We hopped aboard the tour-train to join Yays’ favourite local guides; Amsterdam Odyssey, on one of the complimentary Saturday morning neighbourhood tours! Leaving from Yays Oostenburgergracht this time to unlock Amsterdam East in a way that only the Dutch know how – by bike of course!
Life behind (handle) bars
For first-time visitors, seeing the city with its nonstop bike traffic can be somewhat daunting. Being the main mode of transport for the Dutch, they make it seem effortless. But, as someone with experience, there is just so much more behind it. The three basics of being able to steer, keep upright and stopping are the fundamentals of course. But then apply that to navigating the city through hordes of traffic and pedestrians (and don't forget the trams!). Add the infamous Dutch cycling etiquette and you are left in somewhat of an altered state of mind. Rather than enjoying the great sights that Amsterdam has to offer, your focus is mainly on making it from destination A to B in one piece. It’s an adventure in itself!
That’s why when the opportunity of joining Amsterdam Odyssey on their Saturday morning bike tours came along, there was no hesitation to jump at the chance! Yays Amsterdam offers this tour free of charge to all Yays guests, alternating between Yays Zoutkeetsgracht and Yays Oostenburgergracht every other Saturday. This time around, it was the gorgeous setting of the Eastern Isles as our playground for the morning.
Preparation is key
Leading the tour today is Amsterdam Odyssey’s Hanneke, one of the founding co-directors of the company. Born and raised in Amsterdam, besides showing visitors the best of the city's secret spots, she is also a film scholar and art history teacher. Alongside her business co-director; Eva, the two of them have been offering customised private tours through all parts of Amsterdam. In true Dutch form, she has come prepared; rain jacket in tow. We were soon to find out that even though our favourite weather app was predicting absolutely no sign of rain, preparation was key!
The tour today is only moderately populated - two other couples have joined us, making it almost a private tour. Speaking to Hanneke, there is no regular audience on the tour as well as the number of people joining, it's always different. Hanneke starts off with a short introduction of herself and the route that we will take. It is crystal clear that she does these tours with pride out of love for her home city. Her enthusiasm to share her knowledge is contagious as we set off, excited and curious, on the first leg of the local tour.
Unlock the neighbourhood
Our first stop takes us to Oosterburgerpark (not to be confused with Oosterpark); a leafy woodland surrounded by historical shipyard buildings converted into modern residences. The buildings are within the theme of the area; majestic and quintessential. Hanneke goes on to explain the area’s history, starting off with the construction of the manmade islands, to the social housing and working-class neighbourhood during the war, and then onto the modern setting today. Hanneke is prepared with a small laminated map to illustrate what the isles looked like before the turn of the century.
Moving onto to the next stop, the sky bursts open and we get are drenched with a shower (authors note: always take a raincoat in Amsterdam - found this out the hard way). Seeing that some of us are less prepared for the weather, Hanneke has kindly pulled over under a large tree to give us more background on the neighbourhood as well as shelter from the rain. As soon as there is a hint of blue sky, we are off again to our next stop.
Hanneke stops just outside the Oosterkerk Church, a historical 17th-century landmark that was once home to the Dutch Reformed Church, and now used as an exhibition and concert hall after its restoration in the 1980s. The sun is shining, allowing us to warm up a bit. Amsterdam has always been a city where all four seasons can be experienced in one day, and today is no exception. Hanneke leads us to a bridge overlooking the entirety of Oosterburgergracht with views illustrating the neighbourhood, a perfect opportunity for an Instagram snap. Of course, she doesn’t leave us disappointed with her familiarity with the canal, pointing out landmarks and monuments essential to Amsterdam’s history. And when we have had our share of historic houseboats and mills, we’re off again.
Diamond in the rough
We weave through the abundant suburbs, joining the locals on their Saturday morning ride, while Hanneke guides us through cobbled streets and characteristics archways. We stop at De Burcht, a hidden treasure right in the middle of a local neighbourhood. Hanneke creates awe within her stories, and this one is no different. Touching on the neighbourhood's Jewish influence, this building once housed the federal office of the Dutch Diamond Workers Association at the start of the 20th century. The architect's intention to become an ode to its heritage is featured in the tower’s window - an actual diamond in the rough!
We move on to just a block over and arrive at Amsterdam’s former theatre Hollandsche Schouwburg; where Jewish citizens were brought together by the occupiers in World War II. The airy building housed tens of thousands of men, woman and children as they awaited their fate where they were either deported to concentration camps. Today, the building pays homage to this dark past and is part of the Jewish Cultural Quarter as a monument in memory of victims.
Our final stop is at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, an impressive and beautiful museum dedicated to the history of the Dutch-Indonesian colonies, first opened in 1871. The building itself has stone carvings on its facade to illustrate the museum’s mission. Hanneke’s knowledge once again amazes us as she goes on to describe in detail the buildings history as well as the exhibitions featured. By now, we are just around the corner from Yays Oostenburgergracht and it is at this point that we realise that this fascinating tour is nearing an end.
Photo: Hanneke and Eva - Amsterdam Odyssey Founders
Saturday morning adventures
The great thing about this neighbourhood tour is that it really is so different from other tours of Amsterdam. Rather than focus on the more commercialised highlights, it gives you a glimpse at some un-turned stones and a different perspective of Amsterdam’s history and heritage. What makes these tours even that more special, is that each one is catered to its guests. No tour is the same! Besides leaving from two locations bi-weekly, Eva and Hanneke are great at determining the demands of the group and cater to them accordingly, whether you are a history buff, architecture lover or a bit of both and more.
It is time to say goodbye to Hanneke and Amsterdam Odyssey… for now. Besides the typical Amsterdam weather, we have managed to air-dry our clothes, grabbed a coffee from Yays’ lobby and we are off; exploring more of the local treasures and boutiques in the beautiful neighbourhood! This tour is a great way to get to know Amsterdam the local's way and discover histories and treasures that you didn’t even know you were craving.
Reserve a spot on the tour at your local concierge during your stay. Season depending, the tour may be a walking or cycling tour. Don't forget to tag your own local finds and explorations with #unlocktheneighbourhood!
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