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AMSTERDAM is the capital and the largest city of The Netherlands. Its name is derived from "Amstel dam", pointing to the city's origin: a dam on the river Amstel. The city is known for its historic port, the Rijksmuseum, its red-light district (de Wallen), its liberal coffee shops, and its many canals which have led to Amsterdam being called the "Venice of the North". During the Dutch Golden Age, Amsterdam was one of the most important ports in the world, with innovative developments in trade, and became the leading centre for finance and diamonds.

The city, founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village, has grown to become the largest city in the Netherlands with a population of 743,104 inhabitants, containing at least 172 nationalities.

Amsterdam and its surrounding metropolitan area have a population of 1 million to about 1.5 million people, depending on definition, and is part of the Randstad conurbation, which has a population of 6,659,300. Also, Amsterdam is a six-point Gamma Global City.

The City
Amsterdam is a small city, and, although the concentric canal system can be initially confusing, finding your bearings is straightforward. The medieval core boasts the best of the city's bustling streetlife and is home to shops, many bars and restaurants...

TIME:
The Netherlands is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When it is noon in New York, it is 6 p.m. in Amsterdam.

MONEY:
Make sure that you have sufficient funds in your U.S. account so that you can withdraw money from an ATM in Amsterdam. This method provides the best currency exchange rates. The euro hit an all-time high this year for its exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. Be sure that you consider this as you are planning your budget.

SOCIAL CUSTOMS:
The Dutch seldom fail to keep an appointment and are usually punctual. Professors expect punctuality. It is customary to bring a small gift, most often flowers. Itís the thought that counts so donít go too far with an expensive gift. It will only embarrass you and make them feel obliged to do the same if they are invited to your home. When Dutch people are out in company, everyone expects and is expected to pay their share of the costs.

Tipping is not as widespread as in the U.S., but if you are satisfied with service, give a 5-10% tip to waiters and taxi drivers.

Despite being basically reserved, the Dutch speak in a manner that may startle you with its directness. They may sound abrupt, but they do not mean to be impolite. They are quite literal in their speech and like to come straight forward and to the point quickly. ďThe Dutch are very open and speak their mind, so donít be offended or surprised.

Europeans are friendly once you talk to them first. Everyone is nice and willing to help. Europeans dress nicely and generally they donít drink to get drunk.Ē

TELEPHONE:
To make local telephone calls from public telephones, you need a PTT calling card (can be bought at post offices in Holland). Public telephones are convenient and numerous, and written instructions in English are posted on the booths.

For international calls, especially transatlantic calls, you should get yourself an international calling card. They are available at telephone centers and some money exchange offices in Amsterdam. The costs for the cards may differ, so it is advisable to shop around a bit for the best rate for your country. With an international calling card, which can be used on any telephone, you can make a collect call or charge the call at the lowest available rates. In some phone booths, you can also make phone calls with a credit card.

If you want people to be able to reach you, you can get a pager or mobile phone. They are widely available throughout Amsterdam.

In case of emergencies dial 112 and state whether you need the fire department, police, or ambulance. The operator will connect you at once. Don't panic, speak slowly and clearly and give your address and phone number (operators understand English).

Information about other telephone numbers in Holland can be obtained at 0900-8008; for information about telephone numbers abroad, call 0900-8418.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION:
Trains:
The public transportation is excellent in the Netherlands. The trains, especially in the western part of the country, run frequently and on time. The distances are short: Amsterdam - The Hague, 45 minutes; The Hague - Delft, 10 minutes; Delft - Rotterdam, 15 minutes; Amsterdam - Maastricht, 2 hours 30 minutes. Train carriages are first or second class, smoking or nonsmoking (roken or niet roken). A first class ticket is about 50 percent more expensive than second class, and the difference in comfort is slight. Tickets must be purchased in the station. There you can also inquire about the many special bargain rates offered by the Dutch Railways. (See www.ns.nl for more Railway information.)

Schedules are posted on every spoor, or track. Trains stick to their schedules and stop only briefly at each station. Inside the Netherlands take advantage of the inexpensive day passes. Three persons traveling together may purchase a cheaper group ticket good after 9 a.m. on weekdays and anytime on weekends.


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