RISHAD SAAM MEHTA goes on a whirlwind tour of this delightful city, with a promise to return soon

My Swedish friend Elisabet and me walked along a pavement, window shopping. Framed in a large French window of one shop were sporting goods, the next showcased leather travel accessories.

However, it was at the following one that I checked my pace, like a horse trader in front of a particularly fine filly. This one seemed to be showcasing this year’s beachwear line and the mannequin was particularly lifelike and very pretty or so I thought, when she broke into a smile that was as wide as her waist was narrow!

Welcome to Amsterdam!

If Munich’s famous for its beer halls, Paris for its Champ de Elysees and London for the Big Ben, then the answer about Amsterdam’s fame will come to you in shades of red or will be answered by a melancholy smile, the result of a trippin’ brain.

Yes it’s not for nothing that Amsterdam is called the ‘Original City of Freedom’. The city where you are, within reasonable limits and defined areas, free to pursue what your body or mind may desire.

We had stepped out of the busy Amsterdam Centraal) railway station, which reminded me of the VT station in Bombay, and walked down Damrak Street, and had almost immediately come up to a museum that, located as it was in heart of a busy area, could only have been not unusual in Amsterdam.

The display in there ran much in the same vein as the carvings on the temples of our very own Khajuraho. This was the Museum of Sex, within the cavernous interiors of which you’d find toys and accessories to support your kinkiest desires.

After that saucy museum, we turned right off Damtrak onto Oudebrugsteeg (or old bridge alley) and stopped for a cup of coffee. Entering a ‘coffee shop’ in Amsterdam, more often than not, means exiting with a whimsical smile on your face and a mildly unfocussed look in your eyes, because in coffee shops in Amsterdam you can buy a joint and smoke it within the premises.

Coffee break

But I genuinely wanted to have coffee and we sat out on the terrace of the Grasshopper, one of the most famous Coffee Shops in Amsterdam. Its menu on the terrace and the basement, offered the notorious ‘freedom’ items.

Refreshment taken care off, we continued down Damrak. What struck me almost immediately is that Amsterdam moves on cycles and trams. On the street there are cyclists of all kinds — ranging from school children in the tunics to corporate types in their ties. Looking up the sky, the view is through a network of capacitors and cable lines that regulate electricity to the city’s trams.

The network is very aesthetically laid out and the trams trundling across add to the charm of Amsterdam.

We’d walked through the Bijenkorf Magna Plaza, a very happening shopping mall reached the head of Damrak which is a huge square called ‘the Dam’.

It was jostling with locals and tourists alike. It seemed like the crowd would never diminish and reading up more about it I saw that I was right. The party has been on here since the 13th century when a dam was built around the river Amstel to prevent the Zuiderzee Sea from swarming the city.

The Dam is ringed with the Royal Palace or the Koninklijk Palace and Madame Tussauds. The queue to get into the latter was scary and a good tip here is to buy tickets online before you visit.

Continuing our rush through the Dutch capital we turned east into Dam Straat following the general direction of tourist pedestrian traffic and it was hardly a doubt that it all lead to the infamous De Wallen district or Red Light Area.

It was noon and wasn’t even a quarter of how lively it would be 12 hours later, but some windows were occupied to give goggle-eyed tourists a flash of Amsterdam. Elisabet, with map in hand, was like a GPS, confident of her direction and marching through cobbled alleys and over vintage canal bridges with the accuracy of a laser guided missile. On the canals boats filled with sightseeing tourists floated by under the bridges and past floating nurseries selling the famed Dutch tulips.

Remembering Anne Frank

The crowd in front of a certain house in Prinsengracht will give you a poignant moment in which to reflect how much interest the triumph of human spirit generates, over and above the more racy sights on offer in Amsterdam.

I say this because the queue and crowd outside that house was longer and denser than elsewhere and that was where Annelies Marie ‘Anne’ Frank and her family hid from the Nazis from 1942 to 1944 before they were betrayed and carted off to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

We followed a different route back, this time through a quieter part of the city where there weren’t as many tourists as locals. It looked the same, but the humdrum and the buzz weren’t there.

The last sight we took in before getting back to the station was at the Rembrandtplein (or Rembrandt square). Here a magnificent sculpture of the artist and his most famous work — De Nachtwacht (The Nightwatch) stands as a tribute to the Dutch Painter. Its life size quality brings out the expressions and the details that Rembrandt has so beautifully transferred to canvas.

The sun finally burst through when we were a furlong from the station and its slanting rays tinged the tram lines with gold. It was as if the city was dressing up for the evening when the party really begins in Amsterdam. And like other cities that I have rushed through I made a mental note that I though I was taking a rain check today, I had to be back to experience Amsterdam between dusk and dawn.

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