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With its museums, its architecture and its social life, Amsterdam is a city where you will feel you are in Europe to the marrow of your bones.
When you board the train for Amsterdam after the hectic bustle of Schiphol Airport, you will breathe a sigh of relief. But don’t be fooled by the idyllic pastoral scenes as you take in the suburbs through the train window! In a little while you will reach the world’s most dynamic city, where life never slows down 24 hours a day. Amsterdam has a texture that harbors associations with several other cities in Europe. Reminiscent of Venice with its countless canals and the bridges, of Paris with its lively art scene, and of London with its academic strength, it takes a backseat to none. And with its squares and museums, this little city will draw you in and offer you a big world to explore.
RECLAIMED FROM MARSHLAND
Legend has it that the soil on which Amsterdam was built was once marshland. Following extensive efforts, the Dutch, a large portion of whose country is below sea level, succeeded in draining the marshes and developing their magnificent city.
LACED WITH CANALS
It is possible to see canals in many European cities, but with 165 of them Amsterdam is a city so rich in canals as to rival Venice or St. Petersburg. It’s possible to stroll through almost all of this city with its rather dense canal network without ever touching the ground. You can also take an enjoyable Amsterdam tour through the canals, on one of the open-top or the glassed-in tour boats, and see the city’s gaily painted houses and other characteristic architecture.
Situated at a point where the city’s main centers intersect, ‘the Dam’, where the heart of Amsterdam beats, is lively every hour of the day. Street artists in unusual costumes liven up this square with displays and choreographed dancing. You can also have your picture taken here with an array of characters from pretty Dutch village girls on stilts with sun-yellow braids to real princesses and black knights. A small tip is all that’s needed for a fun, smiling faced photo.
In many ways Amsterdam is a perfect world city. One of the best examples of this is its choice of world cuisines. If you are a gourmet eager to try different tastes, you’re going to find a lot of alternatives in Amsterdam. Besides select examples from Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Italian and French cuisine, you can also find unusual flavors in venues serving Greek, Arab, Iranian and Latin American specialties. From French fries and pizza to Turkish ‘döner kebab’, Lebanese falafel and Chinese noodles, treats of all kinds are waiting to satisfy your hunger at the tiny stalls in the city center. And for those who miss the tastes of Turkey, the city boasts plenty of Turkish restaurants and snack bars to boot.
THE FLOWER MARKET
Amsterdam is also home to the flower market described by Turkish pop singer Mazhar Alason in his song that goes, ‘I bought you yellow tulips from the flower market’. Holland is one of a handful of countries in the world that are big in the flower business. The country’s richness in this respect is evidenced by the hundreds of fascinating varieties found in the city’s famous flower market, whose insect-eating plants, lovely yellow sunflowers, and endless array of exotic bulbs and seeds make it one of the city’s must-see sights. And the first thing that springs to mind at the mention of bulbs is the fire-red tulip, symbol of love immortalized in verse.
AMSTERDAM AND THE TULIP
Tulip bulbs first traveled to the Netherlands during a period of intense commercial relations with the Ottoman Empire. So popular was this bewitching flower in Holland that the country experienced a period of ‘tulipomania’ in the 17th century when houses were bought and sold and commercial agreements drawn up in tulips. Although this tulip madness and its dramatic impact have abated today, the tulip is still among the most prominent symbols of the country and its economy. Produced in a variety of colors and species, tulip bulbs are sent from all over Holland, mainly from Amsterdam, to the four corners of the world. Tulips carpet Holland every year in April in a magnificent rainbow of colors. An interesting place to visit, Amsterdam’s Tulip Museum tells the story of this flower’s fascinating journey from Central Asia to the Seljuks and Ottomans and from there to Holland. Together with its Tulip Museum, Amsterdam, Dutch capital of art and culture, has a sizable number of other museums large and small.
Amsterdam is a city that will make museum going enjoyable even for those who don’t normally find it attractive. The area called Museumplein, quickly reached by an enjoyable stroll from the Dam, plays host to works by Europe’s leading painters. And among world classics, you will never see more examples than at the Van Gogh Museum, one of Amsterdam’s most important cultural treasures. You will learn all the details of his life and work at this museum, which houses more than two hundred works by the great Dutch master. Two other museums worth visiting are the Rijks Museum, with primarily classical works of art, and the Stedelijk Museum, where works of modern art are exhibited. You can also pick up reproductions of your favorite works by the famous painters in the museum shops.
ANNE FRANK’S HOUSE
Known for the diaries she kept about her experiences in the Second World War, Anne Frank is a figure about whom books have been written and films and documentaries produced. The diary she kept of her years spent hiding from the Nazis in the rear of a building divided into front and back sections has been translated into fifty-five languages. This house, where Anne Frank penned the diaries that were discovered after her death, is Amsterdam’s most visited museum-house, with a long line of people waiting to get in at every hour of the day. If you would like to visit the house, purchase a ticket in advance to facilitate your access to the building.
Amsterdam center is a vibrant and extraordinary world city where life is lived in the fast lane. But outside the city center there is a tranquility that is the diametric opposite. Two story houses cheek by jowl with nature, in whose large gardens happy farm animals wander freely, and the windmills that symbolize a green Holland will all draw you into another world. These are also the regions where the tastiest Dutch cheeses are produced.