Canals in Amsterdam turn 400 years old
By Kim Se-jeong
Beautifully carved inner-city waterways and boats, tulips, windmills, Dutch architecture and Vincent Van Gogh defines the color of Amsterdam, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.
The capital of the Netherlands also has a proud history as a city for merchants and traders and as the birth place of the world’s first stock market and exchange bank.
Yet, being in Amsterdam in January, especially when it snows, means you’ve got to look hard to find the hidden charms of the open small city in Europe. The tulips are gone and the canals are quiet with dormant boats and buildings covered with snow.
This year is very important for Amsterdam, which has different set of celebrations.
Four hundred years ago, the very first canal was constructed as part of urban planning to enlarge the trade city.
By then, Amsterdam had already become the hub of world trade with people from Southern Europe flocking to buy commodities from the Baltic.
The city was smaller in size with muddy and swampy surroundings. The city authorities decided to integrate the inner-city waterway in the expansion, like Venice in Italy.
Over the years, several canals were built. In 2010, the UNESCO listed the city’s canals on its World Heritage Site.
In January, canal traffic is zero. Countless boats are just docked along covered with snow waiting for summer to come.
According to the city, almost 3,000 boats are registered to navigate the canals.
For some, the boat is their permanent home.
One boat resident mentioned the value of living in floating mobile home. Although just like any other homeowners on dry land, they are obliged to pay tax.
Vincent Van Gogh
The Netherlands is Vincent Van Gogh’s home country, and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum is one of the most visited destinations in the city.
The museum is temporarily closed for renovation, and the Hermitage Museum nearby is currently offering alternative viewing.
It is displaying 75 paintings of Van Gogh from his time in the Netherlands and France where he also spent much time. The exhibition also exhibits some of his letters sent to his brother living in Paris.
Some of the painter’s works from the Van Gogh Museum are currently on display in Seoul.
Organized by the Hankook Ilbo, the sister paper of The Korea Times, the exhibition takes a close look at his paintings created while in Paris.
Another batch of his paintings is in the United States for a separate exhibition, and all the traveling paintings will return to Amsterdam in April when the museum reopens.
Bicycles are easy to spot in Amsterdam.
They are many – approximately 50,000 – and Amsterdamers are good bicycle riders.
Heavy snow doesn’t deter people from riding, and it’s very, very few who fall, which makes one wonder whether the Dutch are born with the DNA to ride a bike or whether they get special training at school.
Even those who fall, get up quickly like professional figure skaters on an ice rink, and move on.
Signs are evident that there are not enough places for bikes to park.
In fact, it is a very serious problem the city faces, the Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan said, and it will take a complete “change of DNA” in the Amsterdamers to solve it.
One of the great things about cities like Amsterdam is that it’s a melting pot of restaurants providing food from around the world ― from a plain sandwich, pasta, steak to Indian, Turkish and Russian cuisine that are brought in by immigrants.
Amsterdam has a good number of Surinamese restaurants, owned by immigrants.
Suriname located in northern South America is a former Dutch colony. The Surinamese cuisine has a distinctive feature influenced by Indonesians and East Indian workers that were transported there by the Dutch. Roti, for example, is a flatbread influenced by East Indians. Indonesia was also a former colony of the Dutch.
Getting independence in 1975, Suriname has a population of around 600,000 and uses Dutch as its official language. In Amsterdam, the Surinamese account for the biggest immigrant population.