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If you walk along the banks of Amsterdam’s canals, you will notice the huge number of boats moored on the banks that are adorned with plant pots, garden tables, stools, children’s toys or the odd abandoned and half-read book.
Do not be mistaken into thinking that these objects have been left on the decks by pedestrians, or that they are decorative items that have been strategically placed for tourists to stop and photograph while commenting on how interesting they are.
These boats should not be seen as tourist attractions or backdrops for beautiful photographs. They are genuine floating houses the origin of which that is more practical than decorative.
These peculiar houseboats appeared in the nineteen-fifties as the result of a brilliant idea to solve the period’s housing crisis by taking advantage of a reduction in navigation on the canals inside the city.
What initially was a non-regulated movement similar to that of the squatters, was immediately controlled by the council. Hence, in 1973, the council of Amsterdam decided to intervene, legalised the boats that were already moored, which accounted for a fleet of around 2,500 vessels, and introduced a moderate annual tax. Most of these floating residences are to be found on Amstel and on Prinsengracht.
A city like Amsterdam cannot understand life without water, but the people who live on the houseboats go a stage further. Although the boats were initially an emergency solution to a serious housing problem, the landscape formed by these floating homes is now truly delightful.
There are houseboats for all tastes and in all colours: ranging from old Rhein barges, which are kept noble and bourgeois, to chalet-type rafts, retro-futurist looking greenhouses, cats’ homes and artists workshops, all of them with a water and electricity supply.
If you are surprised to see boats with doors and drapery, crochet work in the windows, or a vase of tulips behind the curtains, get used to the idea because there are not just one or two of them. Houseboats, which come in green, or blue, fly Amsterdam’s rippling flag, or blast disco music out from inside, are part of the identity of the City of Canals.
After all this, how would you like to live a Bohemian life on a floating house on Prinsengracht? If you would, then pay a visit to the many hotels that have rooms in boats on the canals. They are not supposed to move, but bring the seasickness tablets just in case.
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