Arriving back in Amsterdam by train still awakes in me everything I felt about the city when I first came here - even though the city seems to have doubled in size since then. One the one side, the gabled warehouses, on the other, the IJ. Ah, but then you leave the station and hit the hideous Damrak and all the romance disappears.
All sorts of developments are currently ongoing round the station - including the building of a new metro line. The river frontage is being converted into a proper boulevard (so they say). Just keep an eye on your pockets and bags and ignore everyone who offers you anything. Despite police efforts to get rid of the crap and the junkies, they still lurk.
Holland has a great policy of trying to phase out human beings when it comes to selling train tickets, so there are ticket machines all over the place. Some take direct debit cards, some take credit cards. None take both. And at the time of writing (May 2008) if you want to buy a ticket with cash (how old-fashioned) you will have to head into the Hispeed (pronounced high speed) centre and queue up. So add some extra time.
Ok - the historical bit: In 1869, when the city fathers finally agreed to build the much-need main railway station in the harbour area, the IJsselmeer lake did not exist and Amsterdam was still open to the sea. The building actually stands on three man-made islands, and more than 8,600 poles were driven onto the river bed to act as a base. For the next 80 years the station was connected to the rest of the city by bridges.
The station was opened in 1889 and at the time of its opening was used by 200 trains per day. Between 1920 and 1925 it was expanded to cope with the growing number of passengers and again between 1980 and 1984 -- for which it won the Brunel Award for oustanding visual design in public railway transport. Now it is used by some 100,000 people and 1350 trains daily.
The original design was by the architects Petrus Josephus Hubertus Cuypers (who was also responsible for the Rijksmuseum and many churchs in the city) and A van Gendt. a renowned railway architect who had also been involved in the construction of the Concertgebouw.
Despite the various expansions, the station's imposing facade is unchanged, even thought there is now a tram terminus in front of it. On the left hand tower is a wind vane with a relief underneath showing Apollo representing colonisation, Ceres - the grain master and Vulcan, the god of fire. The right hand tower has a clock with moon, summer bird and sun, rising stars and a bat showing the four periods of the day. The relief underneath shows Mercury - the god of trade, Minerva - the goddess of knowledge and Neptune, the sea god.