If you're going to Amsterdam, you must watch out for these unconventional and unique aspects of the city of canals, says Pooja Bhula
Hooks do the job of elevators
Having turned from a fishing village into a port city in the 16th Century, Amsterdam became a very important centre of business and soon ran out of space. So the houses belonging to that time are small, (the smallest one is just two meters high) and even the staircases are steep and narrow. How did they carry furniture or any bulky object to and from the house? This is where the hooks that you see at the top of most houses in Amsterdam came in use. A rope and pulley are thrown over the hook and the object is then hoisted up; this is even done today as most of the old buildings still don't have elevators, possibly because some places in the city like the Canal Ring area are now UNESCO's world heritage sites, and permission for reconstruction would be a long, tiring process. To aid the pulling up further, buildings in Amsterdam lean forward, so don't mistake it for an architectural error. So beware before packing huge suitcases, if you plan to live in the city you may have to carry your luggage up not just one or two, but even three floors up. That too without any help!
Surnames like Born Naked and Crooked Neck
Traditionally the Dutch didn't have surnames, only after Napoleon invaded and forced them to adopt surnames did they do so. But in order to rebel against the idea they gave themselves the weirdest surnames like Uiekruier (onion-crier), Naaktgeboren (born naked), Poepjes (little shit), Schooier (beggar), Scheefnek (crooked-neck), Rotmensen (rotten people), Borst (breast), Piest (to urinate) and many more... Back then, they may have thought they could shed their surnames as easily as the created them, but seems like they're now stuck with them. So when you say hello to locals, listen carefully to their surnames and look up the meaning. You never know you might just meet Mr. Born Naked.
Cycles outnumber people
This is possibly the only place in the world where the number of cycles is more than the number of permanent inhabitants, our guide told us that each person has at least two. And while car thefts are usually a problem in most parts of the world, here thieves too prefer cycles. There are separate tracks for the bikes, and cyclists can sometimes be really aggressive if you come in their way. Don't be surprised at bursts of road-rage. It's fascinating how they can carry everything from their shopping treats to their kids on it. If you walk around the city, such scenes will be aplenty and to blend into the city hire a cycle yourself, it's very easily available.
Safest place in the city? The red light area
Unbelievable right? We're told this is because the red light area has the maximum number of video cameras and undercover cops keep a watch all around the place. What's even more interesting is that windows of sex workers have a panic button.
Coffee shops that serve no coffee
Wouldn't you think it normal to use the terms coffee shop and cafe interchangeably? Well, not in Amsterdam. If you want a lovely cup of coffee, head to a cafe. And step into a coffee shop only if you want to smoke up, have magic mushrooms or try some of their space cakes. If you're wondering why they're called coffee shops, our guide gave us a convoluted explanation. Apparently, while consuming drugs is illegal in Amsterdam, as per its official policy selling soft drugs is legal. But it has to be done discreetly, hence these spaces are called coffee shops. Although smart shops are the ones with a legal licence to sell drugs, coffee shops fall in the grey area.