Amsterdam: The Ideal Day
By Richard West
The Netherlands, for me, is Europe’s most endearing country. How can you not love a nation where Homo neerlandicus enjoys sports like “fierljelpen,” pole vaulting over canals; running thigh-deep through black, sucking mud off the Frisian coast (“horizontal mountain climbing”); and pole sitting in the North Sea . Where Dutch toilet bowls come with shelves and toilet paper’s imprinted with comic figures. Where you must pass an exam and show four holes of proficiency before hitting your first ball on a golf course. And I also believe it to be the world’s most sensible country with its famously tolerant attitude regarding prostitution, drug sales, abortion, euthanasia, prisoner’s conjugal rights, and gay marriage . Where else do participating libraries host “loan people,” controversial newsmakers, foreigners, and celebs for residents to meet and chat with. Sensible.
One of the city’s 600,000 bicycles. Photo by Dena Timm.
Thus when the opportunity arose for my wife and I to spend a few Amsterdam-fine-days I vaulted over obstacles at the chance. What follows is my idea of a perfect (busy) day in this lovely city of canals and 600,000 bicycles that lend it a quiet, stately air that breathes civility.
…I recommend the four-star Hotel Estherea (above) in a 17th-century canal house overlooking the Singel canal in central Amsterdam, family-owned for 60 years, cozy elegant rooms, two free-use computers in the library off the lobby, a push-button free coffeemaker providing lattes/coffee/tea/cocoa 24/7, small bar, and breakfast buffet. But before leaving the airport or train station, don’t forget to buy your I amsterdam City Card which contains a Smart Card for free entries and discounts at participating outlets and a public transportation ticket for use on the tram/bus/metro. (Singel 305; double from 166e-280e).
…9 a.m. The Anne Frank House is on everyone’s itinerary thus it’s essential to be there at the opening hour—fifteen-minutes later the line ribbons around the block. In this 50th anniversary year of the museum, a new diary room, opened by the queen last spring, displays her original red-plaid diary and notebooks with poignant entries flashed on the wall: “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived!” (April 5, 1944). Prinsengracht 263; adult ticket, 9e, which can be reserved online.
12 noon: Step down for lunch into The Pancake Bakery, a long block from the Anne Frank House in a handsome, narrow warehouse once owned by the Dutch East India Co. Choose among 75 different omelets and pancakes, many from the international menu: perhaps the Masai pancake (broccoli, zucchini, paprika, carrots, onions, mushrooms, leeks, cheese). Or the American (fried chicken, sweet corn, peppers, carrots, Cajun sauce, and salad). Pancakes are pizza-size and very filling. (Prinsengracht 191).
2 p.m. The Amsterdam canal boat tour is arguably the best way to discover any city in the world. Hop aboard one of the 110 glass-topped boats near the Centraal Rail Station for an hour cruise along some of the city’s 160 canals. Along the way you’ll see three-story bike garages, the rebuilt 18th-century “Amsterdam” galleon; many of the city’s 2,500 houseboats; the Cat Boat, home to around 100 wayward felines; the narrowest building, and largest houses along the “Golden Bend” of the Herengracht canal, Amsterdam’s address for the finest swankiendas. Tickets, 10.50e and leave every 45 minutes in fall /winter.
4 p.m. Using your I amsterdam public transport ticket, hop aboard trams 1, 2, or 5 for the Museumplein, the prestigious museum district: destination, the Van Gogh Museum which holds almost his entire oeuvre—200 paintings, 500 drawings, letters—plus works by friends like Gauguin, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec. And in the gift shop, a present for the ultimate Van Gogh lover you know: a Van Gogh bike with his almond blossoms imprinted on the chain guard and rear-wheel spoke guard that contrast nicely with the white tires (399e). Entrance is free (as it is to the nearby Rijksmuseum ) with the I amsterdam Smart Card.
7 p.m. Dinner at Haesje Claes, just round the corner from your Estherea Hotel, a cozy Old Dutch restaurant featuring Dutch specialties served amidst Delftware, wooden barrels, brocaded benches, and traditional Dutch hanging lamps. I recommend hotchpotch, the Dutch national dish, mashed potatoes mixed with sauerkraut, a meatball, sausage, and bacon, with a side order of thick green-pea soup, washed down with beer and a gin chaser known as “kopstoot,” a headbanger. After dinner, end your perfect Amsterdam day in the restaurant’s Café Koningshut, two doors away, with an “advokaat,” a Dutch alcoholic-eggnog after-dinner drink. Proost!
RICHARD WEST spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.