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Amazing Amsterdam
by

Professor Arnie Greenberg

Each European city has it’s own pulse and personality. Amsterdam is smaller than most capitals but it has a personality of its own.

It’s entertaining, 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 none.

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 guest rooms.

 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.

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at

Email:  Ultours1@gmail.com

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.

Go to:  www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at ultours1@gmail.com.

(More about the writer.)

 

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