Tag - Amsterdam

Discover Amsterdam’s unique charm & authenticity

AmsterdamAmsterdam’s 17th century historical atmosphere converges with a modern outlook on life. Lined with intimate streets, canals and squares, Amsterdam boasts the highest museum density in the world. Cultural highlights not to be missed include the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Board a canal cruise or rent a bicycle to get a feel for the city that is underpinned by the values of peace and freedom.

Canal Tour

CanalsEmbark on a canal tour of Amsterdam to discover why the historical canal district was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011. An Amsterdam Canal Cruise is considered to be the country’s most popular tourist attraction, encompassing a diverse fleet of approximately 200 tour boats which carry over 3 million passengers annually. The various itineraries take you past city highlights such as the canals, Anne Frank House, the Magere Brug and Oosterdok.

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

Anne Frank House

Located in the centre of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House is the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. The original diary, along with some of her other notebooks, are on display as part of the Anne Frank House’s permanent exhibition. The collection and temporary exhibitions focus on the wartime persecution of Jews, fascism and anti-Semitism.

Dam Square

Dam SquareAs the centre and heart of Amsterdam, Dam Square is jostling with locals and tourists alike. Dating back to the 13th century, the square today is dominated by the Royal Palace. Although no longer home to the Dutch Royal family, this majestic palace is still used to host official receptions. Other attractions in the square encompass food stalls, restaurants and trendy stores, the Amsterdam Diamond Centre and the Beurs van Berlage, a concert hall and exhibition space.

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum hosts a collection of more than 200 canvases, 500 drawings and 750 written documents created by the 19th century Dutch post-impressionist artist. Gain a fantastic insight into the painter’s life and work by viewing masterpieces such as Van Gogh’s self-portraits, The Sunflowers and The Bedroom in Arles. The museum also boasts a collection of the works of artists he influenced.




Rijksmuseum is the National Museum of Holland, situated at Museum Square in the city centre of Amsterdam. The Museum is home to an impressive collection of Dutch art and history including Rembrandt’s Night Watch and paintings by some of the great masters of the 17th century such as Frans Hals, Jan Steen and Vermeer. Together, the museum’s collection presents the history of the Netherlands in an international context dating from 1100 to the present.

Amsterdam’s Famous Canals Turn 400

Tempting reasons to visit Amsterdam in 2013

I AMsterdam outdoor sculpture in front of the newly-reopened Rijksmuseum

IAMsterdam outdoor sculpture in front of the newly-reopened Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam is a great city to visit any time, but this year offers greater inducements to put the city on your itinerary. We were there in June and the city is in celebration mode, with all kinds of special activities. The logo for the year is I AMsterdam and we saw this in bright red on many banners. In front of the Rijksmueum by the fountains is a huge outdoor installation of these letters, and it’s apparently de rigueur to clamber all over it.

For many, the most important event this year is the celebration of the canals: 2013 is the four-hundredth anniversary of the famous Amsterdam canals.

Water and the Netherlands are inseparable, as one fifth of the country consists of water, and the people of the country are champions of water management—-without the dunes, dykes and other flood barriers, two-thirds of the country would frequently be flooded.

A canal boat preparing to leave on a canal tour

A canal boat preparing to leave on a canal tour

Every European city with waterways likes to claim it’s the ‘Venice of the north’. But Amsterdam can honestly make that claim, and canals are iconic of the Netherlands capital. Amsterdam has the largest canal system in the world and the most bridges of any European city—-approximately 160 canals with a total length of 60+ miles and around 1500 bridges. The canals are about 10 feet deep, lined with 100,000 Dutch elm and lime trees, and are home to around 2,500 houseboats, some of which are on floating concrete platforms.

The historic checkerboard of intersecting canals was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. And this year, 2013, is the quadricentennial of the excavation of the major canals that ring the city. Many hotels, restaurants and museums have formed a loose union called Amsterdam Canals 2013, to showcase the city and its vibrant past with special exhibits on canal history. One exhibit is on the multiple items that have fallen into or been thrown into the canals—dumping disused bikes is a relatively recent occurrence, but the findings are like an archeological record of the 400 years of people living on and around the canals.

Views of pretty gabled buildings from the canal boat

Views of pretty gabled buildings from the canal boat

As we walk along Amsterdam’s many canals, lined by lovely 17th-century gabled brick houses and crossed by arched bridges, we marvel at how many there are. They were built as part of a complex flood control system, to tame the flow of the Amstel River. Over the years they’ve become part of the very fabric of the city—as waterways and defense works. A system of locks near the Central Station controls the water movement inward to the river and outward to the North Sea.

The canals are fascinating any time of day but are especially pretty at night when thousands of lights illuminate them. Wander along the canals as you head for a place to eat, or take a canal boat ride. Apparently over three million tourists annually hop on a canal boat to tour the Amsterdam canals.

The Concertgebouw has been delighting audiences for 125 years

The Concertgebouw has been delighting audiences for 125 years

As you glide past grand waterside mansions (many now luxury hotels) once owned by wealthy merchants, you can feel the history all around. As the city population increased, three parallel, roughly oval-shaped, main canals were built in 1613 outside the walls of the inner medieval city. These three canals were the Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal), Keizersgracht (King’s Canal) and Herengracht (Gentleman’s Canal). They became the center of Amsterdam’s golden age, the 17th century. At that time, Amsterdam was one of the world’s busiest seaports and the capital of the Dutch empire. Ships from around the world brought exotic items from overseas into the city. For example, tulips, the iconic flower of the Netherlands, were actually brought from Turkey in 1593, becoming so popular that people spent enormous sums of money to buy them and grow new species.

But, besides the canals, Amsterdam has other reasons to celebrate in 2013.

*The world-famous Concertgebouw Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 125th anniversary with many special performances.

*The Rijksmuseum re-opened in mid-April after an almost decade-long renovation. It’s the country’s biggest museum housing masterpieces by Dutch artists Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, such as “The Night Watch” and “The Kitchen Maid”. The Van Gogh Museum also re-opened in May. In fact, this year is the first time in many years that all the museums on Museumplein are open at the same time.

*The Amsterdam Artis Zoo turns 175 years this year.

The World’s 4 Best Bike Tours This Summer

 Best Bike Tours

Best Bike Tours

by Gino Teller,

From urban, bike-friendly cities to unspoiled and majestically alluring countryside, destinations all over the world make delightful journeys for you and your two-wheeled BFF. If Lance Armstrong has you fiening to ride, check out these four picks for fascinating places to bike all over the world

New York City

Though some people see New York as a hectic nightmare filled with cussing taxi drivers, ornery pedestrians and psychotic bike messengers, a bike tour of this city can be remarkably peaceful, so long as one stays away from the high-density areas like Midtown and the Financial District.

There have been numerous projects that have made the city more accommodating for bikers, including designated bike lanes, bike rentals and several paths, including one that follows the Hudson River from the southern tip of Manhattan all the way to 181 Street. There are also several guided tours offered by Bikeandroll.com.

Montreal, Quebec

Montreal is one of the most charming cities in the Western Hemisphere. On top of being a thriving metropolis and a premier destination for foodies and craft beer enthusiasts, the city is also remarkably beautiful, both on account of the natural splendor of the St. Lawrence River and the city’s rich history of architecture.

By taking a bike tour through Montreal, you can ride through eclectic neighborhoods such as Le Plateau, take in the sights of Old Montreal or even visit Saint-Helen Island, the site of the 1967 World’s Fair. Montreal On Wheels offers some of the most affordable and informative tours of the city.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam offers far more than just cafes. This is certainly not a “sepulchral city” as Joseph Conrad once wrote, but a vibrant and thrilling center of culture filled with magnificent architecture and gorgeous scenery. Touring Amsterdam by bike will allow you to immerse yourself in this incredible city. Mike’s Bike Tours, for example, will allow you to explore either the city’s harbor and famous dykes, the city’s center or the beautiful Dutch countryside.

Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany has become synonymous with bucolic landscapes and tranquility. By taking a bike tour through the Tuscan countryside, you will not only get to experience this sense of serenity firsthand, but also get the opportunity to dive into the culinary and architectural history of this beautiful region. Tuscany Bike Tours offer many options, including a trip deep into Chianti and through Florence, as well as private tours.

Beyond the Helmet

Before you set out on a biking expedition, take a few precautions before you leave. This goes beyond simply wearing a helmet.

Make sure your home is safe in your absence. Websites like SecurityCompanies.com have numerous links and recommendations that will allow you to set up a security system that’s both effective and affordable, and may be accessed and controlled with a smartphone.

Before you leave on your bike tour, leave valuables in the hotel safe. This includes jewelry, credit cards, phones and important travel documents, such as your passport. All you need to carry is a map and enough cash to get you through the day.

After one of these tours, you’ll realize just how incredible it can be to bike the road less traveled.

Photo by Flickr user Bratislavská župa

Windmill, Art, Tulips, It’s Netherlands



Imagine wide, flat, grasslands with black and white cows, yes it’s about Netherlands. A very scenic country especially in rural areas which are dotted with beautiful villages, old farms, and of course, windmills. Netherlands provides a rich cultural heritage and is famous for its painting museums, windmills, and is known for its liberal mentality. People here welcome travelers warmly, plus so many sights make this country very nice and a great travel destination.

Cycling is one of the best part here, with paths for bicycle crossing all around the country. It’s been easy to cycle around and find your destination. Be aware with the traffic though, trams and bikes have right of way here. The Dutch drive on the right, the priority is given to traffic approaching from the right.

It’s always cold in Netherlands. You might need a jacket in the morning even in Summer. Well, it’s a northern city.  Just be aware that winds can be strong and that winters can be cold and rainy. Bring a cap that covers your head and neck to keep you comfortable. Umbrella is a very important gear to help you from the rain. But I suggest a raincoat instead, because the strong wind may break your umbrella.

Before coming here, make sure you have all the money you want to spend in cash. Most vendors only take cash, and ATMs are hard to find. And, you might want to make a budget, it’s a place with fabulous shopping.

Places to visit:


Amsterdam is a quite nice city to stroll. Rijksmuseum is a must-see attraction in Amsterdam, it has a large collection from the Dutch Golden Age. Works of Rembrandt, Jacob van Ruysdael, and Frans Hals can be found here. A very suitable place for those who seek inspiration through art. Better start looking for a place to stay here such as hostels. Amsterdam is Netherlands  most populous city and sometimes, its hard to find accommodation.


This is a town of windmills. There are 19 windmills that are fully functioning, and serve to drain excess water from the Alblasserwaard polders.

3. Zaanse Schans

nAside from its beautiful windmills, Zaanse Schans also has a traditional museum that displays traditional crafts and old Dutch houses.

4. Bulb Region

For those who are curious with the tulip flower, Bulb Region has the tulip fields. It’s seasonal though, so you might want to plan your holiday for spring season. They generally bloom in April until June.

A country uniquely blessed with beautiful sights and attractions, rich of cultural heritage, the Netherlands is a fantastic choice for an unforgettable European holiday.

Copyright © STI

Best History and Culture Vacations

    Bus for rental

Bus for rental

If you want to go out for a vacation to visit historical places this time then here is a list of top places/cities which are known for their culture and history.

Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem city is among the oldest cities of the world and it has culture and history related to Jerusalem’s religious beliefs. This is capital city of Israel and must visits places are Wailing Wall, Dolorosa, Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 Boston, United States

Boston city is also known as ‘The Athens of America” and it is one of the important places in American history. Other than New York City it is the only place in United States known for history and culture. The most popular places you must visit are Fenway Park, Boston Public Library, USS Constitution, the Kennedy Library and the Faneuil Hall.

Hong Kong, China

At this city in China you will see a combination of old tradition and history with modern traditions. It is a place with this kind of rarest combination. The main attractions in the city are Peak Tower, Man Mo temple, Hong Kong Museum of History and Po Lin Monastery with largest outdoor bronze Buddha.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This is one of the best cities in the Netherlands with old rich history. Every visitor visits the Anne Frank House. Other historical places in the city are Royal Palace, Dam Square, the world class Rijksmuseum and the chilling story of Anne Frank House.

Prague, Czech Republic

If you want to visit a place with streets full of historical architecture then Prague is the best place for that. You will find the Gothic and Medieval period history here in the city. The main attractions are Prague Castle, Saint George’s Basilica, Old Town Hall, Prague City Museum and the Wenceslas Square.

Washington DC, United States

If you love the political history and want to visit such place this vacation then Washington DC is the best city to visit. This city is full of debate, democracy, politics, scandals and such history. The main attractions in the city are the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institution. This is one of the most political cities in the world.

Florence, Italy

Florence has lots of Roman’s history and this city is full of art galleries and historical structures that are still able to survive. You will love the culture of the city and the main attractions in the city are Florentine Church, Renaissance art work and the Duomo. If you are an artist then this is the right place for you.

Montreal, Canada

This place was a village and after the 1535 it has emerged as a big city in the Canada. The history of its development from village to a city is the main attraction to watch. Other attractions are Notre-Dame Basilica, Botanical Gardens and Parisian style streets.

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin city in Germany has been changed a lot in the last 50 years which is now the part of history. This city is among the world’s most interesting cities and the main attractions are Berlin Wall, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandeburg Gate and the Reichstag.

Useful info:



Amsterdam and the Hague, a short family holiday

Façades in Amsterdam, seen from a canal

Façades in Amsterdam, seen from a canal

Amsterdam, Delft and the Hague are all well connected by tram and/or train. Not all the town centers are open to traffic, so it is easier to move around on foot. Watch out for speeding cyclists and enjoy the sight of the stacks and stacks of bicycles in the stands by the train stations. A short stay in the area provides interest for all the family, even outside the season for Scheveningen beach.

Amsterdam’s canals

A canal tour is the easy way to see the city. Canals are not necessarily what you would call “nice places” with their murky water – a great place to get rid of garbage like a rusty bicycle or a supermarket trolley that no-one can be bothered to return for a miserable 50 cents. Nonetheless they have a fascination of their own, and the jumble of houses lining them give plenty of opportunities for photographs. Each slice of house is different from its neighbors; all have steep narrow staircases best affronted on hands and knees. Each has its own distinctive gable and each has a strong hook implanted in the gable peak serving as a furniture hoist in case of moving or replacing furniture. This is already a strong reason why many houses have fine antique furnishings! Cars and bicycles are parked along the canal edge, in many places protected by a low railing added by the town council a few years ago after reading the statistics of cars going overboard. We are told that even so, an average of one car per week ends up in Amsterdam’s canals.

Houseboats on the canals

Housing in Amsterdam has become scarce so people wishing to stay in the city center have obtained permission from the local authorities to moor old barges and other houseboats along the canal banks. They can latch on to the city utilities, provided they have regular permits. The inhabitants of these houseboats can enjoy favorite Dutch pastimes: living in a boat is just right for a maritime people, the cockpits of these barges often contain respectable little gardens, canal life is right at your window, sorry, port-hole. And when the canal freezes, skating is free.

Museums and Galleries

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is a must for art-lovers, offering a vast permanent exhibition of painting by Van Gogh and his contemporaries. The website can be checked for special exhibitions. An audio tour for children aged 6-12 is available in English or Dutch, and children in this age range can take part in the Treasure Hunt. Creative workshops are available for the kids, too, but you would need to get a group together to have English Language tuition. Worth checking out since Van Gogh is one of the painters best known to youngsters. See: vangoghmuseum.nl.

The Hermitage Amsterdam was opened on June 19 th 2009 by Queen Beatrix and Dmitry Medvedev. Curiously, the building was previously a Home for old women. The last inhabitants of the Home left only in 2007 and a few rooms have been dedicated to these old women, with photographs and the old kitchens. The new structure also has a children’s section and fine restaurant. Check the web-site (www.hermitage.nl/en/) for information about future events.

The Mauritshuis, in the Hague, gives you the chance to see the original painting of the “ Girl with a Pearl Earring” , Vermeer’s beautiful portrait which inspired the 2001 best-seller by Tracy Chevalier followed by the 2003 film with Scarlett Johansson. The Mauritshuis has an important collection of paintings including many by Rubens (“Old woman and a boy with candles”), Rembrandt (“The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”), and Carel Fabritius’s surprising “The Goldfinch” and an excellent audio tour..

Madurodam, the miniature village: A sunny morning in the Hague is ideal for a visit to Madurodam, a miniature village with houses, notable buildings, Schipol airport, docks, canals, windmills and factories reconstructed on a scale of 1:25. Madurodam dates back to 1952, and owes its foundation to Mrs Boon-van der Starp who wanted to raise money for students suffering from tuberculosis, and Mr and Mrs Maduro from Curaçao who desired a memorial for their son, killed in the second world war. Madurodam presents a marvellous photo-opportunity . The village lies in a sun-filled “saucer” so a summer visit would require a sun-hat! Try not to dedicate too much attention to a mini chocolate factory. For ten euro-cents, a toy lorry delivers a mini chocolate-bar to the happy customer. This seems to appeal greatly to ladies over sixty!

Café service

Enjoy a slice of the local apple-cake in any one of the cafés you fancy. Service is friendly and there seems to be no pressure to hurry you on, unlike many international cities. In fact, you may have to push to be served if you are in a hurry.

International food

Flemish fries are what you would probably call French fries at home – try a portion to compare! And while in the Netherlands, visit one of the many Indonesian restaurants at home in Holland.

Amsterdam’s “Brown Cafes”

Pub Crawling in Amsterdam, Netherlands

amsterdams-brown-cafes, cr-Pinterest

Amsterdams-brown-cafes, Credit-Pinterest

(***Please note, these cafes and pubs are not the marijuana or cannabis cafes that have been in the Dutch news from today).

“I have a pinger in my stomach” announced Blix from Norway at 5pm.

“What? Excuse me?”

“This pinger goes ping, ping. It’s telling me it’s time for a gin and tonic”.

This was a good omen, a good start to a fine evening. The conference we were attending in Amsterdam had arranged a “Historic Pub Crawl”, with five different routes, so a group of us got together to explore the pubs and bars in this city famous for pubs and bars. Amsterdam’s well-known brown cafes are everywhere, so called because of their nicotine-stained ceilings and wooden interiors. Many are so old they look as though they’ve been there forever. Since Amsterdam has just about as many brown cafes and bars as it has tulips, we were happy for suggestions on where to go.

Blix was in fine form. “There are one million two hundred thousand pubs in Amsterdam”.

“Really?” asked a guy from Australia.

“Well, I really made that up, but just look around you. There are at least a couple on every street.
There must be thousands”.

The ones we visited each had their own interesting character. Our friend, Sandra, spoke to some Dutch people at the conference and they were impressed with the chosen list, so it must be fairly representative of what pubs here in Amsterdam are really like.

The pubs focus on beers, mainly Dutch and Belgian, but many also have Dutch gin (Jenever). Be aware that these beers are very strong, and can go quickly to your head if drunk quickly. After two pubs and three strong beers, one guy kept saying, “ We need food.  I need something solid”. Tram lines and curbs are a bit rough around the city and it’s easy to trip even if you haven’t been drinking. All beers have the alcohol content listed on the menu, which is a good idea, as many are really strong—some, at 10%, like wine.

Apparently many locals don’t pub crawl really; they go to one place and stay there, or perhaps go to two places. But for us visitors it was a great way to sample a variety of pubs. You can combine the beer drinking with pub food, or eat at one of the many restaurants around.

We focused on the Spui, and Leidseplein, one of the liveliest squares in Amsterdam, with theatres on one side and many restaurants and cafes on the other three, but you could also focus on Rembrandtplein (named after the famous painter of the “Nightwatch”, who lived in a house just a few blocks away), or the Nieuwmarkt, adjacent to the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Red Light District. We “crawled” around the following six pubs over three evenings, as we ended up staying and chatting to locals in each one for a long time.

1. HOPPE, on the Spui, a small triangular plaza between Amsterdam’s two busiest shopping streets, Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat. There are two parts to this famous pub. The section on the right has been a bar since 1670 and the interior reflects a rich history. The sand on the floor is refreshed each day, no music is played and there is standing room only. The left part is bigger, with seating and music.

Hoppe is very popular, especially on Fridays, with the crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk on summer days—friendly, well-dressed folk coming after work. It’s a proving ground for new Heineken products, as they’re launched here first, and it’s also the originator of genuine HOPPE jenever. Service is great with excellent barmen, so sit at the bar or on a bench or just stand outside with a Heineken and enjoy!

2. DANTE is on Spuistraat, a few steps up from Hoppe. It is much bigger, as it’s a bar, restaurant and gallery, showcasing many works of Herman Brood. He was a rock-and-roll hero of Holland, who was known as much for his art as for his excesses. Other modern art also adorns the walls and you can wander around to admire. The restaurant and its terrace face Singel Canal, and the bar has a heated terrace on Spuistraat. Inside is decorated with beautiful Italian marble and wood, but we sat outside on the terrace, overlooking tables on the sidewalk. Young people crowded the tables, and loud pop music blared. A very friendly young waiter suggested Vos, a Dutch beer, strong and slightly sour tasting, served in big goblets.

3. De SWART is next to Hoppe, with some tables outside facing the Spui, where we sat and watched the world go by before the sun went down. To get your order, push your way through the small, very crowded bar inside. We had Belgian Palm beer here, a lager type, somewhat similar to Heineken.

4. DE SCHUTTE (The Marksman), at 13 Voetboogstraat, not far from the Spui, has some tables outside but the best part of this (literally) brown cafe is inside. Walk up steep dark wood stairs to where the action is—a huge area, open to the street with big windows. There are lots of small brown wooden tables on a brown wood floor and a big bar, the high ceiling decorated with used tea bags dangling down!  I wonder how they stay up there? A second big room is decorated with many bright pop posters on the walls. The pop music was quite loud, but not

People of all ages, some tourists and many locals, can choose from a huge selection of tasty Belgian beers. We had St Louis Kriek beer, cherry flavor—only 4.5% alcohol content—kinda like a beer cooler. Many Belgian beers are fruit flavored. There’s a limited food menu (chops, salads) but the platters were huge and smelled delicious, and could be a good snack with your beer. Be warned, a good, strong Belgian beer can be a meal in and of itself.

5. DE ZOTTE (Belgian for drunken fool) is a great little brown cafe, not far from Leidseplein, at Raamstraat 29, which offers about 160 beers (many Belgian). Coffee is also possible, which some people did order. “Bieren Van ‘t Vat” is “beers on tap”, in two four-tap brass towers that offer a tasty Amstel, Hoegaarden, La Chouffe, Brugs, Brigand, Palm or Leffe. We had Leffe Blond (in a small goblet with Leffe written on it), 6.6% alcohol, a lager type. Each type of beer is served in a special glass (different shape and size) often with the name of the beer engraved on the glass. Then we tried Westmalle, a Trappist beer, served in a larger goblet, a much darker color, 7%, with a slightly sour taste. The Trappist monks are famous for liquor of all sorts.  Note, Rochefort beer is 10% and thus really potent!  One of our party had Kwak beer, an amber malty beer, served in a double flask, a tradition since 1791.

The atmosphere and ambiance are great, dim and noisy with many buzzing conversations almost drowning out the jazz music, sort of homey with a collection of old bottles on top of a shelf behind the bar, and walls decorated with beer signs and posters; a plain scrubbed wooden floor, and a few plain wooden tables; candles on tables and the bar. It was very crowded so we were lucky to get two bar stools and space at the bar. A few tourists mingle in with the locals, many young guys, but also couples, some eating a meal too. Some of the drinkers also ordered just bread, a good idea with the strong beer. It seemed to be more a young person’s bar as we saw more young people than older. The very friendly bar tenders were just two young guys, in jeans and open shirts, doing an amazing job and coping with all the people.

6. At CAFE EIJLDERS, just off Leidseplein, at Korte Leidsedwaarsstraat 47, the ambiance is different to de Zotte—more open, airy, light, like a lounge with some tables and booths inside, and tables in a glassed-in verandah jutting onto the narrow street. It boasts background music, tiled floor, lights as well as candles, a big vase of fresh lilies on the bar and framed bright pictures of flowers on the wood-panelled walls, and no beer signs. Very relaxed bar tenders in black and white and bow ties serve unobtrusively.

We met the friendly resident black cat, which sits on the piano a lot of the time, but sometimes comes onto the table and people stroke it. This is a popular local place as many locals play cards or backgammon in some of the booths. We had Belgian Duvel beer, in a bottle, 8.5%, which is light in color, similar to Leffe.

Even though it looks more up-market, the prices are pretty good. We went back another night for espresso coffee and calvados and only paid 18 euro for 2 espressos and 2 calvados. Coffee (or tea) is always served here with a biscuit or a chocolate on the saucer, which is a nice touch.

Heineken Experience: Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam

Heineken experience, Cr-griffinstewart.com

Heineken experience, Cr-griffinstewart.com

Holland is famous for making good beers, one of the most well-known being Heineken, a Dutch pilsener.  To all the beer lovers out there, young and not-so-young, alike, let’s go on The Heineken Experience, which opened in 2001. It has since been extensively remodeled and reopened in November 2008.

We’re in the old brewery building constructed in 1867, no longer brewing beer but converted into 3,000 square meters of special exhibition space on four levels.  We enter the small Omnimax-like theater and stand against rows of metal bars, unsuspecting.  Lights dim, and the floor becomes a shaking platform (similar to that in the Academy of Sciences Museum in San Francisco where we experience the simulated 1906 San Francisco earthquake).

“Hold on Tight. Let’s go”.

We’re a beer bottle going on its journey.  We rush forward along the conveyor belt in rows, then in single file.  Boom.  Sharp turn to the left, and swoosh, we’re covered in cleanser and rinsed.  Dramatic music and flashing lights as we move on to be filled.  Gallons of golden beer pours into bottles, and we rush forward to have the level checked.  Ding, our neighboring bottle is kicked out for not having the right amount of beer.  Shudder, shake, the journey continues under flashing red and green lights.  Click!  Without stopping, we get a cap.  And sloop!  A label is slapped on.  Now we’re in double rows again.  Jerk, stop, jerk, stop.  We are shunted forward in groups of twelve and moved onto a box.  Clack.  The box closes and the lights get dim as we move slowly onto a truck.  Room lights come on and the shaking platform stops.

Wow, we survived the bottling process. In Heineken’s Zoeterwoude brewery alone, 500,000 bottles are filled every hour, so our speed was probably not exaggerated. With appropriate dance music and flashing lights, and the movements below, this clever use of the shaking platform is a novel way of getting people to understand the bottling process; they experience it as a trip.

This was one part of the 1.5-hour self-guiding tour that lets us look into the world of Heineken. We enjoy the 18 points on the tour at our own pace, walking through malt silos, peeking inside the mash coppers and standing inside the lager cellars where young beer was once matured.

The tour is a fun combination of nostalgia and present-day technology, a very innovative way to use the old brewery and turn it into an exciting, slick show.  It’s really good value for money, as 15 Euro gets “the show”, 2 beers and a free gift (for us, a Heineken glass in a Heineken tin). The first taste of refreshing beer is after the bottling experience in the Brewhouse Bar overlooking the old brewhouse with its red copper brewing tanks (like big copper kettles).  Mirrors sparkle above the elegant bar with its flowers and old-world charm.

Then we go into the lager cellars that were used for maturation of young beer and have slanted walls (no, we’re not drunk), as it was essential that no beer remain in the tanks when it was drained out.  Here we can see (and test) the drum kit built by the famous drummer, Cesar Zuiderwijk of the Dutch pop group Golden Earring, for the official opening of the Heineken Experience in 2001.

From 1867 to 1988 many millions of hectolitres of Heineken beer were brewed here, before the Heineken Brewery in Zoeterwoude took over production.  It was a Reception Centre for 10 years, then became home to the Heineken Experience in May 2001.  In 1968 Heineken merged with Amstel Brewery, so now green Heineken and red Amstel are in the hands of one company.

It’s the world’s most international brewing group with operations in more than 170 countries: every year more than 70,000 ocean containers filled with bottles, cans and kegs are shipped to destinations on every continent.  You can see that “Heineken can travel” in the exhibition room Taste the World of Heineken, with scenes of Heineken and its distinctive red and green signs all over the world on computer screens. These colors are also reflected in the shop (next to the second tasting room), which has attractive, trendy stuff. We bought beer mugs—blue Delft Heineken and red Delft Amstel.  We also succumbed to huge Amstel beach towels!  So we can still experience the World of Heineken back home.

Brewing beer is an old trade, perhaps as old as humanity itself.  Much has changed and improved but the brewing process has in essence remained the same, the essential ingredients being malt (from barley), hops, yeast (special Heineken ‘A’ yeast isolated in 19th century) and water. Large colorful informational boards tell about barley and hops, and a “dummy scientist’ sits in a simulated laboratory guarding his discovery of the special yeast.

Water is important in the brewing process, as an average of seven bottles of water is needed to make one bottle of beer.  Like other concerned environmental groups, Heineken realizes that clean drinking water is a valuable and shrinking resource globally, so they try to reduce water use and help with improvements in water purification. They were the main sponsor for the international TV documentary series, “Water, the Drop of Life”—we can see a few excerpts on TV screens.  Enjoy life and good beer, but with respect.

They also sponsor big sporting events in tennis, soccer, and rugby, such as the US Open and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and music events such as Heineken Jazzfest in Puerto Rico and the Heineken Beat in China.  Watch excerpts on multiple screens in the Heineken “Stadium”, complete with tumultuous cheering.

In the second tasting room, called the ‘See You Again Bar’, people enjoy the pop music, swaying and “dancing”, people of all ages and nationalities, so it’s obviously very popular.  Many, including us, sit on the floor as the few tables are always full.

A great time is had by all.

The brewery is in an area called De Pijp (the Pipe), known today as the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam due to its cosmopolitan population.  This is a lively area with many cafes and restaurants, and the Albert Cuypmarkt, where you can buy practically anything under the sun.


Daily 11am-7pm (last entrance 5:30pm). Closed 1 January, 30 April, 25-26 December and half day on 24 and 31 December. Cost: Adults 16 euro (you can buy tickets online for 15 euro); children 8-15, 12 euros; special rates for groups. Free on Amsterdam Holland Pass Address: Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam. Take trams 7, 10,16, 24, or 25 from Central Station and get out at Heinekenplein for Heineken Experience. www.heinekenexperience.com (you must be legal drinking age to enter this site)

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

By Vivienne Mackie,

In these troubled times it is even more important that we do all we can to try and promote peace and understanding between peoples.  The Anne Frank House and Foundation in Amsterdam is an important example of a place trying to address these kinds of issues. Visiting the house gives one an insight into how a young girl felt about what was happening to her, and around her, during dark years in World War 2.

By reading Anne Frank’s Diary one is personally confronted with the reality of persecution, and she has become the “face” of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, victims because they were Jewish and different. Today people are still being persecuted and murdered for being different, which makes a visit to the Anne Frank House meaningful. Many people want to see the actual hiding place where she wrote her diary, which has created a paradoxical situation in which hundreds of thousands of people every year want to visit this place, one of Amsterdam’s most hidden and secretive during the war years.

The house, erected in 1635, is narrow with a considerable extension out back, which was enlarged in 1740. It was this design that made feasible the Secret Annex, where eight people hid for two years.

The house opened in 1960 as a small museum, and the front part of the building (the former business premises) was rebuilt as reception and exhibition space. But as more visitors came, more space was needed, so a new building was constructed next door and the old building was restored to the way it was during the hiding period.  The new building opened in 1999.

The Diary was first published in Dutch in 1947, was published in English in USA and England in 1952 as “The Diary of a Young Girl”, and has since been translated into many languages. From 1947 till his death in 1980, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, received and answered thousands of letters from children all over the world.  He hoped that Anne’s book would have an effect on their lives and help them work toward unity and peace. The Diary appeals to people from all cultures and lifestyles and it has elements that are universally recognized by young and old alike.

The Anne Frank Foundation hosts many educational conferences and workshops, which focus on a diversity of topics such as the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, discrimination, prejudice, and war. The spacious exhibition room in the new building is suitable for the contemporary themes the Foundation wants to address, by spreading Anne’s message of peace throughout the world. There are permanent exhibitions on Anne’s life, on war and anti-Semitism, and temporary displays on current issues.

Each of the spaces in the House-Museum is dimly-lit, with many informational boards in English and Dutch, and quotations from the Diary that somehow capture the essence of each space. Each quotation is heartbreaking, as we can imagine Anne speaking.

The warehouse on the first floor in front, the kitchen and the Private Office on the second floor, and the offices of the helpers, all set the scene for the hiding place, as the atmosphere and style of these rooms is gloomy, transporting us back to those dark days in the 1940’s. The third floor has the storeroom in front of the house, and the movable bookcase that hides the doorway up into the Secret Annex, the hiding place at the back.

The actual hiding rooms are now empty but the walls are the originals, with pencil marks showing how the girls (Anne and her sister Margot) grew while in hiding, plus Anne’s walls decorated with postcards, a few photos, and pictures cut out of magazines.

It’s a sobering thought that eight people lived here for two years, cramped, tense from trying to be quiet and wanting to go outside.  Today all the people going through the house and exhibits are silent, or speak only in whispers, as they try to make sense of what they are seeing and experiencing.

The modern building next door is in stark contrast to the cramped dark Annex. Two large display rooms show graphic pictures of conditions in concentration camps and what happened to all the helpers and those in hiding after the arrest on August 4, 1944. Only Otto Frank, the father, returned. One can also see the original diary, and examples of the hundreds of editions in about 60 languages. The awfulness of it all hits one in the face again.  I am not alone in asking…why?

There is also a restaurant, a bookshop, and a large computer room with interactive activities on Anne and the other people involved in the hiding.


Address: 263-67 Prinsengracht.  Walk from Dam Square along Raadhuisstraat, over three canals.  Turn right at the huge Westerkerk, which is next door to the museum.  Or, take trams 13, 14 or 17 or buses 170, 172 and 174 to the nearby Westermarkt stop.

Entrance: euro 9 per adult, euro 4.5 children 10-17, children under 10 free.

Open: March 15-September 14: daily 9am-9pm, Saturdays 9am-10pm and in July and August 9am-10pm daily.

September 15-March 14: daily 9am-7pm, Saturdays 9-9.

Closed Jan 1, April 6-9, May 4, May 17-19, May 28, for Yom Kippur (in 2012, on Sept 26), Nov 3, Dec 25, 31.

The official web site is http://www.annefrank.org/

Amsterdam – Beyond the Red Light District & Coffee Shops

Amsterdam, Cr-blog.likealocalguide.com

Amsterdam, Cr-blog.likealocalguide.com

by Wendy Foster-DeGroot,

Amsterdam is a trendy and culture-rich destination for a day, a weekend or longer.

Mention taking a trip to Amsterdam and often the first thoughts are of the Red Light District or the narcotic offerings from the coffee shops. But Amsterdam has come a long way from its seedy reputation of the last few decades and is emerging as one of the trendier places to see and be seen in Europe.

Even the Red Light District is going through a transformation as artists and craftspeople are moving in and setting up shops and studios. This is part of the city’s attempt to reclaim valuable real estate and cut down on the organized crime that had increased in that area over the past few years.

See Amsterdam by Canal

Canal boats can pick up and drop off visitors just about anywhere in the city and provide the atmosphere for the city’s deserved title of Venice of the north. A canal tour is a must for anyone visiting Amsterdam for the first time, giving a charming perspective of the city’s thousands of tall, narrow townhouses squeezed together, each showing individual style, wealth and innovation in how they have evolved with the city.

People watching in the cafes or bars that line many streets is an another wonderful way to get the relaxed yet lively feel of the place. Cycles are everywhere and even those are stylish, inventive and diverse. Children are transported around in the front of bikes in large crate-like carriers, on child seats at the back or on little seats on the crossbar with small wind visors on the handlebars to protect them. Hardly anyone wears cycle helmets but it doesn’t seem to be an issue as cycles appear to be a dominant form of transportation around the city. Cars tend to give way and fit in where they can, often precariously parked inches from the river’s edge.

Art in Amsterdam

Many museums and galleries have also received a makeover in Amsterdam. Most notable is the Hermitage Amsterdam. The building was a home for the elderly for over 300 years and has recently been converted into a stunning gallery to house rotating exhibitions from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The modern facilities and stunning artwork on display make this a must visit location.

Other museums well worth a visit include the Anne Frank House, the Riksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum. The Stedelijk Museum is reopened since March 2011 after being closed for a while for it’s expansion.

The city is surprisingly easy to navigate and it is a pleasure to just walk around taking in the sites and enjoying the cosmopolitan scenes. Every turn offers an interesting vignette. Fill a day or a week and still go back for more.

The Dutch are friendly, fun and multilingual-almost everyone speaks at least 3 languages and often more!

Useful information can be found at the official Amsterdam tourism site.