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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is the capital and largest city of the Netherlands, located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country. The city, which had a population of 1.36 million (with suburbs) on 1 January 2008, comprises the northern part of the Randstad, the 6th-largest metropolitan area in Europe, with a population of around 6.7 million.

Its name is derived from Amstel dam, indicative of the city’s origin: a dam in the river Amstel, where the Dam Square is today. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading center for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed.

The city is the financial and cultura capital of the Netherlands. Many large Dutch institutions have their headquarters there, and 7 of the world’s top 500 companies, including Philips and ING, are based in the city. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the oldest stock exchange in the world is located in the city centre. Amsterdam’s main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam. Anne Frank House, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops, draw 4.2 million tourists annually.

Geography

Amsterdam is part of the province of North-Holland and is located in the northwest of the Netherlands next to the provinces of Utrecht and Flevoland. The river Amstel terminates in the city center and connects to a large number of canals that eventually terminate in the IJ.

Amsterdam is situated 2 meters above sea level. The surrounding land is flat as it is formed of large polders. To the southwest of the city lies a man-made forest called het Amsterdamse Bos. Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea through the long North Sea Canal.

Amsterdam is intensely urbanized, as is the Amsterdam metropolitan area surrounding the city. Comprising 219.4 square kilometers of land, the city proper has 4457 inhabitants per km2 and 2275 houses per km2. Parks and nature reserves make up 12% of Amsterdam’s land area.

Tourism

Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe, receiving more than 4.2 million international visitors annually. The number of visitors has been growing steadily over the past decade. This can be attributed to an increasing number of European visitors. 41,743 beds were located in 19,400 rooms in 351 hotels as of 2007. Two thirds of these hotels are located in the city’s center. Hotels with 4 or 5 stars contribute 42% of the total beds available and 41% of the overnight stays in Amsterdam.

The room occupation rate was 78% in 2006, up from 70% in 2005. The majority of tourists (74%), originate from Europe. The largest group of non-European visitors come from the United States, accounting for 14% of the total.[59] Certain years have a theme in Amsterdam to attract extra tourists. For example, the year 2006 was designated “Rembrandt 400”, to celebrate the 400th birthday of Rembrandt van Rijn. Some hotels offer special arrangements or activities due to these years. The average number of guests per year staying at the four campsites around the city, range from 12,000 to 65,000.

Retail

Shops in Amsterdam range from large department stores such as De Bijenkorf founded in 1870 and Maison de Bonneterie a Parisian style store founded in 1889, to small specialty shops. Amsterdam’s high-end shops are found in the streets Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat and Cornelis Schuytstraat, which are located in the vicinity of the Vondelpark.

One of Amsterdam’s busiest high streets is the narrow, medieval Kalverstraat in the heart of the city. Another shopping area is the Negen Straatjes: nine narrow streets within the Grachtengordel, the concentric canal system of Amsterdam. The Negen Straatjes differ from other shopping districts with the presence of a large diversity of privately owned shops. The city also features a large number of open-air markets such as the Albert Cuypmarkt, Westermarkt, Ten Katemarkt, and Dappermarkt.

Fashion

Fashion brands like G-star, Gsus, BlueBlood, 10 feet and Warmenhoven & Venderbos, and fashion designers like Mart Visser, Viktor & Rolf, Marlies Dekkers and Frans Molenaar are based in Amsterdam. Modelling agencies Elite Models, Touche models and Tony Jones have opened branches in Amsterdam.

Supermodels Yfke Sturm, Doutzen Kroes and Kim Noorda started their careers in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has its garment center in the World Fashion Center. Buildings which were formerly housing brothels in the red light district, have been converted to ateliers for young, up-and-coming fashion designers.

Culture and entertainment

During the later part of the 16th century Amsterdam’s Rederijkerskamer (Chamber of Rhetoric) organized contests between different Chambers in the reading of poetry and drama. In 1638, Amsterdam opened its first theatre. Ballet performances were given in this theatre as early as 1642. In the 18th century, French theatre became popular.

Opera could be seen in Amsterdam from 1677, first only Italian and French operas, but in the 18th century, German operas. In the 19th century, popular culture was centred around the Nes area in Amsterdam (mainly vaudeville and music-hall). The metronome, one of the most important advances in European classical music, was invented here in 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel.

At the end of this century, the Rijksmuseum and Gemeentelijk Museum were built. In 1888, the Concertgebouworkest was established. With the 20th century came cinema, radio and television. Though most studios are located in Hilversum and Aalsmeer, Amsterdam’s influence on programming is very strong. Many people who work in the television industry live in Amsterdam. Also, the headquarters of SBS 6 is located in Amsterdam.

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St George’s Church

St George's Church - Penang

The Grand Dame of South-East Asia

St George’s Church

Farquhar Street, George Town.

Dedicated to the patron saint of England, St George’s Churh is South-East Asia’s oldest Anglican church and the largest in Malaysia. In 1817, the seed for building this grand house of worship had been sown and just a year later, building commenced at a cost of about 60,000 Spanish dollars – quite a huge sum in those days!

Built by Indian convicts in the veins of Western neo-classical style and Georgian Palladian design, the white building was inspired by the architectural style that was the rage in Britain and other parts of Europe at the time.

The brick building, modeled after a similar one in Madras, has a plastered stone base. The roof was originally flat but was converted to a gable in 1864. The highest point is the octagonal steeple and the most eminent feature is the portico of  Greek columns outside the front entrance. These columns are “Doric” in style (like the Parthenon in Athens).

Former British Governor of Penang Colonel John Alexander Bannerman’s daughter later married at the church that was constructed during her father’s term. Janet Bannerman’s marriage to Governor W.E. Philips Esq on June 30, 1818, was the first marriage ceremony for St George’s.

Then in 1799, the widow of Captain Francis Light – the man who established Penang as a trading post, also chose to re-marry at the Greek and Roman influenced building.

Although it was built under the auspices of Philips and Bannerman themselves (the highest-ranking British officers on the island then), the church was founded by Reverend Sparke Hutchings.

The congregation in those days comprised a multi crew of British officials, printers, tavern-keepers, fiddlers, hairdressers, coach-makers, watchmakers, coppers, shipwrights, merchants, planters and sailors, and French and Dutch prisoners of war who filled the pews and enjoyed the gardens.

Perhaps divine intervention has saved (except for the roof) the church from the World War II air raids, allowing ex-servicemen from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) to come “home” annually to honour 35 of their comrades who died in the line of duty and were laid to rest in various cemeteries in the country. A plaque bearing the names of those killed in action during their brief sojourn in Malaya between 1947 and 1951 hangs inside the church.

Within the sprawling church compound still sits a beautiful domed structure built more than 120 years ago in memory of Light and in celebration of the founding of Penang as a trading post in 1786.

Shrubs surround the Greek temple-like memorial, bringing with it a sense of tranquility despite its location in the heart of the city.

During the war, (now antique items like the) pews, pulpit, lectern and organ were looted by the locals but a marble plaque (engraved with writings about Light) framed by two column figures, is worth a look.

As a tribute to the Grand Dame, the church was gazetted as a historical monument in 1996, acknowledging its importance and role in the spread of Christianity in the region. Indeed, the essence of the church lies in its unpretentious yet breathtaking facade.

These days, mass is still conducted here every Sunday morning. Non-Christian couples who have fallen in love with the historical church often arrange for their wedding photographs to be taken in the compound while many Christians take great pride in exchanging their vows in a church that epitomises eternity.

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