LIVE TALK

Amsterdam

Writer Pip Farquharson answered your travel questions on Tuesday, April 5 at noon ET

By , Tuesday, Apr 5, 2005, 12:00 AM

Amsterdam is a little city with a big reputation. The pulsating heart of the Netherlands, the 'Venice of the North' -- with its beautiful canals and rich history -- is an utterly unique travel destination. As well as being home to the world-famous Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, it's renowned across the planet for its remarkably liberal attitudes.

Both Brad Pitt and David Bowie were so charmed by the city that they bought houses here -- and its been featured in movies from Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" (1940) to Bond movie "Diamonds are Forever" (1971) and, more recently, Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Twelve" (2004). One of the world's best kept secrets.

Amsterdam resident and writer Pip Farquharson will answer your travel questions Tuesday, April 5, at 12pm EST.

Pip Farquharson twirled into the world during the Swinging Sixties in Southampton, England (where Titanic left on her fateful maiden voyage over half-a-century earlier...). She spent her formative years in Africa and Scotland, before returning to her homeland to get an education. A partied-out 20-something, she emerged from university with a degree in animation -- and no idea what to do. So, like any sensible person, she went on holiday! She left for two weeks in Amsterdam, fell in love with it -- and never came back. She's had a love affair with the city for more than 13 years.

She works as a freelance writer and has contributed to various travel guides such as Time Out, Dorling Kindersley and Virgin; written about the arts for the Financieele Dagblad (Financial Times) and Holland Herald (KLM's inflight magazine); and consulted on TV documentaries for the BBC, MTV and Lonely Planet. She also deejays and has her own website on her beloved city -- created for discerning travellers and 'Amsterdwellers' -- at underwateramsterdam.com/


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Pip Farquharson: Hello from Amsterdam
I'm now online to take some of your questions...
PiP

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Towson, MD: What time of the year is considered "off-seaon" in Amsterdam? Also, what is the best time of year to visit weather wise?

Pip Farquharson: I never really see Amsterdam as having an off-season as there's always so much to do all year round! I guess though I would avoid January and February as it can be quite cold. Though that said it was at the beginning of March - very unusually - that we just had a huge snowstorm! The summer months here are June, July and August but the city can be hot and crowded and terraces and parks full. I always think Spring is the best time of year to visit (bright sun, not too hot, there aren't the crowds and the city is just starting to come aliveÉ). Or the Fall.

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Portland, OR: What is the name of the great beer store right off the Dam Square and do you know if they have a website?

Pip Farquharson: Know it. Love it. It's De Bierkoning debierkoning.nl/
You might also want to check out Brouwerij 't IJ (Funenkade 7) when you're next over (a micro-brewery nextdoor to a windmill in the east of the city) which makes some fantastic beer. Their website is hrouwerijhetij.nl/

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Tacoma, WW: We're planning a trip to Amsterdam with our two 17 year olds (one boy, one girl). They are both musicians, with eclectic tastes.

Question #1: What are the age limits in music clubs in Amsterdam?

Question #2: Do you have any suggestions for particular clubs? They are more interested in an intimate club experience as opposed to the Big-Name concerts at very large venues.

For example, they like: Singer-songwriter emo, Speed Metal, Progressive Rock, Jazz, Fusion-whatever

Pretty much all they don't like is Rap and most hip-hop. Thanks for your help!

Pip Farquharson: Firstly, I'm so with them on the rap and hip-hop ;-)
Anyway, to answer Question #1: you're in luck! The age limits in music venues is 16 for concerts and 18 for night programme (parties etc).
As well as being intimate, two of the best venues offering a great selection of international acts (such as Black Eyed Peas, Suzanne Vega, Jill Scott, as well as more alternative bands like 50 Foot Wave), are also located within a minute's walk from each other in the center of town (Leidseplein). They are the Melkweg (Lijnbaansgracht 234a) and Paradiso (Weteringschans 6-8). Additionally, a brand new club - Sugar Factory (Lijbaansgracht 238) - opened at the beginning of April which has a good selection of alternative and local bands in its programming. Keep an eye out for Amsterdam's The Jack Stafford Foundation (they're going to be big). The Sugar Factory is directly opposite the Melkweg so all very convenient...
What I might also suggest is the new location of the world-famous jazz venue Bimhuis (Piet Heinkade 3) which is at a beautiful new location on the waterfront, just east of Centraal Station.
Here's their websites: httpweg.nl/httpdiso.nl/httprfactory.nl/httpuis.nl/
Enjoy your trip! Amsterdam's a wonderful destination for families with teenagers.

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Boscobel, WI: How can I go about moving to and living in Amsterdam? I am an American citizen

Pip Farquharson: I think it can be quite a complicated process unless you have a job to go to but I'm not American so I don't know the details. Best to look at Expatica.com expatica.com/ which has a huge resource for people in your position. Certainly, you could meet people in the forums there who have made the move across the pond and ask them their experiences. Good luck! It's a beautiful city to live in!

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Philadelphia, PA: Hi Pip. What's the scene for graphics employment presently there? I see all of these seminars (Flash Forward, XML, etc.) located in Amsterdam. Are there many jobs there now? How 'bout for US citizens? Any tips for job-getting strategies or current technologies sought after? Thanks so much.

Pip Farquharson: Hi there...
It's true, Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) are very advanced in graphics and such technologies. The city was, I believe, the first in the world to have its own internet (De Digitale Stad). I don't know about the current job climate concerning Graphics (even though I have BA Hons degree in Graphics!) but I would just do Google searches for individual companies and see what they have on their websites. There's quite a few of the best advertising agencies here too - such as Wieden & Kennedy, Kessels Kramer, Strawberry Frog etc - so they might be worth exploring.
Good luck!

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Concord, OH: Is the airline Transavia, which flies from Amsterdam to Verona, Italy an established, reliable airline, in good financial standing? I am looking for an economical flight and found through a Budget Travel article which gave a website on low-cost airlines in Europe. Is it comparable to perhaps Airtran or Southwest which flies in the states? Don't want to get stranded while I am over in Amsterdam without transportation to Verona. Is it safe to book on the web?

Pip Farquharson: I can't predict the economical future but to the best of my knowledge Transavia are an established and reliable Dutch airline. I've flown with them before. I can't say how it compares to Airtran or Southwest as I've never been to the States - but don't worry you won't be stranded in Amsterdam!
As for booking online. I haven't booked with Transavia (as they don't go London Gatwick where I often go), but I book regularly with British Airways and find it's very secure to do so online. Airlines tend to have very secure methods of payment on their websites. It's only extremely rarely things go wrong. Just make sure you receive confirmation of your booking which should be pretty instantaneous.

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Allison Park, PA: My mother and I are taking a cruise of Europe in June and one port is Amsterdam. How safe is the city to explore on our own? Would we be better off staying with a tour? Thanks!!

Pip Farquharson: How lovely.
And you'll be arriving in the heart of the Eastern Docklands. Right by your berth is the new Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (programming all sorts of music from minimalist to classical) and the world famous jazz venue Bimhuis, as well as 'Naked Chef' Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen... Just a short walk away is the Stedelijk Museum of Modern art (cafe-restaurant 11 at the top has simply fantastic views across the city). Also within five or ten minutes walk you will be in the heart of Amsterdam.
I wouldn't be concerned about safety. It is a safe city. A few people have sent questions about that so I will answer that more fully a little later.
Bon voyage!

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Chandler, AZ: Are you familiar with other Netherlands cities, such as Eindhoven? My husband has a job opportunity there but I know nothing about it and would like to hear about its pros and cons. I would like to hear how it compares to other European cities (I have traveled in Italy). Would it be a good place to live for a year? Thanks for any info.

Pip Farquharson: I'm not that familiar with Eindhoven (home to electrical giants Philips) but I don't think it's one of the most interesting or charming cities in the Netherlands - certainly compared to Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam or Maastricht etc.
That said, the Netherlands is so small that if your husband did relocate there, it's not far from those cities so I think it would actually be a great experience. A year isn't long at all.
You could also try posting at the forums at Expatica.com htpatica.com/ whose site is aimed at expats who will have experienced the same dilemmas about relocation to the Netherlands, including Eindhoven.
Go for it!

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Anonymous: I will be in Amsterdam on May 21st. Are there any big tulip/flower festival in the area that weekend? Thanks.

Pip Farquharson: Oh. What bad timing. THE tulip event of the year is Keukenhof, stunning multi-coloured tulip fields, but it closes on May 20th!
Perhaps console yourself with the Singel Flower Market (a floating flower market in the center of town).
Sorry.

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NC: Dear Pip, are there any dangerous spots in Amsterdam that I should avoid?

Pip Farquharson: This is also for Bloomfield Hills, MI and others who have asked about safety in Amsterdam...
After Theo van Gogh's assasination last year, I know that people around the world have been worrying about Amsterdam being a safe destination.
However, concerning personal safety - and as a woman - I feel very safe in the city. There aren't really any 'dangerous spots' as such apart from the obvious - i.e. Centraal Station (the city's train depot) late at night. And the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square) can get quite rowdy particularly at night on weekends.
The Red Light District does of course have its fair share of unsavoury characters - particularly along the Zeedijk street where junkies tend to amass in small groups. But I wouldn't say it was 'dangerous'. There's good police visibility here and I would simply advise common sense i.e. if a junkie talks to you just ignore them - don't engage in conversation. Take care if walking around there in the early hours of the morning and don't make it too obvious you're a tourist if you can.
I think the biggest threat you might have in Amsterdam is pickpockets. I know it's always said but really keep your personal possessions secure and hidden (especially on trams!).
And if you use taxis dial 677-7777 for a reputable licensed firm.

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Chicago, IL: I will be travelling in the next month and will be stopping in Maastricht after Amsterdam. I haven't been able to find much info on Maastricht, can you help?

Pip Farquharson: This is the official website of the tourist office (VVV) in Maastricht... vvvmaastricht.nl/

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Safety Harbor, FL: Hi, 3 questions: What is the best time of day to visit Keukenhof? Is it an all-day affair or can you do it in a half-day or so? Are there currently any major tram lines down due to construction? Thanks

Pip Farquharson: Unless you're a morning person (I'm not) I would visit in the afternoon. You can do it in one afternoon.
As for trams. There are a few major tram line alterations while the city is being dug up to make way for a new metro line. Currently it's mostly in De Pijp area. I would check the city's transport sight GVB at hvb.nl/ for news of individual lines.
I wouldn't worry too much about it. Everything's pretty much within walking distance...

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Santa Fe, NM: Hi, If you only had 4 days to spend in Amsterdam, What/where would you be sure to do see or go? Thanks

Pip Farquharson: Also to:
Washington, DC: What sites or itinerary would you recommend during a 2 day visit?
St. Pete, FL: We are going to be in Amsterdam with 2 other couples April 23 to 28th. What are the top 3 off the beaten path things you would suggest we do?
I would definitely go to the obvious - the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum (for the old Dutch masters) and Van Gogh Museum (which currently has a superb Egon Schiele retrospective until 19 June 2005).
Additionally, perhaps check out one of the city's unique 'hidden churches' (these are churches that were secretly built when Catholic worship was banned in the 17th century). The two best examples are the Begijnhof on the Spui (in a house within a 'hidden' garden) and Amstelkring, a church in an attic at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 (within the Red Light District).
I would also take a boat tour of the canals and just soak up Amsterdam by walking around in the old center and along the canals and visiting some of its more unique bars and sights. I have a list of my favourite places in Amsterdam in the Forum at http:wateramsterdam.com/ (see UnderwaterAmsterdam News) which you may find helpful...

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Philadelphia, PA: We will be traveling to Amsterdam on May 31 and will spend two days there. We've not booked hotel yet as I don't know what area we should stay. We'd like something reasonably priced and centrally located. Any suggestions on where to stay and a suggested itinerary?

Pip Farquharson: Also to all the people who are asking me questions about hotels:
May 31 is a national holiday here so I would book that hotel fairly soon!
As for which area to stay in... What a lot of people don't realise until they get here is that Amsterdam is actually quite a small place - about a tenth of the size of London. So, pretty much anywhere within the center - really IS in the center and never to far from anything. Most of the sites you'd want to see are no more than 30 minutes walk from anywhere in the center. I always find it hard when people ask for hotel suggestions as I never stay in them but there are plenty of hotels in the center general guidelines would be to try and aim for a hotel on a canal and, if possible, ask for a room with a view. You can check out details of individual hotels to suit at the various online hotel bookings websites. And if possible, try and find a map of Amsterdam online so you can refer to it when making a booking: htsterdam.info/ have maps on their site. And if you find one you like and want to run it by me before booking just contact me in the Forum at htderwateramsterdam.com/

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New York, NY: I'm going to be in Amsterdam for three days the last week in April, to go see the tulips and catch some of the party leading up to the Queen's birthday. The group I'm traveling with have all been to Amsterdam before and seen the essentials. What kind of weather can I expect? And what special thing should I try to squeeze in?

Pip Farquharson: The weather in Amsterdam is always a little unpredictable to say the least. For the Queen's Birthday (or Queen's Day as it's called here), this year celebrating her 25 year jubilee) it could be either sunny or raining! It was sunny last year - around 17C (64F). The year before it was 10C (50F).
Whatever the weather, your spirits won't be dampened as Queen's Day celebrations really are pretty incredible on first experience. It's like one huge - orange coloured - street party all across the city (orange is the country's national colour).
About a million people come into Amsterdam for the event (which is larger than the actual population itself to give you an idea).
And the special thing I suggest you try and squeeze in is a boat tour of the city (see also above to reply to earlier post about things to do).
As for the tulips check out Keukenhof's website at httpenhof.nl/

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Andover, MN: No question, but a comment: I just returned from a 2 week high school trip to Europe including 2 days in Amsterdam at the main square (dam?). Although I was very aprehensive as a chaperone, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. We had 30+ high school students who had plenty of free time that faired well in seeing what they wanted and arriving at our meeting places on time. It is a very beautiful city with lots of great shopping, scenery and cultural experiences.

Pip Farquharson: That's great to hear... Thanks! It is an often overlooked European destination, compared to Paris or London, for example.

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West Palm Beach, FL : Where do you recommend a Budget Traveler to stay in Amsterdam?

Pip Farquharson: For something a little unusual and convenient, I would suggest the Amstel Botel (a hotel on a boat moored right handily by Centraal Station at Oosterdokskade 2-4, +31 20 626 4274). Definitely ask for a room with a view and you will be overlooking a lovely little dock with charming canal boats.
Additionally, it's by the old center of town. Near the Leidseplein is the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel (Kerkstraat 136-8) which has a bar and restaurant and is popular with younger travellers.
And Winston Hotel (Warmoesstraat 129, htnston.nl/) is a great budget hotel. On the edge of the Red Light District and on a street with some great bars, restaurants and cafes, it's also an 'art hotel' (all rooms are individually designed) and has a cool live music and club venue attached.

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Tallahassee, FL: I will be visiting Amsterdam next month. I am a college student on a serious budget. What are some fun things to do in the city that are free or pretty cheap?

Pip Farquharson: I would get hold of a copy of Get Lost! The Cool Guide to Amsterdam. It's aimed at budget travellers and has some great tips (and recommendations of freebies). It's written by a lovely Canadian guy called Joe Pauker who gives a very personal take on places in the city.
The website is www.xs4all.nl/~getlost/

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Clifton NJ: In Amsterdam, everyone's English is so perfect. Is it even worth it to try some Dutch words, or is it a waste of time?

Pip Farquharson: On one hand, it's polite to talk a few words of the language. However, as soon as the Dutch hear any trace of your accent, they will just start talking back to you in English. So, unless you're here for any length of time I wouldn't really bother.
It's a bit of an ongoing battle for foreigners living here. Some of the Dutch really complain if you don't speak their language yet they still insist on talking back to you in English - even if they've understood what you've said in Dutch.

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Phoenix, AZ: Pip, I heard that they are looking at making marijuana illegal in Amsterdamn? Won't this hurt your economy, or do you think you would still get an abundance of tourists?

Pip Farquharson: There's always stories like that coming out now and again but I don't think they'll ever make it illegal. Mostly because it WOULD hurt the Dutch economy!
Personally, I think the way they have decriminalised marijuana and handle the sale of it via coffeeshops is very responsible. It's like the way the French introduce wine to children at a young age so they don't turn into a nation of alcoholics.
Also, if it's readily available it does haven't that 'we're doing something naughty' factor and to be honest, when it's there on your doorstep you just get bored of it after a while...
Personally, I think alchohol is far more harmful than marijuana.

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Philly, PA: Hi again, Pip. Thanks for your answer to my graphics question. Could you speak to the current influences bearing on your music? I mean, what are your interests lately? Are there any trends that you see developing? Do you see a positive direction happening in peoples' home studio music creation? Have a nice year, Pip.

Pip Farquharson: Just quickly, one band that are based in Amsterdam that I'm very excited about are The Jack Stafford Foundation, fronted by a British guy. jackstafford.co.uk/

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Fort Myers, FL: We are going to Europe for 2 weeks next month and have a 3 day lay over in Amsterdam. We have reservations at a hotel near Centraal Station and we're considering taking the train in from the airport but were concerned about handling several larger pieces of luggage on to the train. Should we consider alternate transport?

Pip Farquharson: The railway station is within Schiphol Airport and it has moving esalators going down onto the platforms. However, you could have problems when you get to Amsterdam's Centraal Station where there are no luggage trolleys for security reason. One of you will probably have to go and find a portier to help.
Alternatively you could take a taxi (about 20 mins into Amsterdam), costs about 45 euros or, I believe, there's a bus that runs to the major hotels in Amsterdam which is free or very cheap. Look at the website of Schiphol as it might have some information or do a Google search hchiphol.nl/
Happy hauling!

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Tacoma, WA: Follow up to my age/club question. What is the drinking (legal!) age in Amsterdam? What is the coffeeshop (illegal! sort of) age in Amsterdam? Here's a more pedestrian question. If you rent a bike in Amsterdam, do you need to bring your own bike lock, or will they provide one? That's more of a cyclical question than a pedestrian one, but hey. Final Question: Do you have any reservations about a couple of pretty street-wise, well traveled 17-year-old kids (1 male, 1 female) crusing around Amsterdam on their own? At night? Around clubs?

Pip Farquharson: I think the legal drinking age is 18 but don't quote me on that... I've never had to think about it...
Coffeeshops you do have to be over 18! But you could always buy some yourselves and smoke it back at your hotel or in a park with your kids.
Have no reservations about street-wise kids cruising around Amsterdam at night - but you know them better!

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Seattle, WA: Any recommendations for companies that offer cycling tours of the Netherlands? We're interested in a week-long tour. And is spring the best time to tour by bike?

Pip Farquharson: Try this cycletours.com/
Spring is a divine time to tour...

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Tacoma, WA: A follow up to your answer:

What is a night programme? Do the under-18-year-olds have to leave clubs at a certain time, like say 22:00 or 23:00? Or are the night programme's just certain types of club events limited to those over 18?

Pip Farquharson: What I meant by night programme was indeed club nights. The Melkweg and Paradiso follow all their gigs with club nights...

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Cooper City, FL: My family will be traveling to the Netherlands this October for a family wedding. I was wondering if there were any tips on how to find the best airfare? Does the time we book matter? Airline? Arrival and departure dates? Thanks!

Pip Farquharson: Afraid I don't know anything about booking flights outside of the country. But, you'll have a great time at the wedding. Paris is always seen as the ultimate romantic destination but Amsterdam is far more romantic...

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Washington, DC: Dear Pip - My partner and I have long dreamed of moving to Amsterdam (I am a writer and so can live anywhere). We have made many extended stays and love it and the friends we have met. Two questions:
- Do you have advice for what is involved in relocating to Amsterdam from a non-EU country (she is Canadian, I am American);
- Can you recommend a few books or websites which offer guidance for expats living in Holland? Thank you, Ted

Pip Farquharson: Hello Ted
Great you're thinking of moving to Amsterdam. It currently has a burgeoning writer's scene with groups like WordsInHere hordsinhere.com/ and is holding the first Amsterdam Literary Festival from May 26-29.
I would check Expatica at htpatica.com/ for answers concerning nationality and relocation as I'm British so don't know much about it..
And do check out my site htterwateramsterdam.com/ for more info, and I recommend the Time Out Amsterdam guide and Get Lost! Cool Guide to Amsterdam.
Hope you make it!

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Baltimore, MD: What are the dance clubs like in Amsterdam?

Pip Farquharson: Dance clubs here are very varied. I would check amsterdamdjs.com/ which has links to the websites of clubs in Amsterdam as well as some information on DJs spinning in the city...

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Tampa, FL: Is there anyway possible to enjoy a comfortable hotel room near central station without spending an obscene amount of money?

Pip Farquharson: Hello
See my previous posting re the Amstel Botel... It's basic but comfortable. Asides from that just check out the information about individual hotels on online hotel bookings sites.

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St. Pete, FL: We are going to be in Amsterdam with 2 other couples April 23 to 28th. What are the top 3 off the beaten path things you would suggest we do?

Pip Farquharson: Hello
See early postings re tips off what to do while you're here.
What I would suggest seeing which will be on while you're here is the World Press Photo Exhibition. It opens 25 April at the Oude Kerk (Oudekerkplein)
This is something I wrote about it:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of this prestigious annual exhibition of award-winning photojournalism, which opens in Amsterdam before travelling onto 80 cities worldwide. This year's overall winner is Arko Datta (Reuters, India) with a photo showing a woman mourning a relative killed on the Boxing Day tsunami in Cuddalore in India. As usual, a retrospective of the winnerÕs work will be on show alongside the other award-winning photos (divided into themes). Additionally, there will be a 50 Years Gallery featuring all the winning shots from the past half-a-century. Although the exhibition can often be confronting (there is something intrinsically powerful about a still - as opposed to moving - image) it remains a veritable homage to the photo-journalist who often works in life-threatening conditions to report the news.

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Holbrook, NY: Hello Pip, I'll be arriving in amsterdam on 30 Apr05 for 8 days, This is the third time coming to this great place. I just wondered if you could recommend some local pubs and resturants and maybe some music clubs. We'll be staying in a hotel on Damrak so we're centrally located. Thanks

Pip Farquharson: Hello
I don't want to be constantly plugging my website but it is a useful resource for bars and restaurants etc! hnderwateramsterdam.com/
Also check out htecialbite.com/ which is superb for restaurants htsterdam.info/ is also a very good source of information on the city

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Tucson, AZ: Would you recommend the upcoming Queen's Day celebration as a good time to visit Amsterdam? What are the highlights of the holiday?

Pip Farquharson: Only if you like crowds and disorganised chaos!
It really is quite an incredible experience and should be experienced at least once. Basically, bars and clubs across the city open up and many have live music or DJs outside, the canals are grid-locked with partygoers on boats. People sell all manner of goods on the streets (it's a tax free day). Can be anything from a t-shirt to a haircut or a kiss. And there's a fair set up on Dam square serving warm donuts ("olieballen"). It's pretty wild and I can guarantee you'll never have seen anything quite like it.
There aren't really any highlights as such. I would just wander around the city. If you want to go to a party particularly then just check websites for information nearer the time...
Wear orange.

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Pip Farquharson: Hello
I'm signing off now before I get RSI!
I hope the answers were useful.
And have a great time during your stays here!
Travel safe,
PiP

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