FeaturesGoing Dutch

Going Dutch


We have some terrific travel writers that contribute to Gallery. We have the pleasure of reading their words and living vicariously each time an email arrives for our travel section brimming with snapshots of faraway places. Freelance travel writer is right up there in my book as about the perfect career, just a snip below photojournalist. Travel, writing, photography and the associated experiences are the best life could give me.

We’re fortunate enough to receive emails that invite us to go and experience destinations and hotels in desirable destinations. However, more often than not we’re too busy at Gallery to be able to take up the opportunity ourselves and rely on our freelancers to relay the experiences to us.

When an airline opens up a new route it’s obviously a draw. When that destination is a city that is brimming with bohemian cool and creativity it’s even better. Blue Islands is presently an airline rocking the market. Last month saw them add not only a direct flight to Paris but also a direct flight to Amsterdam. The former hasn’t been available for some time since Flybe pulled their Paris link and the latter is a completely new option for Jersey.

In order to celebrate this, Blue Islands invited a selection of people concerned with the travel industry, prestigious local journalists, one plane of forward thinkers and us, to check out the new route.

Amsterdam is a city that has enthralled and captivated youth culture. A wideheld image of progression and Liberalism characterised by both its red lights and cafe culture. In addition to the wider visual signifiers of course; bikes, dykes, clogs and Edam.

When you tell people you’re heading to Amsterdam for the first time and you’re over 30 the appropriate response seems to be one of confusion and bewilderment. I think it was the popularity as a Human Traffic era, right of passage, that put me off. Ibiza seemed more appealing and besides I was already in South America by the time I’d realised that I’d missed my Amsterdam window.

And miss out I did. Beyond the obvious lies a city of bohemian beauty, of waterways and buildings that defy straight lines, leaning and arching on shifting timbers unsettled over 300 years by sub sea level foundations on former canals. Some lean forward onto the street, presenting their lofty loading hooks to be utilised for hauling whatever Amsterdammers needed on their upper floors. With a strong artistic heritage I imagine it being large canvasses and pianos rather than the (probably more likely) grain and furniture. These sit along the horseshoe shaped canals that make the whole city a scallop shell shape. A shell small enough to explore by two wheels in just a few days. To be honest you could probably walk the majority in a long weekend. I get the impression that some do this to see the sights and some to clear their heads from the night (or day) before.

Sure, 10 years ago I would probably have been doing the latter. In fact, given the right weekend I still could. However, on this occasion it was a very different trip featuring galleries, museums and finding somewhere to amuse my 20 month old daughter. Thankfully Amsterdam is a city of many sides. That might be why so many people visit from the world over, justifying the incredible flight connections at the city’s Schipol airport.

Flying direct is always a blessing, even more so if you’re with a little girl who doesn’t yet need her own seat. The flight is two hours, just short enough to enable Peppa Pig to keep her occupied until the flat landscape of Amsterdam came into view. A good job too, as it was Blue Islands’ inaugural flight to Amsterdam it seemed she was the only one not partaking in the free champagne! Air travel with Blue Islands makes the service of other airlines seem shameful. With hot and cold flowing drinks, tasty sandwiches and a lounge for all it really does feel like you’re on holiday rather than just in transit.

As we were on a press trip our first port of call, once we were in our first port of call, was a press conference with representatives from Amsterdam’s tourism professionals. It transpires that not only have we Jerseyites got a new route but we can expect to see a lot more tall blonde people in Jersey this Summer as the Dutch make use of the connection. Retailers; start stocking those extra few pairs of long length trousers. If Amsterdam is representative of national interest then we can certainly expect to see quite a few of them in the green lanes on bikes (the Amsterdam station has a 2000 bike multi storey bike park).

The city is a bus transfer away and we wandered along the waterways in the early evening light to the Radisson Blu which is, quite literally, at the centre of the city. Radissons are a good standard wherever you visit (if you forgive them a balcony here and there). The Amsterdam variant is characterised by a huge internal glass atrium that features a pub complete with a crows’ nest for two. The bedrooms are double height. You could almost squeeze and extra floor on each level. It’s strange in a city that suffered from riots, protesting over a lack of habitable urban space. Clearly they were staying in the wrong hotel.

Once settled we were led out to the canal where a glass top boat was docked alongside the hotel. We set off to experience the 50% of the city that is covered by water. The waterways are an engineering marvel. We travelled out into the harbour to experience an architectural one, the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, the Dutch centre for film culture and heritage. The centre was founded in 2010 by merging four important film organisations: Holland Film, the Netherlands Instituut voor Filmeducatie, the Filmbank and the Filmmuseum. With this fusion, the Dutch film world acquired an umbrella organisation that unites the film sector. Basically a church for film fans, complete with attractions that focus on visual form.

Our group splintered to find a variety of food options. We’d just passed a triple storey Chinese restaurant boat which influenced some while others sought a more traditional fayre. The night wasn’t a wild one as we were up early to experience the national transport of choice. Amsterdam’s red bikes are a bit like our H plate Ford Fiestas. A warning to experienced motorists that you’re probably not going to filter in turn, or whatever the equivalent is in dutch bike riding etiquette. Dutch bikes are a genre in their own right. Heavy, curved handlebars and in all different shapes and sizes. You can even get a family version that resembles a wheelbarrow. Our intrepid party braved a snowy afternoon to experience the sights. Our cycle tour took in Anna Frank’s house, the houseboat culture, famous destinations such as Dam square and the many museums. It’s almost worth doing one when you arrive to familiarise yourself with the landscape.

Although it was a family trip mine had opted to visit the zoo. The reports of the zoo were fantastic . We obviously have our wonderful Durrell but I think the  lions, panthers and camels of Amsterdam Zoo went down well. I’ll try a bike tour with a family bike next time…

Amsterdam is very much a cultural hub and one that’s investing in expansion. We visited the Stedelijk Museum, a modern art museum that unites classic architecture with the incredible structure locals lovingly refer to as ‘the bathtub’. Why it looks that way Benthem Crouwel, the Amsterdam firm that designed it, hasn’t explained. It’s bold, I’ll give it that and, judging it on exhibition content, an excellent venue.

In addition to the Stedelijk you have the  Rijksmuseum, which will be reopening its doors to the public in April 2013 following the completion of a renovation and restoration programme lasting nearly 10 years. The new-look attraction will explore the history of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to the present, with the EUR375m (US$471m, £297m) project led by architects Cruz y Ortiz.

First opened in July 1885, the work has included the restoration of the main site to the initial designs of 19th century architect Cuypers. New structures have also been added. France-based Jean-Michel Wilmotte was chosen to furnish the Rijksmuseum’s new galleries in conjunction with Cruz y Ortiz, with around 7,500 artworks and items to go on show.

The attraction will become one of the first national museums in the world to open every day. It will hold a grand opening on 13 April, before welcoming the public from 14 April.

Shortly after, on April 25th, 75 masterpieces of the Van Goch museum’s collection will relocate back to their original home following 9 months of redevelopment there too. It’s all perfect timing for Amsterdam’s massive ‘Iamsterdam’ and accompanying Amsterdam 2013 initiatives.

Our afternoon added one more Museum, the diamond museum. Educational but quite a sales tool . We left having been quoted £20k for a ring. Er, yeah. Next time. Following an afternoon of culture we retired back to the hotel. The Radisson offers an in room babysitting service so we made the most of it and went out for the evening. The streets of Amsterdam certainly come alive at night.

What there isn’t available to look at in a window there isn’t worth seeing. Some of the equipment we had to take photos of and put to the group to aid identification of use. Hordes of revellers young and old line the streets, coffee bars and characterful drinking holes. It really is a sight to behold, whether you’re looking into the windows or not…

If you’re looking for a long weekend or citybreak destination Amsterdam should be on your list. Whether you’re going wild or going with child there really is something for everyone. The strapline says ‘Iamsterdam’ . You are, you just have to decide which part of you wants to have fun.

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