Amsterdam announces limitations to tourism

Dutch and Belgian veterans saluting the grave of a fallen American comrade (Capt. Donald R. Emerson, a fighter pilot from North Dakota, KIA on December 25, 1944.

AMSTERDAM —  The ‘Venice of the North’ – is one of the European cities that are increasingly suffering from tourism, just like Rome, Florence, Paris, Venice, Vienna and Barcelona.

Amsterdam has 850.000 inhabitants, but the number of tourists has increased from 4 million in 2000 to 18 million in 2017, which is becoming too much for the historic center of the town and its cultural attractions. Moreover, the citizens of Amsterdam have taken good notice of the dramatic touristic destruction of the real Venice, where the last original inhabitants are now fleeing the city because the town has become unlivable during the tourist season, and dead in the off-season.

The new, left-wing city council of Amsterdam has announced immediate measures and future plans to curb tourism and, if necessary, spread it to other historic towns and areas in the Netherlands.

The immediate measures include a ban on tourist coaches in the narrow streets of the city center, a relocation of the popular canal cruise boats to locations outside the historic center, a reduction of permits for Airbnb locations, and a stop to the expansion of hotels. The popular cruise ships to the Rhine and Danube, that now depart directly behind the Central Station, will be relocated to the port of Amsterdam, so the passengers can no longer walk directly into the city center and the red light district.

And the port of IJmuiden, the gateway from the North Sea to Amsterdam, is constructing a large sea lock, but the modern colossal cruise ships will not be allowed to dock in Amsterdam itself.

Should potential tourists lament these limitations to Amsterdam and stay away? On the contrary, because Holland has so much more to offer that is equal or even better than Amsterdam itself.

The interesting point is that the international airport of Amsterdam-Schiphol has a hidden treasure, an underground train station from where modern and fast trains depart at least every half hour to all parts of the country. In just half an hour one can reach the dynamic and surprising port of Rotterdam – this year one of Lonely Planet’s ‘must see’ places.

And underway to Rotterdam one can make a stop-over at The Hague, the Dutch seat of government, a town with a beautiful center, the ‘Peace Palace’ (donated by the American Andrew Carnegie) and many interesting museums – including my favorite, the intimate ‘Maurits House’ with the most beautiful painting in the world, Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ – and the relaxing seaside resort of Scheveningen.

And just below Rotterdam, one enters the province of Zeeland (Sealand) with many historic towns, but also famous for its impressive dikes and locks, where civil engineers from all over the world come to study how the Dutch keep their feet dry.

To the North, the trains from Schiphol will bring you in two hours to the historic and lively university town of Groningen, or to the town of Leeuwarden – this year’s ‘Cultural Capital of Europe’ – the center of the water-rich province of Friesland (‘Frisia’), also world famous for its cows, its horses, its own language (‘Frisian’) and its water sports.

And to the South, there is the charming town of Den Bosch (once the hometown of painter Jeronimus Bosch), with its medieval city center and beautiful cathedral, and the bustling high-tech town of Eindhoven, with interesting and daring architecture. Every year on 18 September the entire city celebrates its liberation in 1944 by the American 101stAirborne Division.

And those who dare to venture into the Deep South of Holland (just 2,5 hours by train from Schiphol Airport, at a cost of only 30 dollars) will be surprised by the charming international town of Maastricht, which dates back to Roman times, but which also has a modern university where the majority of students come from all countries all over the world. Maastricht is the hometown of musician and director André Rieu, who every year gives one of his famous open-air performances on the large central square of the city.

During WWII Maastricht was the very first Dutch town that was liberated, by the US Army’s 30th Infantry Division (‘The Old Hickory’) and it became the headquarters of the US 9th Army during the battles for the Ardennes, the Ruhr, and the Huertgen Forest. Only eight miles to the east of Maastricht is the beautiful and impressive American Military Cemetery of ‘Margraten’, an absolute must for Americans who visit Holland, and an experience that will be remembered a lifetime.*

And if one continues for another 15 miles along the same road, one passes the Dutch-German border (no passport needed) and reaches the town of Aix-la-Chapelle with its breathtaking medieval cathedral and cloisters; one of the cradles of western civilization. It was the seat of government of Charlemagne and the place where over 30 German emperors end kings were crowned.

During WWII heavy fighting took place in Aix-la-Chapelle, but the cathedral was saved, thanks to the local American commander Major William N. Poe, US Army’s 238th Engineer Combat Battalion (and a distant cousin of Edgar Allan Poe), who ordered his officers to spare the unique cathedral as much as possible. It survived the war nearly undamaged and it is now prominent on the World Heritage List.