A March 2004 trip
to Amsterdam by billmoy
Quote: Amsterdam has a free-and-easy reputation as a haven for drug users and sex addicts. The range of hedonistic activities should not scare off the more mainstream visitors, as there is an abundance of cultural and natural activities to keep you busy.
I may not visit any of these establishments, but I must confess that a bit of "window shopping" in the red light district is a truly unique experience in Amsterdam. Prudish new sightseers may be shocked to see the world’s oldest profession so openly displayed and marketed, but it is a thriving business and there are certain standards practiced here to keep things under some sort of regulatory control.
There are still a few windmills in and near Amsterdam (what can be more "Dutch" than the windmill?), but they take a bit of effort to get to. You will also see some if you ride trains around the countryside.
The stroopwafel is a Dutch treat that looks deceptively light. After all, it is just a wafer, right? Actually, the waffle-like pizzelle cookies sandwich a thin caramel layer that is akin to sweet pancake syrup. Buy a pack and have a tasty, crunchy treat, but a small bag will feel like you are carrying a brick around!
The network of buses, trams and metro is efficient. The strip ticket is good for rides on all of these and they need to be punched in these yellow meter boxes, but it can be a bit confusing to use for beginners. Many of the tram routes fan out from the Centraal Station, where occasionally there is someone stamping the cards before you enter the tram. Most trams have only a driver in front, but I was surprised to hop on one with a booth in the middle and a fellow hand-stamping the tickets.
Behind the Centraal Station, there are two free ferries that take locals to some of the small residential islands to the north. If you want a cheap ride on a boat, this is the way to go. You will not see as much as you will on the touristy canal rides, but it is a chance to catch some cool sea breezes at no cost. There is some innovative new architecture on these islands too.
The spacious guest rooms are very comfortable and the dark red brick walls add a certain Dutch charm to the interiors and even the hallways. The king bed fills up the room, but there is still enough space for a writing table and a couple of chairs. I have stayed at this hotel twice and have had little troubles here and there, such as an extremely tight room door, a temperamental key card, and a fidgety TV remote control. Other than these little annoyances, I enjoyed my stays at the hotel. Amenities include minibar, hairdryer, air conditioning and operable windows. The bathroom is suitably sized and equipped with good toiletries. The hotel has its own parking facility, although you may not want a view of it from your room.
The business center and a small shop are located on the first floor, which connects to the reasonable Koepelcafe bar and restaurant (see separate article for review). The Brasserie Noblesse is a fancier restaurant, while the Patio Room features simpler fare for breakfasts and meal functions. You can get complimentary tea or coffee in the sitting area near the lobby along with some newspapers or magazines. It was bizarre to see the sitting areas filled with young Japanese tourists one evening, all using their laptops. Get out and enjoy Amsterdam!
The Renaissance incorporates the Koepelkerk (Ronde Lutherse Kerk) across the street as the centerpiece of its conference center. Designed by A. Dortsman in 1671, the Lutheran church (the only round Protestant church in the Netherlands) and its distinctive copper dome were featured in a Van Gogh painting from 1885. There is a mysterious fitness center in the bowels of the hotel, but I did not have a chance to use these facilities. For a fee you can use the sauna, solarium and Turkish bath.
The Renaissance has a certain old-fashioned charm despite being part of the large Marriott conglomerate. Its relative proximity to Centraal Station without being too close is a big selling point to me. The hotel is not picture perfect, but it is very pleasant.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 22, 2004
Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel
There is outdoor seating when the weather is suitable enough. The cozy dining room is surprisingly dark despite a wall of windows facing the street, but the views are decent enough. There is a chalkboard with the daily specials.
I actually had the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner here one evening, as it is one of my personal traditions to be outside the United States during this annual November holiday. Amazingly, I had a set menu dinner special here featuring turkey schnitzel! I ordered a Heineken with my meal, as after all I was in Amsterdam. The vegetable soup was served in a clever little pot, complete with its own little lid. The dense slab of turkey schnitzel was seasoned but not heavily breaded. The schnitzel was accompanied with a small salad and fries. I was not sure if the mayonnaise-like dressing was meant for the salad or the fries, but I tried dabs with both and it seemed to fit each item well enough. The dessert was a caramel sundae, a tasty but oddly American way to round off the meal.
The bar area behind the dining room is not too boisterous, so you can grab a stool and have a nightcap before heading back to your room (the Koepelcafe is connected to the hotel so you do not need to step outside). The atmosphere is certainly suitable for single female travelers or anyone who does not usually frequent bars. I was a bit surprised there was no TV here, but it does have piped-in rock tunes and a rack with a few magazines. Ask the bartender for the local specialties, such as a tall glass of Wieckse Witte, a refreshing beer brewed in Maastricht and normally accompanied with a lemon slice. One night I eavesdropped on a few English and German fellows amiably discussing the strong suits of their favorite soccer clubs with absolutely no animosity or hooliganism.
The Koepelcafe does not have the charm of the smoky "brown cafes" scattered all over Amsterdam, but sometimes a sanitized version is what you want after a long day of sightseeing.
31 20 621 22 23
The building is a charming old warehouse that was part of the vaunted Dutch East India Company. It is easy to find, as it is adjacent to one of the main canals of Amsterdam and about a block from the Anne Frank House and the Westerkerk. An animated pig statue is situated at the entrance, as it is one of the featured ingredients in the pancakes and omelets. The smoky interior is literally that, as the Dutch are well known to enjoy a smoke with their food and drink. I was seemingly the only nonsmoker amongst the locals and tourists dining one evening, so keep this in mind if you have a strong intolerance to smoke.
On each table there is an open canister of pancake syrup that is quite good. You use the spoon in the cylinder to ladle the tar-like syrup onto your pancake. I cannot vouch for the cleanliness of an open container of gooey syrup, but it tasted good and I was not rushed to the hospital afterwards. Other toppings including powdered sugar (also tasty) and some bottles of American-style pancake syrup.
The friendly waitress took my order, but she forgot to bring my glass of lemon syrop. It was best forgotten, as this watery beverage (like a lemon squash in England) was practically flavorless. The French onion soup was not much better, and I should have known better than to order French onion soup topped with "old Dutch cheese". I did not get to try any of the desserts.
The ham and mushroom pancake I ordered was quite good, and if you have occasionally bizarre tastes, you can create a bold flavor rush with the sweet syrups and sugars smothering the giant hearty pancake. Each order consists of a single large dinner-plate sized pancake, not a stack of flapjacks. In a sense, it is a thicker unrolled crepe, so if you like crepes you will be a fan of these pancakes. The menu has a variety of ingredients you can choose from, from savory meats to fruits to flat-out sweet dessert fests. There are also many "international" pancakes with ingredients that may or may not justify labels like Greek, Egyptian or Norwegian. Kids can order cartoonish pancakes shaped like a car, a clown or pirate face.
The Pancake Bakery is open every day from noon to the relatively early closing time of 930pm. Although I only encountered small parties, they advertise themselves as very amicable to large groups who would get to enjoy views of the canal in the upper level of seating. Stick with the pancakes and you should enjoy your meal here.
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1015
0031 20 625 13 33
The small interior is cozy, with posters and exotic artworks on the walls. The tables immediately adjacent to the door are a bit drafty during the wintertime. The diners here all look quite casual, as one fellow had an amazing set of dreadlocks while another woman had her loyal pooch by her feet. There is a small water closet entombed within one of the walls.
I ordered the lamb in curry sauce, a substantial platter with a host of side accompaniments. The featured side item is the roti, a thin pancake that is utilized like a piece of bread. The roti was very subtle in flavor, but it took the sting out of the rather spicy chunks of lamb. The plate also includes vegetables, potato, egg and pickle. Other variations of this dish will have chicken, beef or shrimp as the featured item and white rice, fried rice, brown beans or noodles instead of the roti as the starch side. The Surinam part of the menu is rounded out by its one fish dish of koebie, a Surinam fish served with white rice and vegetables.
The Indian menu is simpler and shorter, and no beef no way! The lamb (or chicken or shrimp) is served with basmati rice, vegetables and mixed salad. The selection of side dishes look very interesting, but my entree was a good portion so I did not dare order any extras. The sides range from samosas to fried bananas to meaty skewers, and the adventurous may want to ask about a few unusual items with no descriptions! Sandwiches, soups and a variety of beverages round out the menu, which is all reasonably priced.
De Lelie is open every day, but it does not serve lunch during the weekends. It does a decent amount of take away business, and they offer a delivery service as well.
Oude Leliestraat 5
31 20 620 14 14
For now, at least many of its "Golden Age" masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals will still be available to be admired by visitors in the Philips Wing. Normally the museum would be an essential part of your visit in the city, but you may or may not want to go to see such a limited selection of artworks, albeit a very impressive selection of Dutch and Flemish "greatest hits" such as "The Night Watch" by Rembrandt. It is near the Van Gogh Museum, so you can easily overload on art if you want to.
The current Rijksmuseum opened in 1885 in a grandiose neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance building designed by architect P.J.H. Cuypers, who also designed the Centraal Station. The exteriors feature towers, tiled murals and red brick walls. Be sure to take a look at the exterior while seeing its glimmering image in the reflecting pool on the Museumplein (Museum Square). The grassy plaza is a pleasant place for a stroll, as all the locals walking their dogs will attest to. The museum is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
I remember my first visit here in 1991 and I was mesmerized by not only the great range of Dutch art from the 15th to the 19th Centuries, but by an acoustic buzz created by the onslaught of the visitors and their constant chatter. Will this audio sensation still be there in the museum in 2008? The office of Cruz and Ortiz from Spain is in charge of the revamped museum design, while Van Hoogevest Architects are the restoration architect. The new and improved Rijksmuseum will have restored and new underground galleries, an auditorium and other large facilities for visiting groups, expanded storage space, and attractive public courtyards.
If you have time to kill before your flight or are stuck on a layover at Schiphol Airport, seek out the small spinoff of the Rijksmuseum. It is a pleasant little oasis of art and beats hanging around the smoky casino inside Schiphol. The two-dozen or so works of art on display are usually minor works, but culled and prominently displayed in one of the world’s busiest airports they can be fully appreciated in a way that would be impossible when surrounded by the legendary masterpieces of the main museum. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is open every day from 7am (astonishingly early!) to 8pm, and unlike the main museum, admittance is free. It is located between the E and F gate piers, and there is a small shop with Dutch Masters-themed souvenirs for your getaway purchase. There is no place to store your luggage, so you will have to drag them up the stairs to the small viewing level.
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1071 ZD
+31 20 674 70 00
The original building with the gridded exterior was designed by Gerrit Rietveld and opened in 1973. Rietveld was the great De Stijl architect perhaps most famous for his boldly colored Schroder House in Utrecht. Rietveld died in 1964, so his architectural partners J van Dillen and J van Tricht carried out the functionalist design. The exhibition spaces are fairly open and spacious to accommodate the crowds. A skylight that allows natural light into the galleries tops the central staircase. Van Gogh’s works are organized in chronological order into five periods on the first floor of the main building for your viewing convenience. You can see the timeline of his artistic development and his mental decline. Observe the thick strokes on the self-portraits, the flowers, and the French landscapes. Other floors contain his drawings, along with Japanese prints and the works of other artists.
The rectilinear Rietveld building has become almost a background for the shiny new Exhibition Wing designed by Kisho Kurokawa in 1999 (Kurokawa also designed some of the new seating in the original building). The annex, which has earned nicknames like "the mussel" because of its clammy elliptical shape, houses special exhibitions on its three levels. A shallow pond acts as a sunken plaza element next to the building, and can be appreciated from the promenade inside the annex. The Print Room is housed in an aluminium "cube" that juts out from the building. This geometric element refers itself to the modernist block that is the Rietveld building. The Kurokawa addition has fast become a darling for photographers with its simultaneously slick and somber titanium and stone facade.
The Rietveld and Kurokawa buildings are linked by the transitional space called the Node, so they appear as independent objects from the outside. Martien van Goor, whose firm also helped renovate the Rietveld building, designed the node. Walk around the lawn to see how these two blocks interact with each other and with the other buildings of the Museumplein. Check out the shop and restaurant before you leave the museum.
The Van Gogh Museum is open from 10am to 6pm, and on Fridays it does not close until 10pm. If you have limited time or money, a visit here may currently make for a more satisfying visit than the neighboring Rijksmuseum, which is showing its "greatest hits" of Dutch masterpieces while the main building is undergoing a complete overhaul.
Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1071 CX
+31 (20) 570 52 00
NEMO is a bit of a distance from the "main" part of Amsterdam, perhaps about a fifteen-minute walk east of Centraal Station. You will have to walk across some footbridges to arrive there. The stroll will give you ample opportunity to size up the seemingly floating building and soak in the scenery around you. The greenish copper is the dominant cladding of the building exterior, but the ground floor is primarily glass and there is brick used as well. Try to walk all around the monumental complex and appreciate its wonderful waterside setting before you enter. One day a jazz musician was plying his trade outside the museum, which added to the overall ambience.
This is a popular and festive science and technology museum that is designed for maximum interactive fun and learning for the kids. Most of the displays deal with scientific topics like energy, medicine and communication, but there is even an educational display on money. Skylights and staircases visually link the interior levels. The multilevels and spaces can lead to sensory overload for youngsters, but it is still a refreshingly good time. The store on the main level is filled with colorful gifts and souvenirs that hopefully will teach a thing or two as well.
The most exciting element of the design is its brilliant viewing deck on its sloping rooftop, which serves as an unofficial city plaza. Even if you are not visiting the museum itself, make the effort to climb the stairs or ramp to the top. There are some marvelous views of the buildings and canals of Amsterdam from the deck of NEMO. There is usually no charge to visit the rooftop, but in the summertime the deck becomes a "beach" so there is a cost then.
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1011 VX
+31 900 919 11 00
ARCAM has very limited hours, from 1pm to 5pm, and it is also closed on Mondays. Entrance is free. Even if you are not interested in seeing the exhibitions, you are welcome to use its information point, which is a great resource of books, magazines, maps and articles about local architecture and urban planning. While the average tourist may wander in to ask where the red light district is located, the more curious traveler may stop and inquire about what is new and exciting in world of Amsterdam architecture.
ARCAM is a foundation that emphasizes architecture and urban design in Amsterdam and its surrounding areas. It strives to present six exhibitions a year related to architects, new buildings and urban developments, such as an exhibit on recent high-rise buildings in Amsterdam. ARCAM also organizes tours, lectures and forums. The public main level features the information point along with the exhibition space. The offices of ARCAM are on the top floor, while the lower level along the waterfront has meeting space. The levels are spatially connected to give an airy feel to the interiors.
While ARCAM promotes architecture with its programs and exhibitions, the pavilion itself is a shining example of an exciting new building in Amsterdam, one of many that have sprung up all over the Netherlands. The shape of the structure defies description and may best be called a sculptural element. The side facing the water is glass so the inhabitants can appreciate one of the great assets of Amsterdam. The rest of the building, including the rounded roof, is clad with silvery Kalzip aluminum sheets, which allow the imaginative design to be more amorphous than the typical building.
One can walk from Centraal Station to ARCAM in about fifteen minutes. Otherwise the bus or Museum boat can drop you off nearby.
Prins Hendrikkade 600