Amsterdam: Bridging The Cultural Divide
With its Bridging Gaps theme, the 11th European Microwave Week couldn’t be held in a more suitable city than Amsterdam. Known as the ‘Venice of the North’, the canals that give it that name are spanned by 1281 bridges.
They range from the famous Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge; see Figure 1), a traditional double-leaf, Dutch draw-bridge connecting the banks of the river Amstel, to the snake-like red steel Pythonbrug (Python Bridge). This mixture of old and new epitomises the city that manages to blend history with modern day living and embraces the 21st century without sacrificing its heritage. You will find striking modern architecture among the museums and palaces.
Amsterdam has a rich cultural heritage, which is diverse and creative. There is a high quality of life with a diverse population from various backgrounds enjoying a broad range of arts and culture. Holland is renowned as an all inclusive, tolerant country; what it no longer tolerates, however, is the smoking of tobacco in public places, including cafés, bars and restaurants. The ban, which came into force on 1 July, is not as strict as in many other European countries as it does permit smoking in segregated smoking areas where staff are not required to enter.
Figure 1 The famous Skinny Bridge is one of the 1281 bridges in Amsterdam (courtesy of Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board).
The ban should not spoil your enjoyment, of course, as Amsterdam has so much to offer, so take some time out during European Microwave Week to discover just how vibrant and diverse the city is. To help you do so here is some advice of how to get the best out of the city.
Amsterdam’s system of one-way roads, canals and bridges may not seem easy to navigate at first, but it can be simplified if you think of the layout as half of a bicycle wheel: the old, medieval city is centred around the Centraal Station — the hub, with roads, smaller canals and the Amstel River spreads out from it like spokes. The ring of concentric canals date back to the 17th century, bordered by the Singelgracht. Approximately five minutes from Centraal Station you will find Dam Square (see Figure 2), the centre of Amsterdam. Within walking distance from the train station you can also explore Leidseplein (see Figure 3) and Museumplein (see Figure 4) for culinary and cultural activities or Rembrandtplein for a night out.
Figure 2 Dam Square is the centre of Amsterdam (courtesy of Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board).
With most major sites located in or near the city centre, the best and most convenient way to enjoy the city is on foot. If you are feeling energetic, however, join the Dutch in their preferred way to travel and experience the city by bike. For those preferring motorised transport, GVB (www.gvb.nl) provides integrated metro, tram and bus services throughout Amsterdam and its surrounding areas. Twenty-four, 48 and 72 hour GVB passes allow for unlimited travel on all trams, buses, the Metro and night buses, and provide the most economical way for visitors to explore the city. Alternatively, ‘strippenkaarten’ charge travellers per trip according to the number of zones passed through to reach their destination and are available at kiosks, stations and tobacconists in strips of 8, 15 and 45. Single trip tickets can be bought onboard from GVB drivers and conductors and are relatively expensive.
Trams provide the best way to get around Amsterdam and run regularly until 00:15 am. City buses are primarily used to reach outlying suburbs and after the trams have stopped running. Night buses run from midnight until 07:00 with routes connecting to Centraal Station, Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein. The Metro is fast, but is mostly of use if you need to travel a fair distance from the city centre.
Figure 3 Terraces at Leidseplein (courtesy of Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board).
The Canal Bus (www.canal.nl) runs every 40 minutes from 09:50 until 19:25 with 14 stops along three different routes throughout the city. Day passes cost €16 and are valid until 12:00 the next day. All of Amsterdam’s major attractions are on the route and historical commentary is provided along the way.
There are Taxi stands at most tourist hubs, including Leidseplein, Dam Square and Centraal Station (see Figure 5). Hailing a taxi is quite difficult and virtually impossible on weekends, but the taxi service is generally prompt if you call ahead (city cab: 0900 677 7777). As well as the taxi sign on top of the roof, Amsterdam taxis can be recognized by the blue license plates with black letters and digits.
Figure 4 Sample the relaxed cafe culture (courtesy of Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board).
Taxi trips are costly and must normally be paid in cash, although sometimes credit cards are accepted. The maximum rate for four passengers is calculated as follows: a maximum call out charge of €7.50, including the first two kilometres. Starting from the third kilometre the charge is up to €2.20 per kilometre. If you keep a taxi waiting, up to €33 per hour will be charged. A 5 to 10 percent tip is expected.
Figure 5 Try riding a taxi bike (courtesy of Amsterdam tourism and Convention Board).
Some 600,000 bicycles travel around the streets of Amsterdam, contributing to the city’s unique charm. Cyclists have their own lanes (coloured red), separated from pedestrians, but you should be aware that mopeds and scooters also use these lanes. A number of companies offer bicycle rentals for around €8 per day with discounts for longer rentals.
You’ll need some form of ID and a deposit. Take out the insurance for a little extra, because the city’s bike thieves are ingenious.
Weteringschans 2 (next to Paradiso)
Mr. Visserplein 2 (Waterlooplein)
Centraal Station, Stationsplein 12
Tel: 020 620 0985
Bloemgracht 68-70 (Westerkerk)
Tel: 020 626 3721
Damstraat Rent a Bike
Tel: 020 625 50 29
WHAT TO DO AND SEE
Anne Frank’s House, Westerkerk
Described as a normal girl in exceptional circumstances, Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis for two years during World War II in the rear of their house at Prinsengracht 263. The entrance was hidden by a revolving cupboard, which was made especially for that purpose. In this hiding place Anne chronicled her experiences in her famous diaries. Go early or late to avoid the queues.
One of Amsterdam’s most famous museums is currently undergoing the biggest rebuilding, renovation and modernization programme in its history. During this period the finest works from the 17th century, including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Hals will continue to be on view under the title The Masterpieces. The redesigned Philips Wing will house various pieces, including Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which has rarely left the main building since it opened in 1885. For more information, visit www.rijksmuseum.nl.
Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art
Also due to renovation this museum is temporarily located on the second and third floor of the Post-CS building (next to Centraal Station) on the Oosterdokskade in the intriguing area between the new and old Amsterdam. The museum offers a diverse exhibition programme, including highlights from the main collection of modern and contemporary art, photography, applied art and design after 1968. For more information, visit www.stedelijk.nl.
Van Gogh Museum, Museumplein
With the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh, this museum is a must for any visitor to Amsterdam. It contains more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters as well as the artist’s own collection of Japanese prints.
Hortus Botanical Gardens,
Plantage Middenlaan 2A
Known as ‘the town’s pride and joy’, the gardens offer the opportunity to commune with nature in tranquil surroundings in the very centre of the bustling city. Established in 1638 as a herb garden for Amsterdam’s doctors and pharmacists, the Hortus has evolved into a live museum with a unique range of plants from all continents.
What used to be a brewery until a few years ago is now a museum and visitor centre, which has been completely renovated. Now called the Heineken Experience, this multimedia event acquaints you with the world of the world’s largest beer exporter. You can take a moving seat on the ‘Bottle Ride’ and follow the route that each bottle in the brewery follows. However, for traditionalists the historic brewery has retained its own atmosphere, with the original brewing room, for instance, having had its impressive hop boilers preserved.
Prinsengracht opposite number 296, facing Elandsgracht
Many people in Amsterdam live permanently on water. You can see their houseboats all over the city. But how does it feel to live in one? How much space do you actually have? The museum shows you a snugly furnished, traditional Amsterdam houseboat.
A must if you have children to entertain during European Microwave Week or if the curiosity of the engineer gets the better of you. NEMO is the biggest science museum in the Netherlands. Discover the world of science and technology in the stunning copper-clad building designed by Renzo Piano.
EATING AND DRINKING
With more than 1000 restaurants to choose from, Amsterdam offers something for everyone, including vegetarians. Dining ranges from fast food to haute cuisine with most nationalities represented. The city boasts top quality restaurants as well as traditional cafés, Dutch pancake houses, steakhouses, seafood outlets, etc. It is advisable to reserve a table, particularly in the city centre. Also note that the Dutch eat early, so some restaurants may close earlier than you might expect. Addresses and phone numbers are given, but if calling from outside the Netherlands, use the International Dialling Code: +31 and omit the first zero. In Amsterdam the city code (020) is not required.
Die Port van Cleve
The restaurant of this 4-star hotel is the place to try the authentic cuisine of the Netherlands in stylish and sophisticated surroundings.
Tel: 020 624 0047
You can drink cocktails and savour fusion cuisine, surrounded by those who like life in the fast lane.
Tel: 020 6260802
In the heart of Amsterdam’s small but growing Chinatown, the restaurant’s many Chinese visitors are a testimony to its authentic Chinese kitchen. More of a Chinese-style ‘diner’ it has expanded its seating space over the years, but its popularity means that sharing a table with others is the norm, rather than the exception.
Zeedijk 111 (Nieuwmarkt)
Tel: 020 639 2848
Decorated in Art-Nouveau style with many original details, the restaurant offers splendid views over two of Amsterdam’s most beautiful canals. The cuisine has French-Italian origins, but the menu also offers traditional Dutch dishes. The food is original, of high quality and pleasantly priced.
(Beginning of Herengracht)
Tel: 020 622 1095
De Twee Grieken
This restaurant offers a traditional Greek atmosphere in which to eat good food at reasonable prices.
Prinsenstraat 20 (Westerkerk)
Tel: 020 625 5317
As the name suggests, this restaurant used to be a cinema. The former auditorium is now the main dining area of the restaurant, with an open kitchen to one side. It is only possible to book a table for parties of eight persons or more.
Westerstraat 184-186 (Jordaan)
Tel: 020 623 7344
Pasta e Basta
The name means as much as pasta and don’t nag. The dining experience in this beautiful building is not restricted to good pasta and fine wine as the staff will reveal themselves as good singers and dancers too as they perform at your table. Early booking required.
Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 8
Tel: 020 422 2222
Although this authentic restaurant prides itself on home-style regional Italian cooking, prepared in an open kitchen, the one thing that you won’t find is pizza. Book early to ensure getting a table.
Lindengracht 75 (Jordaan)
Tel: 020 623 2813
This large all-in-one restaurant offers a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables and traditional Japanese cuisine, providing a unique taste of the Orient.
Tel: 020 489 7918
Located on the street that runs parallel to the floating flower market, the restaurant opened in 1980 with seven tables and an old piano. The piano has gone and it can now seat up to 280 people, but the atmosphere is still lively and the food is authentic.
Tel: 020 625 9797
Located in the red light district, Centra is a very good restaurant offering traditional food at reasonable prices with the paella being a speciality.
Lange Niezel 29
Tel: 020 622 3050
The long established and bohemian ‘Bowler Hat’ restaurant has a picturesque canal-side location and endeavours to serve organic food, where possible, in an amiable and relaxed atmosphere. The food is decidedly modern, with tasty stir-fries and burritos, etc., on offer.
Prinsengracht 60 (Jordaan)
Tel: 020 626 1803
One of the healthiest places to eat in Amsterdam, the ‘Flying Saucer’ restaurant offers an extremely varied, mainly vegetarian menu with most tastes catered for. Vegans are welcome and there are even fish dishes for non-vegetarians. All food is freshly prepared from fresh produce.
Nieuwe Leliestraat 162-168 (Jordaan)
Tel: 020 625 2041
Take a culinary trip around the globe without leaving the city boundaries.
Conveniently located on the busy Damrak, just opposite the famous Bijenkorf Department Store, and close to Dam Square and the Royal Palace, this restaurant offers a wide range of popular dishes from fish ‘n chips, steaks and pasta dishes, to light meals and snacks.
Tel: 020 626 22 00
Oude Waal 9 (Old Centre)
Tel: 020 624 3203
Ferdinand Bolstraat 13
Tel: 020 672 0651
Tel: 020 626 1199
For those who like to eat somewhere different, Amsterdam has a few that might fit the bill.
1e Klas (First Class)
This ‘grand cafe’ style restaurant in Centraal Station’s former first class buffet, which has been restored to its original late 19th century splendour, offers French cuisine at moderate prices. It has a beautiful interior with large windows and a monumental bar with mirrors and tall porcelain vases.
Platform 2b, Centraal Station
Tel: 020 625 0131
A former shipping line office with some tables that have dramatic harbour views (ask for them when you book). The seasonally adjusted fish and meat menu features dishes ranging from classical French to typically Dutch.
Steiger 10, Pier 10 behind Central Station
Tel: 020 624 8276
Figure 6 De Waag, a stunning middle-age weigh-house (courtesy of Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board).
In De Waag
The location is a stunning middle-age Weigh-House. This magnificent historic building with its constrained yet informal interior design is lit by 300 candles, which adds to the dining experience (see Figure 6).
Nieuwmarkt 4 (Old Centre)
Tel: 020 422 77 72
As this guide illustrates, Amsterdam has a great deal to offer. Use it to have a good time away from the show and enjoy your visit.