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Ringo Boitano: Absolutely Amsterdam

Ladies aboard boat on Amsterdam Canal
It's always a good time for a boat ride on one of Amsterdam's 165 canals.
Photo by Ed Boitano

Absolutely Amsterdam
by Ringo Boitano

"I want to get to the point where people say of my work that man feels deeply." - Vincent Van Gogh

eter the Great modeled St. Petersburg after Amsterdam, itself one of the great planned cities of Europe. He traveled there in 1698, studying its layout, learning the craft of ship building, even pounding nails alongside Dutch workers at the world's largest shipyard. It was part of the czar's plan to modernize Russia and make his new Baltic capital a window to the west. His selection of Amsterdam was well chosen. Not only were both cities built on marshes, but Amsterdam was, and still remains, one of the most advanced and forward thinking cities in the world.

Back Story

Located in the Netherlands, Amsterdam began as a small 13th century fishing village on the mouth of the Amstel River. Much of the city is below sea level and would flood if not for a network of dykes. The city rapidly expanded to a major sea trading center, and by the 17th century became the center of a massive world empire. This period, known as the Dutch Golden Age, saw the building of stunning canals and opulent gable homes. Amsterdam was hit hard by military occupations, but rebounded after WW11 and entered the modern age with one of the world's strongest economies.

17th century houses along the canal
Beautiful 17th century canal houses line the canal.
Photo courtesy of The Netherlands Board of Tourism

Hedonism or Tolerance

Say Amsterdam to most Americans and you are met with questions regarding the Red Light District and coffee houses, where the use of cannabis is technically not legal, but openly tolerated. This world does exist, but it is only a small part of the city. Amsterdam has a long tradition of social tolerance. Due to its importance as a merchant center, traders from all over the globe brought not just goods, but other viewpoints and cultures into the city. In the 18th century, when the Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion, Catholicism and Judaism were tolerated. Not so secret Catholic attic churches existed, and Jewish refugees poured into the city. The motto "No one should be harmed by the actions of others" is a defining characteristic of the Amsterdammer. The city today has a large gay and lesbian population, and seemingly reaches out to all outsiders. The untranslatable word gedogen refers to the Dutch practice of turning a blind eye to things which are officially illegal but tolerated, such as soft drugs and euthanasia. Sadly, there are those who are attempting to redefine the word to mean "anything goes.' Since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004, tension has erupted over radical Muslim immigrants in The Netherlands. The beating of one's wife and practicing a doctrine of hate is the exact opposite of gedogen, and the Dutch politicians and police are taking a hard stance to counter it.

Getting Around

Amsterdam is a compact city of 750,000, easily negotiated by foot or tram. The train station and Dam Square are at the heart of the city and the starting point for most tours.

Museum Square ...is a brief tram ride from the city center. It is home to the RIJKSMUSEUM, which includes the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The VINCENT VAN GOGH MUSEUM is short walk away, and contains the world's largest collection of paintings and drawings by the artist.

Anne Frank House. During World War II, over 103,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands to concentration camps. The most famous was a 13 year old German girl named Anne Frank. In 1942, the Frank and van Pels families went into hiding in the upstairs of a canal building. For two years, Anne worked on her diary, giving an account of growing up during the most inhumane of times. She made her last entry three days before being arrested. Anne and her sister died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, only a few weeks before the concentration camp was liberated. Her father, Otto Frank, the only member of the group to survive, returned after the war. Miep Gies, who had help hide and feed the family, found the manuscripts and gave them to Otto. In 1947 the first Dutch edition of the diary appeared. Since then the diary has been published in more then 55 languages. The Anne Frank House is now a self-guided museum.

bike parking outside central station
The bike parking outside the central station
Photo courtesy of The Netherlands Board of Tourism

Joods Historical Museum. consists of four adjoining synagogues, linked by internal walkways to form one large museum. The synagogues were central to Jewish life until WWII, and were restored in 1980s. Most Amsterdammers who visit the museum today are not Jewish, and consider the museums very much apart of their own history --- which of course, it is.

Eet Smaakelijk! Amsterdam offers an array of ethnic restaurants. Dining options should also include Dutch delicacies like smoked eel, herring and cheeses. A Dutch pancake house is an introduction to the pannekoeken, based on the French crepe, introduced to Amsterdam compliments of Napoleon's occupation of the city. Rijsttafel (rice table), brought from the former Dutch colony of Indonesia, features dishes served around a mound of rice.

Proost! Pilsners are the most popular Dutch spirit, but the Jenever, a slightly oily gin, is right behind.

Brown Café. No, not of one those. A Brown Café is a local's hangout. Some say the name stems from the interior brown wood; others, the years of tobacco smoke on the walls. Either way, it's a great place to meet locals.

How Tall is Tall. The Dutch are the tallest people in the world, with an average height of 6 feet 1 inch for males and 5 ft 7 for females. Scientists attribute this to having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Interestingly, I noticed a pitcher of milk on many dinner tables.

Like-a-Local.com. The best way to experience Amsterdam is on foot - but the best way to understand it, is to see it with a local. Like-a-Local offers travelers an opportunity to spend time with real Amsterdammers. This can include bicycle and canal tours on private boats, lunches in private apartments or even spending the night at a local's home.

Beyond Amsterdam

tulip garden
Photo courtesy of Ed Boitano

Keukenhof is one of the most spectacular flower gardens in the world. A short bus trip from the city, it was established in 1949 as a show place for Dutch bulb growers. Today over 7 million bulbs are planted annually. (See www.keukenhof.nl)

Enkhizen Village
Photo by Ed Boitano

Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, an hour away from Amsterdam by train, recreates local Dutch village life throughout history. (www.zuiderzeemuseum.nl)

Where to Stay

The Grand Amsterdam, formerly a convent and city municipality building, offers luxurious accommodations in the heart of the city.

How to Get There

KLM/Northwest Airlines offers direct flights from LAX. For further information, visit Holland.com.


Feedback for Ringo

I love Ringo's piece on historic hotels. I once stayed at the Laurentian in Montreal - is it still around, is it historic? And then there was the Heups in Bismark.

It is interesting that two of your entries are in CANADA.

Brent, Seattle, WA

It's no mystery that you are great at what you do.

Sandee, Seattle, WA

* * * *

The Mystery on the Oasis pics are very funny!

Ramon, Kansas City, MO

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Ha ha ha ha ha...love your "schtick" Ringo!!

Dolly, Las Vegas, NV

Hello the travelling Boitano's hope you enjoy. Best wishes.

Elsa Magdalena Berno-Boitano, Laussane, Switzerland

My Irish roots understand terrible beauty. So do my human roots. The concept has such a ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Great article, Ringo. I hope to get to Ireland eventually, and thanks for blazing the trail!

Sandeee Bleu, Seattle, WA

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No wonder I've been hearing all these wonderful stories about Ireland. I used to think that it was just for Irish Americans seeking their ancestral roots but your article seems to call out to the non-Irish like me. Fascinating and intriguing.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

Thanks for this great post wow... it's very wonderful.

Key Logger, New York

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Lets not forget that the Marriot Harbor Beach is within walking distance to the world famous Elbo Room - Fort Lauderdale's oldest bar.

Jeff, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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Jeff–

Thanks for taking the time for the message and reminder. Indeed, I had a quick drink at the Elbo Room. My trip to Ft. Lauderdale would not have been complete without a visit to this historic institution.I have been reading about it for years, and was not disappointed. It felt like a real local's hangout.

- Ringo

Ringo,

I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Dick and Liz. I remember seeing that article back in the heyday of Life Magazine.

To remember the "behind-the-scenes" stories like that makes you genuine fan of the 60's. The famous couple's turbulent relationship was just a precursor of today's headline-grabbing media stars like Britney Spears and her colleagues. Life was simpler then. The paparazzis still had some sense of decency. You "coulda" been a good paparazzi. I say "coulda" because you kept this to yourself all these many years.

Looking forward to other media trivia you can remember.

Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hey, Ringo –

Enjoyed your article on Antarctica --- cool photos, too. One thing, you mentioned that Ushuaia in Argentina is considered the most southern city in the world. I read that Chile lays claim to that distinction, with Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world.

Mick, Greenbay, WI

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Mick –

Now that football season is over --- I’ve often wondered what you Packer fans did in the off season ---- it’s great that you took the time to visit TravelingBoy. Great question, unlike my older brother, I adore all lamb products, and Patagonian Lamb --- cooked in a restricted area at the restaurant in an opened wood-fueled fire pit --- is amazing. The chef actually uses an ax to carve it. Frankly, I found it superior to Norwegian fjord lamb, Irish Burren lamb and even those much esteemed creatures down in New Zealand. The crab in Ushuaia is the other thing to eat. Wait a sec, you asked about Punta Arenas vs. Ushuaia as the furthermost city in the world. Well, they both have little disclaimers re populations --- you know, what’s a city, which one is a town, ect – so better let Chile and Argentina brass it out. They seem to be able to argue about any subject.

- Ringo



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