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Amsterdam is a city of canals, bicycles and a museum for every occasion

July 2011

When you want that perfect vacation that combines calm rejuvenation with the rev of action, then head for Holland.

Make Hotel Okura in Amsterdam your home base. Its modernity belies the fact that it has been here for 40 years and brought high-end five-star luxury and Japanese cuisine to Amsterdam. You can start by taking advantage of their jet-lag program, then wind down in the pool, Japanese sauna, Turkish bath and health club. Reaching for the stars, the family-run hotel grabbed a few Michelin ones. The two-star Ciel Bleu perches on the 23rd floor, with walls of glass so every seat and every bite is a delightful wonder. Winding down is easy to achieve at the one-star serene Yamazato, set in 15th- and 16th-century Sukiya style decor, with views of the Japanese garden to complement the Japanese culinary arts.

We dined at the new canal-facing Serre, where some of those Michelin-trained cooks drifted. For 34 euros you can taste the same heavenly cooking, with simpler versions of last year’s Ciel Bleu’s signature dishes and more. Our bento box lunch was an artist’s palate of tastes and textures (guinea hen in garlic sauce, crispy crab, steak tartare, bulghur, smoked salmon, roasted artichoke in sauces, foams and powders.)

For a first quiet day, head to the Rijksmuseum for the works of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, delftware and more, and the Van Gogh Museum, which are easy to double date, as they are down the street from each other.

You can learn more about Rembrandt by visiting his home, which he bought at the height of his fame in 1639 but lost to bankruptcy by 1656. In his studio, you can watch a demonstration of how paints were made each day by his students, and there is an exhibition of his etchings.

Bicyles and houseboats: You’ll find plenty of both in modern-day Holland. Photo: Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips

Still need quiet? The Anne Frank Huis is a solemn reverent place, where you can walk behind the bookcase to the secret attic apartment where Anne lived with her sister Margot, her parents and others. There are still pencil marks on the wall marking her growth. Quotes are on the walls from her Second World War diary: “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free.” She died in a concentration camp one month before liberation.

You might be surprised at the eclectic choices of other museums in town: the one for purses, Museum of Bags and Purses, has more than 4,000 fabulous examples collected over 35 years by Henkrikje Ivo, and was a favourite of this smart shopper. You can have a light lunch in their café or pause for a break in their garden. And yes, you can buy purses in the gift shop (bring me home the tulip one).

The Woonboot Museum is in a houseboat, so you can get a peek into what life is like to live on one. There are still people living in about 10,000 of them all over the country.

There’s even a museum for a taste of the Hermitage from Russia, but it is filled mostly with church relics and not those paintings we were hoping for. The Jewish Historical museum is in a complex of four former Ashkenazi synagogues. Besides the objects on display, you pick up headphones and hear personal stories of holidays, the Sabbath, services and family life.

We never made it to the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum, the tulip museum or tattoo museums, but we hit the Red Light district and the floating Singel Flower market. Around since 1862, the flowers used to come by boat, and the stalls set on the edge of a canal are full of tulips, geraniums, bulbs, plants and souvenirs. Walking the streets of Amsterdam is like playing a live video game. The road is shared with trams, cars, bikes, so you must keep your eyes peeled. Bikes are the foreground and background here, and everywhere you turn of course, is the picture perfect snapshot of water: the canals.

It’s an easy, walkable, tram-able city.

It pays to buy the I Amsterdam card, which covers free entrance to more than 25 museums, a canal cruise and unlimited use of GVB trams, buses and metro. See and amster, and you can do an Internet search for the many museums listed in this story.

It pays to buy the I Amsterdam card, which covers free entrance to more than 25 museums, a canal cruise and unlimited use of GVB trams, buses and metro.

See and amster, and you can do an Internet search for the many muse- ums listed in this story.



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