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Amsterdam Is a Gem

February 16, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

AMSTERDAM — Garlands of lights above the waterways in this city of canals sparkle like diamonds in the glow of a June evening, accenting the moonlight and the mood of romance for a couple drifting along in a canal boat.

They will sparkle this June for the annual Holland Festival of musical evenings, and the summer will also be part of Amsterdam's 400th anniversary as a diamond city.

Any couple with a feeling that even a tiny new diamond will say something about a special moment in their lives will find it difficult to leave Amsterdam without one.

A diamond might even be thrust upon you. As a gift for the jubilee year, the diamond dealers of Amsterdam will present a diamond ring to every 10,000th visitor. With a million visitors expected during the tourist season, that could mean five rings every two weeks.

Diamond Awards

In Leidsebosje Park, a lighted diamond-like pyramid five meters high will sparkle nightly. The jubilee will climax in September with the Diamond International Awards competition. Entries of diamond-studded jewels in contemporary designs will come from many nations.

Amsterdam began as a diamond center for the world four centuries ago when city records for the first time noted the name of a diamond cutter, Willem Vermaet. Since then, precious stones from every diamond-producing nation have been sent to cutters and dealers in this Netherlands city.

One of the lights we find symbolic of Amsterdam will emphasize that this city and small country sparkle with many attractions. For instance, the light that glows in the house in which Rembrandt lived and painted from 1639 to 1658.

His etching press, more than 100 of his etchings and dozens of his plates are on display there.

To present the full spectrum of Netherlands attractions, the board of tourism has compiled a Jubilee Year calendar of events, creating Dutch Treat bonuses for all visitors and a direct pitch to U.S. travelers: "The Dutch bought Manhattan from the Indians for a bargain, and Americans can now buy Holland for a Dutch Travel Bargain."

Winter Package

Through April "The Amsterdam Way" winter package offers accommodations ranging from $20 for one night and two days at a budget hotel to about $106 for three nights at a luxury five-star hotel. The package includes the Amsterdam Passport with such extras as a round trip by boat on the canals, visits to three major museums and to a diamond cutter, a walking tour of the city, discounts on concerts, arts and crafts shows.

As a tourism bonus for the Diamond Jubilee year, the Holland Leisure Card will supplement the bargains of the Holland Culture Card. Priced at $7.50, the Leisure Card combines discount admissions to 250 museums and tourist attractions, with substantial discounts on car, train and plane travel within the country. One example is a 55% discount on a first-class Day Pass for travel by rail.

The $15 Culture Card offers additional bonuses on travel throughout the Netherlands, an open door to prominent art clubs, galleries and studios, booking reservations and special reserved seats to concerts, theater, opera and ballet.

The National Ballet

The Dutch National Ballet will be dancing all winter in Amsterdam, then March will be highlighted by four Amsterdam Art Weeks, presenting a wide variety of dance, music and theater programs.

The Netherlands Opera will be staging "Arrabella" by Richard Strauss and "Le Nozze di Figaro" by Mozart. A choreography by Rudi van Dantzig will be presented as a world premiere. Weeks of classic and modern art will be exhibited at the Nieuwe Kerk 16th-Century Gothic church.

The Holland Festival in June will feature a concert, opera, ballet or musical drama virtually every night in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Scheveningen.

It was a delight for us to discover a decade ago that Amsterdam is best explored afoot. This seemed incredible in this city of islands, with more miles of canals than Venice and more bridges than London.

More Than 100 Islands

The canal rings, comparable to the historic ring streets of Vienna, are crossed by the River Amstel, which helps to create more than 100 islands, many rimmed with 17th-Century houses.

The Amsterdam tourist office has added a route to the options listed in its walking tour booklet. It covers the waterfront museums and memorials to the country's seafaring past, the golden age when the Dutch East and West Indies companies set up trading posts in colonies around the world.

The State Maritime Museum along this route tells the story with hundreds of ship models and paintings. You can relive Henry Hudson's voyage to the New World in 1609, and the founding of Nieuw Amsterdam on what is now the lower tip of New York City's Manhattan Island a few years later.

A Natural Sequel

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