AMSTERDANM

 

The Amsterdam's tourist office latest programme neatly gets to the heart of the Dutch capital: 'Amsterdam: City on the Water'. This is a city like Venice founded on and still today focused around water and waterways, though unlike Venice, Holland's largest city is no mere museum piece. Amsterdam is a real, living and breathing metropolis, not just an oasis for tourists, those who like 'a smoke' and men in search of extra-marital sex. In the canals beneath the stag parties and working girls, young Internet entrepreneurs strike deals across Europe from their houseboats and just outside the old core is the RAI, one of the continent's key conference and business hubs. As well as the chugging canal boats, the city's waterways also increasingly play home to massive cruise ships and cargo vessels from all over the world. Today, Amsterdam peddles tourists almost as slickly as it has peddled goods and services over the centuries.

 

The Dutch capital has clearly come a long way since it was founded, as legend has it, by two fishermen and a seasick dog. The story goes that the dog jumped ship to deposit the contents of his stomach and the two fishermen became the founders of Amsterdam. The reality might have been slightly more prosaic, with the River Amstel being dammed in the 13th century and spawning a settlement, which took the name of Aemstelledamme. The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built on myriad canals, which neatly divide the city into easily navigable districts and imbue it with a small town ambience. There seems to be a canal around every corner in Amsterdam – not too surprising, considering that the city is home to a staggering 165 of them (more than Venice).

 

In recent years, the bad publicity surrounding the rise and murder of far right politician Pim Fortuyn, in 2002, and increased public debate about tighter immigration controls has dented somewhat the city's reputation for tolerance. Amsterdam today is still a haven for many nationalities, various sexualities and people of radically different political and religious persuasions, but cracks are starting to appear and immigration laws have tightened. There is still tolerance when it comes to man's vices, with practical solutions on how to deal with one of the world's oldest industries and the controlled use of soft drugs.

 

During the summer, the city comes together in Vondelpark, where locals and tourists alike relax in the balmy weather. Amsterdam statistically might be one of Europe's wettest capitals, but as soon as the clouds clear and the sun is allowed to shine, its inhabitants spill out onto the streets, to sit in the numerous pavement cafés, take a cruise on a canal or even partake in that most ubiquitous of Amsterdam pastimes – ride their bicycles (the city has more than double the number of bikes it has people). Amsterdam's winters tend to be cold with plenty of rain but this seldom seems to deter the tourists, who flock to the city. Particularly cold winters also offer the unique chance for visitors to witness Amsterdamers skating across the picturesquely frozen canals. These days with plenty of rail, bus and air connections to all over Europe and further afield, the Dutch capital is a year round tourist destination as well as one of the world's key business hubs.

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