Dutch ' treats
; Tom Lappin visits the Dutch capital and
; discovers that Amsterdam
‘ has more to offerthe
visitor than cheap thrills
7 and illicit substances.
Since the (ills. Amsterdam has ' become associated with rather 2 harder botanical hy-products than
the tulips celebrated in song by Max
Bygraves. Indeed its liberal laws on ; soft drugs and the high level of
availability ofharder drugs have
given it the reputation ofthe narcotics capital of Europe. This. in
conjunction with the famous
red-light district. and the regular sight of hard-core pornography
openly on sale. has given the city a reputation for being something like a cross between the seedier parts of Soho. and downtown Bangkok.
This is slightly unfair. The byword
T in this impressively cosmopolitan
city is. and always has been. ‘tolerancc‘. In the past it welcomed .iewisli refugees and fleeing French Iluguenots. and ignored laws to
persecute Catholics. The
philosopher Descartes praised its
atmosphere ofcomplete liberty. a
feeling that remains to the present
day. It‘s a freedom that has its
setbacks. Amsterdam can be a
y iolent city. and petty crime is rife. All the same. it has plenty more to
substances or mysterious plastic devices on display in the sex shops. Strolling down the fashionable tnain thoroughfare. Damrak. from the railway station to the main square or Dam. you get a reasonably accurate
: tirst itnpressionol‘the city.part
?- beautiful and intricate sculpture.
part high-tech commerce. and part stylish (and often expensive) shops and bars.
The Dam itself. between the royal palace and the New Church. is a traditional meeting place for young
: people. around the Dutch war
monument. The church is imposingly flamboyant in the gothic style. with intricate woodcarvings of the Last Judgment inside. For a city that has made its modern reputation
by secularity. Amsterdam has an
impressive collection ofchurches in a variety of styles. .»\msterdam's layout is determined
j by the ongoing Dutch struggle against flooding. A network of
canals criss-crosses the city. necessitating the building of some 1280 bridges. (letting around town
1 can be a complex business. 'l‘rams
and buses demand a familiarity with convoluted routes. and the
‘ underground is best for getting to i and from the station. For exploring. l
'\. i '.S W71“:
it is quite a good idea (and fun, albeit slightly hair-raising) to hire a pedal boat and navigate around the canal system with the aid of a map. The most popular form of transport in Amsterdam is the humble bicycle. There are supposed to be around 600.000 of them. most ofwhich zap around at speed, making it a tad risky crossing the street.
. Once you‘ve figured out how to get around. it’s worth investigating the shops. The best street is Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat near the Van Gogh Museum and Concert Hall. Here you can gape at the diamonds. drool at the chocolates. and stock up on clothes, shoes. Nepalese carpets. perfumes. etc. before lunching in one of the many coffee houses or restaurants. For antique collectors. there is a plethora ofsmall poky shops around Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, selling everything from miniature clocks to medieval stone engravings, although prices are not necessarily reasonable.
Culture buffs will soon find their way to the Rijksmuseum art collection. the highlight ofwhich is Rembrandt‘s now fully restored Night Watch. so called because oxidisation in the 18th century made it appear to be a night scene. Rembrandt dominates the museum. which also includes works by Franz l-Ials. Vermeer and Rubens. A short walk away is the Van Gogh Museum
and the Concertgebouw concert hall.
built in the late 19th century. Amsterdam has a reputation for the hottest nightlife in Europe. although a high proportion ofthe clubs are given over to sex shows or strip joints. Rock clubs at Mazzo‘s (Rozengracht) or the famous Paradiso (Weteringschan) are expensive. but often have well-known names playing. More highbrow tastes are catered for by
the prestigious Concertgebouw
more: JULIA uovo wituiuas
outside. For lighter snacks, there are
Orchestra or the National Dance and Ballet both ofwhich perform at the Stads Schouwburg in the Leidseplein. As befits a city much-beloved of beatniks. Amsterdam has a thriving jazz scene with numerous clubs and bars featuring groups playing live.
Drinking in bars can be more expensive than in Britain. although it‘s worth testing some of the stronger Dutch beers and their proud invention jenever. or gin. Eating out can be quite cheap ifyou are careful where you go. The Roode Leeuw (Red Lion) near the Dam square is recommended for an inexpensive lunch or dinner. and look out for the cheaper restaurants that have special tourist signs
countless small cafes and coffee houses offering refreshments into the small hours.
Amsterdam‘s popularity with hippies. beatniks and punks from all over Europe make it a slightly unreal city. Walking around it in summer can be like an eternal journey down London‘s King‘s Road. English is
‘ spoken everywhere, to the extent
that Ajax Amsterdam fans write ‘PSV are wankers‘ all over the place. It’s a city that doesn‘t try to conceal its sordidness or paint a rosy picture ofsome of the grimmer parts, but still retains a free-and-easy beauty in its buildings. canals and parks. Decadent, but not yet decaying, Amsterdam retains a certain Renaissance charm.
AMSTERDAM: USEFUL INFORMATION
There are regularilights lrorn Glasgow or Edinburgh daily. Fares are £157 return orEttQ for students(both iares require 14 days advance booking). Contact student travel Specialists Campus Travel atThe Hub. Hillhead Street and 90 John Street Glasgow (041 357 0608 and 041 552 2867) or Campus Travel. 5 Hicoison Square, Edinburgh (031 668 3303) and Edinburgh Travel Centre at Bristo Square (031 668 2162). Fortravellers under 26. rail larestrom London to Amsterdam are £48.30 return. ‘
You will require a passport
- or one year visitor's
passport. Holders oi non-EC passports should checkto see it they require a visa. Dutch currency isthe guilder. currently worth about38p sterling.
You are extremely unlikely to encounter any language problems as English is spoken lluently bythe majority of Dutch people. especially in Amsterdam.
Hotels can be expensive in the centre at town. although there are reasonably cheap hostels to be found it you ask around. Probablythe cheapest accommodation is on one oi the moored canal barges.
l Hotel King. Leidsekade. A tamlIy-run hotel, that once housed Mata Hari. Unpretentious and reasonable with the third night oi your stay byng tree
oi charge out at season.
I Hotel Groenhot, Vondelstraat. Another tamin hotel with largish rooms. very convenient tor the centre ottown.
I Hotel Engeland. Hoemer Vtsscherstraat. Hearthe main shopping streets, this hotel is slightly more expensive. but in an authentic old Dutch building with old-style furniture.
Trams and buses sell tickets in blocks or strippencards. available trom drivers orln underground stations. You can hire canal pedalboats at various centres at Leidseplein. Prinsengracht and Kelzergracht. Bikes can be rented at the railway station.
I Rough Guide To Amsterdam by Duntood and
Holland (Hemp £5.99)
“The List 8— 21 February 1991