Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Amsterdam Without Prejudice

Amsterdam is world- renowned as the city of pot, tarts and leather dungeons. Throngs upon throngs of tourists descend upon these balmy shores in search of pleasures forbidden back home. Zonked out on marijuana and cheap booze, many never venture beyond the Red Light District and the Sex Museum. The few enlightened ones quickly skim through the Van Gogh Museum and the tulip fields before leaving after a one-night stay. It is a crying shame because this hip global village has immensely more to offer than major hangovers and commercial sex.

The image of a devil-may-care folk indulging in sexual perversities amongst clouds of cannabis smoke does not sit well with the fact that this is also the capital of a modern post-industrial economy, world's 16th largest, quite an achievement for such a small country. Working hours may be longer and stress levels higher in Japan, Britain or Singapore but few nations create more value per unit of time on this planet. It is the Dutch propensity for planning and organizing that helps strike one of the most harmonious work-fun balances so far known to the humankind.

Amsterdam’s whopping 177 nationalities - ahead even of New York City with its 150 – bring cosmopolitan to a new level. Dutch cuisine may not be a very remarkable fare but with Tibetan, Peruvian, Argentine, Indonesian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Romanian, Persian, Surinamese, Moroccan, Korean, Malaysian and Brazilian restaurants among others, this is truly the unsung paradise of nifty ethnic noshing. Nearly every world cuisine is represented here and it won’t cost the earth either. Should it occur to you to whip up something exotic yourself, you’ll not want for kitchen supplies and ingredients from all over the world either, be it fresh Thai durian, Afghani spices, or authentic bacalao. Such cosmopolitan gastronomy is so integrated into daily life that even neighbourhood supermarkets carry tempeh, coconut milk and couscous.

But most of all Amsterdam is a romantic place. There are very few cities more suitable for a lovebirds’ getaway: myriads of atmospheric cafes, sun-lit terraces with heart-warming views, cosy nook and corners. Lovingly preserved and meticulously maintained, central Amsterdam has a gingerhouse quality to it that will make you feel inside a living fairytale. Every terrace has infrared heaters, every restaurant table – a candle and if you are into a little kink – sex in parks is tolerated.

That said, Amsterdam's parklife is mostly about quieter pleasures. The zoning law here guarantees that you are never more than 5 minutes away from an oasis of green. Vondelpark is the most famous, but none less lovely are the city's other 27 parks, carefully landscaped on a limited territory every square meter of which was diligently pried from the sea's hold. The horticultural style of choice here is English - natural appearing and meant for active enjoyment. Befittingly this mutlicultural city, picnic of Portuguese rosé, Spanish tapas and a French fruit salad is an Amsterdam institution while the Turks have brought the barbecuing culture and the Surinamese - hammocks and joints.

And then there’s Amsterdam’s best: the pleasure boats! Forget about the overcrowded tourist-geared monstrosities – you can rent an authentic Dutch plezierboot all for yourself! Take a bottle of delicious wine and some tasty titbits and you’re in for a whale of time! The European inland waterway system allows you to paddle on as far as Paris, Prague or Basel - but I’d rather linger on in Amsterdam, it’s just too good to leave on a bright sunny day! Thanks to the Napoleonic occupation and successive waves of Mediterranean immigrants, Amsterdam has its own version of la dolce vita.

This may be the northernmost city with a thriving café culture: with the first glimpse of sunshine Amsterdammers crawl out in throngs to sip coffee or have full-blown meals outside: in local perception a picturesque or cozy setting is more important than food itself. Even the country’s Labour Law accommodates this kind of lifestyle: you are legally entitled to take half a day off if you see during lunchtime that the weather is looking up! Recent climate changes brought us balmy sunny days in any season, so mosey on over and join us in this life-loving celebration of life!

Culture vultures never go hungry in this city either. In another feat of Dutch organizational efficiency, Amsterdam’s Concert Hall has world’s busiest schedule hosting around 800 performances a year and that is on top of 35 museums, 50 theatres and world-renown opera and ballet houses. Thanks to government strong support of arts, tickets are affordable but quickly booked out. For those on a strict sustenance budget, there is at least one free classical music show on any given day of the year.

Cosmopolitan, romantic, indulgent and cultural – that is the real Amsterdam deal, free of tired stereotypes. You can you enjoy all that urban splendour in one sitting: just bring your sweetheart to share delicious Indonesian gado-gado or Argentine bife de lomo on a sunlit terrace to the accompaniment of the carillon – the melodic bells chiming from a church tower across the city. A quintessential Amsterdam moment!

1 comment:

JOHN said...

Thanks for the great article. We are leaving for Amsterdam in 3 weeks,I was starting to regret this portion of our trip but this post has really helped to bring excitement for our visit. Thanks...... just what we needed!!!