Bleak House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by koshkha on May 18, 2013

I go to Amsterdam every month at least once or twice and if I possibly can, I like to stay at the Novotel on Europaboulevard. My latest trip didn’t allow that as the hotel was fully booked up for the Europa Cup final. We had to find somewhere else to stay and one of the secretaries came up with Casa400 in the district known as Amsterdam East. If I’ve been to that area before, I don’t remember it and nothing seemed at all familiar when we rolled up in a taxi. It’s handy for work as it’s just a few miles from our office in Diemen and the hotel website claims you can get to the city centre in nine minutes. Note the precision – not eight or ten, but nine. I assume that’s the time it takes for the train from the nearby Amstel railway station to reach Central Station.

The reception area is bright and airy with a really high ceiling and lots of big windows. The lobby is enormous and spacious despite containing a lot of furniture. Brightly coloured sofas stand in neat lines and a super large table that looks like something out of a library looks like the perfect place to read a newspaper or wait for your friends. Given the amount of space it was perhaps a bit surprising that the reception desk seemed to be squished into a small corner of the room with the staff almost falling over each other behind the desk. The hotel is laid out with an open air atrium enclosed within the building. This has lots of little green bushes on a terraced slope with a water feature trickling through the middle.

Our check in took quite a while because the staff were giving so much attention to each group who booked in. Free maps were being flashed around and pens pulled out to highlight what was worth seeing, where to eat and where to find the station. It would be churlish to moan that it took a while to check in when the staff were trying so hard to help other people.

The hotel has over 500 rooms and mine was up on the sixth floor. You can only activate the lift with your room key by holding it to a sensor by the control panel. This is not unusual in Amsterdam hotels. My room was a bit bleak and stark in décor. It was very clean and bright but I couldn’t help wishing that there was a bit of colour to relieve the icy appearance of bright white walls and white bedding. There was a bit of colour provided by the curtains, vertical stripes of brown and red. I found the window arrangements a bit odd because my room was looked into by students in a room outside and I found myself drawing the curtains rather than just settling for the net curtains.

Normally I’m pretty unforgiving about Dutch hotel beds but this one was excellent. As two singles linked together, it was very large and even more importantly very comfortable. One of the mysteries of Dutch hotel beds is that they’re often a bit short in a land where people are some of the tallest in the world. This was not one of those short beds, nor was it horribly soft as many Dutch beds tend to be.

When I enter a room the first thing I look for is the bag stand. I hate to have to scrabble around on the floor or spread my things out on the spare bed and I always go hunting in the wardrobes to see if I can find one. At Casa 400 there is neither a bag stand, nor a desk but the two are served instead by a wide wooden shelf that runs the width of the room in front of the window. Due to the lack of space between the bed and the ledge and the size of the provided chairs, I didn’t find this a suitable alternative to a proper desk and instead sat on the bed with my laptop (appropriately enough) on my lap, watching the television which – as is standard in Holland – had BBC1 and BBC2. Many will ask "Why on earth does that matter?" but if you spend as many nights in hotels as I do, it’s a real treat to be able to watch proper television instead of 24 hour news channels.

For those who want to be able to make their own picnics or eat in their room, the small fridge will be a welcome bonus but there’s no mini-bar. I don’t think I know anyone who ever drinks from the mini-bar so that’s no great loss. Wardrobe space at Casa 400 is very generous but I’m happy to live out of my small bag. There are both a safe and some kind of fan tucked away in the wardrobe though I didn’t use either.

I was quite impressed by my first impressions of the bathroom although I generally prefer a bath to a shower and the lighting was pretty awful. The mirror is heated which you’ll only notice if you steam up the room with a good hot shower but sadly the lighting is so poor that anyone who wears make up or needs to shave away their stubble may struggle. It’s also very unusual that the ONLY mirror in the room is the bathroom mirror. One of my colleagues said she dragged a chair into the bathroom and stood on it to check she looked OK. What I did like about the bathroom was the very wide vanity unit. I hate to have to squeeze all my gear onto a small sink surround.

We ate in the hotel in the ‘Circles’ restaurant and the food was really very good. The place is not as stylish as much of the hotel and felt a bit cramped but the service was pleasant and the food was very good. I had a bowl of the best tomato soup I ever tasted followed by a tuna Nicoise salad, although it was not the most authentic interpretation I’ve ever seen of this classic dish. Prices were well within what I expected for a hotel restaurant and the service was well timed.

I didn’t really enjoy my breakfast the next morning and felt it was well over-priced at €16.50 a head. By local terms that’s not an outrageous price for a hotel breakfast but I found the selection disappointing and the layout of the buffet was confusing. I enjoyed the fresh orange juice squeezer but the rest was very bland.

Our departure the next morning went smoothly with very little delay on check-out and the staff called us a taxi which rolled up very quickly. My room was €119 for the night plus breakfast which was a full €100 less than I was offered for my usual hotel due to the demand for rooms caused by the football. I’m sure a standard booking at Casa 400 would be cheaper. If you don’t mind being a bit out of the centre but still with the city in easy access, this is a nice, quiet area to stay and I would recommend including it on your short list but would recommend you don’t take the breakfast.
Hotel Casa 400
James Wattstraat 75
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, 1097

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