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Netherlands: Amsterdam, Delft, Edam, Haarlem, Madurodam, Marken, The Hague, Volendam, Zaanse Schans
Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Action packed
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Contrary to popular belief Amsterdam is the Capital of the Netherlands (constitutionally speaking). The Hague is not the Capital of the country but is an administrative location. Amsterdam is indeed one of the busiest and most popular destinations in Europe. Come summer and the city just explodes. Zillions of people flock to the streets. Millions of cyclists find their way through the crowds and the trams on the road. And thousands of boats in the city’s many canals are watchful to avoid mid-canal collisions!
I was in Amsterdam in July that happens to be a real busy month. I landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at about 11 in the night. Most of the public transports are off-duty at that time of the day. Taxi was the only way to take me to the Hilton on the Apollolaan which was to be my hotel during my 4-day stay in Amsterdam. By meter the fare came to Euro 31. I like to mention this because a fixed fare taxi for the return journey cost me Euro 35 from the hotel.
Hilton on the Apollolaan is a great business hotel. It sits just next to canal and it even boasts of its own little pier. The location, though not downtown is very accessible. The location is a 25-minute tram ride from Amsterdam Centraal (Central Station). City’s trams and buses are very efficient and comfortable. Tram number 16 became my favourite. A day pass cost me Euro 7.50. That was a good deal. You can even opt for multiple day passes. I avoided doing that since I would be away from the city, exploring other Dutch towns on couple of days. Single journey tickets of Euro 2.50 would suffice.
The next day I had kept aside to explore Zaanse Schans, Edam, Volendam and Marken. By evening I was back in Amsterdam. Because it was summer the daylight was well available up to 10 in the evening. Before taking my tram back to the hotel, I walked around Station Square (Stationsplein) exploring the centrum’s many attractions, namely Dam Square, Royal Palace and the Red Light District.
Just a five-minute walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station takes you into this jam-packed square, jostling with locals and tourists. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built around the river Amstel to prevent the Zuiderzee Sea from swarming the city. During the sixties, the square was renowned for its Dam Square hippies and the laid back and relaxed character of this densely pigeon populated square. There are food stalls, restaurants and shops galore, including the trendy Bijenkorf, Magna Plaza, Bonneterie and the Amsterdam Diamond centre. Such is the popularity of Dam Square that you might even have to wait for a seat at one of the many cafés and bars. In the summer months, mimes and other street performers come out to surprise unexpected onlookers.
Of all the attractions in Dam Square, the Royal Palace (Koninklijk Palace) is quite literally the jewel in the crown. Although no longer home to the Dutch Royal family, this grand 17th century Royal Palace is still used to hold official receptions. Opposite the Royal Palace is the famous hotel Krasnapolsky and on the south side of Dam Square stands the controversial National Memorial statue, erected in memory of Dutch soldiers and members of the resistance who died in World War 2.
Beer and party atmosphere, sex for sale, and limitless people-watching best describes the Red Light District. The stores are full of hardcore videos, magazines and sex toys. The Red Light District is somewhat of a sexual amusement park and often not taken too seriously by the hordes of tourist who frequent it. In fact one doesn't have to get into the act to enjoy the happenings of the district. The famous red window lights are striking against the quaint, old canal houses and even the fairy lights that line the bridges at night are coloured red. It's a very safe area to walk save for the quieter lanes. I was careful to make sure no girls were in the window whilst taking the picture because taking such pictures is not allowed.
It was time to take the tram back to the hotel. I had been walking for 12 hours. I certainly needed a good night’s rest.
The next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast (the Hilton has a very hearty spread) I took the tram number 16 and alighted at Museumplein. The attractions around included the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and The Rijksmuseum. Because I am not a museum guy, I did not go in any of those but here’s a brief.
The Van Gogh Museum maintains the world’s largest collection of the works of the world’s most popular artist - Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). On display are his paintings, drawings and letters. Each year, 1.6 million visitors come to the Van Gogh Museum, making it one of the 25 most popular museums in the world.
The Stedelijk Museum or as the Dutch call it in short Stedelijk (Municipal), strives to be one of the most innovative and interesting museums of modern art in the entire world. Along with all important names of modern painting movements as Impressionists, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, it has a unique collection of 29 paintings by Casimir Malevich, equally exceptional collection of De Stijl and Cobra movement, superb Dutch photography collection, a very good collection of Dutch design and furniture and interesting collection of European and American trends in art since 1950 as works of Matisse, Picasso, Newman, Rauschenberg and Warhol as also Italian Arte Povera and German modern paintings.
The Rijksmuseum, which in English means – The State Museum, exists for more than two hundred years and today belongs to the most breathtaking museums in the world. It is in 1800, that The Rijksmuseum opened first its collection to the public as the Nationale Kunstgallerij (National Art Gallery). Since then, it moved several times before being established in Amsterdam (1808) by the decree of the King of the Netherlands Louis Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon. Along with the masterworks of artists like Rembrandt’s “Night watch”, several paintings by Vermeer, van Dyck and Jan Steen, the museum has truly exceptional collection of Asian art, rich accumulation of the antique objects of the material Dutch culture, vast collection of prints, drawings and classic photography.
From The Rijksmuseum I walked through the Art & Antique District to reach Rembrandtplein.
Rembrandtplein is lined with pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels and is thus a tourist magnet. A popular centre for nightlife, it also includes traditional Dutch pubs which play real Dutch music. Being summer, the terraces were packed with people enjoying a drink and watching the world go by. In the centre of the square is a small but pleasant park where one can relax or pay homage at the statue of Rembrandt.
Thereafter crossing over the Amstel River I walked towards Waterlooplein to explore the neighbourhood’s flea market, the kirk and the Joods Museum. From there I continued walking to view the Magere Bridge, explore the flower market and finally to Begijnhof.
Of Amsterdam's 1280 or so bridges, the Magere Brug (Bridge), or “Skinny Bridge” is the most famous. It is a traditional double-leaf, Dutch draw-bridge connecting the banks of the river Amstel. Approximately every twenty minutes, the bridge opens to let boats through. The original bridge was built in 1670, but as the traffic on Amstel increased, a wider bridge was built to replace the narrow one.
The Begijnhof is an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century. Nothing survived of the earliest dwellings, but the Begijnhof, which is cut off from Amsterdam's traffic noise, still retains a sanctified atmosphere. The Begijnhof was originally built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows. The beautiful houses overlook its well-kept green gardens; Amsterdam's oldest surviving house Het Houten Huis dating from around 1420. On the adjoining walls, there is a fascinating collection of wall plaques with biblical theme. Southern fringe of the square is dominated by the Engelse Kerk (English Church) which dates from the 15th century and possesses its original medieval tower. Houses in Begijnhof are still occupied by single women, so tourists are expected to respect their privacy and be quiet.
It was 4 PM. I had scheduled a business meeting at the hotel at 5PM. I took a tram from Begijnhof to Dam Square and then changed over to tram number 16 that took me to the hotel well in time.
After the meeting I continued my exploration. Of course, there was no going away from tram number 16! I got down at Museumplein. Crossing Stedelijk Museum and Bols I reached the Blue Boat Company pier to explore a 75-minute canal cruise. The cost for the trip was Euro 14. There are many tour options, some of them are dinner cruises.
Although there is a lack of hard historical evidence, it is claimed by the company and generally accepted that in 1575 the Bols family arrived in Amsterdam and opened their distillery. The distillery was located outside the city walls on the post road to Haarlem, situated next to a stream. By 1612 the city's walls had expanded to encompass the distillery, and the stream was dug out into a canal called the Rozengracht because of rose nurseries in the area. Around the same time, a new stone building was constructed to house the distillery. The first official mention is in 1634 in Amsterdam town papers, where Pieter Jacobszoon Bols is documented as operator of ‘t Lootsje' on the Rozengracht.
Lucas Bols was born in 1652. His era corresponded with the Dutch golden age, when the Netherlands were a colonial power, and led the world in international commerce. The Dutch East India Company, of which Lucas was a major shareholder, brought exotic herbs, spices and fruits back to Amsterdam, and these were used to create new liqueurs and genevers. Many of the recipes from that period, such as Blue Curaçao and Crème de cacao, remain popular to this day.
During the 18th century, the Bols family became a very prosperous dynasty, but found it becoming more and more detached from the day to day operation of the distillery. This lack of family leadership, along with the Continental Blockade of Napoleon, severely weakened the company, and when the last male heir, Herman Bols, died in 1813, the company was offered for sale. After changing many hands, Bols came under the present management of GSC Group.
Bols has constructed a "brand experience" in Amsterdam, which includes not only a traditional museum of the history of the brand, its manufacturing methods and ingredients, but also various interactive exhibits which involve the visitor and engage the senses. Visitors can even practice flair bartending. Bartenders themselves are a top priority for Bols and the Bols bartending academy offers accredited courses in bartending, flair bartending, mixology (the science behind bartending) and hospitality management.
The number of canals has led Amsterdam to become known as “The Venice of the North”. And thus, a trip to Amsterdam is not complete without a boat cruise. A canal tour can be both fascinating and relaxing by day and enchanting and romantic at night when many of the houses and bridges are illuminated. The four main city center canals are Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel.
After the cruise I walked to Leidseplein. The Leidseplein or Leidse-square is one of Amsterdam's most popular centres for nightlife. With many restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, cinemas and theatres in the area, the Leidseplein is vibrant and colourful. On warm summer evenings, tourists and locals alike take advantage of the pubs’ outdoor seating enjoying long and lazy drinks with friends. Street musicians, jugglers, fire-eaters and other performers liven up the square, often till the early hours.
That was it. It was 9:30 in the evening. It was time for me to go back to the hotel and pack-up things. I had plans to visit more Dutch towns the next day.
Amsterdam Image Gallery Photo viewer
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