AMSTERDAM – Taking a trip through Amsterdam’s canals on boats that once brought migrants to Europe from Africa or symbolically marrying a tour guide for a day are among some of the alternative options the Dutch city is offering tourists who want to get off the beaten track.
A pocket guidebook full of alternative ideas has been designed to bring together locals and visitors so they can explore lesser-known parts of the capital while practicing a more sustainable and respectful form of tourism in a city that is inundated with tourists.
Amsterdam residents are known for their “unfriendliness,” according to the authors of the guide, something they attribute to them being fed up of mass tourism interrupting daily life in the city, from visitors wandering into cycle lanes to trash being left in the streets.
The Untourist Movement Amsterdam, made up of over 200 social entrepreneurs, NGOs, guides, hotels, hostels and other pioneers for change, strives to be the antidote to mass tourism and get visitors to be more involved in the city as agents of change as opposed to regular tourists.
While the council imposes fines for leaving trash on the ground, urinating in public and harassing or photographing sex workers, the guide aims to focus on the positive side of tourism, according to one of its authors, Elena Simons.
Among the suggestions, one that is capturing the interests of world travelers is “Marry an Amsterdammer for a day,” an experience that Efe witnessed and whose organizers have received abundant requests.
“Will you marry me and my city just for one day,” Pieter Hilhorst asked British tourist Joanna Whitehead, who in her “vows” declared “you’re not one of those grumpy Amsterdammers that is shouting against tourists because we don’t know where to go.”
The couple tied the knot under the gaze of Sophie Kramer, the owner of the “Wed and Walk” chapel that prepares a personalized speech for each pair and organizes the unusual weddings.
The ceremonies last 35 minutes, cost 100 euros and offer all the necessities: outfits, veils, hats, rings, music and even the bubbly.
Afterwards, the newlyweds embarked on a trip along the city’s canals on a fishing boat that was in the past used by groups of migrants to reach Italy from North Africa.
Captain Mo al Masri, a Syrian refugee, told Efe the biggest vessel used as part of the initiative was called “Mister Friday” and it arrived from Lampedusa from Egypt in 2014 with 282 people on board.
“We started sailing in Amsterdam, sailing the canals of Amsterdam, telling stories about the history of Amsterdam, this part of history that nobody likes to talk about. The history that’s full of exclusion and excommunication, for people that now everybody’s proud of,” said al Masri.
“Our mission is to change the photo associated with these boats, and to change the photo associated with the name refugee.”
Other activities, like fishing plastic out of the canals or collecting trash from the Red Light District, offer the 21 million tourists who visit Amsterdam every year an opportunity to do something different and ecological for the city.