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A Frank Assessment of Amsterdam

October 5, 2006 By:
Rita Charleston, JE Feature
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A canal view of the Anne Frank House/Museum
With a population of approximately 735,000, Amsterdam is often referred to as one of the most colorful cities in the world. And rightfully so. With its many public parks and gardens, more than 100 canals that wrap around the city, the expected windmills, more than 50 museums -- many of which are world-famous -- and so much more, there's never a lack of something interesting to do.

One thing not to be missed is a visit to the Anne Frank House where she and her family hid from the Nazis before being betrayed in 1944. Anne and the rest of the people in hiding were sent to various concentration camps. Only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived.

One of the things I liked best about Amsterdam was the friendliness of the people and the way everyone, regardless of color, race or nationality interacted with each other.

Perhaps nowhere was that more evident than standing in line in front of the Anne Frank House, now a museum paying homage to one of the best-known victims of the Holocaust.

The lines are long, and I ended up standing behind several people from Africa who reminded me that everyone should visit this museum because "we are all of one world, and have to look out for each other regardless of our color."

As we walked together through the house, we all felt the tremendous need to ensure, somehow, that all that was wrong with the world would somehow be righted someday. And today, although empty, the house still possesses an atmosphere of remembrance.

On display are quotations from her diary, documents, photographs and items that belonged to the people who lived there and tried to survive.

And you can find even more to remember as you wander around the Jewish Quarter, which offers a view of centuries of Jewish life in Amsterdam.

Good Weather, Great Culture

Yet the city represents much more than just a place to replay a sad past. Amsterdam is alive and vital, brimming with great restaurants, museums, quaint shops, cobblestone streets and delightful canals that flow throughout the city.

Any time is a good time to visit Amsterdam, as the weather is always good -- never really extreme during any season -- and always bursting with a variety of cultural events and festivals.

We started our tour by first checking into the Hotel Sofitel Amsterdam, conveniently located near most everything. Then we were off to "Nine Little Streets," Amsterdam's hip and trendy shopping area. Among the shops that sell just about anything a tourist could want -- with price tags to match every budget -- are restaurants of nearly every description, from coffee shops to elegant eateries, and people who, amazingly, seem to smile all the time.

We also boarded a boat for a canal cruise, and as we drifted along the water, waving to so many others who shared the same idea, we floated past the Rijksmuseum, which boats 400 masterpieces from the Golden Age; and the Van Gogh Museum, where we disembarked and paid a visit.

The Van Gogh Museum contains the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings in the world. Here, you can keep track of the artist's developments, organized chronologically into five periods that represent different phases of his life and work. You can also compare his paintings to the works by other artists of the same period.

Another day we decided to visit Amsterdam's Historical Museum, housed in magnificent buildings. Enter through an archway and find yourself in the inner courtyard, and then walk through the Civic Guard Gallery -- a vast corridor where the 17th-century group portraits of civil guards gaze at you from the walls.

The museum offers a permanent exhibition that tells the history of Amsterdam, where you can discover countless details about this old city and its people. It's a "must-do!"

Yes, there is plenty of culture to be soaked up in Amsterdam, but there's also a lot of fun to be had. For instance, we were lucky enough to be visiting during Queens Day. It was not the birthday of the current Queen, Queen Beatrix, but the birthday of her mother, Princess Juliana, who reigned from 1948 until 1980.

The day is celebrated throughout the country in different ways, mostly folklore performances and dozens of flea markets. Children perform in the streets and parks, and everyone -- meaning everyone -- is expected to wear orange, the colors of the "House of Orange."

At the festivities in Amsterdam, we wound our way among thousands of people who came out to sell and/or buy something, listen to music, eat and drink freely, and dance in the streets from sunup to sunset. 

 

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