We bought a cruise "extension" and spent 2 days exploring Amsterdam before the cruise sailed. I loved Amsterdam: the history, the tall narrow houses (a guide said they used to have to pay tax on the width of the street frontage), the hoisting equipment at the top of the houses, which sometimes lean into the street.
Because the houses were so narrow, you couldn't bring furniture or other large items up the stairs; so you hoisted them into the house through the upstairs windows, using pulleys. The outward lean is to keep things from banging into the windows. Our guide swore they still do this. The houses are built right out to the street, narrow (with a few exceptions), tall, and deep.
You also occasionally see a house leaning sideways. This means the wooden piers it is built on are rotting. I don't have a photo.
The streets are narrow, too – some of them are too narrow for cars, and some of them ought to be. They parallel park cars right on the edge of the canals, in spots only slightly larger than the cars; try that after a couple of beers. The streets are also full of bicycles – and it's up to the pedestrians to stay out of the way! Our guide told us the canals are 3 meters deep: one meter of mud, one meter of water, one meter of old bicycles!
I don't have any photos of our first morning in Amsterdam. It was pouring rain, but about 15 of us went out for a guided walk anyway. I had a rain jacket but no umbrella, so I couldn't use the camera. (I bought an umbrella later.) Our guide took us around the old city (but not the red light district!). Inner Amsterdam is extremely walkable. I wore a pedometer the whole trip, and at the end of that day it said I'd walked 7.9 miles! All this while my body still thought it was 9 hours earlier.
We toured the Niewe Kerk, or New Church, in the morning when I didn't have my camera; I went back and got photos the second day. You know you're in Europe when the "New Church" was consecrated in 1408! I found the Oude Kerk more interesting than the Niewe Kerk, which was almost completely rebuilt in the mid-1600s after a fire. The one interesting item in the Niewe Kerk was the elaborate pulpit:
In the afternoon, after I'd retrieved the camera, we toured the Oude Kerk or Old Church. Amsterdam's major historical churches were parish churches, not cathedrals; the Oude Kerk was consecrated in 1306, not much of the original survives, but what does survive is early and very spare. You can see the photos I took here. Don't miss the painted ceilings, the little ship models suspended from the ceiling (Jim never noticed them!), and the grave markers in the floor. I still want to know who this represented:
That looks way too much like a horned head. It's a very odd thing to find in a medieval church.
When you walk out of the Oude Kirk you are in the red light district. That's where it is. You've been contemplating stained glass windows, and beautiful organs, and 600 year old grave markers in the floor, and you walk out into a street full of ladies in little windows, displaying their wares. It is considered disrespectful to take photos of the ladies in their windows, so I didn't, but here's the general neighborhood:
See all those little windows right at street level? Yup, I think that's them. They are not naked, but they display some lovely lingerie.
Neither of us speaks Dutch, but we both speak a little (ein bisschen) German, Jim's is better than mine. In Amsterdam, everyone we needed to talk to spoke English. We were in the Moevenpick Hotel, chosen by Viking; it was very nice, right by the Ij (pronounced "eye"), probably the quietest hotel I've ever stayed in. Here's the view from the room:
There were a couple of things not working in the room when we moved in Friday evening (not to mention that their records of what was occupied were off – a maid tried to come in and clean the room while I was in the shower!). I called down and complained, and everything was fixed by the time we got back from dinner. Also, they gave us a box of chocolates for the inconvenience. It was right on the tramline; Amsterdam has a fabulous transit system, we bought a pair of 2 day tram passes and rode around as much as we wanted.
We finished the first full day (Saturday) with a concert at the Concert-Gebouw. Classical music fans will need no further introduction; for other readers, this is one of the world's premiere concert halls, with fabulous acoustics. Wikipedia has photos of it, here's mine:
Jim found ordering tickets challenging as there is NO English language version of the Concert-Gebouw site. We managed to save the program, so I know that we heard the Belgian National Orchestra play Faure's Pavane, Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 61 (Liza Ferschtman was the very fine soloist), and 3 pieces by Ravel: Alborada del gracioso, Rhapsody Espagnole, and La Valse. Unfortunately, due to extreme jet lag, I tended to nod off during the slow sections. Then we rode back to the hotel on the tram.