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Europes Great Cities

In this half hour, we’ll visit a quartet of extraordinary metropolitan centers. We start our cities tour in London, England, hop across the Channel to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, head south to Brussels in Belgium, and end in France’s international city of lights, Paris.



Across the Channel, other cities are calling. It’s been hundreds of years since rural folk drawn to fresh opportunity poured into Europe’s urban world. By the late 19th century, artists and poets were trying to lure people back to the simplicity of the countryside. But to no avail, the giant cities grew like crazy.

And one of the craziest is Amsterdam. The village named for ‘the dam in the Amstel River’ 800 years ago thrives today amidst busy canals, 400 bridges, and hordes of people. It’s a major port, an international financial hub, and one of Europe’s top tourism magnets. The city built up over soggy land sits in a county called Holland in a country called The Netherlands, and the national language is Dutch. Confusing? Relax. It’s a welcoming metropolis.


You can find the Official Amsterdam Site at www.visitamsterdam.nl. If you're interests also lie outside of Amsterdam, visit www.visitholland.com.


Getting Around Town... top

A quick take on Amsterdam—canals, bicycles, an open door attitude. Exactly. But none of it came easily. To get a sense of this city’s legacy of tolerance and its passion for arts, we have a full day ahead. And I promise you , it will end with an international culinary flair—Indonesian Rijisttafel.

Grab a free bicycle and take a spin. You’ll quickly get a sense of the maze of canals, and the ethnic diversity bearing out the country’s hospitality. Foreigners have always been a familiar sight here. As early as 1602, Dutch merchants traded around the world, and religious refugees have long made a beeline for the Netherlands. Despite off-the scale population density, the Dutch insist on a people-friendly, high standard of living.


For information about Amsterdam's "White Bike" system, visit www.depo.nl and www.tve.org. For information about Amsterdam's public transportation system, check out www.gvb.nl.


The Van Gogh Museum top

The Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of the Dutch artist’s work. Vincent Van Gogh lived mostly in France, and only in his final ten years--1880 to 1890--did he take up drawing and painting. He moved from urban Paris to rural France, from rich, heavy colors to vibrant light, and from Impressionism to his famous linear style. Plagued by turmoil much of his life, Van Gogh killed himself at age 33. His grief-stricken brother brought hundreds of his paintings and drawings back home to Amsterdam. Today, Van Gogh’s art is the most recognized in the world.


For more information about the Van Gogh Museum, visit www.vangoghmuseum.nl.


The Rijksmuseum top

But for pure Dutch, if you see nothing else in Amsterdam, you must visit the Rijksmuseum. In the city’s long-lived passion for art, the country’s eclectic past and culture unfold in vivid, detailed images.

Lucky for us, Amsterdam’s 17th century boom meant work--a livelihood for artists. Commissioned by the rich to immortalize their prestige, the painters focused on landscapes, faces, costume—whatever portraits depicted ownership and the good life. Johannes Vermeer lit magically the most ordinary daily routine. Frans Hals created with attitude—he captured the moment—often with vitality and humor.

But...Rembrandt ruled! Known as the greatest master of the Dutch school, Rembrandt reigns as genius artist historian.

VO At all hours, crowds gather around The Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq completed in 1642. Well-known as the Night Watch, Rembrandt’s piece caused an uproar. He had not posed the soldiers in a dignified lineup, but made them ‘men on the move,’ expressive and in perpetual motion. Rembrandt’s universal appeal lies in his profound mastery of the richness of human character.


For more information about the Rijksmuseum, visit www.rijksmuseum.nl.


Indonesian Rijsttafel top

We promised a sublime finale in Amsterdam. As Dutch as windmills and canals, a feast of Indonesian dishes or Rijsttafel will cap our day. Ranging from mild to highly spiced Indonesian food, the ‘rice table’ includes fish, meat, vegetables, rice, and a spicy sauce called sambel. Today, the Indonesian Rijstafel is a full-grown feature of Dutch cuisine.


For more information about Puri Mas Indonesian Restaurant, visit www.purimas.nl.



Great cities thrive on pushing the edge in architecture, the arts, commerce, and technology. On any great city square, you can feel the vitality of the self-assured urbanites. Rich or poor, they seem to carry on confidently in the midst of what a stranger may take to be chaos.

It’s a city that’s 1,000 years old, headquarters to NATO, a legendary magnet for writers and artists, and oh, yes, it’s the capital of a country known for chocolates. Brussels takes pride in its hospitality and Belgians take pride in their capitol.


For information about getting around Brussels, visit out www.acl.be. For information about Belgium in general, check out www.visitbelgium.com and www.trabel.com.


The Grand Place top

The heart of this city is the Grand Place and the very best place to start.

Set in Brussel’s Lower Town, this is one of Europe’s most beautiful town squares. The medieval setting lends a dramatic backdrop to this hub of international politics. Today, the European Commission, NATO, and the Council of Ministers of the European Union all call Brussels “Home.” On the 400-year old guild houses, each façade is different—a hand-crafted legacy of past artisans and merchants.

In 1695, all but one of the original buildings crumpled under torrential bombing by Louis Fourteenth. Miraculously, this fourteenth century structure survived. The Gothic Town Hall or Hotel de Ville is the city’s showpiece. And we’re in the right place—the Tourist Information Office is in the Town Hall—you’ll need a map to plan the day.


For more information about the Grand Place, visit www.trabel.com. For an interactive map and virtual tour of Brussels' historical center, check out www.ilotsacre.be.


Belgian Center For Comic Strip Art top

At our first stop, the Art Nouveau architecture gets my attention. The Grand Magasin Waucquex (say Mag-a-san Woo-kay) building offers a prime example of open space created by light and glass and wrought iron. Designed in 1906, the structure has evolved from department store to enchanting city museum.

VO Within its airy pockets sits the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art, starring Tintin, beloved reporter and quick-trick artist and his furry pal Snowy —both always in trouble, both always escape. Here, visitors wander through Belgium’s comic-strip origins and lighter history. Even with JUST 24-hours, this museum is a must-see!


For more information about the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art, visit www.awn.com.


Le Falstaff Restaurant top

Other Belgian specialties are profoundly edible. Two blocks from the Grand Place, the famous Butchers Street positions assertive waiters and competing stacks of sea life to lure you inside. Le Falstaff Restaurant offers the robustness of Shakespeare’s tale along with mounds of local mussels cooked in wine sauce, and served with piles of fries. The visitor’s dilemma lies in deciding which of the 300 Belgian beers should enhance the traditional meal.


For more information about Le Falstaff Restaurant, visit www.resto.be.


Belgian Chocolate top

...along with Belgian chocolates. This famous specialty offers instant energy for sightseeing, and, of course, each calorie evaporates when you leave the country!


For more information about Galler Chocolates, visit www.galler.com. For more information about Belgian chocolate, visit www.visitbelgium.com/chocol.htm. If you're intrigued by the idea of a glossary of chocolate terms, check out www.usatoday.com, and if you're interested in buying chocolate from other regions of the world, go to www.chocolatesource.com.



One of Europe’s great cities majestically straddles both sides of the River Thames. For many visitors, this capital of Great Britain is known for icons of tradition—Big Ben named for a 13-ton bell, the formidable Houses of Parliament, Tower of London notorious for grisly tales, and the Windsor family’s Buckingham Palace. But symbols of new London run rampant, and it’s hard to miss the contrast of old tradition cuddled up to 21st century innovation.

Think of London as a nation, not a city—consider its world influence, languages, great arts, theater, and multi-layered history. London teems with grit and sophistication—an urban culture you can see and feel. But its traditions are bending in the face of new generations. We’re talking 21st century London.


For information about visiting London, go to www.na.visitlondon.com. For information about the Visitor Information Center in Leicester Square, visit www.londontown.com. For information about how to get around on London's underground system, check out www.tube.tfl.gov.uk.


British Airways London Eye top

Sixteen-hundred tons and what do you get? The highest observation wheel ever built. The Eye was sketched first at the kitchen table of a husband and wife architect team. Marks and Barfield pushed their impossible dream until they won the backing of British Airways. Their mission, "...to create an exciting new way to see and understand one of the greatest cities on earth." In March of 2000, mission accomplished! The Eye almost never closes, and over 200 workers keep it safe and waiting for visitors.


For more information about the British Airways London Eye, visit www.londoneye.com.


The Tate Modern top

For dreams realized London’s millennium year 2000 stands tall. Two months after the London Eye welcomed the public, a major new Tate gallery opened. On its seven floors, the Tate Modern holds international modern and contemporary art, from 1900 to the present. The works often depict a passionate response to headlines of the day.

In the late 1930s, Spanish artist Pablo Picasso gripped the public with images condemning fascist General Franco’s regime in the Spanish Civil War. Weeping Woman, done in 1937, relates to Guernica, a series of his paintings that toured England to bring attention to the suffering of Spain’s war victims.

About the same time, a younger Spaniard, surrealist Salvador Dali was shocking the art public, with bold, startling pictures inspired by Freud and the new psychoanalysis.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, Andy Warhol—the king of Pop Art—produced his version of objects from tomato soup cans to celebrity portraits.

Once you’ve seen the old timers, don’t miss today’s innovators. The no-holds barred contemporary exhibits are an ever-changing highlight at the Tate Modern.


For more information about the Tate Modern, visit www.tate.org.uk/modern/.

VO For bonus fun, you can cruise from the Modern Tate to the original Tate Britain by way of a 220 seat catamaran. The boat also stops at the London Eye.


The boat departs every 40 minutes. For more information about the Tate to Tate Boat Service, visit www.tate.org.uk/tatetotate/.


The Athenaeum Hotel top

After a full day in London, I like to wind down in a great hotel. The Athenaeum is another sample of the new butting up against the old. The 75 year-old structure was remodeled in the 1990s. It’s luxurious modern, and yet, so old British. To enjoy a proper cup of tea, figure on a few extra calories.


For more information about the Athenaeum, visit www.athenaeumhotel.com.


The Tamarind Restaurant top

And don’t miss trying an Indian meal. You’ll find all kinds of good restaurants. We had dinner at the fancy Tamarind near the hotel. Featuring Tandoris meats, and complex, spicy Vindaloo dishes, the Michelen-starred Tamarind offers some of London’s best Indian cuisine. From Garlic or Ginger Chicken to an exotic pickled spinach, to traditional spiced lamb, the menu is packed with tough choices. Top you favorite with chutney, a Tamarind house specialty.


For more information about the Tamarind, visit www.tamarindrestaurant.com. For a list of Indian restaurants in London, check out www.tandoori.co.uk.


London Theatre top

For London nightlife, the city is a theater-lover’s dream—the only questions being ‘what to choose’ and ‘will there be tickets.’ Take chocolates with you. In London, you eat chocolate at intermission. A sweet ending to a whirlwind look at Great Britain’s great city.


For last-minute tickets, ask the concierge at your hotel or visit the half-price ticket office at Leicester Square. For more information on how to buy tickets, go to www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk. To find out what's playing in town, check out www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/london/shows and www.londontheatre.co.uk.



The Seine River separates the upscale Right Bank from the bohemian, student-centered Left Bank. Standing among gargoyles on the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, we can get ideas for the day’s agenda! Never fear, it’s a manageable and exciting task.

One day in Paris. Okay. What can we explore that we can’t find anywhere else? You can’t miss the sense of style or bohemian flavor or the cuisine. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s check out a structure that thirty years ago had Parisians aghast and protesting. Today, it’s a landmark of Paris. 24 hours? You can’t miss this one.


For more information on Paris, visit www.paris.org. For information about how to get around Paris, go to www.ratp.fr. You can also check out Rudy Maxa's guide book "SmartTravels.TV Europe" for more tips and information on Europe's Great Cities.


Pompidou Center top

It’s fun to walk from Notre Dame to the Pompidou Center. Imagine this apparition bursting onto the scene in the late 1970s. For starters, it’s inside out. Pipe systems traditionally hidden— electricity and water and ventilation—are a featured design, intricate detail lit up with coded colors! Escalators carry visitors around—their trail blazed bright red. People flock to see the National modern art collection inside. But for this 24 hours in Paris, we’ll settle for the exterior—until next time.


For more information about the Pompidou Center, visit www.cnac-gp.fr.


Stravinsky Fountain top

Right next door, the Stravinsky Fountain accents the museum’s mood —vitality, movement, and fantastic colors dedicated to composer Igor Stravinsky. A natural resting spot, before a stroll to the river.


For more works by one of the sculptors of the Stravinsky Fountain, check out www.karaart.com.


Les Bouquinistes Restaurant top

If you check out the Latin Quarter along the river—in between book stalls you’ll come across cafes and restaurants with menus posted. I like the smaller places, often exquisite cuisine, but informal. Among friends, it’s fun to try a little of everything.


For more information about Les Bouquinistes, visit www.lesbouquinistes.com.


Musée d'Orsay top

From here, it’s an easy walk or a short taxi ride to the excellent Musee D’Orsay. Transformed from the old Paris Train Station into a stunning space, the D’Orsay Museum specializes in art from mid-19th century to World War One.

The Impressionist collection greets visitors with one renowned artist after another. The vitality of Paris was a constant theme among Impressionists, as was changing light and movement. Mavericks of their time, these artists created images with new vision and ambiguity, leaving realistic renderings to the classicists…and the grumbling to their critics.


For more information about the Musée d'Orsay, visit www.musee-orsay.fr.


Rodin Museum top

A short stroll from the D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum honors a contemporary of the Impressionists, sculptor Auguste Rodin. The museum holds great art, including Rodin’s personal collection, but the magic is outside behind the museum in the Rodin Sculpture Garden.

A great sculptor makes cold stone look alive. And Rodin’s bronze statues seem to breathe. He worked seven years on Monument to Balzac, catching perfectly an intense moment. Burghers of Calais re-creates a 14th century event--the city fathers about to turn the keys of Calais over to their English invaders. And Rodin’s most famous, The Thinker, part of his Gates of Hell series, sits strong, natural and more flesh-like than bronze has a right to be.


For more information about the Rodin Museum, visit www.musee-rodin.fr.


Interested in planning your vacation to Europe?
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For more information about the Van Gogh Museum, visit www.vangoghmuseum.nl.

For information about getting around Brussels, visit out www.acl.be.

For information about visiting London, go to www.na.visitlondon.com.

For more information on Paris, visit www.paris.org.