The best way to see Amsterdam is by bike or on foot, but the city's public transport system, GVB, is extremely reliable. It operates the buses, trams, metro, and ferries with service 24 hours a day. The ticket system used is the OV-chipkaart, a credit-card-size smart card that you use to check in and out of the transport network. There are GVB one-day or multiday versions, but if there's a sudden deluge you can leap on a tram or bus and pay on board—you'll receive a disposable ticket valid for an hour—although it's the least value-for-money option. For discounted travel (ages 4–11, 65+, student), you need to buy a personalized card with a photo that you load with credit. There's a one-off fee (about the same as a one-day pass to Amsterdam) for this card.
A bright yellow water taxi provides a novel, if expensive, means of getting about, but the price is per trip, not per person, so the cost can be split amongst a group (each boat carries up to eight people). The cost is €1.75 per minute within the center, with a pickup charge of €7.50. Centraal Station (west side—look for the Rederij Lovers landing stage) to the Anne Frank House, for example, takes 15 minutes. There are landing stages throughout the city where you might find one waiting, or you can book by telephone.
Water Taxi (Amsterdam. 06/41230005. www.water-taxi.nl.)
An Embarrasment of Riches
Amsterdam's history as a commercial hub began in 1275, when Floris V, count of Holland, decreed that the fledgling settlement would be exempt from paying tolls. Consequently, the community, then called "Aemstelredamme," was soon taking in tons of beer from Hamburg, along with a lot of thirsty settlers. The beer profits opened up other fields of endeavor, and by the 17th century Amsterdam had become the richest and most powerful city in the world. It had also produced the world's first-ever multinational company: the East India Company (VOC), which shipped spices, among other goods, between Asia and Europe. Amsterdam was, in Voltaire's words, "the storage depot of the world." While the rest of Europe still felt it necessary to uphold the medieval tags of "honor" and "heroism," Amsterdam had the luxury of focusing just on money—and the consequent liberty it created.
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