|Each European city has it’s own pulse and
personality. Amsterdam is smaller than most capitals but it has a
personality of its own.
seductive, lively and filled with character. In a small walk able area you
can visit some of Europe’s best art galleries, visit over 40 museums and
attend over 70 theatres. There are renowned orchestras, a national ballet,
architecture that will draw you, colorful flower (especially tulips, in
season) and vegetable markets, crafts, antiques and book shops and sidewalk
cafes specializing in local beers, steaming coffee or ‘warme chokolade’ (hot
chocolate) topped with fresh whipped cream. It’s a city that should be high
on your list.
You can walk, tour by boat, cycle, drive or skate along
the canals under graceful bridges. Nothing is far. One minute you are in the
sleazy red light district and soon you are surrounded by bohemian chic.
Great homes and gardens are close. Everything you want is in this friendly
Dutch capital. Amsterdam gives one a lift. It IS truly amazing.
I arrived at the Central Station from the airport by fast
train. This is where the original harbor stood since the 19th century. From
the Stationsplein (square) in front, one can look down the long main street
called Damrak. It leads to the main square, simply called Dam, which was
built at the site of the original dam on the Amstel River. Here, lock gates
would allow small craft to enter or leave the old city. They also controlled
the tidal flow of the river. On the square you can see the imposing Royal
Palace and the Niewe Kerk or New Church.
Its not large on city standards but the city is bustling
with life. The architecture is unique and the attitudes youthful. There is
no need for the defensive ramparts that once stood here.
Wrapped around the central hub of the city is the Canal
Circle, made up of three concentric canals dating back to the 17th century.
Here you’ll find small hotels and guest-houses. It’s a good place to stroll.
The farther you go from the harbor and canal, the more palatial are the
homes, especially at the Golden Bend.
Adjacent to the Golden Bend is the Museum Quarter, a
wedged shaped block of parkland where you’ll find the famous Rijksmuseum,
the Stedelijk Museum and the modern Van Gogh Museum. Nearby is the
Vondelpark where open-air concerts are staged in the summer. The main
concerthall, the Concertgeouw is beautiful and acoustically sound.
If you only get this far in your visit, you will be
rewarded. You can walk around the canals, over the delicate bridges or even
through the famous Red Light district if you want real atmosphere.
Discovered recently, the former Jewish Quarter or
Judenbuurt with its synagogues, Jewish Heritage Museum are here. At
Rembrandt’s House you will discover over 250 etchings, drawings, personal
items and period furniture. The man who offered so much to the world of art
was buried in a pauper’s grave in Westerkerk. Rembrandt’s House Museum,
built in 1606 the year the artist was born. This is a small reminder of the
greatness of the artist but worth a visit.
The house is at Jodenbreestraat 4-6 (tel: 624 9486) and
was only recently discovered and is open to the public.
This is a truly unique city where about a million people
own and use over 600,000 bicycles. It’s just easy to get around that way.
Years ago, the city made white bikes available for anyone to use, free of
charge. The scheme failed when the bikes were stolen, repainted and resold.
Bikes are a good idea in this ‘overgrown village’. But
it’s a city with a relaxed atmosphere too. People travel by barges, live on
canal boats and are tolerant and permissive. There is a downside too.
Visitors might be shocked by the graffiti, dog faeces, disheveled drug
addicts who loiter around the station, people smoking marijuana and
prostitutes who operate openly in public view in the red light district.
It’s a live and let live atmosphere where freedom of interference is king.
They are capable of turning a blind eye on those with anti-social behavior.
They are racially tolerant and believers in gay rights and sexual equality.
They are multi-lingual and readers of books in many languages. Generally,
they have a healthy respect for quality of life. The theatre is an important
institution. There are opera halls and concert halls and museums that rival
any European capital.
The Rijkmuseum is world famous. It sits in a palatial,
neo-gothic mansion dating from the 1880s and was intended originally as a
‘cathedral of the arts’. It is splendidly adorned with sculptures, murals,
and tile work. William of Orange started the collection itself. It consists
of 17 million works of art, including 15,000 paintings in 250 rooms.
Stadhouderskade 42 (tel: 673 2121)
Nearby is the Stedelijk Museum with the city’s modern art
collection is a red turreted building built in neo-Renaissance style in the
1890s. By contrast, the ultra modern Van Gogh Museum, completed in 1973,
looks stark but it contains many of Van Gogh’s vibrant paintings and 500
drawings that bring the building alive. The collection was bequeathed to the
city by Van Gogh’s nephew, also named Vincent.
Paulus Potterstraat 7 (tel: 570 5200).
The Mozes En Aaronkerk was built on the site of Baruch
Spinoza’s birthplace. He was the Jewish philosopher born in 1632. Nearby is
a massive brick synagogue. The Portuguese Synagogue (Sephardim) was once the
largest in the world. It’s interior is worth a visit as is the Jewish
Historical Museum in the former Ashkenazi synagogue complex dating back to
the mid-17th century
At Kalerstraat 92, near the city’s main shopping street,
you will see the
Amsterdam Historical Museum. It contains relics of
Amsterdam’s 800-year history. Arms and armor are on display testifying to
the Netherlands’s military might and turbulent history. Tel; 523 1822
Amsterdam’s canal houses offer photographers a chance to
shoot the decorative gables that express the city’s individuality. These
tine brick or stone canal-side homes offer simple geometric shapes with an
infinite number of variations. Some have been turned into small hotels,
which I recommend if you want the true flavor of this canal city.
At Prinsengracht 263 in a building facing the canal is the
Anne Frank Huis. Tel: 556 7100. Visited by half a million people a year it
is a reminder of the hopes and dreams that died with the victims of the Nazi
Anti-Jewish measures. Unfortunately, the hiding place was eventually
discovered and Anne Frank died in a concentration camp. But her diary was
well received and popular to a point where a film was made. I visited the
house and the secret passageway. It’s moving and worthwhile.
Canal life gives Amsterdam its distinctive flavor. Over
5,000 people live in about 3,000 boats, lovingly restored, gaily painted and
bright. They often have rooftop gardens and floating sheds. They are hardly
low cost but offer residents a unique way to live. They are a natural
phenomenon in a city of 160 separate canals totaling 75 km and spanned by
almost 1,300 bridges, many of which are illuminated at night.
Because of the vast Empire of the Dutch East Indies, the
Antilles, South Africa and Dutch Guyana the city has an interesting ethnic
mix. The people here pride themselves in a long tradition of hospitality but
the influx of foreigners has caused some tensions and is blamed for crime.
The immigrants blame the white population for misunderstanding, immorality
and lack of religious sincerity. But the city is determined and the ethnic
mix offers sights, sounds, smells and food diversity for visitors, second to
There are Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Swiss and
Indonesian or Surinamese restaurants like Marowijn, based on rice and
noodles. They are at Albert Cuypstraat 68-70 Phone: 662 4845.
Add to these the Brown Cafes that serve beers from many
regions and are warm havens on cold winter nights. Try Wijnand Fockink just
off Dam square at Pijlsteeg 31.
My suggestion for a great hotel is the unique Hotel
Pulitzer or The Golden Tulip Inntel Amsterdam Center, Nieuwezijdsolk 19,
Phone: 20 530 1818.
You might like the Rembrandt Residence Hotel at
Herengracht 255 Tel: 20 622 1727. This 111 room, moderate first class hotel,
is historic and comprises four canal houses dating from the 17th century.
There is a Netherlands Reservation Center at Phone: 070
320 2500 or Fax: 070 320 2611.
For information about Hotel Pulitzer, contact Sheraton
Hotels. It’s made up of a number of canal houses and 230 totally luxurious
They can be reached at Prinsengracht 315-331 Phone: 020
5235235 or Fax: 020 6276753.
Don’t let the graffiti or laissez-faire attitude frighten
you. Amsterdam is a warm welcoming city that should be high on anyone’s
travel list. I first got to see it on a return from Russia when a KLM
stewardess offered to take us on a tour when she discovered we had a
six-hour layover. We saw only a little, but it was enough to make us want to
return again and again.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)