I don’t know where to start. Jasper, my blog whisperer at KLM, has sent me four or five different schedules for the Amsterdam 2013 festivities. I’m spoilt for choice. Shall I start by telling you about the opening of the Rijksmuseum? Or should I delight you with the musical history of the Concertgebouw and its world-famous orchestra? Perhaps you’d like to hear about the Van Gogh Museum, which turns 40 this year? Or maybe I should start with the famous canals, which our ambitious ancestors began digging 400 years ago? Without them there probably wouldn’t be a city here on the banks of the River Amstel.
Yes, that’s probably the best place to start.
But there’s so much to tell about the canals. They closed the locks yesterday, stopping the circulation of water through the city. The municipality does this to grow the ice. The Dutch love skating and there is nothing more magical than exploring the city from its frozen waterways. But this is a rare treat. In the 25 years I’ve lived in Amsterdam, only three or four winters have been cold enough to grow ice thick enough for safe skating.
The canals were frozen solid when I first arrived in Amsterdam. I’m not afraid of water. In fact, I spent most afternoons in my teens staring at the bottom of a swimming pool. But the primitive fear, and later elation, I felt when I first stepped onto the ice of the Prinsengracht was simply breathtaking. There I was, walking on water through the city of my dreams.
But I shouldn’t be telling you this, because by the time you’ve read this, booked a ticket and rushed on over, the ice will probably have melted.
Fortunately, you can get almost exactly the same view of the city during a canal cruise, and there will be plenty of other events taking place on, in and alongside Amsterdam’s waters during the course of the year. I counted at least fifteen waterborne festivities, most of which will span several days, weeks or months. I’m tempted to list them all, just to annoy Jasper, who will have to find all the relevant links. But I’ll stick to the events I hope to attend. Maybe we’ll see each other there. I’ll be the big bald guy, standing away from the crowd, taking notes.
- I want to visit at least one exhibition about the canals. Probably Booming Amsterdam, which is about the beginnings of the canal zone in the Golden Age. (Stadsarchief | 15 February – 19 September)
- Head of the River Amstel, the country’s biggest rowing race, with 4,000 participants, including my good friend Annabel. (Amstel River | 17 March)
- The Canal Parade during the 18th Amsterdam Gay Pride Festival. (Amstel River and canals | 3 August)
- The Prinsengracht Concert featuring the Concertgebouw Orchestra. But I’ll probably have to watch it on TV, because tickets are scarce. (Prinsengracht | 24 August)
- The Amsterdam City Swim (8 September), a charity event that looks like a lot of fun, were it not that I’ve swum enough kilometres in my life to cover the length of the Amstel to Rotterdam, across the Channel, around Britain, then back down to IJmuiden and up the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam. Seriously.
For a full overview of all events at the Amsterdam 2013 festival, please click here.