Many houses, including our home swap, have been converted into separate apartments, so a second door is installed beside the first one and used as the entrance to the ground floor unit. In order to facilitate moving items to the top floors while avoiding the tiny door and steep stairs, a moving hook is attached to the gable of each house. This allows large, heavy objects to be hoisted up and retrieved through the windows or balconies. To facilitate this practice, the houses are designed to tilt forward, so that the objects being hoisted don’t damage the walls of the lower floors. I would love to see this moving hook and hoist strategy in action. We even heard a story of someone requiring medical assistance who had to be transported down to the awaiting ambulance via a hoist attached to the moving hook!
As luck would have it, our apartment is on the top floor, 3 flights and 51 steps away, which makes for good exercise each day but is not an event to look forward to after a long hard day of sightseeing. Because they call the bottom floor the ground floor in Europe, we are supposedly living on the “3rd” floor when in reality, we are 4 floors up. When we arrived at our home swap, our host popped her head out over the front window and tossed down a bag containing the building entrance key. What an ingenious way to let your guests in without having to navigate all those steps yourself. We were able to use this ploy ourselves when a canvasser rang the doorbell one day. Instead of schlepping down and up the stairs, we simply stuck our head out the window and told them to go away. The mail is also handled strategically. When the mail is delivered through the slot in the front door, the residents leave it at the foot of the first flight of stairs, so each of the upper level occupants can retrieve them as they pass by. One of our home swap duties is to sift through the mail sitting on the steps each day and retrieve any addressed to our host.
anonymous cards. You tap the card against a reader when you enter a transit vehicle and again when you exit, to calculate your fare. There are readers at all the entry doors of the vehicles so that there is not a bottleneck to pay at the front door. Toronto needs to learn a thing or two about efficient transit from Amsterdam!
Using an OV-Chip card provides a significant discount on the fare. Riding 10 stops from our place to Central station only costs 1.5 Euroes, while purchasing a ride ticket without it would cost almost 3 Euroes. Our host was kind enough to pre-purchase and mail us “anonymous OV-Chip cards loaded with the correct products and sufficient money to allow us to take the train, then tram to her place from the airport, for a mere 5.6 Euroes. In exchange, we left her TTC tokens to use in Toronto. We had a bit of a challenge trying to figure out how to load more money onto our cards since the yellow machines at the train stations and grocery stores would not take cash or our foreign credit cards. Finally we found the Tickets and Service Bureau at Central station where we could hand an attendant our credit card and have more money added to our OV-chip cards.
Much of Amsterdam is situated on swamp land, so houses were built on timber stilts 12-20 meters long that were driven down until solid rock was reached. Some of these stilts may have shifted over time, which is why you see some houses with a significant tilt sideways (in addition to the intentional tilt forward to accommodate the moving hook). In addition to the beautiful view, some houses situated right on the canal have the advantage of being able to moor a boat right in their “front yard”. The waterways are usually busy with the tour boats, shipping boats and local pleasure boats all jockeying for position.
Wandering around the magical canals has definitely been a major highlight of our visit to Amsterdam.