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Beyond the chance to turn back time and peer into the lifestyle of an earlier era, one of the joys of visiting Zaanse Schans is the chance to escape urban buzz. While it's less than an hour away from Amsterdam by train, this replica of a 17th century Dutch village is worlds apart from the Dutch capital's edgy culture and incessant hum. Situated in Zaandam, a town in Noord-Holland on either side of the Zaan River, Zaanse Schans provides jobs for many of Zaandam's nearly 73,000 residents. In a green, bucolic landscape, families enjoy a semi-rural lifestyle that recalls simpler days in Dutch provinces during the country's Golden Age. In outdoor scenes, Zaans Museum exhibits and shops throughout the village, see how people in the Netherlands keep 400-year-old traditions alive.
If visiting a miniature version of a country the size of a postage stamp makes no sense to you, stay away from Madurodam, a top tourist attraction in Den Haag featuring historic Dutch towns, ports, canals, roads and monuments re-created on a 1/25 scale. On the other hand, if you fancy learning about the history of a nation that would be underwater were it not for Dutch ingenuity, by all means visit this interactive park that tells the story behind the battle against water, as well as many historic venues that still exist in Holland today.
A four-kilometer seaside promenade is the perfect place for a stroll at Scheveningen, a beach resort in Den Haag's wealthy northernmost district. In addition to a sandy beach, colorful esplanade, pier and the Scheveningen lighthouse, there's a Sea Life aquarium, Pathé cinema, the Steigenberger Kurhaus music theater, Scheveningen Museum and a casino. Trendy clubs, restaurants, surf schools and other water sports options line the wide Noorderstrand (North Beach) boulevard. After a three-year metamorphoses completed in 2013, the beach-side stretch offers the best of sun, sand and surf on Holland's western coastline. Giant sculptures by the sea add a whimsical touch, while numerous bars and eating establishments provide spots to grab a drink or a meal while watching the action in the harbor.
It has been a decade since the major museums on the Museumplein—a grassy square connecting Amsterdam’s main art centers—have all been open at the same time. Here’s what to check out at the Van Gogh Museum. Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and The Potato Eaters are just a few of the masterpieces on display as part of the “Van Gogh at Work” exhibit. Paulus Potterstraat 7, 31/(0) 20-570-5200. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
...a lovely day spent strolling around Amsterdam, Holland. Quaint little side streets filled with surprises and tucked away stores. It was there that we came upon the Bloemenmarkt (Bloom Market) where bundles and bundles of tulips and other flowers were for sale. Just a couple euros for a bouquet of flowers, VERY unlike the prices I am used to in America! During our adventure we came upon a jewelry shop where the owner makes the jewelry right there on the premises. Unique pieces on display in the window tempting you as you walk by. A sweet little silver ring caught my eye so we went in and had my finger measured and were told to return at 5:00 and it would be ready. It became my most treasured souvenir from Amsterdam and will perhaps be the photo in my next highlight! ;)
When waterways in the Netherlands freeze into glittering paths, overjoyed residents take to the ice. Visitors can buy or rent a pair of noren (traditional long-blade skates) to glide across town or take part in one of the country’s dozens of tochten, organized tours or races held throughout the nation’s 2,200 miles of canals. Check the local newspaper or the website Schaatsen.nl for route announcements. Ice skating along the frozen lanes also provides a chance to marvel at how the canals have shaped the landscape. Because a quarter of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the Dutch have relied on drainage systems to keep their heads above water. Skate the molentocht, or mill tour, in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kinderdijk (pictured) to see 19 windmills that once pumped water from the lowlands into the surrounding reservoirs. The historic village about 15 miles from Rotterdam is a peaceful setting for one of the country’s favorite winter pastimes. If you travel to Kinderdijk to skate the molentocht, reserve a room at the Pincoffs Suite Hotel in Rotterdam. Stieltjesstraat 34, 31/(0) 10-297-4500. Photo by Glow Images/Rene Van Der Meer. This appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.
Just down the street from the Anne Frank House is the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. It feels more like a shop, shelves filled to the ceiling with a huge variety of Dutch cheeses, including the world-famous gouda and edam varieties. If you are strolling along the lovely Prinsengracht canal, this is a nice place to taste some samples and buy some packable souvenirs for home. And on the blocks alongside the museum are plenty of open-air, canal-side cafes.
The Arendsnest is a pub specializing in Dutch beer. There are many, as it turns out—the Belgians get all the glory, but the Dutch are also fine brewers. They also serve a really great variety of cheese, a reminder that nothing goes with cheese as well as beer.
When I was in Amsterdam I stayed with a friend who lived on the canal. One a Saturday morning he took me to the Albert Cuyp Market. It's a famous street market lined with stalls where you can buy clothing, fruit, vegetables, fish, gadgets, and prepared foods. I was a bit hungover the morning we went, so he said the best thing to do was to eat some typical Dutch hangover food. One such hangover food or tasty snack in general was poffertjes. Poffertjes are a traditional Dutch batter treat. They basically look like mini pancakes but they are lighter and more spongy. As seen in the photo, they come with a pat of butter and are sprinkled with powdered sugar. How can you not eat these delicious little bites? Here's a blog post about more Dutch snacks I ate while exploring Amsterdam and the Albert Cuyp Market: http://bit.ly/1peWNJk
On my third visit to the great city of Amsterdam I did something I had never done before... I got up early and set out with my camera on a morning stroll! It was an unbelievable experience to walk around Amsterdam's deserted streets early in the morning with only remnants of the many exploits of the previous evening. To see the red light district and the plazas. It was quiet, the streets were almost empty, and the canals were so calm (no boat traffic) that there were crystal clear reflections of the landscape that defines Amsterdam. It is still easy to get coffee and a pastry and even the brown bars are serving herb and hash early in the morning (yes, you could say that I "waked and baked"). I will never forget this experience and the amazing photographs I captured on my last day in the Dutch city I love so much for so many reasons, so if you can manage it, I would recommend waking up early to stroll the streets of Amsterdam. I'll leave the getting baked part up to you.
We woke up on day two, intending to wander around, grab lunch and then spend the rest of the day in the park. However, our host suggested a book market only open on Fridays. Within minutes of the suggestion, we were out the door, armed with raincoats, a patchy mental map and a deep determination to find at least some of the books any self respecting Literature student should own. When we arrived at the Spui book market, we were faced with dozens of stalls, each selling different genres and languages of books. We had no trouble finding stalls selling English books, and the deadly combination of old classics and low prices made it almost impossible to settle for just one or two. Realizing that realistically, it would be unlikely for us to fit any more books in our luggage on the return journey, this time we left empty handed, but with a few ideas for dinner that night. A near perfect day spent wandering through heaps of books was rounded out in the apartment's hammock with a cup of tea, stroopwaffle and a little blue book, new to me, but clearly read (and loved) many times before.
There's classical ballet. And live music—classical, jazz, pop, rock and hip-hop—as well as theater, dance, cinema, books and art, at Uitmarkt, one of Holland's most popular cultural events. Held the last weekend of August at indoor and outdoor venues throughout Amsterdam, the lively festival kicks off the new cultural season each year, attracting 450,000+ visitors and some 2,000 artists from around the world. Over three days, dancers, singers, groups, soloists and orchestras perform in theaters, nightclubs, cafés and concert halls, as well as on outdoor stages in Museumplein, Leidseplein, and other parks and squares. In 2013, the festival celebrated its 36th year with an inaugural Uitmarkt Bach Day in Vondelpark, showcasing a choral collaboration featuring 100 singers. More than a dozen new bands from around the world did battle for the Sena Performers POPnl Award at the legendary Melkweg nightclub; the Scapino Ballet Rotterdam performed "Pearl" on the Museumplein stage; and an array of renowned artists headlined in the regal Royal Concertgebouw. Book lovers pored over stalls at the Manuscripta book market while kids got messy at De Krakeling craft stands. To commemorate the 400th jubilee of Amsterdam's Canal Ring, children from age six to sixteen also contributed to "The Longest Canal," a 400-meter drawing that will be displayed in the Amsterdam Museum courtyard.
Grachtenfestival is a week-long outdoor classical music festival held every August in Amsterdam. World-famous musicians, ensembles and new talent perform in locations around the city. The festival's grand finale, the free Prinsengracht Concert, is held on a floating barge on the Prinsengracht Canal in front of the Pulitzer Hotel. Starting that morning, thousands of boats, large and small, stake out their spots. Day-long floating parties culminate in a shimmering, magical concert held under the stars. At the end of the evening, the Dutch join together to sing "Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten", a song about life on the Amsterdam canals - so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Stake out your picnic spot on the sides of the canal, find a Dutch friend who has a room with a view, or book a canal-front room at the Hotel Pulitzer. www.grachtenfestival.nl
Tourists may throng through Amsterdam's busy city center on Kalverstraat, but travelers in the know saunter down "De Negen Straatjes" or "The Nine Streets." Trendy boutiques, designer fashions, and snug cafes line the cobblestone street grid to the west of the city's center.
On our way to the Concertgebouw, we couldn't resist entering this tempting bakery. Inside? The moistest lemon cake I've ever tasted, along with unique muffins, cakes, and other sweet delights. Savory breads and sandwiches are available as well, making this place the perfect spot for lunch on your way to the Albert Cuyp Market or one of the many other nearby sights.
Sitting outside at Brouwerij IJ on a sunny day, under the erratic shadows of a windmill, sampling the variety of beers that are brewed right there, felt pretty good. We were too late to sign up for the brewery tour, but I bet it's worth it. The patio was crowded but the line to get beer was never too long, and lots of friendly locals were there to chat.
The interiors of this museum and its library are really beautiful—a mosaic of polished wood and marble surfaces. And its contents are very timely, about the history of immigration and former Dutch colonies and slavery. The library is a bit of an insider secret—a quiet hideaway. —Maartje Van Den Noort Linnaeusstraat 2, 31/(0) 20-568-8200. This story appeared in the May/June 2011 issue. Photo by Rene Mesman. See all of Maartje van den Noort’s favorite places in East Amsterdam.
Beyond tulips and windmills, Amsterdam's global image is entwined with water. The Canal Ring (Grachtengordel), comprised of 165 fluid channels, was developed in Holland's 17th century Golden Age through drainage and reclamation of land that would otherwise be underwater. In the ensuing four centuries, it has supported maritime trade while evolving into one of the world’s most recognizable urban landscapes. In 2013, its 400th birthday, UNESCO added the Grachtengordel to its World Heritage List. Today the Canal Ring is both a historic transportation network and a stunning backdrop for local festivals and celebrations. What was initially a geographic feature that enabled growth beyond Amsterdam's fortified boundaries has evolved into a landmark lined with gabled mansions built during the height of Dutch maritime trade. The most famous rings of the belt—the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel canals—form the concentric loop that gives that gives Amsterdam its half-moon shape. The canals, notably Prinsengracht, are packed with floating and land-bound party-goers on annual festivals like King's Day (formerly Queen's Day) in April, plus Gay Pride and Grachtenfestival in August. Canal cruises offer an excellent introduction to city sights and are a great way to see Amsterdam by boat. Options include one-hour tours, hop on-hop off excursions, and romantic dinner cruises, offered in numerous languages by companies with departure points throughout the city.
I expected to do and see a lot of things while in Amsterdam, one of them being visiting the Anne Frank House and museum. The museum features exhibitions but more importantly walks you through the Secret Annex where Anne Frank, her family and others hid from the Nazis during the occupation in WWII. It is now preserved to tell their story and promote tolerance. While all of that is admirable and powerful on its own, I found it hard not to be shaken by the spirit of the young girl who wrote in her diary, which I read in high school, imagining a better world and a better mankind.
The fact that there is a special-occasion restaurant like the Wilde Zwijnen (which means Wild Boar) is a sign of wealth in the neighborhood. I like the interiors: stylish but natural. The boar dishes are good, but they also do nice ravioli filled with kale and sausage. —Maartje Van Den Noort Javaplein 23, 31/(0) 20-463-3043. This story appeared in the May/June 2011 issue. Photo by Rene Mesman. See all of Maartje van den Noort’s favorite places in East Amsterdam.
There's more to Dutch cheese than edam and gouda. Besides endless variations on these two, including raw milk versions, there are also lesser known Dutch cheeses to try, as well as imports from all over Europe. You can also buy tools for cooking with cheese (graters, slicers, etc), wine, and foods that pair well with cheeses. One of my personal favorites were raisins on the grape vine --so cool looking! Staff generally have good English and even if you get an employee that doesn't, you can always use the mime and point method to get a nice chunk of cheese cut off one of the massive rounds in the shop.
Even the strongest jenever—the Dutch predecessor to gin—won’t help you pronounce Wynand Fockink, but this 350-year-old bar and distillery is the best place to sip the juniper-laced drink. Imbibers spill out into an alleyway, their glasses filled with jenever concoctions infused with such flavors as vanilla, coffee, orange, or cinnamon. Pijlsteeg 31, 31/(0) 20-639-2695. Photo courtesy of Zemistor/Flickr. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
In the center of buzzing Amsterdam there's an oasis of peace that dates back to 1150, when a group of Catholic women banded together in a religious community. You won’t have to stand in line to visit this top Amsterdam attraction as you do for popular tourist spots like Anne Frank’s house and the Van Gogh Museum. That's because the Begijnhof is a little known place of tranquility in the center of a buzzing city. More than nine centuries after its beginnings, it retains its sanctified atmosphere and reputation as one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful yet least known attractions. The Begijnhof’s history encompasses the Miracle of Amsterdam and a few other scientifically inexplicable events that happened along the way. The women in the sisterhood were called Begijnen. Without taking monastic vows, they lived like nuns, cared for the sick and educated the poor using the Begijnhof as their sanctuary. Although it's private property, visitors are welcome in the serene inner courtyard that's bordered by typical Amsterdam-style houses. Today the peaceful oasis is still occupied by single women. While no longer a beguinage in the strict sense of the word, it’s a site for daily masses, as well as weekend weddings and baptisms. Priests are available for confession and personal talks. A shop accessed via the chapel sells post cards, candles and religious books.
On a hopping night, Noorderlicht (Northern Lights) is ablaze with colorful lights visible clear across the IJ River—hence its name. For those of us drinking and jamming to live music on a waterfront terrace warmed by a roaring bonfire, the setting is more intimate. We've reached Noorderlicht, a "cultural café" in Noord-Amsterdam, via free ferry from Central Station. Destination: NDSM yard, a revitalized shipyard that belies its maritime/industrial heritage with warehouses and shipping containers transformed into nightclubs, hotels and student housing. Dotted with fishing villages, condos and restaurants, the eclectic neighborhood calls itself "Art City." With its airplane hangar shape and greenhouse-like architecture, Noorderlicht enhances the funky landscape. The popular café draws creative types who come for waterfront dining, drinking and dancing. Inside, warm-hued wall hangings, wooden flooring, tables ornamented with polished driftwood and a disco ball contribute to an inviting ambiance. Seasonal lunch and dinner menus feature organic and regional dishes, plus casual fare like frites and burgers. Noorderlicht's grassy terrace offers a spectacular view of Amsterdam city center from the other side of the Ij River. Dine on wicker chairs, cushioned couches and picnic tables as musicians perform overlooking the waterfront. A roster of events ranges from campfires and poetry readings to DJ nights that usually inspire some pumping and grinding in a young, energetic crowd.
De Belhamel restaurant is located near the Central train station in a very quiet residential neighborhood. It would be hard to find a prettier location for a leisurely lunch or romantic dinner - the restaurant sits at the junction of the Brouwersgracht canal and the Herengracht canal and provides a magnificent view. The interior is decorated in an Art Noveau style. The award-winning menu focuses on seasonal Dutch dishes with Mediterranean influences. The view and the food are equally impressive - highly recommended if you are looking for a beautiful, quiet spot for dinner away from the crowds. 60 Brouwersgracht, Amsterdam
Headquartered about an hour north of the city, Royal Tichelaar Makkum has been making traditional Dutch pottery and tiles for more than four centuries. In Amsterdam proper, the design store Frozen Fountain sells modern Makkum pieces, including handpainted earthenware bowls crafted by Dutch designer Hella Jongerius. Prinsengracht 645, 31/(0) 20-622-9375. Photo courtesy of thomasseyck.com. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
Like its counterpart in Beverly Hills, Amsterdam's P.C. Hoofstraat draws upper crust shoppers with its wide array of top designer brand stores. Set near Vondelpark, the street is technically in the Oud-West, but it has the patrician feel of the Museum District. You'll need deep pockets (or lots of plastic) to shop in this high-end paradise for design aficionados. Come for the latest collections of Cartier, Chanel, Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Hermès, Hugo Boss and Louis Vuitton. In addition, there are offerings from Dutch brands Oilily, Blue Blood Denim, G-star and men's fashion retailer Oger also have stores here. While the street name P.C. Hooftstraat is often associated with this upscale shopping stretch in Amsterdam, many other Dutch cities have a P.C. Hooftstraat, including Utrecht, Haarlem and Tilburg.
Stroopwafels are ridiculously delicious and addictive. This Dutch treat consists of two thin, firm waffles sandwiching a layer of lush caramel. Apparently, the average Dutch person eats 20 stroopwafels each year. Somehow, I must have easily eaten 20 in my week-long visit. Good thing Amsterdam is such a beautiful walking city.
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