The waterways of the city’s iconic canal system glimmer in the light of a Dutch dawn, says Swati Basu Das.
A quixotic, state-of-the-art destination, Amsterdam will never fail to go beyond ‘all the’ Rembrandts and Van Goghs.
Apart from producing some of the world’s greatest painters and housing the fine museums showcasing their work, Amsterdam is naturally, and artistically, gorgeous. An open square, Museumplein, is where Dutch paintings find their place of honour in museums like the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum.
Marking the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt in 2019, from February 15 to June 10, with ‘the year of Rembrandt’, an exhibition of some of his remarkable paintings at Rijksmuseum was something I had my eye on during my six-day stay.
But museums are not the only thing Amsterdam has to offer. This city, built on water, is validated by the Dutch saying “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands”.
This European gem is the ‘city of cycles’ and is best explored by riding one. Bicycles outnumber cars on city roads by a ratio of four-to-one. Bike lanes and bike-specific traffic lights make riding safe and fun, and if you are in the saddle, make sure you don’t stop unless you have to, and ring your bell to keep pedestrians at bay.
Paying close attention to the architecture while walking or cycling, the skewed houses that lean on one another by the side of a canal can never go unnoticed.
Well-connected by buses and trams, the city and its outskirts are accessible, easily navigable and convenient. The Line 14 tram from Amsterdam Central Station will take you to the city’s focal point – Dam Square – in not more than three minutes. From malls and souvenir shops to numerous food joints, this public square witnesses major celebrations and carnivals all year round. A 15-minute stroll to the west of the square will take you to the multi-cultural Jordaan area, which includes Ann Frank House. The legendary teenage diarist lived here during World War II.
Retaining its medieval flavour, the fairytale town of Haarlem is 17 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central. A dream-like destination with its vast square dominated by the Grote Kerk (a Gothic church), a day trip to this quaint town highlights the medieval Hofjes (enclosed courtyards), and a windmill. A canal cruise meandering through the waterways is another relaxing way to explore the area.
Be it for the 17th century Rembrandt’s works of art or those marvellous movie sets recognisable from films such as those in ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, Amsterdam and its environs provoke a sense of anticipation, and excitement.
My favourite place- The traditional working windmill at Zaanse Schans is a sight that’s quintessentially Dutch. A 35-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central via Sloterdijk, the place firmly recalls life in the 17th century Netherlands. This very first industrial zone has a number of the old wind-powered mustard mill, sawmill, oil mill and even dye mills, and is named De Huisman (the Houseman), Het Jonge Schaap (the young sheep), De Os (the Ox) or De Kat (the cat), respectively. Witnessing these iconic machines as they work even today is an experience. Located on the River Zaan, there are also museums and a chocolate factory. After smelling some freshly-baked, luscious fresh cookies, a visit to the clog (Dutch style wooden shoes) making warehouse makes for a fantastic day trip.
Highlights- Tulips are what makes this part of the world adorable and if you are prepared to make a journey here in spring, you can take a trip to Keukenhof Gardens, which is about an hour’s train ride away from Amsterdam. In this park, a bewildering, bewitching array awaits you; the results of the seven millions bulbs that are planted here annually and showcased at the Amsterdam Tulip Festival, which this year is on until May 19. Then there is the street food, especially at Albert Cuyp market near Museumplein. The Dutch stroopwaffle with crunchy waffle and gooey stroop syrup within and poffertjes (fluffy mini pancakes) are sweet wonders. Be it the raw herring (Dutch style marinated raw fish) served with raw onions and pickles or the delicious kibbeling (fried cod fish) teeming with tartar sauce, these are delicacies not to be ignored. The not-so-Dutch vlaamse friets (French fries) served with 24 different sauces at MannekenPis near Amsterdam Central are a perennial favourite with tourists.
Lowlights- Streets are over-crowded on weekends so keep a close eye on your belongings. Do carry an umbrella as the weather is pretty unpredictable.
Souvenirs- Wooden clogs, Delft pottery, Zaanse Molen Dutch Mustard. Don’t forget to bring home the flavoured Dutch cheese from the cheese city – Alkamar.
Getting there- KLM flies directly to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from Muscat.
Where to stay- Hotels to suit all budgets abound here. However, it’s essential to book early as Amsterdam is popular with travellers from all over the world, from spring to autumn.
1. Ride a bicycle to get a feel for the city streets.
2. Cruise down the canals and watch the city float by.
3. Taste Dutch delicacies at the Albert Cuyp Street Market.
4. Experience blooming Dutch tulips with a trip to Keukenhof Gardens.
5. Visit the museums and the legendary Anne Frank House.