I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the sidewalks of Amsterdam are terrifying. If you are new to the city and stay within the typical tourist bubble of the canal rings, you will not escape the crowds. But, don’t despair. Expanding your circle of influence a little further, you will find a relatively tranquil and more diverse area of the city.
XO Hotels Blue Tower is West of the rings, an easy tram connection back to the centre and the action. A great choice if you intend to check out the charming streets of the Jordaan area, the west side of the canal rings.
Hotel Casa Amsterdam is located Southeast of the rings, in my opinion the most tranquil part of town.
Fit Food: Bar Bukowski, De Ysbreeker
Detox to Retox: Ron Gastrobar, Soenda Kalapa
Where to find good chocolate: Van Velze’s, Leonidas
My first day arrives surprisingly. . . bright. The previous nights arrival was rife with pouring rain and sullen faces.
What is that yellow ball in the sky? The canal twinkles at me as my feet pound the path along it. The grass is wet with moisture and the air is fresh with that after-rain smell. Onwards I go, birds chirping, old gentlemen walking dogs, trees waving in the breeze. This is truly a different type of Amsterdam.
Breakfast is at Bar Bukowski, a humble and friendly pub showcasing the remnants of partying from the night before. The coffee is great, served with a tiny bite of lemon cake, and the day menu has all variety of things, from quark served with fruit, coconut, and honey to American style pancakes. I try the organic spelt bread with cheese, tomato, and avocado. You can even add half a grapefruit, for the true saints.
After a brusque walk to the north, I’m ready for a dose of culture at the Rembrandt house – a small museum set in Rembrandt’s house and studio, near the central train station. Surrounded by ugly post-war buildings, the area is tell-tale of the Jewish quarter, completely devastated during World War II, houses burned for firewood during the final cold months of the war.
Rembrandt was a Dutch painter, 1606 – 1669, considered one the greatest European painters and most prominent Dutch painter in history.
The house itself was, at the time, newly built in a fashionable neighbourhood, and Rembrandt mortgaged himself up to the eyebrows for it. Though he was making lots of money through commissions, he had a spending habit that matched. In 1656 he declared bankruptcy and died a poor man.
The free audio guide takes me through the house, starting in the kitchen. A minuscule box bed near the stove, where the maids slept, is astonishingly small. Near the sink there is a spout for water, however back in the 17th century it wasn’t for drinking due to sanitary reasons – everyone drank weak beer instead.
Next, you move up to the first floor – the “Receiving Room” for guests, complete with another box bed for overnight visitors. Isn’t it charming to think of a time when you were greeted in a Receiving Room?
The parlour and Rembrandt’s bedroom are framed with wood, but painted to appear like marble. The handles and fastens on the wood bed are painted to appear like ebony. Common for the time, to make one appear richer than reality.
In the gallery, some of the paintings are by Rembrandt while many others are by pupils. The Rembrandt Research Project of 1968 has in fact identified many painting previously thought to be by the artist to be the work of his students. Below “The Holy Family in the Evening”, hung in the bedroom. Just look at the light . . . so beautiful!
The top level is the art studio and library of various books and natural materials. Amazing mammoth tortoise shells, giant oysters, exotic prints, books, rare rocks and minerals. Clearly this is where the bankruptcy happened 😉
Truly a wonderful and worthwhile site in the city. Sometimes the best things come in small packages.
After a decent amount of walking and standing, it’s time to sit. Canal boat tours run from the harbour across from the central station frequently, and I jump on one. Earphones plug into outlets on the boat, with translation into at least 6 languages. A unique viewpoint from which to see the city.
Evening comes quickly and it’s time to head to Ron Gastrobar. In the far southwest, it is a bit out-of-the-way and worth the journey. The brainchild of chef Ron Blaauw, he handed in his Michelin stars to create a restaurant with more casual and accessible food (and prices). The menu is all small plates, each 15 euro.
Bread comes to the table, served with soft butter. The butter is topped with deep-fried bacon and sits beside whisky-soaked pickles. Good food, trashed up.
The “ham from the garden” is reminiscent of the famous Iberico stuff – rich, salty, smokey. The BBQ squid tops fregola pasta, served with bouillabaisse sauce and salami crumble. Interesting flavours and a great atmosphere.
Arriving with the bill is a mini caramel ice cream cone. Patrons leave with smiles and sticky fingers 😊
De Ysbreeker is not far from the hotel and serves food and drinks from 8:00 am onwards. From a croissant with jam to steak tartare, there is something for everyone.
Eager the check out the vintage and consignment scene in the Jordaan area, I head first to Retro Chic on Staalstraat, full of dresses, scarves, jewellery, and shoes. The perfect place for finding a statement piece or an upscale Halloween costume.
The Dutch Verzetsmuseum (Resistance museum) in the old Jewish quarter of the city tells a story little known to me. The heroic effort put in by the Dutch to resisting the Nazi movement spreading to Holland was astounding. This museum provides a wonderful audio and visual storyline of individual people as well as communal efforts – extremely well-designed and interesting.
You can’t leave Amsterdam without experiencing the Indonesion influence in the city, a result of Dutch colonization. Indonesian rice tables, the traditional spread, is a must-do. There is no picking from a menu here – you get what comes. At Soenda Kalapa, a dizzying array of small dishes arrive – steaming yellow rice, crispy shrimp crackers, tender beef floating in a broth of coconut milk and chili, vegetables with peanut sauce, spring rolls. And on it went. Positively bursting, we waddled home to a solid nights rest.
So there you have it – a calmer Amsterdam and more relaxed locale from which to see the city. The city may not seem to be for everyone, but I assure you you can find a pocket you like within it.