citys beautiful gabled houses, is taking a canal tour. Sitting in
the boat ,Paap took us along the most expensive real estate area in Amsterdam
called The Golden Bend on Herengracht. " Look straight
ahead, he said, " there are seven bridges all in a line." And
they were, perfectly in an amazing straight line!
"Do people fall into the canals and drown?" asked Al and Paap
said, " well people down mostly drown cause they are either
drunk or the water is freezing cold. You would last just a few minutes
in such cold water."
we went along Paap pointed out the Amsterdam zoo. He said, "in
the old days the canals ran around islands and this was the German
ghetto and the Germans built fences to contain them inside. In fact
the story of Anne Frank centres around here as Jews were hidden
by locals in the bear and monkey cage. Artis is the oldest zoo in
the world." Pointing to the botanical gardens that we passed
Paap explained that the gardens were originally meant for medical
research by the catholic monks way back in 1638. But once the country
turned Protestant the gardens were taken over.
As the boat glided along the canal, Ruta decided to take off her shoes
and dangle her toes in the water.
"Feels great!," exclaimed Ruta in her typical clipped style
till Paap explained that not all the boats in the canals, have their sewage
system connected to the city sewage. Oops! Ruta retrieved her precious
toes in a jiff and swore to take a shower once she reached home! However
the city does have a system of flushing the canals out every day with
fresh water so that they do not stagnate and smell.
"Prinsengracht is the busiest canal on Queens Day," said Paap,
"here it becomes a one way canal!"
We passed a House Boat museum which we never noticed while walking and
towering up into the skies was Wester Kerk which Anne Frank saw from her
window while she was in hiding. A huge queue of tourists stretched out
from the Anne Frank door "and that happens everyday," revealed
Paap, " it is one of the most popular museums in the city."
Wester Kerk tower is gorgeous, its freshly painted gold sceptre
glinting in the afternoon sun. "Wester Kerk was officially
opened in 1631," says Paap, "and that is where Queen Beatrice
and Prince Klaus were married. The tower bears the symbol of the
imperial crown of Maximilian of Austria and is a symbol for Amsterdamers
abroad. The hour bell weighs more than 7,500 kgs and only the hammer
is 200 kgs! Go listen to the carillon played every Tuesday by the
50 bells from noon to 1pm.
And of course, Rembrandt is buried in 1669, inside this church in an unmarked
"You are lucky!," shouted Paap, when suddenly our boat came
upon a classical musician who serenades tourists from his boat with his
French horn. All dressed up in a bright waist coat he circles his boat
around the bridge where tourists stand above and tip him at the end of
the performance. We had witnessed another little quirk of Amsterdam, with
its tourist friendly innovations.
As we went down the Singel canal we passed the stunning double spire St
Francis Xavier Church. Its a dream inside with its carved pulpit
and huge stained glass windows. Further down Paap pointed out the narrowest
house in the world. It is just one metre wide infront and was barely wider
than its front door. 166 Singel has an arch of yellow roses and apparently
these houses are kept narrow because of the soft peat they are built on.
Other versions state that the tax you paid was on the width of the frontage
of your house. Plus the houses are built to hold one another up and the
forward lean could mean anything, though Amsterdamers state, its
to be noticed!
Passing the worlds only Floating Flower Market, Paap explained that in
the old days farmers sold their flowers from open boats. Today those boats
have been firmly anchored to the side of the canal and have been turned
into beautiful floating florist shops.
It was time to get off as our two hours were up. Paap dropped us off at
Spui which is close to the famous Dam square and we jumped onto land,
after a really enriching ride.
who would like to contact Paap, his tour is called Aquasnor and
you can beep him on
06-53897887 or mail him on firstname.lastname@example.org
© Marianne de Nazareth June 2007
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Marianne de Nazareth
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