Let your fingers do the walking in Amsterdam

Dump your guidebook, says Jonathan Dyson, and let your mobile phone direct you around the city
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The Independent Travel

If you have ever despaired of lugging a guidebook around a foreign city and spending half your time trying to find the page on vegetarian restaurants or that must-see exhibition when you should be soaking up the atmosphere and passing yourself off as a local (or at least a reasonably savvy tourist), then help may be at hand. The O2 mobile phone network is about to launch the first two in a series of Get Roaming city guides, which aim to make vital and up-to-the-minute information available in the form of text messages. For use across all mobile phone networks (for the same price as normal text-messaging), the guides are unashamedly young and trendy, aimed at the "20- 35-year-old urban explorer", and compiled by staff at the style magazine Dazed & Confused, with input from in-touch locals such as DJs and designers in each of the cities featured.

If you have ever despaired of lugging a guidebook around a foreign city and spending half your time trying to find the page on vegetarian restaurants or that must-see exhibition when you should be soaking up the atmosphere and passing yourself off as a local (or at least a reasonably savvy tourist), then help may be at hand. The O2 mobile phone network is about to launch the first two in a series of Get Roaming city guides, which aim to make vital and up-to-the-minute information available in the form of text messages. For use across all mobile phone networks (for the same price as normal text-messaging), the guides are unashamedly young and trendy, aimed at the "20- 35-year-old urban explorer", and compiled by staff at the style magazine Dazed & Confused, with input from in-touch locals such as DJs and designers in each of the cities featured.

So what are they like in practice? The first two guides are to Paris and Amsterdam. A recent weekend test-run in the latter showed up both potential benefits and possible drawbacks. The guides are essentially internet-based, and also come in notebook-sized taster versions, which will be available free in bars, clubs, record stores and airports around Britain from the end of this month. Both internet and notebook form are brief and to the point – you're not going to get a 1,000-word essay on the history of Calvinism or the Dutch war of independence – and have keywords dotted around such as "lovers", "ride" and "designer".

This is where your mobile phone comes in, either supplementing or replacing the guidebooks altogether for those who really can't be bothered. So, assuming you can remember the keywords – and they're pretty logical – or have stored them in your phone beforehand, all you have to do is send them as text messages to 80202 and back comes regularly updated info, as and when you need it.

For "lovers" we got directed to candlelit Lovers Boat Tours. For "ride", we were offered "the Amsterdam oddity of reasonably priced and excellently serviced taxis". And for "designer", we were sent to Megazino, a discount designer-clothes outlet. Being a group of shy and retiring journalists – OK, we still hadn't had a drink – we did not put the "lovers" recommendation to the test, but the "ride" taxis were indeed dramatically better than the expensive and surly norm, and Megazino was an oasis of Etro, Armani an D&G in a city not blessed with an excess of great clothes shops. Also, we did not even have to attempt to pronounce Megazino's consonant-soup address (ah, the English abroad) to the nice, cheap taxi driver – we just handed him the phone and let him read it from the display.

So much for some of our daytime experiences. Night-time was not quite as successful. We started our evening at Bar With No Name, as recommended in the guide by Pip, a transplanted Londoner who edits the city's offbeat listings magazine Shark. It was, as hoped, discreetly luxe and intimate. But for how long, one couldn't help wondering, if hordes of visitors like ourselves start barging in brandishing their beeping Nokias?

One refreshing aspect of the guide is that it gives you some of the downside to a destination, and users are encouraged to text and e-mail their own verdicts to the base internet site to keep it as reliable and up-to-date as possible. So, in our choice of nightclub, we should perhaps have heeded the advice of Pinky & Lennart, guide contributors (performing at this year's Edinburgh Festival with their new show SNACK!), who declare there are no good clubs in Amsterdam and you should instead head for Now&Wow in Rotterdam. Instead, we went to Amsterdam's Paradiso which (sorry, DJ duo Richard and Karin) really wasn't very happening, unless it just goes trashy at the weekend. It also has fierce door security, including body searches that would give Schipol airport a run for its money. (At this point we did, in fact, lose a member of the party, who was caught in possession of a suspiciously origami'd 10 euro note, but we only realised this half an hour after we had got inside – whoops).

The once ultra-fashionable Supper Club, which we also checked out, had a similar past-its-sell-by-date atmosphere to Paradiso, but perhaps that is just Amsterdam for you, and although it is refreshing to have a guide with very few listings, it can be frustrating if you don't care for any of the selections.

It was also pointed out by one of our number that there are no gay listings – this in a city that probably has more gay venues than anywhere else in Europe. We did, anyway, stumble into one of the gay areas, around Warmoestraat, en route to the obligatory early-hours trawl round the red-light district, for those of us who had never seen a prostitute sitting in a shop window before (again, curiously, an aspect of the city not referred to in the guide). Which I suppose brought us to the final possible drawback to the Get Roaming concept: do you really want to be seen tapping away into your mobile late at night in a foreign city and in an area of town that is possibly far from safe?

As O2 is keen to point out, the Get Roaming concept is still in its formative stages, and it is open to suggestions. In the future the company hopes to develop it with services including guest-listing for venues (send a text and you get on the guest list), message and photo boards on the web site, interactive phone mapping and the ability to download the entire guide to your electronic personal organiser (it is already available on XDA Pocket PC). So get charging now.

The Facts

Getting there

Jonathan Dyson travelled to Amsterdam with easyJet which offers return fares from £83 (0870-600 0000; www.easyjet.co.uk).

Being there

The author stayed at Hotel Arena, Gravesanderstraat 51 (00 31 20 8502410; www.hotelarena.nl), which offers double rooms from €100 (£67) per night.

Further information

For more details about the O2 city guides and to get access to full listings, visit www.o2.co.uk/getroaming.

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