Amsterdam is served by a few key tram routes which run to various parts of the city. At some points several routes converge at the same place, such as at Leidseplain, next to Leidsebosje, where we now found ourselves. Three tram lines all merge here, and it is something of a busy spot. As tourists from a city which does not have trams, we sometimes found crossing the street a rather daunting experience.
We had to dodge regular traffic, of which there was little. Most cars and vans are kept to main road routes.
We also had to dodge trams, of which there were a fair few at Leidseplein, but at least they were on rails and so only ran in one of two directions.
Finally, there were the bikes and the people. Bikes had right of way, and were generally able to weave deftly through foot-tourists who did not have right of way, did not know that they did not have right of way, and did not much seem to care that they did not have right of way in many cases. We saw a fair few near misses, and were surprised that the Amsterdammers on bikes seemed to take these in their stride (they really are a very friendly people!). Lots of tourists jumped out of the way of an oncoming bike, but with trams added to the mix a jump in the wrong direction could be a rather painful one. Look, here comes one now, creeping and snaking its way along to see if it can catch an unsuspecting tourist!
We wanted to get away from all this traffic and find something more peaceful. A canal, perhaps? Amsterdam is of course famous for its canals. There are about 165 of them, spanned by some 1,300 bridges. These canals fan out of the city like a tail from a peacock. They are all over the place, and you do not need to go looking for them. See the man in green in the photo? He’s actually on a bridge, and the canal is just out of shot. Within five seconds we were out of the hustle and bustle of Leidsestraat and on a quiet canal. Don’t believe me? Here is the view from the Leidsestraat bridge, down the Prinsengracht Canal.
It looks a bit quieter, doesn’t it? We followed the Prinsengracht east, and after about three-quarters of a mile reached the River Amstel. This is the main river of the city from which Amsterdam gets its name – Amsterdam was founded literally by being a dam on the Amstel. The Amstel flows into Amsterdam’s waterfront, the IJ Bay, although to consult a map you would not necessarily realise this. From above, the Amstel simply appears to stop dead and disappear about a mile from the bay. This is because at Muntplein the river is driven underground, and runs its final leg through man-made subterranean pipes.
One of the most famous bridges across the Amstel is the Magere Brug, meaning “skinny bridge”. The first bridge was built here in 1691, although the present bridge was constructed in 1934. The city has largely kept to the original design, so it remains skinny.
Legend has it that the original bridge was built by two wealthy sisters who lived on the opposite side of the river from each other. They wanted to see each other every day, and more than that, they wanted to see each other easily, so they decided to build a bridge. As much as they were wealthy, however, they were not wealthy enough. They could not afford all the materials they would need to build a wide bridge, and so they had to build a narrow one. When it was first built, it was so narrow that it was difficult for two people to pass each other in the middle, but that was fine with the two Magere Zussen (“Skinny Sisters”) – all the easier to hug each other when they met each day!
The Skinny Bridge is a notable romantic feature of the city. At night it is lit up by 1,200 bulbs. We were safely tucked up in bed by then, but the following day we walked much the same route into the city and saw the romantic pull of the bridge: a couple were having their wedding photographs there.
Points on this part of our Day 2 walk (and paddle) through Amsterdam (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Leidseplein: N 52° 21.855 E 004° 52.970
- Leidsestraat Bridge over Prinsengracht: N 52° 21.902 E 004° 53.065
- Magere Brug: N 52° 21.814 E 004° 54.142
- Muntplain and the disappearance of the Amstel: N 52° 22.045 E 004° 53.772
Walk/Paddle Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):
- Date of Walk/Paddle: 29 August 2013
- Walk/paddle distance covered: 6.69 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!