I’d heard many things about Amsterdam. Images that sprang to mind included tulips and clogs, and a compact city interwoven by canals. It seemed like it would be a pleasant place to visit – some day.
Little did I know that this visit would happen much earlier than I ever expected. Thanks to winning a pair of return-flight tickets to Amsterdam during a charity lucky draw organised by the Netherlands Charity Association in Singapore, I was soon on my way, with my travelling companion Harsharan. We managed to take a side-trip to Paris, too, which Harsharan has written about elsewhere in this month’s issue.
Here are some of our Amsterdam highlights.
Armed with a useful Holland Pass each, entitling us to discounts at many of Amsterdam’s best tourist attractions, we began our exploration at the Keukenhof (“kitchen garden”), the largest tulip garden in the world. Situated near Lisse, 25km southwest of Amsterdam, and covering an area of 32 hectares, the Keukenhof boasts a staggering 4.5 million hand-planted tulips in 100 varieties. One can imagine that maintaining this place is no bed of roses.
We were lucky with our timing: the Keukenhof is only open during springtime, March to May. Little wonder that the garden teems with local and international visitors. Despite the crowds, it’s an ideal spot for families, thanks to a playground, a maze and an animal meadow where children can have fun and learn a few things at the same time.
As for us, we contented ourselves with a little picnic in the park. Our simple sandwiches tasted impossibly good, which I attribute to the beautiful weather and, of course, the gorgeous flowers. Everywhere we turned was a glorious visual feast of flowers in all colours, shapes and sizes.
A long queue was already waiting outside Madame Tussaud’s when we arrived on our second morning. The museum staff handed out umbrellas to shield visitors from the light drizzle. Thankfully, service at the counter was quick and before long we were in. A life-size wax figure of US president Barack Obama takes centre-stage on the first level, against a backdrop of the White House.
The nine Madame Tussaud museums around the world are well-known for their life-size wax figures of celebrities and international dignitaries. The Amsterdam version underwent a 4-million-euro renovation a few years ago, with the addition of a sixth floor and new interactive exhibits and features.
Dam Square is where the Koninklijk Palace (Royal Palace) is located. Although no longer home to the Dutch royal family, this grand 17th-century palace is still used to hold official receptions.
On the south side of Dam Square stands the controversially phallic National Memorial statue, erected in 1956 in memory of Dutch soldiers and members of the resistance who died during the Second World War.
Next stop was Bloemenmarkt (flower market) where tulip bulbs, flower seeds and fresh flowers are available. There’s more, too – a cannabis starter kit, anyone? Just opposite the stretch of florists is Sampurna Indonesian restaurant, serving the famous Indonesian-style rijsttafel (rice table). This is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch from the Indonesian feast nasi padang and involves a variety of dishes accompanied by rice. Rijsttafel is commonly available in the Netherlands, a testament to how well the two cultures have blended. The food served in the restaurant was very good, though milder than similar dishes in Indonesia.
Red Light District
Lost in spite of our map, we ambled through the streets of Singel (the main inner-city moat of Amsterdam). We chanced upon the famed Red Light District, where scantily clad prostitutes display themselves in large windows even during the day. Even families with kids in tow seemed to have no qualms in walking past them.
Van Gogh Museum
Launched in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum (open daily, except 1 January) houses the world’s largest collection of works by the famous artist: 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters, as well as Van Gogh’s own collection of Japanese prints. Audio tours are available for €5 in multiple languages. There are plenty of activities for kids, too. They can try their hands at creating their own works of art in one of the museum workshops, or even go on a treasure hunt.
Not far from the Museumplein (Museum Square) where the Van Gogh Museum and three other museums are located is Vondel Park, Amsterdam’s version of Central Park.
Albert Cuyp Market
The Albert Cuyp Market is a local street fair reminiscent of a night market or pasar malam in Singapore, though only open during the day. A wide variety of products is sold here, from fish to vegetables, and from clothes to accessories. The street is closed to traffic during market hours.
Nearby is Bazar, a Middle-Eastern-themed restaurant which serves an array of delicious Arabian dishes. The beautiful decor and ambience, not to mention great food, make this a popular eatery with locals.
Accomodation a Perfect Pair
The Sheraton Amsterdam is a stone’s throw away from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. This prime location makes it especially convenient for business travellers or anyone on a short visit to the Dutch capital. With the railway station just two minutes from the hotel, Amsterdam’s sights are easy to get to, too. The proximity to the runway is no impediment to a great night’s sleep. We recovered from our jet lag in no time here – the excellent breakfast at the Club Lounge helped.
The airport boasts its own shopping centre, Schiphol Plaza. International and local brands alike are present, and many of the cafés and restaurants are open 24 hours. We loved the Food Village with its section of ready-to-eat meals and even Halal catering for Muslim customers. (+31 20 316 4300)
The Pulitzer Hotel
This five-star hotel situated alongside the Amsterdam canals was formed by the consolidation of 25 historical canal-side houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Founded by the Howard Johnson group, it has been operating for more than three decades and is now a proud member of The Luxury Collection.
In 2008, the Pulitzer’s 230 rooms underwent a major renovation, to impart a modern look while still retaining the historical and authentic tones of the building.
For the past 26 years, the Prinsengrachtconcert – a world-famous classical concert – has been held on a floating pontoon in front of the hotel. The open-air concert, held during the third week of August, is broadcast live on national television and is eagerly looked forward to by local crowds. (+31 20 523 5235)
Sampurna Indonesian Restaurant – Singel 498, 1017 Ax Amsterdam, +31 20 625 3264
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