Monday, August 11, 2008

Amsterdam, The Netherlands (July 17-20, 2008)

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, began as a small fishing village on the mouth of the Amstel River during the 12th century. In the 14th century, trade with the Hanseatic League led to the city's growth and prosperity as a European port. By the 17th century – considered the city's golden age – international trade via the prosperous Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company made Amsterdam one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Today, Amsterdam is the largest city in the Netherlands, as well as the financial and cultural capital of the country.

Built on a network of canals lined with beautiful, historic (and often precariously leaning) buildings, Amsterdam is a fabulous place to explore on foot, bike or boat. On sunny afternoons, people gather at quaint waterside cafes, or relax on the elaborate decks of the city's many houseboats. In rainy weather, a host of first class museums and galleries easily provide hours of diversion.

While Amsterdam wears all types of weather well, it looks its most charming at night, when the city's bridges, strung with lights, cast a warm glow over the canals and tree-lined walkways.
Dam Square stands at the center of the city. On the left is Koninklijk Paleis (the Royal Palace), originally built in the 17th century as the city hall; beside it is the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), first built in the 15th century.
The Begijnhof, which dates back to at least the 14th century, was built as a religious community for unmarried women; today, it's a peaceful haven within the bustling city
This bookcase masked the secret entrance to the annex where Anne Frank and her family lived in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam. Anne Frank's diary, published by her father in 1947 after her death in a concentration camp, chronicles two years of her time in the annex.
The unusual interior of the 13th century Oede Kerk (Old Church); because so few of the city's residents practice Christianity, Amsterdam's major churches have been converted into exhibition or event halls
The 19th century Centraal Station is where most visitors arrive by train from the airport or from other cities within Europe
The Rijksmuseum houses an impressive collection of 17th century Dutch paintings; the most famous piece is Rembrant's "The Night Watch"

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