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Amsterdam a City to Relish

Keizersgracht winter, Edwin van Eis

Keizersgracht winter, Edwin van Eis

As the post-Christmas indulgence blues of January merge with the cold and gloom of February, thoughts turn to the glow of a warm holiday. For those of us not too adversely affected by the country’s economic woes, the glossy brochures or internet sites showing sun-soaked faraway places, adventure-filled or just relaxing, hold great appeal.  But there are destinations far closer to home, albeit without the sun-soaked factor that offer the possibility of a highly enjoyable and memorable holiday.  One such place is an all-time favourite city of mine, Amsterdam.

With a population of around 800,000 it’s such a welcoming, relaxing place.  Criss-crossed by romantic canals, its picturesque buildings are adorned with a wealth of flowers.  And culturally, it has a wealth of treasures to offer.

The year 2015 is significant for a number of reasons.  First, the 50th anniversary of Provo is marked by the documentary film The Rebellious City.  Provo was the radical political movement that was also a fore-runner of the hippy movement of West coast US and also a major influence on the ‘evenements’ in Paris throughout France 3 years later in 1968.  It’s worth remembering that for centuries Amsterdam has been a centre for free speech and thinking and a refuge for those seeking a safe haven from religious persecution, notably Jews from Spain and Portugal and Protestants from France and Belgium.

Canal Oudezijds Voorburgwal

Canal Oudezijds Voorburgwal

From 20 March to 17 May, the celebrated tulips from Amsterdam, along with an abundance of other flora, bloom in the Keukenhof, the renowned flower park about 30 minutes from the city.  2015 marks the 65th  anniversary of the project, which gives new meaning to the phrase ‘say it with flowers’.

One of the city’s most famous museums, the Van Gogh, honours this year the untimely death by suicide of the artist.  The museum has just undergone a stunning makeover to mark the event and it will also host a remarkable exhibition featuring the works of Van Gogh and that other troubled northern artist, the Norwegian Edvard Munch.  With 40 paintings from each artist on show, visitors will have the opportunity to compare and contrast the works and to perceive how both strove to convey the human condition.  The exhibition runs from 24 September to 17 January 2016.

There are so many other reasons to head for Amsterdam this year.  The Stedelijk Museum is celebrating its 120th birthday and is putting on a landmark exhibition of the works of Henri Matisse entitled Oasis, complementing the hugely successful exhibition of the artist’s cut-outs at London’s Tate Modern last year.  Oasis runs from 4 April to 16 August.  And the late works of Rembrandt, drawing on the exhibition recently seen at London’s National Gallery will be on show at the world-famous Rijksmuseum from 12 February to 17 May.  While there, it’s a must to contemplate the artist’s Night Watch, perhaps one of the world’s greatest works of art.

Central Station

Central Station

Unusually, in June and July, the Beach Volleyball World Cup will be staged in the iconic Dam Square, Amsterdam being one of the four Dutch cities to build temporary stadia for the event.  London did, of course, showcase the same sport on Horse Guards’ Parade for the 2012 Olympics – beach volleyball can clearly make itself at home anywhere!

As in so many European cities these days, a wide, sandy beach will appear for visitors and residents alike to ‘be beside the seaside.’  And to continue the water theme, from 19 to 24 August, the biggest maritime event in Europe will happen, as it does every 5 years, when a parade of 5000 of the world’s finest sailing vessels are moored for the millions of visitors to the city to contemplate and wonder at.

Moving the family around the city

Moving the family around the city

Finally, looking forward to 2016 when Holland holds the presidency of the EU, it will showcase its most famous city as one of great international diversity.  And so this year, next year and any year will be a great time to visit Amsterdam.


Jeannette Nelson

Arts & Travel correspondent


Ten Best Valentine Ideas … and more

We’ve put together our really special  Valentines’ Day ideas for those readers who would welcome some inspiration.

As  Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday this year it gives an opportunity to indulge without the restraint of work next day.

So in no particular order here’s our list for all pockets and strengths of feeling:


Sweet Hermione

If your Valentine adores roses, why not get a 10% discount if you shop before midnight on Sunday 8 February on the Austen Roses website – here’s the offer code VRX. You have a gorgeous choice, Gentle Hermione has a scent described as warm, classic Old Rose scent with a hint of myrrh and its colour pure pink with soft blush on the outside and a lovely pure pink at the centre. Details

If the lady is not a gardener then she might like the David Austin English Rose Triple Wick Scented Candle, or perhaps the English Rose Foam Bath – our absolute favourite. Go on, have a look at other luscious gifts! Details

Wiggly Wigglers Valentine PosyFlowers for ladies are always welcome especially if they are flowers from Wiggly Wigglers who have put together several bouquets for Valentines to choose from. All the flowers are grown in the UK, so no worries about them being flown half way round the world. There is a discount code you can use if you order goods over £40 and you receive a box of Montezuma truffles without charge. Details

71164For the girl who likes unusual decorative touches – heart shaped knobs, coat hooks by Pushka. These clear glass faceted heart cupboard knobs will be around long after flowers have wilted and boxes of chocolates scoffed. This long lasting present of beautiful glass heart knobs will serve as a continual affection reminder. Prices start at £3.50 – definite value for money! Details

344966224_mScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 13.44.03Chocs don’t have to be  run of the mill these days. We found lots of delightfully designed choices on many websites. Our favourites: Dillies in Cumbria Details  and as always the Lindt selection is irresistible …

Valentines Fudge TreatsAnd fudge – well why not consider a fudge making course at Fudge Kitchen – made selected recipes and you get to take home slabs for later! This will make your present so much more memorable! Courses are held in Bath, York, Cambridge, Windsor, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Oxford and  Ripon.  If you would rather let Fudge Kitchen make the fudge, choose from their Valentine treats – details of products and courses on their website. Take it from us, the fudge is divine!

Hunter 486, The Arch, London © The Arch

Hunter 486, The Arch, London © The Arch

The Arch London hotel’s sumptuous Aphrodisiac Tasting Menu and Be Mine overnight package are designed to make couples fall head over heels, not to mention each other!  Located in a peaceful street in Marylebone, the luxury hotel is the perfect chic retreat for couples looking for a romantic escape. Details

A meal at The Deck  Opening to the public for one night only, The Deck is being transformed into a stunning pop-up restaurant for Valentine’s Day offering spectacular views of the twinkling lights of London for a romantic evening to be treasured.

stvdeckThe Deck, an ultra-cool city chic London venue, is an incredibly popular events space which is not usually open to the general public. It is located on the rooftop of the iconic National Theatre on London’s South Bank, offering breath-taking panoramic views of the city skyline and River Thames. With its unique glass walls and modern cube structure, you even feel as though you are out on deck when you are actually relaxing and drinking up the atmosphere in the warmth of its luxurious restaurant. Details

Chocolate & Morello Cherry Tart on slateConcerned about gluten free foods? Then here’s the perfect opportunity to tuck into gluten free chocolate pastry filled with an indulgent chocolate filling infused with Morello cherries you can get from Ocado and Waitress. NO.G Chocolate & Morello Cherry Tarts cost £2.69 for 115g.

Does your Valentine appreciate luxury foodie goods – for men and women who like luxury tea and coffee British merchant Ringtons has the solution. Exclusive gifts beautifully presented for instance for me the Luxury Great British Tea Infuser Gift Box. There is the Luxury Coffee Expert Gift Box, the ultimate find for a Valentine who is serious about making coffee. There are of course beautiful gifts for the girls! image004Details

For those who prefer to eat a delicious meal at home Sweet potato patties – cooked with love – one of our favourite recipes that we cook and ring the changes according to what leftovers are in the fridge! Honestly it is so easy. Steam the sweet potato, mash up, mix in shredded raw carrot, cooked onion or leek, leftover broccoli perhaps, cumin, or parsley, salt and pepper to your taste, mix in an egg to bind and lightly fry with 1 Cal Spray Fry Light. A sweet could be another easy recipe: put a meringue nest in each bowl, crush it up roughly, add fruit juice, then on top some fruit, with beaten 0% greek yogurt – we like Fage on top, then beaten up Light Philadelphia. Delicious and a very low calorie count. All accompanied by a super champagne or prosecco. Have fun!

normalIs travelling to Cornwall for a night in a hotel feasible? Wonder whether the daffodils are out now at Caerhays, a beautiful 5* gold country house  with luxurious en-suite bedrooms, open fires and spectacular views of the Cornish countryside.  Details

Taking a four day trip into France with your car for only £118 return seems a great way to celebrate Valentine’s. Details

If you feel a distance is worth covering why not consider the Metropole romance in Monte Carlo? Might as well push the boat out for a really special Valentine anniversary!    For details go to their website and click on the Seasonal Offers box in the bottom righthand corner.

gooseberriesIs your Valentine an avid reader? Why not choose a few from the 80 Penguin Little Black Classics to be published to celebrate Penguin’s 80th birthday. The list includes unfamiliar work of well known names, for instance Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov, The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen, Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, to My Dearest Father by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At 80p each and 64 pages the Little Black Classics could become a compulsive buy! They are out end of Feb so a gift wrapped book token would seem to be on the cards! Wonder how long it would take to buy them all … Explore, in an amusing imaginative way, the list of titles here.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 17.14.51Luxury underwear is always a great gift, even if you do get the wrong size! Why not a Gift Card to get round that problem, she gets to choose what she wants and you can look forward to viewing it!  Rigby & Peller offer a personal fitting that makes sure she could indulge in some of the loveliest underwear we have found, certain in the knowledge it fits well and flatters.  They have shops in several cities, not just in London. Details

And finally, how appropriate would two egg cups be depicting Micky Mouse and Minnie Mouse – the archetypal loving couple? Are you like Toast and Tea, Bread and Butter, Minnie and Mickey? Treat your true love with a beautiful breakkie or brunch by using these appealing egg cups! Each egg cup has both characters kissing on it in an old style film black print, there’s one for each of you this Valentines! Available for only £6.95 from

We have to be honest, these appealed to us enormously!

OK so there are more than ten suggestions, what the heck! We loved putting the list together!

Wishing every Valentine every success choosing a super gift that’s sure to please.

Val Reynolds, Editor

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