A Day in Amsterdam

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The Netherlands
As we drove away from Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands seemed pleasantly familiar; like a greener and more European relative of Canada. To make the most of the few hours that I had in Amsterdam, before my connecting flight in the late afternoon, I had signed up for a car tour. Our first stop was the Riekermolen windmill near Amstelpark. Windmills, as well as tulips, have become symbols of the Netherlands but while tulips gained popularity among the Dutch because of their appearance, the presence of windmills was due to practical reasons. Given that most of the country is either at or below sea level, flooding was, and still can be, a major problem. Hence, windmills were built as they could be used to drain water from the land. Today, the Riekermolen is popular among tourists largely due to its proximity to the city.

Heading towards central Amsterdam, a few things stood out immediately. There were many small flower shops around, for example, but more strikingly, bicycles were everywhere. In fact, I would later see a huge multi-story bike garage near the river. In Dam Square, located in the historic part of the city, I saw sights like the Royal Palace and the National Monument which was built in memory of the victims of World War II. Growing up in North America, we study the World Wars as part of our school curriculum but thinking about them while you are in Europe is something else because these are the countries where the violence took place.

On a lighter note, the best part about the city for me was its architecture and the canals. Amsterdam has a huge canal system and for this reason, it is often called the “Venice of the North.” There are many lovely houses and cafés lined by trees on either side of the canals, as well as boathouses, which make the setting quite picturesque. My tour ended with a short tourist boat ride that began on the Amstel river before going through some of these canals. Although experiencing them in a smaller boat would have been more personal, it was still wonderful to be right in the middle; literally.

Next time, I would love to explore Amsterdam on foot and visit other parts of the Netherlands but nevertheless, given the tight schedule, this was a great introduction to a beautiful city. Amsterdam will always be special for me as it is the very first European city that I visited and it kicked off what would soon become, some of the best weeks of my life.

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