Contents : Amsterdam Arena | Borneo Sporenburg Bridge | Envy Restaurant | Gewoon Eten En Meer Market | G-Star Raw | GVB | Hotel JL No. 76 | The Hague | Mercure Hotel Amsterdam Arthur Frommer | NEMO Science Center | Rijksmuseum | Rotterdam | Stedelijk Museum | Van Gogh Museum | World of Delights | Zuidas
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” ― John Green
As the capital of The Netherlands, Amsterdam’s metropolitan area is bound by its famous 17-century canals, i.e., the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht, the Prinsengracht, and the Singel. Geographically speaking, it’s not a city whose boundaries are easily walkable in a day, like Dublin or Copenhagen, for example. Nonetheless, it is a place with seemingly endless charms and a certain quirkiness which almost demands to be revealed by those traveling on foot…or bicycle.
The Dutch are known for their laid back and cool demeanor. If you want to see that facade easily slip, however, simply trash their beloved AFC Ajax, the city’s football club. The team is the most successful in the country and one of the finest in the world, so much so that no detail was spared in the construction of their Amsterdam Arena, a glass-wrapped stadium with a retractable roof, located at ArenA Boulevard in the Zuidoost District. You don’t need to be sports fan to appreciate the building which can best be enjoyed at night when it lights up the surrounding neighborhood .
What Santiago Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett Bridge is to Dublin―dubbed “The Harp” because the structure resembles the musical instrument laying on its side―is what design firm West 8’s Borneo Sporenburg Bridge is to the neighborhoods bearing its name. Beautiful, jarring and sensuous, the bridges are a striking modern, architectural achievement is a city visually identified as historic.
Speaking of sin, one of the seven deadliest has been used with brilliance as the name and concept of one of Amsterdam’s best and most intriguing restaurants―Envy, located at Prinsengracht 381 in the Jordaan district. The slick and minimalist space is not just another trendy destination for foodies and patronized by The Beautiful Ones, although they’re in no short supply in this city. Rather, the staff here takes a great deal of pride, yet another deadly sin, in not just serving great food but presentation as well, as evidenced by the refrigerators showcasing their cheeses, imported meats and sausages, and wines for patrons to see. It’s impossible in fact to sit with friends enjoying the restaurant’s delicious small plates and not be tempted to walk over, throw open the doors, and indulge in the foods displayed, i.e., an invitation to give in―to Lust. In any case, the meals here are more than worthy of your time, especially the white bacon with rosemary, the dutch sausage flavored with fennel, and the creamy rissoto. The food and wine pairings are so well thought out and prepared, it takes little time to experience…Gluttony.
Amsterdam might not initially come to mind when thinking of great food cities, but underestimating it is a tremendous mistake. Great cafes and restaurants are in no short supply and can be found everywhere. Usually the most interesting ones are found by happenstance while wandering through the streets on a casual stroll. For something completely different, stop by Gewoon Eten En Meer at Cornelis Krusemanstraat 50. The deli and market is packed with regional ingredients and dishes, ranging from cakes to pastas and salads. Weather permitting, load up and dine al fresco. And then go back and load up more to bring items back home with you.
In a relatively short time, G-Star Raw grew from a local, Dutch-based clothing company to a global fashion icon and powerhouse among those who love and wear military-style clothing, impeccably constructed, well designed and with a fine attention to details and cut. What does one do then when such a company needs a new headquarters, designed and built with the same aesthetic ? You hire OMA, or Office for Metropolitan Architecture, a company based in Rotterdam, and founded by none other than Rem Koolhaas himself. In other words, cool was introduced to uber-cool, and the results are impressive. The firm had its work cut out for itself but ultimately succeeded in the creation of a building as fascinating as the products within it.
Amsterdam is a city best experienced by casual strolling or biking. But, if you want to take advantage of its public transportation system, a network of linked bus routes, ferries, metro stations, and trams, the GVB is unbeatable. Passes can be obtained at a number of stations and include entrance fees to all the major museums. Their website provides extensive information on getting around the city and how to best take advantage of the GVB’s extensive network of routes and transfer stations.
Amsterdam’s city center, or Centrum, has a noteworthy range of hotels, from 4-star properties, to privately owned B & Bs, to inexpensive hostels. For middle-of-the-road and affordable accommodations, you cannot beat the newly opened Hotel JL No. 76. Located at Jan Luijkenstraat 76 near the Vondelpark and Museum district, the Hotel JL is the result of joining two 18th century mansions together. Stylish and cool, without the trappings of self-awareness, the property features a bar, cafe and exquisitely designed garden. The world-renowned Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk, and the Van Gogh Museums are all nearby, as are the Concertgebouw Concert Hall and P.C. Hooftstraat and Van Baerlestraat shopping districts.
The Hague. The Mona Lisa aside, she is perhaps the most famous woman ever captured on canvas. The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, closed for a massive renovation, is the enviable home to Joannes Vermeer’s spectacular and iconic Girl with the Pearl Earring, currently on loan to North America. Not since Da Vinci completed his own masterpiece has a woman returning our gaze held our attentions and fascinated us through the ages.
The Mercure Hotel Amsterdam is a charming boutique hotel in Amsterdam’s City Centre. The rates during the spring season were more than affordable and included a daily breakfast buffet in the cozy and inviting Breakfast Room. Best of all was the fact the hotel was easily within walking distance of the Rijksmuseum, home to Johan Vermeer’s iconic “Girl with the Pearl Earring; the Stedelijk Museum; the Van Gogh Museum; and the Anne Frank House.
If you’re expecting a city characterized only by quaintness, you will undoubtedly be shocked by the sight of the NEMO Science Center. Designed by none other than world-renowned Renzo Piano, the building is located at the Oosterdok in Amsterdam-Centrum, between the Oosterdokseiland and Kattenburg waterways. Resembling the bow of a boat, the center is one of the most visited sites in the Netherlands and features exhibitions and hands-on experiments.
What Antwerp is to Brussels―the underestimated little sister to the more known and visited older one―is what Rotterdam is to Amsterdam. It would be easy to overlook the Netherlands’ second largest city, but it’s unwise as Rotterdam is a vibrant gem which can hold its own against more well-known cities in Northern Europe. Part of this may stem from the fact it serves as a port city, one of the largest in the world and easily the most strategic to the European Union. Such a characterization is misguided as Rotterdam has a lively nightlife, a great bar / cafe / restaurant scene and is, architecturally speaking, second fiddle to no one.
Any fan of cafes and baked goods―and who isn’t―will need to stop by and enjoy Rotterdam’s Dudok Patisserie at Stationsplein 7b2 Centraal Station. Although the menu is limited, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features local specialties that will appeal to just about everyone. The grilled goat cheese sandwich with basil, apple and honey mayonnaise, for example, is a knockout. And on a chilly afternoon, you can’t beat one of their espressos with warm Dutch apple pie and cinnamon ice cream.
Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum reopened. The museum, known for its collection of Dutch masters, has been closed for years for extensive renovations.
The city’s Stedelijk Museum has also reopened after being closed in 2004 for major renovations. Although the museum is devoted to contemporary art and design, it is also one of the world’s greatest repositories of Rembrandts and Vermeers. The museum first opened in 1895 and with the renovation, doubled its exhibition space. It also has an enviable collection of works from Matisse, van Gogh, and Warhol to name a few.
What Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his brilliant impressionist work represents to France, Vincent van Gogh is to the Netherlands in his similarly lauded post Impressionist paintings. His namesake museum is one of the tent-pole institutions, along with the Concertgebouw, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museums, located in the Amsterdam-Zuid, or Museum Square in Amsterdam-South. The Van Gogh Museum actually consists of two buildings. The first is the Rietveld building which houses the world’s largest collection of van Gogh’s paintings and drawings, like the celebrated “Sunflowers,” along with the works of the artist’s peers during the post-Impressionist era. The second, the Kurokawa building, is the more contemporary of the two structures and is devoted to temporary exhibits. Like any of the world’s great art institutions, it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one visit. You may want to devote one morning to Rietveld building and another one to the Kurokawa.
For anyone who travels and, more importantly, loves to travel, the one obvious downside is the number and sheer monotony of airports. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of them has been cut from a cookie cutter approach to architecture where blandness rules, graphic design and signage is sub-par, and the efficiency and movement of people has been given little, if any, consideration. Luckily, Amsterdam’s Schiphol and Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airports do not fall into this category. And World of Delights is just one of the myriad reasons why. The Dutch store has a strong presence in both locations and those who have traveled to both cities can testify to the fact it’s a wonderful experience and as far from a typical retail store as you can get. Well over 50 years old, World of Delights has top-notch, locally produced baked items, cheeses and chocolates, coffees and teas.
Not merely content with being a gourmand’s wet dream come true, the stores also feature stylish clothing, earthenware and fine crystal, along with books, toys, and wine. As you would expect from the Dutch, everything is beautifully showcased and wrapped. Having fallen in love with the Danish outpost, heed my advice and pack light…you will want as much room in your bags as you can spare when you see all the great gifts you can bring home from this fantastic place.
Depending upon whom you ask, you will hear myriad reasons why you should visit Zuidas, a rapidly growing business district just south of the city center. Speak with a business person, for example, and you will be politely informed of the number of world-famous companies and organizations opening up offices there. With that growth, of course, comes shops and restaurants. But speak with an architect, or a design aficionado, and they will reveal a closely held secret. Zuidas has one of the world’s best concentrations of daring, ground-breaking, and post-modern architecture to be found anywhere. That, and that alone, is the only reason you need to spend a day strolling through the area in non-stop amazement.