Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

Amsterdam: What’s picture perfect, and what’s not

A windmill at Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam A windmill at Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam
Posted: May 18, 2014 12:20 am | Updated: May 23, 2014 2:13 pm

Its quaint canals, historical windmills and manicured tulip gardens set a postcard-worthy backdrop for romancing couples in popular Hindi films over the ages, like Silsila, Prem Rog and Hum Tum. And recently, you followed the indisputably lovable Rani to Amsterdam on her flight to self-discovery in Queen.

The city gets its name from Aeme Stelle Redamme (dam in a watery area). The history is a bit foggy, but most guide books insist that the foundation for Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands, and its grand canals was laid out in the early 13th century when two fishermen and their dog got lost in the Amstel river. The two men forged the structure for a dam and a dyke, which is now the busy centre of the city called the Dam Square.

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Five centuries later, during the Dutch Golden Age in the 1600s, canals were dug and houses were laid out in measured belts forming a web-like pattern. The four posh canals, Herengracht, Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht and Singel, together form the Canal Ring or the canal district of Amsterdam, and the Amstel river runs south to north in this belt.

In 2010, the Unesco listed the Canal Ring as a World Heritage Site. Originally built for rich merchants, the area now houses Michelin-star restaurants, quaint curio shops, bars and bistros.
The De Negen Straatjes (or The Nine Streets), combining the neighbourhoods of these four canals, is where Amsterdam goes shopping — at vintage stores, designer boutiques and quirky art studios. At the curve of Herengracht are mansions with glamourous facades, stuccoed ceilings and courtyards. Home to wealthy merchants and bankers, it’s known as The Golden Bend for its prosperous estate and coach houses.

 

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Some of these houses are open to the public. Among them, you should not miss Herengracht 475 for its classy façade and Museum Willet-Holthuysen, where the mayor once lived and which has an impressive collection of artwork. Another canal side house open for visits is Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic) that has a church on its top floor. At Kiezergracht, you can visit Museum Van Loon, the former house of Willem van Loon, co-founder of the Dutch East India Company. The rooms are beautiful art exhibits in themselves and showcase classy furniture and charming pieces of silver and porcelain procured from around the world.

After almost a decade-long renovation, the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk museums opened their grand corridors for the public last year, while the Van Gogh museum is worthy of a painstakingly long queue.
The city is intertwined with canals and bridges that co-exist with its roads, cycling paths, walking tracks and tram routes. As a mother pushing a buggy, my biggest nightmare when I stepped outdoors, initially, was that I might run into a cycle or continued…

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