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10 July, 2015 00:00 00 AM

Amsterdam Venice of the North

by Dr.Shamim Ahmed
Amsterdam  Venice of the North

We landed on a chilly winter evening at Schipol International Airport,Amsterdam - one of the busiest airport in Europe.The airport formalities were pleasantly efficient and we navigated easily.A mere 20 min.drive brought us to our hotel at the famous Museum District in the city.

Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Its status as the Dutch capital is mandated by the Constitution of the Netherlands  though it is not the seat of the Dutch government, which is The Hague.

Amsterdam’s name derives from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city’s origin as a dam of the river Amstel. Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade.

The Netherlands in its entirety is often erroneously referred to as “Holland”, which in strict use, refers only to North and South Holland, two of its provinces. Since these two provinces are the most populous and famous of the Netherlands, they often serve as a metonym for the entire country. However, referring to the Netherlands as Holland is technically incorrect.
The Netherlands’ name literally means “Low Country”, inspired by its low and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are man-made.

The Netherlands has the 18th-largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP per capita. Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands and is the world’s oldest stock exchange and one of Europe’s largest bourses.The city is also the cultural capital of the Netherlands.

The City is full of Museums namely – Museum of Bags and Purses, The Hash,Marijuana and Hemp Museum ,Amsterdam Tulip Museum, Madame Tussauds Museum, Photography Museum and many more.The most important museums of Amsterdam are located on the Museumplein (Museum Square). The Square is bordered by the very large Rijksmuseum and by the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum.

We visited The Van Gogh Museum - This museum houses some 200 paintings and 550 sketches showing Van Gogh in all his moods. The art collection is the biggest in the world, combined with hundreds of letters by Van Gogh, and selected works by his friends and contemporaries form the core of the museum’s collection.The museum is indeed a shrine dedicated to work of Van Gogh. There is a rich souvenir shop loaded with Van Gogh stuff.

Our next visit was to The Rijksmuseum, the largest and the most attractive museum in the Netherlands. This colossal building possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. Its collection consists of nearly one million objects. The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed. We were awed by Rembrandt’s masterpiece De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch), one of top pieces of art of the museum. The museum also has a wonderful collection of the 17th C. Dutch Golden Age masterpieces of other celebrated painters like Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” and “Woman reading a letter”. Unique sculptures and various antiquities as traditional furniture, silver, ship models and pottery are on display.

Next to the Van Gogh museum stands the Stedelijk Museum. This is Netherland’s most important museum for modern and contemporary art . A marvellous showroom  indeed.

Amsterdam has many parks, open spaces, and squares throughout the city. Vondelpark is the largest park in the city and is located in the Oud-Zuid borough. The advent of spring was heralded by blooming of crocus. However, there was no tulip in sight as yet.

The city old centre is formed from canal rings. We took a canal cruise by boarding one of the boats near the Anne Frank House. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Amsterdam Canal Ring was dug in the 17th century to attract wealthy home owners. It is still a posh neighbourhood with many Dutch celebrities owning property. During the canal cruise,we came across : Maritime Museum and the famous EYE Film Institute.

Amsterdam is colloquially known as Venice of the North, because of its lovely canals that criss-cross the city, its impressive architecture and hundreds of bridges. On either side of the canals are anchored boathouses available for rent and by quaint houses of gothic architecture.The City Housing Authority follows strict housing codes and the residential apartments are required to follow the rules meticulously.The canal sides are picturesque with parks dotted with sculptures and the entire ambience laid back and relaxed. The Jordaan is a vibrant neighborhood with lots of shops, galleries and great views of the canals to explore. Among the attractions in this area is the Anne Frank House.

The Anne Frank House is the hiding place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during the World War II. We also visited the Anne Frank House’s permanent exhibition.We became very emotional as we recollected similar nights in hiding during the Pakistani days during our War of Independence. Similar initiatives should be undertaken by us to disseminate such stories encountered by countless unsung heroes.

We disembarked from the canal cruise at Rembrandtplein, the city’s prime nightlife spots and  visited the Rembrandt House Museum, a historic house and art museum. Painter Rembrandt lived and worked in this house and the collection contains Rembrandt’s etchings and paintings of his contemporaries.

Cycling is a ubiquitous mode of transport in the Netherlands. Almost as many kilometres are covered by bicycle as by train. The Dutch are estimated to have at least 18 million bicycles, which makes more than one per capita. The city is very, very bike-friendly, and there are separate bike lanes on most major streets. Modern architecture is however under-represented in Amsterdam. Most of the buildings are quaint and are of gothic architecture.

We found the Dutch friendly and English is widely spoken .Mentionably,the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, with an average height of 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in) for adult males and 1.67 metres (5 ft 5.7 in) for adult females. The per capita milk consumption is the highest in the world largely contributing to the physique.

We also visited the vibrant City Centre Dam Square.The impressive Royal Palace was built as a city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. The building became the Royal Palace of King Louis Napoleon and later of the Dutch Royal House. The Queen of the Netherlands doesn’t live there, but this is her official home away from home in the city. Opposite the Royal Palace is the National Monument – A memorial dedicated to all Dutch who suffered under the Nazi occupation of the Netherland’s and to the nation’s liberation. There are several shops, cafes and restaurants at the Square.

The Central Station at the Amsterdam Centrum is the city’s most renowned and popular transport hub .We boarded train for Groningen,the fourth largest city of the Netherlands in the north.The train journey took about three hrs.

Groningen is an academic city: it houses the University of Groningen  and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. We also visited the University Medical Center escorted by Nelly Hazen,the Supervisor of the Medical Centre.The main square, Grote Market with kiosks serving freshly fried fish was relishing. Nearby,the Martinitoren, ( St. Martin’s Tower) is the highest church steeple in the city and a view from the top gives a view of the city. The city is encircled by canals with  a number of open spaces and parks  is a haven for the cyclists.
Our Dutch friend,Gabe  drove us to Lawwersoog – a coastal town along the North Sea, about 50 km.from Groningen.The vast North Sea separates the country from United Kingdom and has few scenic island resorts. We enjoyed the scenic drive thru typical Dutch polders and along narrow dykes. On the way visited several picturesque villages of wehe den moorns and Mensingeweer with its many unique windmills.The idyllic quaint villages were almost deserted with the occupants being mostly elderly citizens.

A windmill is a typical landmark of dutch countryside. Unfortunately,all the windmills were closed.We were told that these windmills are open to visitors on special days. A windmill converts the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes. Depending on the strength of the wind, windmills were used to pump water out of lakes and kept the land dry for agriculture. They were also used to pump water into fields for irrigation and were also used to grind cereal grains, such as wheat or corn. These windmills are now rare and has largely been replaced by wind turbines.On the way,we stopped at Zoutkamp,a picturesque small village for sumptuous lunch of fresh sea food.

Our visit was extremely rewarding and thoroughly refreshing. Barisal dubbed as the Venice of the East crisscrossed with similar numerous canals and vibrant with floating markets of fruits and vegetables is however far away from Dhaka and has not received the due attention of the policy makers, environmentalists and tourists at large. A serious drive is necessary to promote  our southern city as a prime tourist destination.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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