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Thursday, August 15, 2013

AMSTERDAM





From Golden Age to a New Renaissance...

With some 175 nationalities, Amsterdam seems to offer something for everyone with its 17th century canal district and quirky town houses with gabled roofs, cycle paths to cutting edge architecture, cool hotels and an eclectic culinary scene. As well there are scores of concerts, pre-eminent museums and legendary party scenes -one of which we witnessed with revelers dressed in orange to celebrate the Queen’s Historic Birthday abdication and her son’s induction King Willem-Alexander of the House of Orange.  How historic!

However one arrives in Amsterdam, my friend John suggested we begin in the Centrum (centre) at the railway station designed in the Dutch neo-Renaissance style, then along Damrack street, the conduit to  Dam Square with the Royal Palace, New Church, cafés, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, demonstration area and the white towering obelisk of the National Monument. And just behind the obelisk and  beside the NH  Grand Hotel Koninklijk, we located a narrow ally way and a 300 year old distillery gem ’Wynand Fockink’ with its tasting room and range of liquers and jenevers . (fore father to Anglicized gin) We stopped for a taste and a slurp!

For a brief respite we returned to the Singel canal and our Hotel Estheréa, an old-world luxury property of six 17th-century houses with its double library, bar lounge and breakfast room that offered menu of light lunches and dinner choices. Dark wood panelling, burgundy red carpets, cut-velvet damask upholsteries, silk draperies à la Jim Thompson, antiques and chandeliers set the luxurious interior décor. The bedrooms with silk coverlets and pillows, William Morris wall coverings and shuttered windows would also appeal to their five star guests.

With a friend’s recommendation we located the Huis Marseille Museum - two conjoined canal houses with spacious exhibition space dedicated solely for photography related to environmental issues and ecological concerns while other international galleries in the surrounding area also captured our attention. For lunch we grazed at the art deco inspired Café Americian Restaurant with its arched ceilings, murals, stained glass windows and the Arts and Crafts inspired leaded glass light fixtures. Leidsekade 97

On this sunny day we sought out another must-see, the Bloemenmarkt  (flower shops) on the Singel canal for flowers of every hue, a wide variety of bulbs along with every conceivable product related  to garden themes. A backdrop of the historic Munttoren (Mint Tower) houses the famous Royal Delft experience where we observed a master artist painting the iconic blue and white porcelain along with a showroom collection of Delft china tiles and earthen ware.

We then hurried on to see the famous ‘over-the-top’ Pathé movie Theatre or the 'Plum' as it was called at its opening in 1921. The 26 metre high architectural exterior is a mixture of styles known as the Amsterdam School of Art Deco and Jugendstil with a sumptuous interior of frescoed walls, ceiling designs in riotous colours, deco-like light fixtures and plush woven carpets. In its day stars like Marlene Dietrich would perform here but today it continues as an operational cinema.

Close by we peeked through a set of iron gates to a French-style garden of the 17th century Willet - Holthuysen mansion/museum entered off Herengracht 60. Among the many beautifully  restored rooms we noted the dining room  with its Meissen porcelain and chandelier over the table centre of fruits and sweets, the bedroom with the blue damask canopied twin beds  and the glass domed stucco and marble central stairwell with statues from the story of the Judgement of Paris. The furnishings are of the period but were not the original pieces.

After a full day of impressions and steps away from the Rembrantplein we chose to dine at Flo with a buffet selection of ‘fruits from the sea’ at the entrance leading to the bar within the  dining room, a  contemporary restaurant of dark woods, red velvet banquettes with green leather chairs and table cloth settings. A special menu inspired by seasonal asparagus included Asparagus fried in pastry, € 9.75, Roast lamb with asparagus €22.00, or grilled Dorado fillets, €22.00. With its calm interior sans music, classic service and reasonable prices, we’ll return again.

We now took a break with a half- day tour to Lisse passing fields of flowers in rainbow colours like a grand tapestry enroute to the Keuenhof (kitchen) Gardens.  We were transfixed with its perfection of garden design and colour combinations - a canvas of tulips and other Spring flowers, gurgling waterways and delicate shadows framed by a cloudless sunny day. A photographer’s paradise!

Returning to the Jordan area and on a more somber note we visited the Anne Frank House, now a museum with a story. It was the hiding place where Ann Frank wrote her diary with quotations, photographs, films and original objects to illustrate events that took place during the Second World War.

From Vondelpark it was but a stone’s throw to the Hollandsche Manege (live horse museum) and the oldest riding school in the Netherlands with as many as fifty-five horses. The riding hall entrance is off Vondelstraat 38 with a refreshment room upstairs, film presentation and opportunity to watch the riding lessons. Another city gem!

Whether an art connoisseur or one of casual interest, the Museumplein is understandably the diamond in the crown with three world renowned art museums heralded by sculptured red and white letters ‘I  AMSTERDAM’ reflecting in the plaza pool. After a ten year makeover the re - born Rijksmuseum opened with a new Asian wing and over 800 years of Dutch masterpieces.  Co-incidentally the Van Gogh Museum opened the day of our visit after its seven month face lift with the largest collection in the world of his impressionist paintings. Almost next door, the  Stedelijk Museum with its contemporary collection recently unveiled its new addition dubbed the ‘bathtub’ with its cantilevered roof over the interior restaurant extension. The world renowned Royal Concertgebouw concert hall is but a few steps away and walking distant to the quiet retreat of the Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanic gardens in the world.

In one of the most historic locations in Amsterdam, a stone gate announces a former theatre inscribed with ’The World is a theater in which everyone plays a role” which is now the entrance to the Dylan, a luxury boutique hotel. We were privy to a private tour in a hushed atmosphere of restful colours, wood plank floors, butter-soft leather upholsteries and wood burning fireplaces. Bedrooms were an eclectic mix of minimalist four poster beds, oriental armoires and carpets. ‘Vinkels’ a dining room of contemporary design offered French cuisine while a secluded garden invited tranquility and escape from the cities’ dynamics. Keizersgracht 384

The Begijnhof  (Beguine Court) with entrance on Spui street is one more of Amsterdam’s hidden gems behind a walled courtyard of gardens and trees  where women once lived a spiritual and philanthropic life. Although we arrived at closing time we caught a glance of the houses and English church where a plaque inside explains the former rules and regulations. Very special!

Returning to the waterfront, the futuristic 'EYE' Film Museum is the newest attraction with its soaring architecture and ferry accessibility from behind the railway station. It is more a temple of cinema for classic films than a museum, however there is a permanent history of cinema, exhibitions, research centre, multimedia art installations and Eye Bar-Restaurant stepping down to an outdoor terrace.

Topping off the day we chose the neighbourhood side by side restaurants of Marius and Worst 171-173 Barentszatraat under the direction of owner and Chef Kees  Elfring. Marius is decorated in a French Provincial style and offers Mediterranean cuisine. Worst is open kitchen concept, copper table tops, large wine cooler and about fine wine and artisanal products sourced from private producers. We chose Chicken liver parfait €8, Blood sausage Lobster €15, Pieds de cochon with beans €15.  Lemon curd and meringue desert €6. paired with a glass of Gruner Veltiner  €3.5 climaxed the evening  with an outstanding dining experience of honest food and conviviality.

For your next Amsterdam Vacation, Call  1 877 411 6359 or Click here, and get ready for the vacation of a life time

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