Amsterdam is a compact city and the best way to see it is from one of the glass top boats. You can board them just opposite the central station. Once aboard, you look up through the leafy trees at the changing roof tops, the bell gables and the different facades.
You immediately capture part of the atmosphere of the city that grew up around the dam on the Amstel, the Amstel dam.- Amsterdam.
There are a hundred and sixty canals arranged concentric, like a spider’s web, plus many, many bridges and lots of attractive walks over cobbled streets. so take a good pair of shoes.
Worthwhile sights include a visit to The Rijksmuseum where you can view the original of Rembrant’s painting The Night Watch. It’s certainly not for one of today’s rooms., it’s so big you’d have to build a small house around it. You can get a smaller copy outside at the stall in the square, where they claim to have postcards featuring the work of every major artist.
Also fascinating at the Rijksmuseum, are the dolls houses where you peer in at the windows. In real life this is something that you can’t avoid doing in the city at night as the canal side streets are lined with brightly lit rooms.
There seem to be more pot plants in the windows than curtains. Night is bright. When evening comes in Amsterdam buildings are lit up, lights sparkle on bridges and it’s all reflected in the canals. If you are romantically inclined you can take a candlelight cruise. It’s almost like living in a Christmas tree.
Getting to Amsterdam from most places is easy, with Schipol Airport having perhaps the easiest of connecting hubs in Europe.
On arrival you find really good facilities, moving walkways that climb, dip and take you and your suitcase all the way to the train. You need never have to lug your luggage.
Once you get into the city of bicycles, canals and yellow trams be sure to visit the tourist office. You find it just round the corner from Dam Square and when you collect your leaflets and maps, make sure that that you get a copy of ‘This Week in Amsterdam’ It’s a weekly programme covering ‘everything’ that’s happening.
It steered us in the direction of The National Ballet where we saw a stunning presentation of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ at the majestic The Music Theatre.
It’s a great place to go during the day as well. You can have a coffee overlooking the water or browse through the nearby market stalls.
The city has half a million bicycles and as there are cycle lanes practically everywhere we decided to join the melee. We hired a couple of bikes from a shop behind the Central Station and after exploring the city centre took a free ferry across the water to the suburbs where we pedalled through neat streets lined with wooden houses.
Eventually we found a pub (or brown café, as they are generally called because of the thick layer of nicotine accumulated on the walls,) where friendly locals with excellent English helped us plan out time.
They told us about Koog aan de Zaan, which is the Windmill Museum. It’s pretty as a living postcard and you find it in a rural canal setting, just six miles north west of Amsterdam at Zaandam. We got there by train from the Central Station.
Our new friends also advised us to take an excursion to Keukenhof. It’s the largest flower garden in the world with seven million plants on show. It’s a display ground for the major growers and the immense sea of flowers is open for only for only seven weeks in the year.
During the tour of the bulb-fields you drive through a patchwork quilt of coloured flowers, The daffodils, hyacinth, narcissi, and tulips are in flower for only one week and then they cut off their heads and throw them away. Only the stems stay in the fields, but the bulb keeps on growing multiplying itself. In August the bulbs are harvested and 160 million kilos of them exported. I could have spent much more than the allotted hour and a quarter there.
Driving back through the flat landscape we watched the late afternoon sun dip towards a windmill on the horizon and cast it’s reflection on the canals. There were small boats moored to the houseboats and people with clogs working in their gardens. It was just like a painting. Perhaps you should make your trip soon before the view changes.