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Dutch Treat

Amsterdam is renowned for its golden tulips, romantic canals, sparkling diamonds and many art treasures. But do you know what makes this city really great? Its small size! All the treasures of this dynamic metropolis are within easy walking distance from each other, unearths Inder Raj Ahluwalia

Amsterdam is regarded as ‘having more faces than any diamond ever cut in the city’. To most visitors, Amsterdam comes as something of a surprise. The city’s structure itself is a bit of a surprise, with its inhabitants being able to convert Europe’s largest historical city with over 7,000 houses and buildings, into a modern cosmopolitan centre. This fascinating contrast of the old and new makes Amsterdam what it is. Surprising, unpredictable and exciting.

Canals and buildings are neatly arranged in a sort of grid pattern, a delightful mix of water and stone. The 160 odd canals and 1,100 bridges traverse the city’s length and breadth, and feeding all the canals is the river Amstel. A dam built on the river gave the city its name, Amsterdam (Dam on the Amstel). Quite aptly, it is called the ‘Venice of the North’.

Amsterdam’s foundations are old and solid and its heart has been beating since 1275. It was during the Golden Age that the famous canal system was dug around the medieval city wall, and powerful merchants built richly decorated houses along these canals. The canals form a concentrated network that has reduced city distances and given cohesion to the city. The famous crescent-shaped canal belt of Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht is still considered a classic example of town planning. The 75,000 trees line these man-made waterways and over 7,000 century-old buildings lie within their girdle. There is no better way to sightsee than sailing the canals. Tours start and terminate at the Central Station, and take one through the city, criss-crossing till justice has been done, and no corner left unvisited. The barges are large, flat 100-seaters, the pilots are Dutch, which means plenty of talk and plenty of fun. Sailing along, one passes through straight, uniformly coloured, high buildings, all stone and brick. The canal odyssey can include seeing the 17th century West Church Tower - the highest in the city - through a narrow street in between buildings, or the Twin Sisters - two houses exactly alike - and the Golden Curve, residential area of the rich. Just after the Golden Curve is one of the city’s best photographed scenes - a long, straight view of five arched bridges.

The Royal Palace in Amsterdam has a beautiful collection of empire furniture, clocks and chandeliers

Sailing down the Amstel, one passes wooden drawbridges revealing a typically European system, and the 17th century South Church, the first Protestant church in Amsterdam. Then one is among the houseboats, whose number has grown to over 2,000 thanks to local housing shortages. One reaches the East Dock, the former city harbour, which now has the Shipping Museum with its 17th century exhibits. Back one goes to the Central Station with its huge and beautiful building, with its stately front and factory-type back made up of corrugated iron and glass. Museums beckon. None more so than the Rijksmuseum which contains the world’s most beautiful collection of Dutch masters, including Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ which hangs in a setting of paneling and effective illumination. At the Vincent Van Gogh Museum, one can see over 200 of the artist’s paintings. At Madame Tussaud’s, one comes face to face with famous personalities modelled in wax, and in the Anne Frank House, one can see and feel preserved memories of the girl who wrote her famous diary during World War II.

Amsterdam boasts some excellent orchestras

‘In Amsterdam, you can eat in any language’ an old saying has it, and while this may be a bit immodest, it reflects the city’s vast and varied culinary options. The Dutch kitchen boasts specialities like ‘peasoup’, ‘zuurkool’ (pickled cabbage), pork with sauerkraut and smoked eel, which don’t just taste, good but are also ‘figure-friendly’. Indonesian food is omnipresent among the city’s 500-odd restaurants that also include Chinese, French, Italian, Greek and Indian outlets. Highly recommended is ‘Rijsttafel’ which can comprise up to 20 different dishes stretching from very spicy to sweet, and the omnipresent ‘Broodjes’ (bread rolls filled with ham, cheese, liver, shrimps or steak tartare). There are the pancake specialists, and there is the famous Dutch herring.

There is no better way to sightsee than sailing the canals

Apart from walking along the canals, the next best way to savour local atmosphere is by lingering over a drink at an outdoor cafe terrace and watching the crowds go by, or by dropping in at a ‘Bruine kroeg’, as the pubs or ‘brown cafes’ are known. Some brown cafes offer snacks, some go further and offer a range of cuisine, others specialise in a particular drink, mostly ‘jenever’ (Dutch Gin). People usually stand and you don’t have to be afraid of passing out: there’s just no room to fall down. In the Dam area, one can find several liqueur tasting rooms where one can sample different Dutch liqueurs with secret recipes.

The transition from day to night is barely noticeable, what with cafes staying open till early morning, and the nightlife in clubs, bars, and discos still in full swing till even later. Leidseplein, Rembrandtsplein, Reguliersdwarsstraat, and the ‘Koepelkwartier’, are some local hot spots that feature quality nightclubs. Nightclubs operate in the Rembrandtsplein and Thorbeckenplein areas. Jazz and Dixieland concerts are also part of the show along with eternal disco music.

The frequent trams, buses and underground trains will take you wherever you wish to go. Above: Central Station

There are several shopping options, and the nice thing is that shops are concentrated in certain quarters and are all within walking distance. The major shopping areas are situated between the Nieuwendijk and Rembrandtsplein, and at ‘Kalverstraat’, through which some 250,000 people pass every week. Fashion shops and boutiques beckon in the Museumkwartier (Museum quarter), and antique shops are found along the Spiegelgracht and Rokin. The Bijenkorf, Kalvertoren, Magna Plaza Shopping Centre and Maison de Bonneterie offer shopping in monumental buildings. Some 150 art galleries also provide plenty of shopping excitement. Its worth walking through the Jordaan, a charming quarter with small shops and boutiques.

Diamonds have been an inseparable part of Amsterdam since the 16th century, with stone cutting and polishing being amongst the largest, though not most visible industries. Famous diamonds like the ‘Cullinan’ - the largest ever found, and the famous ‘Kohinoor’ were cut in the city. Diamond Foundation Amsterdam represents the city’s five largest diamond merchants, and are open daily for guided tours.

The world-famous Madurodam, the miniature Holland, is located a stone’s away from Amsterdam

This is a city of seasons. In spring, the parks and gardens are ablaze with thousands of flowers. The park is the Amsterdam Wood that runs from Amsterdam to the residential town of Amstelveen. In summer, rows of trees along the canals transform the city into Europe’s greenest. Autumn sees the browning leaves turn the canals to gold. And in winter the trees are bare and the houses along the canals show their full beauty, while people skate along. It is, undoubtedly, a city that will fill you with wonder.

 

Nightlife

Amsterdam offers nightlife aplenty, from bars with live music to stylish casinos; from trendy night-spots to dynamic discos and eye-opening entertainment in the red-light district (a tour with guide can be arranged); and many cinemas showing original versions of international films with Dutch subtitles. Trendy lunch bars and lounge bars, such as New Deli, NL-Lounge, Vak-Zuid and the Supper Club are the in places to be. Cafes featuring stand-up comedians are extremely popular. Examples are Boom Chicago and Toomler’s. To see and to be seen you go to the Panama or the Theatre Pompoen (jazz cafe). Most of the cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and discotheques are located around Leidseplein, in the Jordan and Rembrandtiplein areas, and are still going strong in the early hours of the morning.

Theatre Casa Rosso (Tel: 00 31 20 6278954) presents a non-stop live show seven days a week. A variety of erotic acts can be seen in continuous alternating succession. The Bananenbar (Tel: 00 31 20 6224670) enjoys great international popularity. The bar is open seven days a week. The breathtaking hostesses sit on a specially designed bar. The girls pour the drinks and turn a variety of sexy tricks on request. The Erotic Museum (Tel: 00 31 20 624 7303) offers a comprehensive collection of erotica. Both old master and modern artists convey their vision of sex through paintings, objects and photographs. The museum is housed in a five-storey 18th century building. On each floor is a collection of erotic art from different cultures and eras. A must for anyone visiting the red light district.

Red Light Tours: Amsterdam’s red light district has a tradition that dates back to when Amsterdam was Europe’s main sea port. The guide will take you past the most interesting spots in the district, such as the most beautiful and oldest church in Amsterdam, the oldest street, and the oldest house. The guided tour takes 1.5 hours.

Music, Opera & Films: The Concertgebouw hosts two excellent orchestras: the Amsterdam Philharmonisch Orkest and the Concertgebouworkest. The Nationale Ballet is world-famous. There are over 50 cinemas screening a variety of films. The Amsterdam Culture & Leisure Pass enables free entry or discounts to all important museums, and reductions on excursions and in restaurants.

Tickets Booking: The Amsterdam Uit Buro, Tel 0031 206211211. Kaartenhuis, Tel 0031 152136050.

Gourmet Delights

  • Haesje Claes (Dutch): Tel - 0031 20 6249998
  • Kantijl & De Tijger (Indonesian): Tel - 0031 206200994
  • New Bali (Indonesian): Tel - 0031 206227878
  • Cafe Cox: Tel - 0031 206207222
  • De Bolhoed (Vegetarian & Fish): Tel - 031 206261803
  • De Roode Leeuw: Tel - 00 31 20 5550666
  • Puri Mas: Tel - 00 31 20 6277627
  • Holland Village: Tel - 00 31 20 6241876
  • The Pancake Bakery: Tel - 00 31 20 6251333
Accommodation

Golden Tulip
Tel: 00 31 20 5564564
This hotel has been built behind the facades of 19 monumental houses, offering a blend of comfort, historical appearance and personalised service.

Hotel De I’Europe
Tel: 00 31 20 5311777
The most luxurious hotel of Amsterdam is five minutes walking distance from the Dam Square. The hotel also boasts the famous restaurant Excelsior.

Bilderberg Garden Hotel
Tel: 00 31 20 5705600
This small five-star hotel combines international allure and friendly hospitality. Tasty surprises will impress you in the internationally renowned restaurant, Mangerie de Kersentuin.

Hotel Pulitzer
Tel: 00 31 20 5235235
This unique hotel combines 17th century grandeur with the latest in modern comfort. The brand new ‘Pulitzers’ Cafe, Bar & Restaurant is an absolute must for special culinary experiences.

Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Tel: 00 31 20 3164300
It is the only five-star hotel in the airport terminal with direct access from the arrival and departure halls by an enclosed walkway. The all day dining restaurant Voyager offers stunning views of aircraft activity.
Basics

Getting There: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a major aviation hub connected with all major world cities, including Delhi and Mumbai. It offers several eateries and superb duty-free shopping. It takes 30 minutes to the city by train, bus or taxi.

Getting Around: Convenient bus stations are at Central Station, Amstel Station, Europaplein and Weesperplein. Train stations are Central, Amstel, Metro and Muiderpoort. Metro trains, buses and trams run until midnight, night buses take over until 6 am.

Excursions: The city is a good excursion starting point. There are bus excursions, day or half-day trips, and self-drive options. Less than an hour’s drive away are the province of Noord-Holland, historic villages like Volendam and Marken, and picturesque towns like Edam, Monnickendam, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. Alkmaar with its cheese market, Keukenhof with its tulip fields, and Aslsmeer with the world’s biggest flower auction, are other day trip attractions. The Holland Rail Pass allows unlimited travel for any 3-5 days around Holland within one month. A I-Day Rover Ticket allows unlimited railways travel for one day.

Business Hours: Offices and Banks: Monday-Fridays 9 am until 5-5.30 pm. Shops: Monday-Friday 8.30-9 am to 5.30-6 pm, Saturday upto 5 pm. There is late night shopping on Thursdays and Fridays until 9 pm.

Phone & Fax Code: 00 31 20. National Emergency Number: 112.

Tourist Offices: Netherlands Bureau of Tourism, Bleit Weg 15, PO Box 458. VVV Amsterdam Tourist Offices are at Stationsplein 10. Tel: 26 64 44, Leidesplein 15, and Rijksweg A2.