MINI METROPOLIS WITH INTERNATIONAL FLAIR
Nowhere else will you smile so much about the pitfalls of the language (translating Dutch into other languages can indeed be tricky). Nowhere else will you meet so many uncomplicated people and so many cyclists. In Amsterdam everything seems possible, after all: swimming stoned in the Grachts, buying a flower-decorated house boat or dancing in wooden shoes. But once you’ve taken a closer look at former fishing village Amstellodam, the city is not that easy-going as it appeared in the first place.
People will sometimes look at you suspiciously when you tell them that you are in a relationship but not married; if you open your restaurant on Sundays, the city’s dignitaries will rebuke you; and even soccer players should not indulge in their favourite sport on the Day of God. But such truths only come to light once you’ve looked behind the facades and pointed gables of the world’s narrowest houses – or behind the display windows of the red-light district. Only then will you notice the true beauty of the most tolerant metropolis, in which everyone does exactly what he or she likes. Join in: Everything’s possible here from wild partying to pure relaxation.
FROM THE AIRPORT TO THE CITY CENTRE
Schipol Airport is located 15 km from the city and one of the biggest in Europe. But it’s well-arranged and you can reach the terminals on foot. Every 15 minutes a train leaves from the airport to central station. It will take you some 20 minutes to get there. Ticket price approx. 3 Euros. A taxi costs about 40 Euros. Guests of a 4- or 5-star hotel may also take the KLM shuttle bus leaving every half hour from the airport. If you want to rent a car, you can do it directly at the airport. There are six car rentals at Schipol Plaza, open from 6:30-23:00.
WHERE TO STAY
CAKE UNDER MY PILLOW
Cake under my pillow? What’s that all about? Don’t worry, you don’t have to rest your head on cheese cake – between you and the cake there is at least one floor. In a nutshell: You sleep in the centre, in a noble Bed & Breakfast located in a 19th-century house. The landlords are great, the common kitchen is handy, but you might ask yourself “What the heck fits on these tiny porcelain plates that cover the wall here everywhere?” The answer waits for you one floor below. There, you will not only find the Café “De Taart van m’n Tante” but also an avalanche of crazy unique cakes. And they are a perfect match for Delft porcelain. We suggest you rent a bicycle or book two seats instead of one when you fly back! Prices for one night in the double room range from 110 to 160 Euros.
If you feel like it you can spit down right into the canal from your window – but it wouldn’t suit the dapper ambience of this boutique hotel. But it would be possible, after all, and that makes one point for the hotel: View of the Grachts from all rooms.
Two more points for the two owners, because they add personality to the hotel and managed to upgrade the 16th-century house. The nine rooms are a perfect mix of old and new: wooden floors, brickwork and wing chairs; straight lines, bright red and designer furniture. The hotel is fantastic as long as you stick to its rules: “Love, be passionate, be spontaneous, dream big, celebrate, change the world or go home”. And the hotel won’t allow animals, children or drugs. No problem.
The price for one night in the double room starts from 149 Euros.
These two fell in love in Amsterdam and stayed. Good for them as the Dutch-American couple has loads of tips in store on how you can while away your time meaningfully in Amsterdam, the city of your dreams. The location is as perfect as it is notorious: The small boutique hotel lies directly between the Nieu Market and the red-light district. You think that’s bad? Not at all, because you are amidst the party life. Afterwards, you can relax in one of the six rooms – yes, you belong to a choice community. The rooms are of different designs each, the topics ranging from Africa and retro to ancient Dutch Rembrandt designs. Our favourite: the Baroque room with opulent window frames and matching wallpapers. You will have a direct view of the canal, and there’s nothing wrong with it in Amsterdam, quite to the contrary. But you can also have a view of the garden, if you please.
One night in the double room from approx. 145 Euros.
WHAT TO SEE
MARKETS IN AMSTERDAM
Here’s a good advice: If the money gets tight, forget about Van Gogh and devote yourself to the colours and aromas of the Flower Market. Here’s just a small selection: The famous Flee Market at Waterlooplein has been enriching the Jewish Quarter since the sixties. You get second-hand and new clothes, music, a lot of knickknack and even more flair (Mon-Sat/9:00-17:00). The Albert Cuyp Market is the largest market for specialties. All Amsterdam seems to buy herbs, fruits and spices here, especially on Saturdays. (Albert-Cuypstraat/Ferdinand Bolstraat, Mon-Fri/10:00-18:00, Sat/9:00-18:00). The Flower Market, while to be found in every travel guide, is still worth a visit. And you will encounter more bulbs than tourists there for sure. A highlight of the market it that it floats on the water. (Singel, between Rokin and Leidsetraat, daily 9:30-18:00.) The Noorder Market is popular for its second-hand clothes, jewellery and furniture – you’ll find the one or other bargain there. (Stationsplein, Mon-Sat/9:00-15:00, in the summer until 16:00).
AMSTERDAMS RED-LIGHT DISTRICT
The many windows and bars in red illumination draw throngs of visitors and onlookers daily, all on their way to a somewhat different kind of window-shopping experience. Already back in the 13th century the oldest profession in the world was thriving. Today, you can’t think of an Amsterdam without it. The Rossebuurt, the red neighbourhood as the red-light district is called, has a central location in between the underground stations Centraal, Nieuwmarkt and Dam. There’s a lot to see here, and there are “normal” bars as well. Amsterdam, after all, is tolerant in all areas, and even women can walk through the district without getting problems. Local people don’t even shun the district when their whole family is accompanying them.
There is one thing you should pay attention to when visiting the red-light district. It is an absolute taboo to take pictures of the ladies in the windows. If you ignore this, it can easily happen that one of the strong gentlemen taking care of the ladies will get closer to you. Ouch!
GRACHTS OF AMSTERDAM
A Gracht tour can’t be compared to a gondola ride, of course, but it is much cheaper and the captain usually spares you the kitschy songs. Also, you won’t have to queue up or start a fight for being admitted to the boat.
As far as ambience is concerned, the Grachts can very well compete: It’s exceptionally nice on the boats and you probably won’t find a more relaxing way to see the town than gliding over the calm water and observing the hustle and bustle in the small streets. On an evening Gracht tour the many colourful illuminations are especially attractive, immersing the streets in a magic light.
Even if you already know the colourful plastic bags, you will stare mouth open at the Kitch Kitchen Supermercado. Mexican plastic wherever you look; flowers, squares, fruits, colours. You will need at least one hour for browsing around. Too many items of too many shapes want to be bought right away. And there aren’t only bags, shopping trolleys, laptop covers, saddle bags and manicure cases, but also seat reducers, convenient pads for dog bowls in the shape of a bone – and the perfect souvenir from Holland: the colourful saddle protection for bicycles.
And if, in the light of so much optical overstimulation, you are crazy enough to feel like decorating your apartment on your own, you can buy the fabric from the roll here and do what you please with it. But beware: The fabric most likely does not do what your sewing machine wants, so buy a consolation bag as well – just to be on the sure side.
DARYL VAN WOUW
You must not miss out on passing by Daryl van Wouw’s. Not when you are interested in the Dutch fashion world, where Mr. Wouw is a big player. His success formula is blending street wear with high fashion. And, voilà, the result is wearable (and affordable), namely fashion with that certain something: a touch of urbanity and a dash of big-city style. Girls should rather focus on the dresses which are just as stylish as comfortable, with tight skirts and sophisticated wide tops. But men will also find something, a shirt with the famous headset print, for instance. And the real cool kids have their own small collection at hand: mini hoodies and shirts. But be careful with your clothes as Daryl is watching you! The not so humble designer has reserved some wall panels for his face, in between windmills and flowers watching clients with his direct gaze from the wall.
You’ve probably found out already: Sprmarkt is not the usual supermarket, although dropping in the fantastic Albert Heijn grocery shop would also be worth a tip. Here, however, we are confronted with a Sprmrkt without vowels and sausage counter that moved into a former grocery shop to attract people with fashion, art and design. Mission fulfilled! Soon Sprmrkt plus and Sprmrkt Sth followed. Both with a top-class selection of labels. The second shop, however, does not only attract with Diesel, Helmut Lang, Monique von Heist, Julius and Unconditional, but also with its unconventional design. The Doepel Strijkers Architects have developed a space installation of long panels of fabric which – wound, torn, tightened, illuminated or arranged with mannequins – boasts the most fantastic architecture.
At Sissy Boy’s you get what the name promises: special basics. The tagline of the fashion chain is its programme, and its programme lies somewhere in between H&M and American Apparel – less timeless than the creations of the first, and more exciting and fashionable than the second. The mix works well. In South Africa, the chain is the most popular in the country. It seems the folk there knows about fashion.
The success story might also be based on the clothes’ comfort. The latest attempt at increasing the feel-good factor is the chain’s mega stretch jeans. They look far too small on the hook but super tight on your body. And they feel like gym pants. Sissy Boy Homeland offers candles, make-up and body care, cushions, towels and anything to go with your outfit.
Here, you get lots of beautiful things that you either don’t need or can’t afford. But that doesn’t matter. Because on the one hand, the exciting tour of the shop is an adventure for every aesthete, and on the other hand, those who take the search seriously will find something small to take home with them. The Droog is all about extravagant design – and they go to any length here to present it. Gallery, studio or boutique? The Droog represents what is necessary at the moment, thus being an important platform for young artists.
Show your every-day life how colourful you can be if you want – or practical, funny, stylish and sometimes even superfluous. For instance with a slip-in bath mat, or with a beard protection attached to your coffee mug to avoid soiling your beard. Have fun!
VIKTOR & ROLF / VAN RAVENSTEIN
Designing for H&M was not the worst move by the two Dutch designers. Since that time Viktor & Rolf, whose name could also be Freaky and Freakier, have been known even beyond the catwalk. Why freaky? You could describe them as style twins, not only wearing similar clothes all the time, but also the same horn-rimmed glasses. That much to their personal outfits. Their collections are more inspired though – they are smart, sportive and truly keen on details. So keen on details that sometimes small turns into big and something marginal turns into an eye-catcher. Then, the collar is more pronounced than the dress, the button bigger than the buttonhole and black-and-white anything else than classic.
If you want to try and buy clothes you can do that at Van Ravenstein. There, you’ll find the creations by Viktor & Rolf in close vicinity to Dries van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, or Spijkers en Spijkers, among others.
What sounds comfortable is not really comfortable. The focus here lies on the look. How you manage to walk or dance in these shoes is your problem. Since 1983 men have been spoilt with high-end products by the most acclaimed designers in the world. Sad ladies, however, remained empty-handed (or –footed) when just another impertinent guy came out wearing the hottest boots, trainers, patent-leather shoes, slippers or sandals.
Since 2000, with the opening of the shop in the Leidsestraat, the girls’ sufferings have come to an end. Now, all the great labels – Gucci, Prada, D&G, Lanvin, Galliano – and smaller labels – Dsquared2, Frankie Morello, Y-3, Cesare Paciotti – make shoe fanatics beaming with joy.
The shops are all but uniform – so everyone finds his or her favourite shoes here. The price category, however, is a different story: Be sure your credit card will screech with shock. In the meantime, there are four shops in Amsterdam – and they are all worthwhile visiting: Koningsplein 7, PC Hooftstraat 80, Leidsestraat 10, Cornelis Schuytstraat 9.
THE HEINEKEN EXPERIENCE
Whether you like or don’t like the taste of the famous Dutch beer with the green label and the red star, visiting the Heineken Experience is worthwhile anyway. On four floors you won’t only be shown how the beer gets in the bottle but also how Heineken became the trade name it is today. There is an interactive adventure world catering to all the senses.
The range of topics includes the individual production steps, the development and philosophy of the company as well as Heineken’s definition of fun and entertainment. The fascinating show is accommodated in proper style in the building that once housed the old brewery. It is, in fact, more than just another brewery where you press your nose on smudged glass pane. You will also be able to taste the beer, of course, and almost forget the slogan: Enjoy with responsibility!
COFFEESHOP MELLOW YELLOW
Of course we do not want to recommend you to get stoned in Amstedam, but visiting one of the coffeeshops holds more in store than the legal consumption of cannabis. If you think that coffeeshops are run-down honky-tonks where only stoned guys and girls hang out you should convince yourself of the opposite and visit one. And even if you won’t touch substances that are forbidden elsewhere you will be able to enjoy something here.
Many coffeeshops do offer excellent pastries and milkshakes, namely, and they have a relaxed atmosphere, often at low prices. Take the Mellow Yellow, for example. It’s one of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam and still no tourist trap. If you are lucky you can sit on the terrace and enjoy the special ambience. Whatever you order, you should not miss out on visiting a coffeeshop in Amsterdam.
STREET ART IN AMSTERDAM
If you walk with eyes wide open on Amsterdam’s streets, you will discover impressing artworks on every corner. Street art is the magic word. While not everybody likes this form of art, it goes without admission anyway. There is a vivid street art scene in Amsterdam, providing for creative surprises all over the city. Free-hand graffiti, stencils and stickers are the main types of street art, surfacing in all sizes and from the most diverse sites in Amsterdam. Some facades have become true galleries.
Meanwhile, creative workshops and stores operate genuine street art galleries, devoted to launching new forms of art. If you pay attention you can spot the partially quite well hidden artworks in almost every district. A major aspect of street art is social criticism. Thus the works sometimes mirror what’s on the minds of the artists and people in town. So pay attention!
AMSTERDAMS MUSEUM QUARTER
The Amsterdam Museum Quarter accommodates world-famous art from the most diverse epochs and styles. The venerable Rijksmuseum hosts the Netherlands’ largest collection of paintings and objects of art, among them the works of great artists like Rembrandt or Vermeer. Of course, also one of the most famous Dutch artists, Vincent van Gogh, needs his own museum. The Van Gogh Museum accommodates a vast number of his paintings and drawings – a must for every fan!
If you prefer more recent art, we recommend you visit the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. While the building is being renovated at the moment, exhibitions are mounted at diverse locations. Currently, the contemporary Travelling Museum displays modern art in the form of installations and small shows in public places and at galleries. Apart from large-scale exhibitions and art collections, the overall area with its boutiques, small galleries, bars and restaurants is a both stylish and elegant oasis.
WHERE TO EAT
IQ Creative and Concrete of Amsterdam – names that sound like an advertising agency and a construction firm. But both guesses are wrong. It’s three gentlemen standing behind these names: Bert van der Leden, Douwe Werkman and Rob Wagemans. And a gastronomy empire which stretches through the streets and canals of Amsterdam. The three men have invented the worldwide supper clubs. Nevy, Envy, Vyne, Witteveen and Nomads are the names of the chic venues in the city of canals. The newest addition: the Mazzo.
An old ugly disco at the Rozengracht in the heart of Amsterdam was completely gutted – only the high ceilings and the raw concrete remained as a memory in the new living room that is located in the Jordaan district. All of Amsterdam meets between five metre high wine racks and spider-like table lamps by the designers GUBI and Moooi: artists, students, mothers with children, banker and meanwhile also tourists. Italian food is served in the Mazzo, the dishes are affordable and truly delicious. And that’s not the case everywhere in Amsterdam.
TROUW CLUB AND RESTAURANT
The Trouw is an all-out creative place: innovative cuisine at the restaurant, inspiring atmosphere at the bar, fantastic view from the roof terrace at the club and extravagant exhibitions, fashion shows and video installations for the artistic claim. It’s the place to go for free spirits and aesthetes, for art connoisseurs and creativity fans. While at first sight the location is not that cosy, an industrial complex accommodates the Eleven. And we know, of course, that industrial looks are totally en vogue, because they have style.
If you want to acquaint yourself, have lunch at the Trouw – it’s excellent! The four-course dinner is just as fine but has its price. The tastes are Mediterranean and African. And if you’re already here, stay for the clubbing as well. The trendiest electronic beats are waiting for you.
Blue walls, lots of mirrors, white table-cloths – that’s what the Blue Pepper’s owners consider elegant, and we fully agree with them. Since 2002 Amsterdam has had an Indonesian restaurant of the highest class. Start your evening with a Martini and choose one of the three excellent seasonal meals or order from the menu. You have to be keen on experiments though as many of the meals on the menu are not known outside of Indonesia. Try a dish with black beans or the classic Rijstafel made up of eight to ten dishes. At the Blue Pepper traditional recipes are fine-tuned with a modern touch, and European guests are pampered with surprising unique tastes. Wine is the only thing that doesn’t come from Indonesia. The restaurant offers a good selection of international wines liaising with the exotic spices.
JAPANESE PANCAKE WORLD
Here, the centre is a disc and still everything evolves around it. The place is not ancient though, it’s rather ultra-modern. Which European city, after all, boasts a shop that sells Japanese pancakes exclusively? You see!
Okonomiyaki is the name of the flat titbit and, no, you don’t put apricot jam on top of it. It wouldn’t taste good anyway as the batter is made of potatoes, flour, eggs and cabbage. Yes, cabbage! And still it tastes great! You can choose from four different styles: Osaka is the standard version with sauce. Hiroshima is the version for the big-mouthed: The thin pancakes have loads of stuff on it, vegetables to begin with and noodles and egg on top of it. Negi-yaki comes with batter and without cabbage, but it includes spring onions instead. By the way: You are watching the preparation on the grill. All the tricks you learned live you may later try out yourself at home.
There are plenty of Supperclubs in the meantime and all of them are trying to compete with the original. But the original is still in Amsterdam and still enjoys great popularity. You should be a playful character though; otherwise you won’t like it here.
And here are the rules: First, you don’t sit at the table, you lie. And, please, make sure not to disappear in the cushions together with your meal. Second, everything is white here except for the guests. You are only decoration, so don’t spill. Third, the whole evening is a perfectly orchestrated show including the menu, which is customised to the motto of the evening, just like the show. The show holds performances, acrobatics, videos and music in store. If you want to you get a massage you don’t need to stand up for it. If you get tired from the programme you may stay on the sofa until closing time. But it’s up to you to get up to your feet and visit the legendary Rouge Bar downstairs.