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About Amsterdam

Legend has it that Amsterdam was founded 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. In reality the city’s story really began in the 13th century, when the River Amstel was dammed and a settlement grew up on the site, which took the name of Aemstelledamme – today tidied up to Amsterdam. Whichever version is true, Amsterdam has become one of Europe’s great cities, a Mecca for tourists who flock to the city, to explore its richly historic streets, delve into its countless ghosts and legends and, of course, enjoy the hedonistic pleasures this North Holland city is so renowned for.

The lifeblood of Amsterdam has long been its aquatic locale, close as it is to the North Sea and built on a myriad of canals that 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 canals. Amsterdam’s sprawl of waterways are now used by a dizzying array of vessels, everything from glass roofed tourist boats and pedalos, right through to speedboats and gigantic industrial barges that testify to the role the canals and waterways still play in the city’s economic life.

The local tourist board reckons that Amsterdam boasts more museums per square inch than anywhere else on the planet. And, in a sense, the whole city is one living museum – a crucial part of Amsterdam’s charm. Even in the very heart of the city centre, real people live real lives in their canal-side houses, just as their forefathers have been doing for centuries. The year 2002 marks 400 years since the founding of the Dutch East India Company, the trade body that oversaw the expansion of Dutch merchants and sailors to all corners of the globe, bringing unprecedented wealth into the city. Trade and transport are still key elements of Amsterdam’s development and alongside the tourist boats are container ships and all manner of industrial infrastructure. Amsterdam also still holds its reputation as a no-holds-barred and extremely tolerant port city. This live and let live attitude has not only resulted in the infamous red-light districts and the legendary brown cafés but is also an integral part of the relaxed ambience that most visitors enjoy when they visit the city. The downsides are some serious drug problems and an increasing homeless population.

In the summer, all of Amsterdam’s eclectic groups come together in Vondelpark to relax in the balmy weather. Amsterdam statistically may be one of Europe’s wettest capitals but as soon as the clouds clear and the sun is allowed to shine, the city’s inhabitants spill out onto the streets, to sit in the numerous pavement cafés, take a cruise on a canal or even that most ubiquitous of Amsterdam pastimes – ride their bicycles. Amsterdam’s winters tend to be cold with plenty of rain but this seldom seems to deter the tourists, who flock to the city all year round.


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