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Six hours in Amsterdam: The best of three worlds

I never thought of a six-hour layover as a good thing. But when this long layover in Amsterdam gave me the chance to take a quick tour of the gorgeous city, it turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

Amsterdam is one of those places where a two-hour city tour is enough to get a feel for the city’s history and culture.

A perfect combination of the luxuriousness of big cities, the richness of history and the peacefulness of a small village, Amsterdam encompasses the best of three worlds. 

The road from the airport to the center of the city makes you fall in love with Amsterdam even before reaching it. The road is surrounded with man-made forests, large green fields with beautiful roaming horses, canals with ducks bobbing, and, in the middle of it all, modern dream houses.

Inside the city, preserved historic buildings give Amsterdam a unique character. Windmills that date back hundreds of years, which used to be essential to control the levels of the water in the canals, can be seen all over the city.

In the historic district of the city, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the residents seem to have gracefully incorporated the historic buildings into their modern lives. The Three Brothers Building, dating back to 1642, is now an apartment building with its original glass and medieval shutters. Many of the old warehouses from the 1600s have been transformed to apartment buildings and offices.

The city residents can now enjoy a cup of coffee in the café that was built inside the Weeping Tower from the 15thcentury. The tower was named for wives who used to bid farewell to their husbands leaving on ships for commerce.

If this doesn’t take you back in time, a replica of the ships used by merchants at the time is constructed near a 17th century warehouse where ships were built. The warehouse is now turned into a nautical museum.

However, the modern renovation of some of the buildings has upset residents, who feel the renovated buildings look out of place. They have the right to complain. After all, they have paid 5,000 euros per square meter to live in the midst of history.

Not only have the ancient buildings survived, but also old customs. Some people still take a boat on their wedding day and kiss under the Skinny Bridge, in accordance with an old myth that the ritual would guarantee them a successful marriage.

Gouda cheese makers open their farms to tourists to watch them manufacture the cheese while wearing the traditional pointed wooden shoes that have become one of the most known symbols of Amsterdam.

Even though it is a densely populated city, Amsterdam is refreshingly quiet. One million bicycles roam the city, making the use of noisy and polluting cars much lower than the average.

But don’t let the serene atmosphere of the city fool you. While it doesn’t have the shopping malls and skyscrapers traditional of big cities, in some aspects, Amsterdam is more modern and edgy than most European capitals.

Prostitutes in Amsterdam are displayed in shop windows on the ground floor of residential buildings. They have official work permits, pay taxes and are required to undergo a monthly health check. Cafes are allowed to sell soft drugs with firmly imposed rules regarding the types and quantities of the drugs and the age of the customers.

Whether you’re looking for a quite vacation or a crazy adventure, Amsterdam seems to have something for everyone.

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