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AMSTERDAM AND MAASTRICHT HOLLAND

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Gezellig (pronounced heh-ZEL-ick) is a Dutch word that conveys a cozy and inviting place. It describes Amsterdam perfectly. Holland's cosmopolitan capital is small enough to navigate by foot, bike and boat. The inhabitants are very sociable. Most speak English and Dutch, so it's an ideal destination for first-timers to Europe. Less expensive than London, Paris and Rome, it lacks none of their delights: comfortable hotels, romantic restaurants, exciting nightlife, a rich history and cultural attractions.

If you have a week or more, go Double Dutch and combine Amsterdam with the charming 2,000-year-old city of Maastricht. Located near the Belgium and Germany borders, the city of 122,000 reflects the ambiance of its neighbouring countries.

Fast facts

  • Size and Population: 41,526 square kilometres (16,037 square miles), with 15,807,640 inhabitants. The maximum length is 300 kilometres and maximum width is 200 kilometres. Amsterdam is the largest city (population 735,328).
  • Weather: Holland has a mild maritime climate. May through August are the sunniest months.
  • Currency: In January 2002, Holland replaced the Dutch guilder with the euro (€).
  • Country Code: To phone overseas, dial 011, followed by 31 (the country code for Holland), then the phone number. Each city has a code, e.g., 20 for Amsterdam, if you dial from abroad, and 020, if you call Amsterdam from outside the city, in Holland. Within Amsterdam, you simply dial the seven-digit number.

Where to stay

In Amsterdam, experience life in a 17th-century canal house at Ambassade Hotel (Herengracht 341). Ten side-by-side tall and narrow houses feature 66 individually decorated rooms and suites, in the city's historic heart. More exclusive, and also walking distance from Amsterdam's attractions, is Seven One Seven (Prinsengracht 717). Rates include a full breakfast, wines, soft drinks and beers, a CD/DVD library and afternoon tea. Brass beds, antiques, a TV and modern or classical art accent each of the eight suites in the 19th-century guesthouse. For pampering, there are candles, thick terry robes, Hermes and Etro bathroom amenities.

Chateau St. Gerlach hotel
Chateau St. Gerlach hotel
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Château St. Gerlach (Bad Valkenburg) is an 18th-century country estate. Its 58 rooms and 39 suites feature "his" and "hers" toiletries, free use of an indoor Roman swimming pool, sauna and Turkish steam bath. A free shuttle service brings guests to Maastricht, 10 minutes away.

Good eats

Amsterdam dining is eclectic.

De Reiger (Nieuwe Leliestraat 34) is a neighbourhood pub. Try any of the Dutch foods from the blackboard menu, or the bitterballen (deep-fried meat croquettes) and hearty split-pea soup. In Maastricht, don't miss friendly Café Sjiek (Sint Pieterstraat 13). Enjoy the pâtés and Limburg cheese, zoervleis (sweet and sour beef stew, thickened with gingerbread) and the local Apostelhoeve white wine. For a romantic castle dinner, go to Restaurant Château Neercanne (Cannerweg 800). Limestone niches in adjoining caves cradle 10,000 bottles of wine.

Where to hang

With 1,402 cafés and bars, 36 discos, 65 theatres and concert halls and 40 cinemas, Amsterdam offers plenty of nightlife. Paradiso (Weteringshans 6-8) has great acoustics, ambience and dance music. Panama (Oostelijke Handelskade 4) is a lively nightclub/restaurant/theatre in the Zeeburg warehouse district. Escape (Rembrandtplein 11) holds 2,000 people and features a dazzling light and laser show. In Maastricht, Night Live Music (Kesselskade 43) offers dancing to techno beat, disco and pop music. Pub crawling is popular in both Amsterdam and Maastricht. "Brown cafés" are pubs with earthy-coloured walls, darkened by age and tobacco smoke. Genever (Dutch gin) and beer are the drinks of choice.

Shopping guide

Chocolate. Diamonds. Flowers. You can find them all in Amsterdam's 10,334 shops, 165 antique emporiums and 26 markets, along with traditional souvenirs like wooden shoes. For fine art and antiques head to Spiegelkwartier, near the Rijksmuseum. De 9 Straatjes (9 little streets), the cross streets between Singel and Prisengracht, feature 190 eclectic shops selling one-of-a-kind items. Don't miss the world's only floating flower market, along the Singel Canal, and the flea market on Waterlooplein. Gassan, Stoeltie & the Amsterdam Diamond Centre sell dazzling gems. Mouthwatering aromas of mint, coffee, cognac and other flavoured chocolates await at Puccini Bomboni (Staalstraat 17 and Singel 184). At Schiphol Airport, a shop sells tulip bulbs. In Maastricht's historical centre, Strokstraat features lingerie and Italian suits in upscale designer shops. Between the railway station and the city square, there are moderately priced shops and inviting outdoor cafés where you can rest your feet.

Gabled canal house.
Gabled canal house.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll


What to see and do

No trip to Amsterdam is complete without visiting some of its 42 museums and 141 art galleries. Top of the list is the Rijksmuseum, with its paintings by Dutch old masters, and the Van Gogh Museum, which houses 200 of his paintings.

Don't miss the Anne Frank House, or the six historic Canal House Museums. One is Rembrandt's House. Another, Our Lord in the Attic, hides a 17th-century church. Amsterdam's 6,800 16th, 17th and 18th-century buildings are especially interesting. The tall canal houses are so narrow that owners use hooks on the gables to hoist furniture in through the windows.

A good way to see them and some of the 1,281 bridges that span the city's spider web of canals, is by boat. Seventy glass-topped canal boats offer sightseeing, museum, dinner and candlelight cruises.

For a truly romantic experience, book a private cruise for two with a catered dinner or a picnic, on a small salon boat. To see Amsterdam, as the locals do, rent a bike.

In Maastricht, take a guided walking tour from the Tourist Office to see ancient fortifications and Old City attractions.

Enjoy a River Maas cruise and a tour of the Caves of St. Pietersberg. Inside the maze of 20,000 corridors, created by centuries of excavations, you'll see charcoal drawings and inscriptions, including Napoleon's.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Netherlands Board of Tourism: www.Holland.com

Buy an I Amsterdam Card from Amsterdam Tourism offices. Available for 24, 48 and 72 hours, it gives you free admission to several museums, free use of buses, trams and metro public transit, a free canal cruise, as well as shopping discounts.

Maastricht is three hours southeast of Amsterdam by A2, the main highway, or by Dutch Railways.

More things to see and do in Holland:

North Holland Tour

South Holland Trip

Zeeland & North Brabant Holland

Drenthe, Groningen & Friesland Holland

Flevoland & Urk Holland