Written by jenandfrank on 11 Apr, 2005
Hotel Pulitzer - Prinsengracht 315-331 Amsterdam 1016 GZ, (31)(20) 5235235.
Overlooking the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals, this hotel is located near the old city center of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House, and a 10-minute walk from Dam Square. The Pulitzer is unique because it…Read More
Hotel Pulitzer - Prinsengracht 315-331 Amsterdam 1016 GZ, (31)(20) 5235235.
Overlooking the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals, this hotel is located near the old city center of Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House, and a 10-minute walk from Dam Square. The Pulitzer is unique because it is comprised of 25 restored 17th- and 18th-century canal houses featuring 230 guest rooms. The lobby was simple and somewhat sparse, with a small seating area, a fireplace, the front desk, concierge desk, and three small elevators (one was a service elevator)– that’s it. They did have plenty of fresh flowers around, and although the hotel was sold out (Easter weekend), it never felt that we were in a tourist-high traffic spot. There was wireless Internet access in all public areas, meeting facilities, and executive rooms, but not in our standard canal view room. There was also a business center in the front lobby where a fax, two computers, and a printer were located.
We found the concierge desk to be very helpful, even before we arrived, via email. However, their choice of restaurants did not coincide with ours, and they refused to recommend or discuss places that the hotel didn’t have a relationship with, or so it seemed. That was a minor problem because we had read about so many great places, and all they would say is, "It’s a casual place". What does that mean? The desk offered tickets for sale to the Anne Frank house and Van Gogh museum, which allowed us to skip the lines at the attractions altogether. That was a major bonus, and the cost was the same. They also had a wide variety of daily newspapers and magazines that guests were allowed to take. The entire staff spoke English fluently, and that made our trip much easier.
The rooms were a fair size for a European hotel, but the ceilings were low, so I’m not sure how someone over 6’ would fare, especially in the shower. My husband is 5’11", and his head was almost touching the ceiling while showering. There were gold comforters in the standard canal-view rooms with dark wood and limited lighting. The queen bed had two separate down comforters underneath the decorative gold one. This way, we each had our own. There was a small desk, a separate set of drawers under the TV, and a very small closet-armoire, as well – no regular closet. During the day, we were able to open our wall-length curtains, which provided plenty of light and a great view - it was the evenings that were the problem.
Although the views of the canal were pretty and the windows opened halfway, it was very noisy throughout the day and often throughout the night with cars, bicycle bells, motorcycles, and just people talking. I would recommend passing on the upgraded room and taking a garden view room to ensure a good night’s sleep. The hotel claims to offer a free daily newspaper, which we never received – not once. They also claim to offer a standard complimentary turndown service, which we requested daily and only received once. They made a lot of excuses, but no real apologies for the lack of service, either.
A safe, minibar, cable TV, robes, slippers, plenty of toiletries, a complimentary packet of waffle cookies, one complimentary bottle of water, and air-conditioning were standard here, but I would recommend bringing your own hair dryer, since these only work if you hold the button down while drying. The bathrooms were a decent size, but again, the low ceilings would be a problem for some people. The shower had a standard showerhead and an additional, moveable one. Briefly getting back to the complimentary toiletries, I could not believe the amount that was in the bathroom waiting for us. Other than the standard shampoo, conditioner, bathing gel, and lotion, there was a nail kit, shoe kit, sewing kit, shower cap, cotton balls, and face swabs, Q-tips, and bath salts. Now, if the housekeeping was slightly better and there was a little extra light, that room would have been perfect.
The Pulitzer has complimentary access to the gym, and we were told it is equipped with the latest state-of-the-art fitness equipment and individual flat screen TVs. We never got a chance to see it because we were spending our days exploring the city. In terms of dining, there were two options available to us and a third that is a seasonal (summer) dining choice. The Pulitzers Bar is a lounge-type bar with cigar smoking and is opened from 5pm–1am daily. The Pulitzers Restaurant (hello, creativity) served an international cuisine in a casual environment and was opened daily from 7am–11pm. We found the menu to be pricey, but the restaurant was always packed. In the warmer months, there is an outdoor/garden area available.
The Pulitzer was named to Condé Nast Traveler's 2004 Gold List, but I think overall the hotel was good, but not great, which is what I expect from a gold list hotel. Ultimately, I would go back there again if I booked at a good price, but not otherwise. Although it had a great location, the housekeeping was spotty, the street was very noisy, and the hotel was not five-star. Recommended.
Written by jaybroek on 17 Nov, 2004
A newborn son has brought many exciting and wondrous things to my life. One thing I am surprisingly grateful for is the dawn. The Little Tomato has long since surrendered to his mother’s fierce regime and sleeps through to a respectable hour, but I still…Read More
A newborn son has brought many exciting and wondrous things to my life. One thing I am surprisingly grateful for is the dawn. The Little Tomato has long since surrendered to his mother’s fierce regime and sleeps through to a respectable hour, but I still spring to life as the sun comes up with perky regularity. This tendency, ably assisted by the somewhat cell-like surroundings of my hotel room, meant I had a couple of hours to explore the city before the conference got going.
On my first morning, I opted for a policy of ‘find a canal and follow it’, which led me though the Red Light District in a roughly southerly direction out to the Grachtengordel. The ring of canals around the old centre of Amsterdam are an inspired piece of city planning dating back to the 17th century, when the Dutch were in their heyday and Amsterdam was a wealthy trading port. With ships of the Dutch East India Company bringing vast wealth back from the East, the city expanded outwards and the Grachtengordel we see today was built.
The Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinzengracht are the three canals that form the elegant curve encircling the old city as far as the Amstel. Each is lined with trees and cobbled streets separating the narrow, gabled houses and old warehouses from the waterway. The main arteries into and out of the centre cut across the district but do little to disturb the gentrified calm. I stop on every bridge and try to capture the definitive Grachtengordel image, much to the cyclists' tinkling annoyance. The enormous windows offer glimpses into some of the city’s most desirable properties; I catch sight of mezzanine floors and enormous, expensive-looking canvases. No wonder they had no money left over for curtains.
The district’s canal houses are one of Amsterdam’s defining images; tall and narrow, their individuality is crowned with a flourish of gable. Most date back to the city’s golden age, when merchants wanted to display their opulence, but in a typically modest Dutch fashion. Some seem a little in need of help; you’ll see houses appear to lean on each other, getting assistance in their dotage. As I wander, I discover and jot down numbers for all the charming hotels that I find; I will not make the same mistake again!
On my second morning, I cut through to the Nieuwmarkt and espied the multi-turreted Waag. This fantastical 14th-century building has been through many phases from its origins as a city gate and is now a restaurant and bar that don’t open at seven in the morning. I headed south along Kloveniersburgwal, my target being the Magere Brug over the Amstel. Kloveniersburgwal cuts through the university district and is peaceful in the early daylight, with few people using it as a shortcut to anywhere.
I made it to the skinny swing bridge with the sky glowing pink-orange. The Magere Brug dates back to 1670, and legend has it that its predecessor was originally built by two sisters who lived on opposite banks. Its distinctive arms give the river-crossing something of the formality it deserves. I took the requisite photo, turned my back, and headed back.
Circumstances had forced me into early morning exploration, but it had uncovered a different Amsterdam.
Written by jaybroek on 15 Nov, 2004
My two days in Amsterdam left precious little time for sightseeing. I was here to prove my worth as a ‘Usability Consultant’, or at least find out what one was before I went home. This meant that exploring was restricted to evenings and early morning…Read More
My two days in Amsterdam left precious little time for sightseeing. I was here to prove my worth as a ‘Usability Consultant’, or at least find out what one was before I went home. This meant that exploring was restricted to evenings and early morning strolls. But this is Amsterdam -- a city that has much to offer the wandering waif with no aims or plan. Many of the things it has to offer are not for the faint of heart or clean of limb, I’ll grant you, but that is part of the fun.
Like so many before me, I arrived in the ‘Dam via Centraal Station. A grand design by the notable Dutch architect Cuypers, its ornate façade is currently obscured by scaffolding. Arrival here pitched me into the heart of the city – the wide, garish main drag that is the Damrak leads from here directly to Dam square. Once a canal that took boats up to moorings in the square, the Damrak is now home to all the tourist-capturing grot one should aim to avoid. I could’ve been in any city if it wasn’t for the trams and the squadrons of bicycles.
The Damrak opens up into Dam square, a wide, cobbled, open space that is the heart of the Old Centre. I found it a pretty soulless spot and felt little need to linger, although circumstances ensured I was never far away. The square is lined with some of Amsterdam’s grander and heavier buildings (an important consideration when you’re building on sand at sea level). The west side is dominated by the Koninklijk Paleis, one of the residences of the House of Oranje-Nassau. It’s a fairly sober affair, designed in the days when the Dutch were an international trading giant and had neighbours to impress. On its north side is the Niewe Kerke, a not-so-new, deconsecrated Gothic church of dominating proportions. I found it a useful landmark; the narrow, bar-laden Gravenstraat runs right behind it.
Opposite the palace is one of the finest and largest hotels in Amsterdam, the Grand Hotel Kraznapolsky. This monstrous 19th-century building was hosting the conference I was attending, and so I have intimate knowledge of some of its many function rooms. I counted five different restaurants within the vast public area on the ground floor. The daddy of them all is the Winter Garden, where we took lunch (it isn’t open for dinner). This grand, bright space at the heart of the hotel is a majestic place in which to eat; judging by the buffets we were given, it would be well worth splashing out.
Competing with the other architectural giants on Dam square is De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam’s premier department store and my gift-buying saviour. Luckily for me, late night shopping is Thursday, so the Blonde and the little Tomato got their presents, and beautifully wrapped (for no extra charge) to boot. The kids’ clothes and chi-chi gifts can be found on the topmost floors.
No wander round the Old Centre would be complete without a saunter down the side of the canals Oudezijds Achterburgwal and Oudezijds Voorburgwal. Picturesque hump-backed bridges straddle the waterways. The omnipresent glow of red light evidently warms the nice young ladies who sit in their windows and watch the happy gentlemen (and couples and tour parties) go by; they don’t feel the need to wear too much, despite the chill breeze coming down the canals.
Form your own opinion about the city’s approach to the ‘oldest profession’; the place has a curiosity value that red light districts elsewhere don’t hold. It hasn’t alleviated the district’s seediness, however; pimps and junkies mingle with the tourists, and I didn’t hang around.
The Old Centre of Amsterdam is alive with action; the place is packed with bars, shops, restaurants, and those coffee shops that make the city renowned in certain quarters. If you want to lose your weekend in whatever is your chosen manner, then look no further.
Written by Mr. Wonka on 17 Nov, 2005
Here are some quick reviews of a few coffee shops I recently visited. Keep in mind that prices change often, as do the available products. Siberie - Whether you’re a regular local or wide-eyed tourist, you won’t catch any attitude at Siberie, which is sandwiched…Read More
Here are some quick reviews of a few coffee shops I recently visited. Keep in mind that prices change often, as do the available products. Siberie - Whether you’re a regular local or wide-eyed tourist, you won’t catch any attitude at Siberie, which is sandwiched in a row of Amsterdam’s famed canal houses on a gorgeous stretch of Brouwersgracht. With the smooth, pulsing sounds of jazz, reggae, and trance music filling the airy space lit by dim track lighting, I settled in with some Nepal hash (11 euro/gram) and a few rounds of Dr. Who pinball. The staff went out of their way to make me and other patrons feel welcome, the hash selection was solid, and the spacious benches and tables are accommodating of groups. Push the button near the front of the counter to illuminate Siberie’s menu, which not only lists what’s available, but also shows it. Highly recommended. Brouwersgracht 11Grey Area - Much ballyhooed for its high-quality strains like “Grey Mist” and “Double Bubble,” this funky little spot is packed with locals and tourists alike. Run by two Americans who seem to always have a smile on their face (hmm, they work in a coffee shop all day, I wonder why…), Grey Area was my first stop on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. After picking up 2 grams of Grey Mist (7,50 euro/gram), I borrowed a glass bong from the house and took a seat at one of the small metal tables. As the place started filling up, I decided to jet, returned the bong, grabbed my backpack… and promptly sent my metal chair crashing onto the metal floor. I hadn’t realized one of my bag’s shoulder straps was caught on the leg, so I got to be the guy everyone stared at and who thought had “smoked too much.” Good one, slick! Oude Leliestraat 2Het Balloonnetje - A Pac-Man machine, a frog-filled terrarium, upstairs and outdoors seating areas, and friendly service: what else can you possibly ask for? Located directly across from UAV, Balloonnetje is far, far away from the touristy shops in Centrum, affording a true Amsterdam coffee shop experience for the judicious connoisseurs out there. The product selection is solid (though I can’t recommend the “Power Plant”), and better yet everything on the menu can be had for 4,50 euro in case you want to test a few strains. Grab a table outside, order up a cheese sandwich and fruit drink, and relax. Roetersstraat 12Dolphins - Yes, there’s really a coffee shop named Dolphins, and yes, it’s decorated up and down with a tacky oceanic theme. Still, there’s something endearing about their brazen cheesiness… or was it just the gram of “White Dolphin” that had me singing hallelujah? At 10 euro/gram, the appropriately named house special has a nice, mellow high to it—perfect for visitors on their first trip to the ‘Dam. No trip to Dolphins is complete without partaking in the basement seating area, which is wrapped in a series of angular benches and couches and painted from floor to ceiling with a “you’re underwater looking up” perspective. Nice. Kerkstraat 39Amnesia - The quintessential coffee shop for a cold, rainy night in the ‘Dam. Plush red interiors, pillowy bench seating, and elegant chandeliers class up the joint in a non-snooty-kind-of-way, while dim bulb lighting tops off the cozy atmosphere like a cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae. Bongs and pipes are available to borrow, but I recommend a pre-rolled joint of “Silver Haze” for 5 euro. No attitude, a fantastic menu, and a great location on the Herengracht canal. Herengracht 133Homegrown Fantasy - If you’re easily amused, don’t miss the UV ray-lit bathrooms at this amiable café down the street from Magna Plaza. Besides being the only coffee shop in Amsterdam that magically turns your urine a bright green color, Homegrown Fantasy also offers a fantastic selection of teas, hot chocolate, and other beverages to accompany their solid weed selection. When I asked for the popular “Blue Cheese” strain, the dealer sympathetically told me they were out, and suggested another kind that escapes my memory, but was great. You’ll also find strong, tasty “space cakes”—brownies and cakes cooked with hash—here. I have two random, ridiculous quotes from a conversation between me and Trixie jotted down in my notebook here… out of context, it likely mean nothing to you, but I’m including them anyway for my own amusement.“I mean, they’d rather have you doing that than shooting up heroine in the streets!”“Ohhh, this is our song!” (referring to a Biggie Smalls ditty playing over the stereo)Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 87aGreenhouse Tolstraat - Judging by their red-eyed snapshots hanging on the wall, Woody Harrelson, Fran Drescher, Eminem, and a host of other celebrities all enjoyed their time at this friendly spot in De Pijp. Its wild popularity is no coincidence, despite a somewhat isolated location. Greenhouse seems to be a big Cannabis Cup winner every year, and after a few puffs of “Super Maroc” hash (6,20 euro/gram) mixed with “Jack Herer” (6,20 euro/gram), it was easy to see why. As we sat around a small wooden table on a fluffy leather couch in the back seating area, I seem to remember a debate about whether or not the dim lights were flickering… yes, the Maroc and the Jack Herer are a good combination indeed. Tolstraat 91For more coffee shop reviews, please see my first short guide to Amsterdam coffee shops. Close
I’m not exactly sure what's in Haarlem’s food and water supply, but everything and everyone in this small Dutch city gleams like the crown of Mr. Clean’s head. Residents with pearly white smiles, pressed and ironed clothes, and rosy dimples stroll through narrow, spick-and-span streets.…Read More
I’m not exactly sure what's in Haarlem’s food and water supply, but everything and everyone in this small Dutch city gleams like the crown of Mr. Clean’s head. Residents with pearly white smiles, pressed and ironed clothes, and rosy dimples stroll through narrow, spick-and-span streets. Public garbage cans are tidy and empty. Storefronts look brand new, restaurants have floors you could practically eat off… even the towering Grote Kerk cathedral seems to have staved off time’s natural weathering. Indeed, Amsterdam’s westerly neighbor is that idyllic Dutch village you’d imagine only existing in fictional films.Trixie and I set out for Haarlem on our trusty steeds early on a sunny Saturday morning, ready for a leisurely bike ride on Holland’s famously flat roads. The path from Amsterdam to Haarlem begins just west of Centraal Station; it shouldn’t be too difficult to find, but someone will point you in the right direction if it is. In true Dutch fashion, the route is thoughtfully laid out with the bicyclist in mind, with well-placed signage directing you out of the city and towards the main path. Once you’re on it, it’s a straight shot to Haarlem.The path winds through the oft-forgotten Westpaark to start. While it doesn’t quite carry the historical panache of Vondelpark, the expanse of greenery here is rather appealing, and the crowds are minimal. After riding through the park, you’ll quickly move through the western outskirts of Amsterdam before hitting the main stretch. It could just have easily run directly alongside the highway, but this is the Dutch we’re talking about. Instead, you’ll plunge into a quiet, tree-lined route that rolls past cow-inhabited pastures, green meadows, and even a few windmills along the way. About halfway there, you’ll go through the appropriately named village of Halfweg, where you can refuel with snacks and drinks.We got a bit turned around once we arrived in Haarlem, but, of course, had no trouble getting directions back downtown from a local. Famished from the ride and craving some smoked Gouda sandwiches, we made a beeline for the nearest Albert Heijn and settled in on someone’s stoop for our “feast.” Here in New York, folks aren’t exactly psyched to leave/come home and find someone laid out at their doorstep with lunch, but when a man and his son opened the door behind us on their way out for a bike ride, he insisted it was no problem, and that we stay and finish our food. I love it.After lunch, we locked up the bikes and sauntered through the crowded pedestrian shopping streets, gawking at the crisp, straight-out-of-a-Dutch-Hallmark-card shine permeating our surroundings. A farmer’s market here, a quaint musical organ cheerfully cranking out Dutch folk songs there, and then it was off to the Frans Hals Museum.The museum is much bigger than it looks at first glance, housing a beautifully manicured outdoor courtyard, a small café, and, of course, the world’s finest collection of Frans Hals paintings. Along with a guy named Vincent Van Gogh (whose work you won’t find here), Hals is regarded as one of Holland’s most important painters. The nominal 7-euro admission price is well worth it.What a fantastic day trip. You can, of course, visit Haarlem by hopping aboard an express train from Centraal Station and be there in less than 10 minutes, but, well, that’s just no fun at all. Besides, after eating all those frites slathered in satay sauce, not to mention mounds of silky Dutch chocolate, your body will welcome the moderate challenge of pedaling your way to Haarlem, the closest thing to Eden this side of the Atlantic. Close
Written by Illion on 11 Mar, 2002
Public Transportation in Amsterdam, the Trams.
Public transportation in Amsterdam is pretty good, especially when travelling within the old City centre, the ‘Grachtengordel’. From almost any spot in this three-quarter of a circle you can reach a Tram-stop within five minutes. Maybe this isn’t such a…Read More
Public Transportation in Amsterdam, the Trams.
Public transportation in Amsterdam is pretty good, especially when travelling within the old City centre, the ‘Grachtengordel’. From almost any spot in this three-quarter of a circle you can reach a Tram-stop within five minutes. Maybe this isn’t such a feat when you realize you can cross the diagonal of this circle in about 30 to 45 minutes on foot, but still. This year the dented and familiar yellow trams will be replaced by state of the art new ones. During the week, on normal hours, Trams aren’t extremely crowded and you usually can sit down. This is quite comfortable as Tram chauffeurs tend to accelerate en decelerate very quickly. If you can’t sit down grab a pole or one of the loops hanging from the ceiling. You won’t be the first to tumble over as the tram starts to move. During rush hours and in the weekend Trams get crammed. But don’t worry, even when the Tram appears completely full, you can always squeeze in a few more!
Why should I buy a Strippenkaart?
Now for the trickiest part of Public Transportation. How to pay? There are a few options. First, you can buy a ticket with the conductors, sitting in the back of the tram or with the chauffeur. These tickets cost €1,40. They are a rip off, but I will come to that later. In some cases, there isn’t a conductor sitting in the back. How to pay in that case? Most locals don’t, that’s why in more and more Trams the conductor is reintroduced. As an honest citizen you off course do pay. This requires a day ticket or a ‘Strippenkaart'. To put it simply: all tickets but the ‘Strippenkaart’ are a rip off. Remember the ticket costing €1,40? The same trip will cost you €0,79 or even €0,77 when using the card. Also, don’t buy a day ticket. It will cost you €5,20 for one day. Now comes the hard part: explaining why this is a bad deal.
A Strippenkaart with 15 strips will cost you €5,90, one with 45 strips costs €17,40. The Netherlands is divided into public transportation zones. The centre of Amsterdam, and quite a bit more, is one zone. When using a Strippenkaart you stamp one strip as a starting tariff and one strip for each zone you intend to travel. So for almost all locations you want to visit in Amsterdam, which are all in the same zone, you stamp two strips. Once stamped, you can use all public transport within this zone for one hour. So for the price of a one-day ticket you can travel almost seven consecutive hours within the centre of Amsterdam. The chances you will do such a thing are very slim. As quite a lot of attractions are within walking distance of each other you will never have to stamp seven times, unless you refuse to walk. So use a Strippenkaart. You can buy it at Central Station, or at almost all supermarkets, tobacconists or tourist shops.
How to use the Strippenkaart?
When you get in the Tram you can have your card stamped by the chauffeur or the conductor. Just present them the card and say you want to travel one zone. If you get into a Tram without a conductor, you can stamp yourself in one of the yellow machines hanging next to the doors. Just fold your card in the way that the second strip beneath the last stamp is on top. Put it in the slot of the yellow machine. You’ll hear a ‘ping’ and your card is stamped. Sounds difficult, but it's quite easy!
Written by Jim Rosenberg on 30 Sep, 2000
Mention a visit to Amsterdam to people and the reaction will often include a wink, a raised eyebrow or a silly grin. Amsterdam is well-known for its tolerance for certain drug use and its famous Red Light district. Perhaps it is Europe's version…Read More
Mention a visit to Amsterdam to people and the reaction will often include a wink, a raised eyebrow or a silly grin. Amsterdam is well-known for its tolerance for certain drug use and its famous Red Light district. Perhaps it is Europe's version of Las Vegas -- a place where people go to legally 'break the rules' from time to time in an environment where that is accepted.
But unlike Vegas, Amsterdam has centuries of history and a distinctive personality that has been borrowed from nowhere else. From its funky coffee shops and brown cafes to its distinctive, organized rows of canal houses and world-class art museums, Amsterdam defies comparison with anyplace else. What could be more romantic than hours of walking along its beautiful canals -- or more seedy than the spectacle of its Red Light district theatre shows? Amsterdam is a place that can simply become what its visitor wants it to be.
At less than one million residents and very compact in the canal district, the city is very manageable and easy to negotiate for even less-than-seasoned travelers. You won't be expected to know Dutch, the restaurants are reasonable and there is nothing particularly tricky to figure out. Despite the hoards of tourists that visit each year, there is nothing particularly 'plastic' about Amsterdam either.
You don't need a plan. Just walk and discover. Chances are good that you may return; for as conflicting as the values in play may seem at times, Amsterdam has a special charm that is worth coming back to. Close
Written by nickj on 06 Jul, 2001
So what’s to see in Amsterdam? To tell the truth I was a bit concerned when, resorting to my usual favourite guide book, I failed to turn up the usual stunning list of must see attractions. Okay, so there were a few galleries to see,…Read More
So what’s to see in Amsterdam? To tell the truth I was a bit concerned when, resorting to my usual favourite guide book, I failed to turn up the usual stunning list of must see attractions. Okay, so there were a few galleries to see, the odd canal or two and about a hundred odd churches of varying vintages but nothing really stood out. The main reason for visiting Amsterdam seemed to come down to smut and drugs. Fair enough, I thought, slumming for a week in Amsterdam sound like a good way to spend Easter.
An hour out of Gatwick we coasted into Schipol barely giving the hosties time to whip away the potted airline meal that they had placed in front of us scant moments before. The airport was efficient and customs a breeze and we were out onto the train into Amsterdam Centraal in the space of 20 minutes. From the train station a quick tram ride (3 guilders - about 85p) took us to our first port of call, the Budget Hotel Euphemia, our home for the first two nights. Due to the popularity of Amsterdam over the Easter break we were being forced to relocate to the charmingly named "Flying Pig" hostel for the last three days of our stay, but more about that later.
From the southern canal district we walked up into the centre of town along the Kalvestrasse shopping mall. The first thing that struck me was that Amsterdam felt a lot more like a modern American city than it was an a stuffy old European trading port. The well organised open streets and spaces reminded me a more of Chicago than they did of the haphazard clutter of a London suburb. The canals help of course since they give the inner suburbs a sense of space unequalled in most modern, automobile dominated cities.
On the following day I persuaded Harv to join me in a jaunt to a museum for a smidgen of culture. Following my convention of avoiding the big name galleries in favour of smaller, quirkier attractions, I chose the Stedelijk modern art museum. On the whole it was rather disappointing - the museum curators choose not to follow convention by maintaining any permanent collections, preferring instead to display themed collections from their large reserves of artwork. For Easter they had devoted nearly the entire gallery to works by Dennis Hopper - a distinctly non-Dutch (and dare I say non-artistic) individual. His photography was quite good and some of his paintings weren’t bad but there were some banal pieces amongst them and not a huge amount of variation.
After lunch we strolled up through another extension of Amsterdam’s numerous pedestrian shopping malls around the Leidseplein. About half way to the Centraal station we came across a store my guide had referred to and which I had fully intended to seek out at some stage. A Dutch company using Australian recipes, "Australian Homemade" is a speciality confectioners specialising in chocolates and ice-cream. Since the weather was a little too cold for ice-cream I secured some chocolates, including dark chocolates filled with hazelnut and orange, which were indeed excellent. The store seems to be doing well and during the five days in Amsterdam we saw at least two more locations where the company was setting up new shops. We filled the rest of the afternoon with idle shopping before heading back to the Leidseplein for dinner.
The culinary highlight of the trip definitely came late on that night. After a long day we were looking forward to a suitably satisfying meal and returned to an Argentinean steak house we had seen earlier in the day. Truth be told we ordered nothing more ambitious than a fillet steak with accompaniment so we were probably not overly taxing the creative efforts of the chef. Having said that however, the steak was perfectly cooked to our instructions, the accompanying vegetables the sauce was good and the service was prompt and exceedingly helpful.
We also managed to combine the meal with an excellent bottle of Argentinean syrah and as the evening progressed the convivial atmosphere turned the normal conversation to one of those rare life-spanning one-to-one’s that good friends sometimes achieve. I’d like to share some of the specific content of the conversation with you but I suspect Harv would cheerfully relocate some of my vertebrae should he find out I’ve been indiscreet, needless to say it covered life, love and the use of firearms. The subject of the perfidy of women was also covered at some length. The meal was expensive but definitely cheaper than I would expect in London and I didn’t have to risk having my head explode from eating British beef. We retired to the Euphemia that night philosophically and gastronomically sated.
The next morning we relocated to the Flying Pig before separating for the first half of the day. Harv ducked off to pick up a friend at the airport who would be joining us for a couple of days and I went off in search of some more culture. Given my recent disappointment with the Stedelijk I thought I would risk the Rijksmuseum in search of something more fulfilling. The Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s equivalent to the Louvre and the national museum for the Netherlands. It houses 5000 of the Netherlands most important paintings in its sprawling 19th century complex. The interior space is well designed and it is a pleasant, if perennially busy museum. I found most of the exhibitions underwhelming as I often do in museums of this size but the highlights were definitely Rembrandt’s "Nightwatch" which has a peculiar luminosity and a retrospective exhibition of black and white photography throughout Amsterdam’s history.
The red-light district of Amsterdam is probably most remarkable for the fact that it is about 200m from the middle of town. Instead of tucking it away like most hypocritical Western cultures the Dutch sensibly stuck the thing in the middle of town (close to the port!). The district features sex shops much like you’d find in King’s Cross, Canberra, la Bastille, Soho or downtown Seattle. They might have a wider selection of material than most but I doubt it, I certainly didn’t see anything particularly surprising (not that I'm a connoisseur you understand).
During the day you could be forgiven for thinking the area was simply a residential suburb with some particularly risqué shops, but during the night it comes alive. The tourists come to the area during the evening to see the native inhabitants who only come out after dark. Scattered around the streets of Nieuwmarket are strange little shops with multiple rows of glass fronted booths leading onto larger rooms. After dark the purpose of these rooms becomes apparent as the prostitutes of the red-light district come out to sit on stools in the windows of these brothels. Dressed in fairly revealing outfits the girls sit in the windows and beckon passing males to come and join them for bouts of earthly pleasures. Only occasionally did I see anyone accept the invitation but a fair number of booths were empty, their back doors closed to keep out the prying, public eye. The girls were certainly attractive but the whole thing was a bit too public for me. I can't help but think that there must be a more discreet way to arrange an illicit liaison than to bang on a class door and make lewd thrusting motions with your hips, but that's probably just my repressed Anglo-Saxon upbringing.
That night we retired to the Flying Pig to play pool and sink a few beers at the bar. The Pig is a charming little hostel in the finest European tradition of budget accommodation, much like the Kabul in Barcelona. Effectively this means that what it lacks in facilities it more than makes up in atmosphere so it’s handy that it has bucket loads of atmosphere. Upon entering your first impression (and not necessarily an inaccurate one) is that you have entered a den of vice. Walking through the door you are channelled into a one way system of corrals much like a cattle-run which are designed to handle the regular morning influx of bed-seeking backpackers. The next thing you notice is the mirror ball, spotlights, floor to ceiling mirrors and general bar-come-nightclub upholstery. The last thing you notice is the large raised area towards the front of the room where, regardless of the time of day, a dozen or so individuals lounge around on scattered pillows, enjoying the effects of whatever intoxicating substances they have to hand. The overall effect is some kind of opium den, cum Irish pub, cum nightclub which of course is exactly what it is. There’s even a pool-table in the back.
Written by Chrystyna on 24 Aug, 2000
My former boyfriend, with his Guatemalan accent, asked me before I left, 'Why do you do this traveling?' I quoted Bill Bryson, 'I love to feel like I'm five years old again.' Down to basics. Make connections. Make sense of the world...or at least try…Read More
My former boyfriend, with his Guatemalan accent, asked me before I left, 'Why do you do this traveling?' I quoted Bill Bryson, 'I love to feel like I'm five years old again.' Down to basics. Make connections. Make sense of the world...or at least try to. Or maybe it's like the Munro baggers I wrote about from Scotland: I get pleasure from being able to check something off a list.
However, after almost 48 hours without sleep and a week and a half of non-stop travelling, I landed in Amsterdam less than amused.
I hate busses, now. I used to say, 'I don't care how I get there, as long as I get there.' I think I'm growing out of that phase. In fact, I feel rather old overall. Mad, dark mood. Naturally, because I hated busses yesterday, I hated everyone on them as well. I don't say anything or do anything when I'm antisocial (thus, being truly antisocial). I just build a shield which clearly signals that I'm highly volatile; my head can even be heard ticking. In either case, it works unless the person sitting next to me absolutely must remind me where I am. E.g.: 'Would you mind? Please, stop drooling on my shoulder, danke.'
So, there I landed in Amsterdam Bus Station at 5:30 in the morning -- the third night this week I've had to sleep in a moving vehicle. The only reason I even chose to come to Amsterdam was because it was only six English pounds more than if I went straight to Brussels (which I had been reconsidering all morning). So, there you go... one more country checked off, but I was completely clueless. Drug culture, red light districts, hippies stuck in the Sixties (or worse yet, only progressed so far as the Eighties), the Doors and (get this) busses painted like Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine with the psychedelic lettering from that era and everything. This was not my idea of 'finding Chrystyna in Europe.' It's certainly a far cry from Spain, which is really where I think I'd rather be. The reasons as to why I'm not are too lengthy and boring to go into.
So, I bounced -- no, staggered is a better description -- around the empty hallways of the bus station, sat myself down in some corner like a hobo and brooded. My limited guidebook didn't make me feel any better: 'Hostels are not cheap and they're hard to come by since every day is filled with millions of bloody tourists, so good luck chickie... hope you got a good sleep on that Eurolines bus!'
I wanted to go back down the road we came so I could spit at the pretty, tucked apartments which lay quiet in the morning darkness. Normal people would be sleeping there. In their own beds. Usually with somebody they like... or at least a pet (or, as the case may be in Amsterdam, with their bike). But, I guess I've decided (and asserted enough) that 'normal' I am not. Instead, I sat propped up against my luggage while the station slowly picked up life around me. There were the 'need to get to work' people coming off the subway above me. Suddenly I thought about what else I could be doing – like having to go to a job -- and started to feel lucky.
Well, the people are beautiful, that's for certain, and I'm beginning to feel the trickles of a new language seeping into my pores. Dutch seems to be pretty tolerable if you're someone who grew up in Minnesota, knows a smattering of German (or knows how to at least make the noises) and lots of English. If I walk around talking like the Swedish Chef from the old Muppet Show, I might be taken for a local. Two people, afterall, already smiled at me: One to drop a stack of newspapers at my feet and smile a sympathetic 'good morning,' (did I really look THAT bad?), while the second one asked ME for directions. Oh, THAT was a hoot! I don't even know what denomination the money, much less where the hell I am.
My, my, things were looking up when I managed to book a seat to Belgium for tomorrow (assuring me that I'd be able to get out should this continued to be a nightmare) and exchanged some money for funky, psychadelic guilders. I got to Central Station where the kindly Dutch folk told me I could get someone to book a hotel for me (all the hostels I called were politely sympathetic while under their tones I heard, 'Stupid gringo. Doesn't she know we're booked solid year-round? Somebody get her one of those guidebooks!'). I stored my baggage (all 150 pounds of it) and wandered down the sunny street to find some much-needed coffee. Dutch Tourism wasn't going to help me for at least another hour.
I stepped out into the morning off the subway and thought, 'Well! Now I feel like I'm in Europe!' I'm above canals, surrounded by gorgeous architecture, spires, gables, friendly faces, sex museums, cafes, sex shops, tourist junk shops, sex, internet access, canal rides, more sex, and Bureau de Change-Wechsel-Cambio-Exchange signs screaming at me. I put on my sunglasses and ignored them, focusing on the breakfast menu and the coffee in front of me.
Do I play tourist or traveler today? Frankly, I don't care if I ever see my luggage again... I think tourist might win because I don't know diddly-squat about the Nederland (except that Holland is not the appropriate name and that I love tulips). Later, when I feel a bit more informed, I will stand back and make all the generalities that travelers tend to make -- especially when they've found people with whom to connect.
During breakfast, I was completely absorbed by nonchalant people watching. It was great fun and I felt perma-grin setting in. Something that got me right away was that the waitress (Dutch West Indies) addressed the French tourists next to me in English and they replied. The Austrian who sat down on the other side of me invited an Englishwoman to join him at his table and they spoke English to each other as well. It's strange to be bombarded by foreign signs and instructions and then be able to walk in anywhere or make a local phone call and know that I will be understood in English. So much for the need for the Swedish Chef persona...
I finally managed to get a hotel room after being told to f--- off at one desk and not even managing to make a dent in the squalor of tourists waiting at another. The waitress, after I'd already rebooked my ticket to Belgium for THIS afternoon, told me to check another reservation place down the street from the cafe. They had a room for me... on a boat... would I mind? Not a private bath, but I could sun myself on the deck. That reeled me in: hook, line and sinker. On a boat, on the canal, in a tiny cramped cabin with a stinking toilet, for the equivalent of $80 USD, but damn it! I get to SUN MYSELF ON A DECK!!! It was perfect. I grabbed it, shoving two Russians out of the way before they decided my fate (score one for the Ukies!).
After a short break, I kind of panicked and figured I'd better call Eurolines again and rebook my seat for tomorrow...again. I just started to wander. Amsterdam is the reverse of London: TONS of trashcans, but no payphones. I kept wandering, taken by how the residential areas were privy to all the beautiful riverside alleys. It was nice not to see every canal view filled with shops and pubs ranging from one end of the world to...Ireland (there's even a Temple Bar-Bar).
I was quite happy, taking photos of Dutch life. And then, out of nowhere, I knew I was in the red light district. It wasn't because of the advertised sex shows -- those are pretty much everywhere -- but it was a black woman stepping into view in a little window of a storefront and all she was wearing was the equivalent of a very sexy Victoria's Secret pairing. In fact, all of the women in the windows were black. Some propping their feet up coyly against the doorframes, others lounging on their little beds (do people actually get to watch them having sex?!). All this in between a huge cathedral and a cafe filled with tourists basking in sunshine and eleven-o'clock Heinekens.
Written by Re Carroll on 23 Jun, 2001
An enjoyable way to spend a day in Amsterdam is to browse through some of the many markets that are spread throughout the city.The most advertised is the Albert Cuyp Markt, easily accessed via Tram #20. It is in the middle of a quiet…Read More
An enjoyable way to spend a day in Amsterdam is to browse through some of the many markets that are spread throughout the city.
The most advertised is the Albert Cuyp Markt, easily accessed via Tram #20. It is in the middle of a quiet street off busy Ferdinand Bolstraat and is open from Monday through Saturday. It is quite large and seems to stretch for about 1/2 mile. There are lots of stalls selling clothes, household products and lots of food items. If you want to try pickled, raw herring topped with onions, this is the place to do it. On both sides of the street are small stores that cater to locals and sell everyday type clothes (no boutiques here), household goods, food, etc. so you can shop 'til you drop. There is even a discount store called Knaackland that has lots of games for kids and other cheap gifts to take home.
The market at Noorderkerk (North Church), just off the Prinsengracht canal is much smaller by comparison. It caters more to the second hand market - books, records, old clothes and other used goods make up the majority of the merchandise. The slogan "one man's junk is another man's treasure" could have been coined for this place. There are a couple of people selling handmade jewellery and the prices are reasonable. If you're looking for retro clothes, this is the place for you. It operates on Monday mornings only.
My B&B host recommended Jordaan Market and said this is where she goes. Size wise, it's a cross between Albert Cuyp and Norderkerk. Lots of produce, flower, cheese and bakery stalls attract locals doing their grocery shopping. There are also toiletries and some clothes vendors too. It is located in the Jordaan section of Amsterdam which used to be a 17th century working class neighbourhood but is now a trendy residential and shopping district. This is also good place to sit at a canal side table and have a drink while people watching.
The most colourful of the markets is the floating flower market on the Singel canal. Open from Monday to Saturday, it consists of a number of permanently moored barges that feature plants and cut flowers of all sizes, shapes and colours. This is the place to buy bulbs for home, although make sure they will pass your country's inspection at Customs. I made the mistake of assuming that bulbs ok'd for import to the U.S. would also be ok in Canada - they weren't so mine were confiscated. This is also a good spot to pick up small cheap souvenirs such as fridge magnets and key chains.
There are many other markets throughout the city. Check with the Tourist Office to find out what's happening, where and when.