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Happy Birthday, Rembrandt!

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606 in the city of Leiden. He was a man who lived life on his own terms – for awhile that brought him fortune and fame. The later years of his life were not so easy.

His most famous painting The Night Watch, pictured here, recently finished a long and complex restoration that was done totally in public view.

In honor of Rembrandt's birthday, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is highlighting the painter's story and works.

See The Night Watch, as well as works by other Dutch artists, and experience the cities and landscape that inspired them on a Rhine River cruise, or a small group tour that includes the Netherlands. Contact Bryan to get started planning your trip.

Is Amsterdam about to ban tourists from the city's coffee shops?

Amsterdam's mayor has asked the city council to consider a new law that would limit the use of coffee shops to local residents. First of all, understand that when we're talking about 'coffee shops' in Amsterdam, we are not talking about the local Starbucks, which would be called a koffiehuis or a café. No, a coffee shop is a place to buy and smoke cannabis. Cannabis is officially illegal in The Netherlands, but the government allows licensed 'coffee shops' to sell amounts up to 5 grams (per person per day). The government also turns a blind eye to individuals possessing amounts up to 5 grams.

So why would the mayor want to limit access? Because the coffee shops attract a lot of tourists, many of whom come for no other reason than to buy and smoke weed. And more tourists is one thing Amsterdam does NOT need. One recent study by the Dutch office for Research, Information, and Statistics bears this out. Tourists between the ages of 18 and 35 see coffee shops as one of the main reasons they come to Amsterdam (57%). When asked what effect not being able to visit a coffee shop would have on their travel plans, 34% of tourists said they would visit the city less often, and 11% said they would not return at all. Among certain nationalities, 44% of British tourists, 45% of French tourists, and a whopping 50% of German tourists said they would not visit the city again. 

Coffee shops exist in towns all over The Netherlands and many have already placed restrictions on sales to non-residents, so this is not a novel idea being proposed. The city's mayor would like to see less tourism around the coffee shops and Red Light District, and more focus on the artistic and cultural heritage.

Taxing the world's oldest trade

In a sign of economic times, the city of Amsterdam is looking to close budget gaps by going after tax cheats who earn their money in the sex trade. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, so the women are viewed as independent business people, working in a business that generates just under $1 billion per year. Many of them come from other countries to make as much money as possible, and then disappear back to their home country without paying any taxes.

Hotel Report Card: Hotel Piet Hein, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hotel Piet Hein, Amsterdam

Hotel Piet Hein
Vossiusstraat 52-53, 1071 AK Amsterdam, NetherlandsSingles: €95 to €105; Doubles: €165 to €195. All major credit cards accepted.
From the US
Tel: 20-662-7205
Fax: 20-662-1526
E-mail: reservations@hotelpiethein.nl
Check Availability

Report Card

The Hotel: B+
Located in an old Dutch home, the exterior is a classic brick façade, giving no hint of what lies behind. The interior is modern and sleek, elegant without being pretentious.

The Location: B
Just across from the Vondelpark, the location is mostly residential, but an easy walk from the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh.

Hotel Piet Hein, Amsterdam

The Rooms: B/A/B+ (Ambiance/Cleanliness/Maintenance)
Straight lines and clean decor without a hint of frill. Grey and black are the dominant color in most rooms, though some have a lighter, blond wood decor. Lower priced rooms are in an annex with lots of stairs.

The Staff: A+
Very friendly and knowledgeable about Amsterdam sights and nightlife.

On the Road: Amsterdam

Spend a little time living in Amsterdam and you'll understand why Van Gogh fled for the south of France, searching for sunshine and clear light. The sky here is more often gray than blue. When the sun does shine, though, the entire city comes out to make the most of it. They sit on the steps in front of their houses, reading the paper and enjoying a drink in the late afternoon sun. Others stroll along the canals, smiling and nodding at passersby. Outdoor tables at the cafes are packed, faces turned like sunflowers in the direction of the golden light.

We were lucky to have two spectacular days in Amsterdam, warmer than expected for this time of year. In addition to the usual sights: a canal boat cruise, the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and the Red Light District, I also took my group to visit the Van Loon Museum. Until recently a private residence, and now run as a museum, the Van Loon offers the best way to experience the inside of a classic Dutch canal house (short of breaking and entering).

The Van Loon family helped found the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, a venture that would make them fabulously wealthy and allow their descendants to build a huge house on the fashionable Keizersgracht canal. The interior of the house is furnished much as it would have been in the late 18th century, and includes many paintings and some furnishings dating to the family’s 17th century origins. In addition to the house, there’s also a large garden and a carriage house, extravagances very few Amsterdam families could afford. You can find out more about the Van Loon Museum at www.musvloon.box.nl

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