The International Writers Magazine - European Weekends
a reputation for wild weekends, Amsterdam has finally decided to
So, is nothing
sacred? The world as we know it is changing forever. Amsterdam no longer
welcomes stag parties. Or, at least, many of the locals are beginning
to get fed up with them, and the last year has seen political pressure
for tough new laws gathering momentum, reaching as far as the city mayors
The traditional stag favourite of undressing and jumping in a canal,
for example, is frowned upon these days. And urinating in public
the perfect end to any good night out is met with a fine of about
But if the door of debauchery is closing, a new city is opening up in
Europe an Amsterdam without wine, women and vast quantities of
recreational drugs. Can you still enjoy the high life in Amsterdam without
Diving head first into Amsterdams cultural life means a visit
to the Van Gogh Museum, quite simply the worlds largest collection
of the one-eared wonders work. There are more than 200 paintings,
500 drawings and 700 letters. Van Goghs life may have been tragic
unhappy romances, loneliness, depression, mental illness and
lack of recognition led to suicide in July 1890 by shooting himself
in the chest but his work was undeniably magnificent. Largely
self-taught, his expressive brushstrokes and vivid colours have since
inspired generations of artists. And his letters to his brother Theo
suggest he was almost as passionate about writing as painting. The spacious
museum also houses many works by other 19th-century painters and sculptors
from Monet to Gauguin, as well as Van Goghs personal collection
of Japanese prints.
short walk from the Van Gogh Museum is the even larger Rijksmuseum.
The Dutch Golden Age 17th-century paintings and, most
notably, Rembrandts The Nightwatch are generally considered
to be the highlights, but the collection is vast and eclectic. The
palatial building also includes silver, Delftware ceramic vases,
fully-furnished dolls houses, drawings, prints and Asian art.
If neither Van Gogh nor Rembrandt appeal, Amsterdam houses nearly
100 other art galleries, including the Stedelijk Museum, where the
works of controversial modern artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff
Koons find a home.
with our Euros and the simple phrase Wat kost
we can begin our second day in Amsterdam shopping. (Dont worry,
the Dutch speak English better than what we do. You probably need
to learn a foreign language when your own consists entirely of vowels
and silent js.) There are well over 10,000 stores on
offer, including more than 160 antique shops, many of which are
gathered near the Rijksmuseum in the Spiegelkwartier. The luxury
stores, with everything from hi-tech electronic gadgets to gourmet
foods, are clustered near the expensive canalside homes of Amsterdams
affluent residents. Art dealers and wealthy enthusiasts head for
the auction houses of Christies and Sothebys.
large department stores are mainly in the city centre, such as the Bijenkorf
(Beehive) on the Damrak, near the central train station, as are the
shops full of tourist novelties, the wooden tulips and windmill-shaped
clogs that suggest Amsterdams retailers are happy to profit from
national stereotypes. The only floating flower market in the world can
be found along the Singel canal. And for late-night shopping, Schiphol
Plaza at the airport is open until 10 oclock in the evening.
Dutch cuisine is hardly renowned but, as with most major cities, you
can eat in any language in Amsterdam. Italian, Spanish,
Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and African restaurants abound.
But we dont have time to waste in some fancy, overpriced restaurant
anyway. Well either stop for a quick Dutch pancake with hot ginger
sauce (pannenkoeken), a bit like a French crêpe, or pick up some
young herring (maatjesharing) at one of the stalls traditionally found
on Amsterdams charming bridges.
If lunch proves a little over-indulgent, we can burn off the calories
in a pedalo. Be warned though the high number of blind corners
in Amsterdams canal system, combined with the limited braking
capabilities of a pedalo, mean that crashing into other peoples
boats is easily done (and, between you and me, a good laugh). A safer
option is to sit back and enjoy a guided tour of these early-17th century
waterways. Notice the tall canalside homes, with thick beams extending
out from the roofs. These beams were put in place to support winch systems
for raising furniture up into the top rooms, avoiding the impossible
task of using the narrow staircases.
(For an eating place with style visit Morlang
- Keizergracht 451 - Ed)
A visit to the Netherlands Maritime Museum, or Scheepvaartmuseum, is
well worthwhile. The building was a naval depot in the seventeenth century
and now houses an historical record of the seafaring Dutch from nautical
charts and navigation equipment through to antique model ships and paintings.
Outside, open to the public, a replica of the East Indiaman Amsterdam
is moored. The original was wrecked on its maiden voyage to Asia in
For our next stop well make our way to Artis, the oldest zoo in
the Netherlands. Apart from providing a relaxing walk through sculpture-lined
gardens, Artis offers up thousands of animals from all over the world.
Special attractions include the nocturnal house where you can experience
and possibly even enjoy the feeling of being in a South
American jungle by night, with all the appropriate monkeys, crocodiles
While were in the mood for walking, the Vondelpark is the largest
park in Amsterdam, covering 48 hectares and opened in 1865 for horseback
riding and strolling. Today, an open air theatre and the Dutch
Film Museum are among the attractions.
Now for a trip to Madame Tussauds. Apparently six months, nearly
200 measurements and countless strands of human hair go into every model.
As well as Dutch icons like Rembrandt, the usual Hollywood suspects
are all present and correct Eddie Murphy, Nicolas Cage, Marilyn
Monroe et al, the faces youll find in any waxworks museum anywhere
in the world. You get the distinct impression they ran out of famous
Dutch people before they ran out of wax.
So our weekend is over and we didnt set foot anywhere near the
Red Light District. Amsterdam has much more to offer than just being
a reluctant Mecca for stag weekends.
© Barry Dunstall Jan 2004
Barry Dunstall on the City of Charm
in the Rain
Barry Dunstallon the Windy City
Barry Dunstall in Corporate City
Journeys in Hacktreks
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