Gareth Huw Davies

Everything else

Amsterdam sixth on its list of “The 46 Places to Go in 2013″.

The New York Times placed Amsterdam sixth on its list of “The 46 Places to Go in 2013″. It’s been a significant year for the city, with the reopening of the Rijksmuseum after 10 years of renovation. In 2016 it will be linked by direct trains from London.

The city has been given another, unexpected boost. American writer Donna Tartt set part of her new book, The Goldfinch, in the city. “(By way of incongruous contrast, another part of the book is set in Las Vegas.)

Books by this writer are infrequent, and are patiently awaited by her many fans. This new title has been acclaimed by critics, several of who named it their choice of the year in the Evening Standard’s recent roundup of books of 2013.

The London Observer described her as a “slow burn literary giant” and said her new book had already been greeted “with awe”.

Miss Tartt told an interviewer  she had wanted to write about Amsterdam for 20 years.

Her book takes its name from the 1654 painting by Dutch Master Carel Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt. It is currently in the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague . However two works by Fabricius are in the recently renovated Rijksmuseum.

Fabritius, a teacher of Vermeer, died young in an explosion that destroyed many of his paintings.  The Goldfinch is one of the few of his works to survive, and will surely become the best known.

His 1654 Young Man in a Fur Cap, and his 1652 A View of Delft, with a Musical Instrument Seller’s Stall, are in the National Gallery, London. Others of his few surviving works are in the Louvre in Paris, in Washington, Boston, Toronto, Walsall

It is in Amsterdam, the refined, easy-going and eco-friendly city Dutch capital, where we first encounter one of the central characters in The Goldfinch. This is a city with more canals than Venice, knockout art by Rembrandt and van Gogh, the mass seduction of flowers, Renaissance architecture, and a whole nine streets of independent shops.

From December 2016 Eurostar will run direct trains to Amsterdam from London. The journey time will be around four hours, via Brussels with stops at Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Schiphol Airport

We too arrived by train, with a change in Brussels. Our introduction to the city was an imperious glide around the old centre for a quick overview of the city’s architectural glories – principally the C16th brick houses with stepped gable façades, the 17th baroque Golden Age buildings, and the neo-Gothic houses of the 1800s.

However you travel, Amsterdam offers the true carbon neutral travel option once you are there, the bike. The locals respect pedaling tourists because they cycle so much themselves. There are bike paths everywhere. Be aware – the city’s cyclists are fast, confident and many don’t use lights at night. Be careful not to stray into their lanes.

Visitors don’t need to join those many,well-practised local cyclists – they might even be intimidated. Besides public transport is so good, there’s no need to.

Most visitors arrive in Central Station, even if they’re coming from the airport. This is where many city trams start. Most city centre hotels are on, or close by a route.

It’s best to buy tickets, either for the hour (€2.80) or the day (€7.50) from the GVB office just opposite the station, and a little to the left as you come out. The Amsterdam City Card also covers public transport and museums. (Remember to touch the reader with your card when you enter and leave the tram.)

The distinguished Nine Streets area, set between some of the city’s finest 17th Century Canals (designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site), are the purest antidote to the bland, “you could be anywhere”, shopping mall. This is the browser’s delight, shop after fabulous one-of-a-kind shop, many with beautiful window displays.