Our high-speed Thalys train left Paris Gare du Nord at 7:25 on a Friday morning and three plus relaxed hours later we arrived at Amsterdam Central Station. Tickets are very cheap if you can plan in advance-ours were just 100-euros each round-trip. The hotel was just a 10-euro cab ride away but I like to get a feel for a new city so we walked.
The reopening of the Rijksmuseum, home to Rembrandt’s THE NIGHT WATCH and the 400th anniversary of the canals are just two more excellent reasons to visit Amazing Amsterdam.
The international publicity surrounding these events recalled my fabulous first visit in 2012.
My weekend of flanerie in Amsterdam began par hasard at the Café de Flore several months ago.
I had stopped in to say hello to Francis, the handsome and genial daytime manager, and was engaged in conversation by Tom Krooswijk, a tall Dutchman, about the state of Obama, of whom he was a fan. Francis introduced me as “notre Américain” and that was the first of several serendipitous Sunday meetings with Tom and his wife and daughter.
It turns out that Tom is the General Manager of the 5-star Hotel de L’Europe in Amsterdam where he has overseen the 60 million euro restoration of this beautiful property ideally situated along the Amstel in walking distance to a weekend of varied activities. Proud to show off this flagship of the Heineken Company he invited me and M to visit Amsterdam as guests of the hotel.
For the best available room and a touch of Terrance from Tom please contact me at
Our high-speed Thalys train left Paris Gare du Nord at 7:25 on a Friday morning and three plus relaxed hours later we arrived at Amsterdam Central Station. Tickets are very cheap if you can plan in advance-ours were just 100-euros each round-trip. The hotel was just a 10-euro cab ride away but I like to get a feel for a new city so we walked. WARNING: Amsterdam is a city made for the bicycle and you are in no danger from automobile traffic but watch out for the bicycles as the jingle of their metal “horns” alert you to their presence bearing down on you.
The grand hall of the Hotel de L’Europe leads directly to a bar with a view of the Amstel as does the long overhead mirror. Our suite, perched over the river was regal in shades of blue, an extraordinarily comfortable bed, marble bathroom, a Nespresso machine and even a “keg” of Heineken.
Amsterdam has a long history of religious freedom and has been especially hospitable to Jews who escaped the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and became prominent in the business affairs of the city. Many were board members of both the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India companies that financed the great voyages of exploration in the seventeenth century. Much of Dutch and Jewish history is intertwined so our first stop was the Jewish Historical Museum built around the old synagogues, that tracks the history of Jewish life in Amsterdam.
Nearby in the old Jewish Quarter is the home and studio of Rembrandt. Although no Rembrandt original paintings are on display there is a large collection of etchings including a superb video explaining the process. From one of the friendly and well-informed guards I learned that Rembrandt had purchased in the Jewish Quarter so that he would have access to the Jewish faces that would populate his biblical works.
That evening Tom and his childhood pal Derrick welcomed us to Freddy’s Bar (winner of the prestigious Disarano award as best cocktail bar in Amsterdam) named for Alfred Heineken for champagne and my introduction to bitterballen, the meat-based national snack, typically containing a mixture of beef (minced or chopped), beef broth, flour and butter for thickening, parsley, salt and pepper with a crunchy exterior and hot, soft center. Served piping hot with a side of mustard they are perfect with a cold beer and delightful with our champagne.
Now that I had been formally “baptized” we set out for Café Hoppe, an institution since 1670 for more bitterballen and the Dutch boilermaker-light beer with a shot of genever (Dutch gin.) Within moments of entering we were chattering away with our neighbors in this packed to the rafters, fun-spirited, PJ Clarke’s-like bar.
The festivities continued as we returned to the Hotel De’L’Europe for Chef Richard van Oostenbrugge’s Michelin-starred caliber menu de dégustation served in the private dining room sitting over the Amstel. Champagne was served by Maitre d’hotel Sascha Holzkamper as we awaited the savory symphony.
Our sommelier Dannis Apeidoorn selected a 2008 Nuits Saint Georges, Cuvée La Gerbotte (blanc) from Domaine De L’Arlot to accompany Dutch white asparagus with a sabayon of oysters and a lukewarm Dutch lobster salad with broth and grapefruit. Both dishes showed the Chef’s creative approach to classics.
As a nod to Tom’s friend Derreck we were served buttery veal bone marrow on toast that was so much lighter and refined then the beef marrow we are accustomed to in France.
To celebrate the Lozère lamb with green asparagus, chanterelles and yogurt de Brébis Dannis surprised us with one of only six bottles in his cave of a 2005 Clos de Tart, Monople that the Nez de Neuilly pronounced remarkable.
Our first day in Amsterdam was nearly over, we thought, but in the bar over digestifs we were introduced to a pair of journalists from the magazine Elsevier who insisted that we join them in the fumoirfor a cigar-I don’t know how to say no in Dutch.
Saturday morning dawned a little later than we planned but after a lavish buffet breakfast we climbed aboard a river barge for a one hour tour (indispensable for getting a grasp of Amsterdam’s quartiers) of the city via the tree-lined canals flanked by four and five story brick town houses that date back to the 17th century.
Our next stop was the Begijnhof one of the oldest inner courts in the city of Amsterdam. A group of historic buildings, mostly private dwellings, center on it. As the name suggests, it was originally a beguinage or semi-monastic community of women who performed pious deeds without taking formal vows. Today the townhouses form a community of single women.
We made another stop at Café Hoppe for more bitterballen (I’ve become addicted) and beer to tide us over until dinner.
The nearby Amsterdam Museum is home to a rich collection of works of art, objects and archaeological finds that brings to life the fortunes of Amsterdammers of days gone by and today. From a medieval child’s shoe and the map of Cornelis Antonisz from 1538, giving a bird’s-eye view of the city, to the impressive Civic Guard paintings from the Golden Age. Photos and film material show the happy times as well as the drama of the modern city’s inhabitants. You’ll witness the poverty in the Jordaan area he 19th century but also the idealism of the sixties and Ajax’s success at football.
In need of a siesta we headed back to base camp for a few hours. Properly rested we walked to dinner and were drowned in an ocean of orange-Holland was playing Ireland in a “friendly” match in preparation for the European Soccer Cup-I don’t know how “friendly” the Irish found it, Holland 6 Ireland 0.
The rijstafel (rice table) is a Dutch tradition transported from Indonesia and for twenty-five years Kantjil & de Tiger has been piling massive quantities (13 dishes) of spicy Indonesian dishes in front of hungry diners. With the help of a cold lager we were able clean our plates.
On our way to our room we stopped for a genever and I sang a song with Tormo, the very talented, tuxedo-clad pianist that drew applause from the wait staff and the few remaining guests. The next afternoon one of the reception staff hailed me in a strong voice:" Pavarotti!" This is a very kind town.
htJust a few doors away from our hotel is the Café de Jeren, a multi-level café, bar and restaurant favored by students from the University of Amsterdam. On sunny days the terrace on the banks of the Amstel is always full. We had our Sunday breakfast here- ham, eggs and cheese with brown bread and two rounds of exceptional coffee for a mere 20 euros.
A quick trip to the flower market just across the river from our hotel produced bulbs for planting in September that will fill M’s balcony with a cacophony of tulips-a must for green thumbs and all thumbs alike.
One of the townhouses facing the canal on the Herengracht is home to the Museum of Bags and Purses chronicling the evolution of purses for men and women from the mid 17th century to the present- a must for the fashion conscious. The tearoom is delightful and available for all types of private functions.
If you notice similarities to Manhattan remember that Peter Minuit bought those 12 square miles in 1624 from the local Indians, named it New Amsterdam and imported the contemporary architecture.
We only had two more cultural destinations: the Rembrandts, including The Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum
but we needed some nourishment and ate more bitterballen and drank more beer at the Café Américain at the American Hotel. With its vast dining room, stained glass windows, soaring arches and colored tiles it is a very unique part of the city. The Sunday jazz buffet keeps the place buzzing all afternoon.
The full range of Van Gogh’s work is on display (although many famous works are found in museums around the world) in this modern building bearing his name. And it is a reminder of the breadth of his talent to see the rapid evolution of his craft without benefit of any instruction. Even more remarkable is the volume that he produced in such a short period of time.
Before grabbing a cab for the Central Station we had a final order of bitterballen and champagne with our host at Freddy’s Bar.
Amsterdam is a wonderful city for flanerie with a relaxed atmosphere. Her citizens are helpful, friendly and hospitable. This weekend was a veritable coup de coeur and I can’t wait to return.