More experiences of a few days of wandering the streets of Amsterdam
by Slug on August 5, 2012
The other "must see" attraction we deemed necessary for our first time visitor to Amsterdam was the Van Gogh Museum. The museum is a couple of mile walk from Central Station, so we took advantage of the hike to wander through one of the main shopping streets on the way to our destination. Unfortunately, you are never going to get the museum to yourself so I steeled myself for people walking in front of me, bored teenagers scuffing their feet behind loud speaking Americans and massed tour groups huddling around the most famous paintings. I just took my time and slowly got to the paintings I wanted to rediscover (having been to the Van Gogh museum on a number of occasions now, I don't try to study every painting).One tip is to buy your tickets before you arrive to save some of the queuing. While the website doesn't say it, there is a special entrance for those that have prepaid. You can buy tickets on the web and for completely instant access you can visit the information centre in one of the diamond centres across the road and buy your tickets there. Another tip is to dine at the rather good Van Gogh Museum cafe; we had a very nice salad at the museum in relative quiet (just try to avoid the obvious lunch time beloved of tour groups). The Van Gogh Museum may disappoint some as much of the displays are not by Van Gogh; instead, it is a comprehensive look at how he influenced and what influenced him. So, we have paintings that Van Gogh would have been looking at when he started out, and from those artists he met in Paris which influenced the change in his style from the traditional dark Dutch style to the bright new impressionist style. Later you see art from the early 1900s influenced by Van Gogh. There are however still Van Gogh's galore including sunflowers and irises. When I first went to the museum 20 years ago, there were a lot of early Van Gogh's painted in the Dutch style. As the man had little cash these were largely of his dinner; potatoes and the like, and to be honest once you had seen one or two you got the picture. Over the years this section has diminished, although there is still a good representation of how his art developed as he became more accomplished and confident.One thing that always surprises me is that as a "classical" artist representing objects, Van Gogh is not that good a painter (unlike say Picasso who could (had he wanted to) drawn a perfect representation). What shines out is his technical ability and his later eye for colour and use of unusual perspective.I always reflect that Van Gogh only signed those paintings he was pleased with, and many of those later works (often painted at the rate of one a day) remain unsigned as his illness and frustrations meant he was less and less satisfied with his progress. It is well worth seeing these paintings in the flesh - seeing the brush strokes is so much better than just looking at a poster. The museum doesn't make anything of the recent claims that contrary to shooting himself, Van Gogh was shot by a drunken friend in an accident, and that Van Gogh simply implied he had shot himself in order not to implicate his friend. I think many prefer the image of the tortured artist. At 14 Euro, the Van Gogh is very reasonably priced, and is not too huge to be over facing. I enjoy visiting the museum and it is usually one of the places I aim to visit each time I come to Amsterdam. Tip: we usually time it so that we can visit the fun House of Bols opposite afterwards – this is a place where rather than be stimulated by sight, smell and taste is more important. For 13 Euros you get a free cocktail and a couple of Jenever samples.
I was keen to try something different for one of our Amsterdam evening meals, and so persuaded the team to take a look at the Axum Ethiopian Restaurant on Utrechtsedwarsstraat in a busy little area of the city. If you are looking for a pre-dinner drink or want to wander to look for alternative cafe options then this is a good place. The restaurant is fairly small with perhaps a dozen tables; by the end of our mid week meal, all but two of the tables were occupied. Our server was a friendly African woman with not a particularly good command of English; however ordering food and drink from a menu isn't too tricky and so we all managed the situation well. We were a little taken aback to find the prices of the main dishes were around 15-17 Euros each; I think we had read elsewhere that eating Ethiopian was a fairly inexpensive choice. In any case, as meals tend to be large, we thought we would skip the starter. For drinks there was a rather unusual choice; a palm oil lager, a banana beer or queen lager made with honey. Obviously you could have wine if you prefer. Through the course of the evening the three of us sampled each. The palm oil lager was strong at 6.7% and although it was fine had an (unsurprisingly) oily taste to it. The banana and honey lager were very "banana" and "honey" and were both a little too sweet for my taste. However, as we were only drinking a beer or two with our meal it was interesting to sample a different taste. My beer was served in a wide nut shell bowel whereas the women in the group had half glasses to sip their drink demurely (our waitress obviously didn't know them!).Our meal arrived on a tin plate; a couple of cold egg based pancakes, some very small salads and a small bowl of stew. While the pancakes were fine, our dining companion commented that they had the look and consistency of tripe. I had ordered a spicy beef dish and found it rich and spicy, although the portion was a little small. Our dining companion had the lamb, which unusually had been boiled in a fairly light spicy liquid, while my beloved had a chicken drum stick sticking out of another small bowl of liquid. I felt the meat in the lamb and beef dish was good quality, although there was not enough of it, and the chicken drumstick (although the same price) seemed a bit "cheap" by comparison. My beloved did not get much meat from the dish. I have eaten Ethiopian food in Brixton, London in the past, and while Axum Restaurant came well recommended, I felt my other meal had been better, larger and cheaper. While our drinks and food arrived fairly quickly, as the meal progressed service slowed considerably, with our server spending a lot of time in the kitchen, which suggested she was either cooking the meals, helping out or plating up. Obviously that left long periods where diners were left unattended, and which meant we had about a 15 minute wait to ask for our bill. It meant we skipped the intriguing coffee "served the Ethiopian way" as we had rather lost the will to live by that point. Overall, while our meal was tasty and good I was a little underwhelmed with the quantity of the food for the price we paid, and the deteriorating service at the end of the evening knocked another star off my rating.
Wandering around the Jordann area of Amsterdam we suddenly noticed that the heavens were about to open with a huge thunder storm coming. Fortunately, we were stood outside a bar (Cafe Papeniland) we had always wanted to visit, but had always previously found there no seats there. It seemed like fate and we arrived at the door just as the first juicy drops erupted over the cobbles outside.Cafe Papeniland is in a typical area of the Jordann; a nice neighbourhood populated more with locals than tourists. It is on a corner with an attractive canal as backdrop. The cafe dates from 1642, and has a lot of old features, including an old stove surrounded by deft tiles.While the bar offers a fairly standard set of Amsterdam brews (large over fizzy glasses of lager Amstel at 5 Euros or the usual fare of draft palm and bottled light lager), we enjoyed the decor of this old brown bar. The look is wooden and there are plenty of little old tables dotted around the unevenly shaped room. We also admired the well executed and modern paintings of the inside of the bar hanging on the wall. The bathrooms are downstairs in the cellar, and there is an additional upstairs seating area on a wooden platform. Obviously disability access wasn’t a tick box requirement of the architects of yesteryear. As we sat, more people came in from the rain offering a good range of the good folks of Amsterdam to observe. While others have said the service is unfriendly, we liked the bar staff and found her very helpful. She certainly got herself very wet shutting all the windows to ensure her patrons were in the dry. We also visited the cafe later on our trip during a more pleasant afternoon. The outside of the bar is shaded from the worst of the afternoon sun, although locals had beaten us to the best seats. The Cafe was flooded with the wonderful smell of apple and cinnamon and we spotted the beautiful looking cake on the bar. It had to be done, and one slice with three forks did all three of us for a little snack and cost less than 4 Euro. The only thing letting the apple pie down was the mass of sweet squirty cream on the side, which we left.
Although a walk along the stalls of the flower market is very touristy, a little wander is still worth 15 minutes of your time. We always like looking at the different bulbs and fancy flowers on sale on the various stalls down the street. The stalls are typically a large greenhouse or plastic covered shed with an open front; inside stall holders either specialise in selling beautiful cut flowers, or they sell bulbs and tubors and other plants. While the edge of the market extends over onto the canal, the bit used by the public is on the street. All together there are around 15 stalls on a long line. Also on offer is the usual tourist tat such as wooden shoes with your name on it, and even some "grow your own dope" kits (and it goes without saying that you might have "fun" at customs if you have one of those in your luggage).Given that a lot of the wares are on the floor in boxes, make sure you watch where you are going as it’s easy to trip over something. The flower market is a great place to buy a few little knick knacks for your cat sitter back at home, and those countries with laws about importing bulbs (and soil) into their country will be pleased to know that the stalls can arrange postage (for a fee). The prices of the bulbs and flowers are actually quite reasonable in UK terms, and the quality of the bulbs are good – we have some in our garden from many years back. I guess the sheer competition of the number of stalls mean they can't charge too much of a premium. I also assume that the stalls selling bulbs make most of their cash selling to tourists; looking around the city determines that most Amsterdammers must live in apartments with very limited outdoor space. It's also worth looking behind you as you go down the flower market; with so many passersby the houses on the canal street have gradually been transformed into tourist shops and restaurants. While you are unlikely to find the biggest bargains in this popular street, there are some nice arty type shops and little enticising restaurants and cafes. I was particularly drawn to an excellent looking Indonesian restaurant although alas it was the wrong time of day for us to stop for a bite to eat.To sum up, a wander down the flower market won't take too much time out of your day and it is a typical and interesting Amsterdam experience.
by Slug on August 6, 2012
This is a new hotel and at around 70 Euros a night for the two of us; a very reasonable Amsterdam deal. As always in Amsterdam affordability is a balance between quality and location, although we would struggle to get anything beyond a crummy tiny room with a shared bathroom within the city centre itself for this kind of money.The downside to the Amsterdam Meininger is its location as it is a short train ride, or a long tram ride out from Central Station in Amsterdam. However, we were reassured that our last train back from the city centre was 1:30 am, which is long past our staying awake capacity these days. Likewise, I'm sure night owls would be happy partying in Amsterdam until the morning trains resume at approximately 5:00 am. Alas, those days are well behind me.The nice thing about our train station is that it is called something like "slotter dick"; as well as affording some limited comedic value it is also pretty memorable. It’s actually called Sloterdijk station. The hotel is literally on the same concourse as the train station, and trains in and out of Amsterdam are very frequent – perhaps as often as every 10 minutes. The other nice thing is that the station is between Amsterdam and the airport, making the hotel very easy to get to from either side. The only downside, of course is that forgetting something is annoying as it involves a hop back on the train. Trains in either direction take around 10 minutes.Train tickets are around 4 Euros return per person. Unfortunately, Amsterdam has a rather silly pricing structure which means paying hard cash at a counter makes your tickets more expensive, as does paying by credit card. The cheapest way to pay is by machine and debit card, but the machines do not accept UK debit cards! It's akin to being a squirrel finding that last nut or two in a bird feeder and not being able to extract them through neither love nor money!Our hotel room was perfectly pleasant; the only downside being the sealed windows, which always makes me want to gasp some fresh air; the air con sounds like a distant bath being drawn and of course is very environmentally wasteful. We had a view of the train station, which I guess would be someone's ideal situation although I personally find the sounds of the trains passing quite soothing. Again with the windows being sealed, there isn't a great deal of noise to contend with. The room is very "IKEA" with brightly coloured MDF furniture holding court. The walls are a rather daring sludgy green and fawn, which sounds unsettling, but is quite distinctive and it works. The wall is simply rough dippled concrete which means any drunken stumbling incidents will be remembered through a graze or two the next morning. The beds were particularly comfortable and the shower lovely; as the hotel is new everything was comfortable and shiny. Check in was a little laborious as the staff member told us we had to pay for both rooms we had booked as one (and while we had cash, our friend wanted to pay by card). I found it a little odd they wanted cash before allowing us into our rooms, but I guess in Amsterdam they can't be too careful. After a bit of huffing and puffing we managed to get agreement that both methods of payment could be accepted; although the card machine wasn't working. During the melee, we didn't get a receipt for our cash (which made me worry slightly whether we would end up paying for it twice). Of course, we didn't.The bar also annoyed me as we asked for a bottle of water to take to our room and was told they had to pour the bottle into a glass and that we couldn't take the glass away. There were water bottle machines in the lobby but there were only two bottles of water left, and the machine didn't accept two Euro coins; so it was with much scrabbling and begging of coins that we obtained our water. Completely unnecessary process, which annoyed me enough to guarantee we didn't trouble to use the hotel bar for anything else during our stay.There is also a communal kitchen in the hotel if you want to save on expenses. I'm not quite sure who does the washing up, but there were two families creating a fantastic meal using every pan in the place. Another slight annoyance was that the claimed wifi in all rooms didn't actually work. Perhaps it was just teething problems considering the hotel had only been open two weeks.Summing up, this is a nice clean hotel and good value for your money. In fact, the main inconvenience of a few minor niggles is that it is a train ride away from the centre of Amsterdam, and once you are back at your hotel there is very little to do or see outside (there is no little bar around the corner as the surroundings seem largely to be office blocks). With its modern styling, the hotel doesn't have any Amsterdam charm, but is perfectly comfortable.
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