Amsterdam is, of course, a city of canals, the most iconic of which are the four semicircular, concentric canals constructed during the city’s Golden Age (roughly the 17th century): Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, and Singel(gracht). As you can guess “gracht means canal (sort of). It has a hard g, rhymes with the first syllable of October and is said as if you were clearing your throat and hiccuping at the same time.
Alongside the canals, the prosperous mercantile class built tall, narrow brick houses that have central stairways that will not allow the passage of overweight humans, let alone furniture and other bulky household items. These stairways so caught the fancy of Amsterdamers that they have replicated them in most of the housing they have built over the last 400 years–which is why the typical 20th century 5 story apt house, like the 17th century canal house, has a girder with a hook sticking out of the eves which allows for a pulley to be attached so that residents can hoist up their couches, TV sets, and fridges and swing them through windows. But I digress
Aside from the four famous canals the city is crisscrossed by dozens of other canals (see jpeg of city map), some tiny and have personal craft tied up along the walls. Amsterdamer use these to put around the city.
Some are large enough to allow for the current generation of 100 foot flat bottomed freighters to carry fuel, building materials, and every other type of good into the city.
Mostly, though, the canals are lived along, played along, lived on and played on. All but the largest canals have boats tied up along their walls: open boats to putt around in, houseboats to live in, and retired canal freighters to use as houseboats.
Many of the freighter/houseboats are elegant as are some of the just plain houseboats.
There are, however, more than a few exceptions
Actually, there are a lot of exceptions. There are the houseboats that look like motels
And there are houseboats built of materials one wouldn’t think appropriate for something that needed to float
The canals also serve as music venues. We were fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam during the Grachten (remember to swallow and hiccup) Festival which featured classical and jazz performances along the canals. We attended several. Two favorites were a clarinet performance on a boat top
And a vibraphone performance on a floating stage
Manly, however, the canals are places, along which to sit, socialize, and eat and drink –which Amsterdamers seem to start doing soon after they wake. Mary Paula and felt it important to sample the experience.