So Dutch fun!
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So Dutch fun!

We explore the lesser-known Jewish links to Amsterdam, learns about the city’s famous artists and enjoys a real gem of an afternoon tea

Amsterdam and its famous canals that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Amsterdam and its famous canals that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Taking just 45 minutes to fly from London, I began questioning why I don’t visit Amsterdam more often.  

It has 100km of the most beautiful and most historic canals and an interesting quirkiness, as shown by both its “special” cafés and famous red light districts.

Of course, there’s also an extensive Jewish history here in the capital of the Netherlands, and attracts millions of visitors to both the Anne Frank House and the extensive Jewish Historical Museum, a short distance away.

Perhaps less well-known is the stunning Art Deco cinema instigated by Abraham Icek Tuschinski, a Polish immigrant who arrived in Amsterdam at the beginning of the 20th century and decided to get involved in what was then the new film craze.

With the help of his brothers- in-law, he raised four million guilders and opened what is considered to be one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world. The interior is sumptuous with a noticeable Asian influence. Tragically, during the Second World War, Abraham and his entire family were murdered in the concentration camps and the film theatre was renamed Tivoli.

It reverted to its original title in the 1940s and is now part of the Pathé brand, as well as being celebrated as one of the city’s treasures.

Another Jewish influence is the famous and extremely luxurious De Bijenkorf department store on Dam Square, founded in 1870 by Simon Philip Goudsmit.

The De Bijenkorf department store

During the occupation, Nazis were forbidden to shop there owing to
it being a “Jewish enterprise”.  It consists of 20,000 square metres and has, for the past eight years, been owned by the family that owns Selfridges.

After touring the departments, I was taken up to the Room on the Roof, a refurbished accommodation in the building’s tower, which as well as offering amazing views over the  town, is available to writers, musicians or  artists.

The idea is for them to later present their work in the store, in whatever form, be it a poem in the book department, exhibitions in the atrium, or music in the fitting rooms. It’s the most original use of space in a store I’ve ever seen.

The Amsterdam food scene, which has always been exceptionally good, seems to have upped its game since my last visit, especially with the construction of a number of five-star hotels. There are now more than a dozen of Michelin-starred restaurants in locations all over the city.

The Rijksmuseum has its own, The RIJKS* Michelin starred restaurant, where young chefs present innovative dishes in both taste and presentation.

My pear starter with a tasty sauce arrived hanging from a little tree.

The museum itself has reopened after a 10-year closure and is now almost unrecognisable.

What hasn’t changed is the position of Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch.   I was intrigued when our guide Margreet told us this was the given name for his work, because it had been covered for many years by a dark varnish.

When it was eventually removed, a picture was revealed of the Militia Company of District II, whose job it was to protect the city – but it was too late, the original name had stuck and so it remains as The Night Watch.

In the next room and painted by Rembrandt many years later is Jewish Bride, a favourite of Van Gogh during his younger years, which tenderly depicts early love: she is modest and shy, and he faithful and protective.

This year marks 350 years since Rembrandt’s death, and there are numerous exhibitions and celebrations not only in Amsterdam, but also in Leiden, his place of birth.

Of course, there is another famous artist of the city. I was invited to a press conference at the Van Gogh museum, where  I learnt  1,000 numbered exact replicas of the artist’s four small sketchbooks were soon to be up for sale.

Lucy with a Tesla

The fading covers and frayed elastic binding makes them so realistic they were quite thrilling to handle. The museum itself is vibrant and attractive, but who could not help feeling a little sad visiting and knowing that Van Gogh, the quintessential Dutch modern painter, only sold one painting during his lifetime?

Many of Amsterdam’s new luxury hotels that have appeared over the past few years have cleverly turned the original, timeless, houses into spectacular spaces to stay.  This is especially true at my hotel, the recently opened Waldorf Astoria, which spreads across six of Amsterdam’s grandest 17th century canal mansions, on Herengracht, in the heart of the city, and yet also manages to incorporate a garden for the use of the guests.

I enjoyed a special afternoon tea inspired by the DL Jewellery collection from Debora Huisman-Leeser. Presented as precious stones, rings and earrings in jewellery boxes, everything was spectacular and edible. The food and drink kept on coming, all for the competitive price of €42 (£36).

Over the past decade, Amsterdam has quietly become a luxury destination, mainly centred around its UNESCO World Heritage Canal Ring and this, coupled with its many other attractions, makes it a very desirable place to visit.

 

Amsterdam

Lucy flew with Royal Dutch Airlines KLM (klm.com) and stayed at the Waldorf Astoria (https://waldorfastoria3.hilton.com) where a King Grand Premier room starts from €667 (£572) per night, for two people sharing. For more tourist information, visit iamsterdam.com

 

 

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