"Amsterdam is a city, but it is also a country by itself, a small nation inside a larger one" wrote Geert Mak in his revered chronicle about the Dutch capital. For many visitors, Amsterdam will not only seem quite different from the rest of the Netherlands, but anywhere else in the world. Unlike other major European cities, Amsterdam is not defined by its palaces or estates but by domestic architecture. It's not ancient (by European standards); the joy is in the detail. Elaborate gables and witty gable stones denoting the trade of a previous owner; floating houseboats and hidden hofjes along its 160 man-made canals. Even street names tell stories, whether of Golden Age painters in the Pijp or naval heroes farther west.