This is one of my favourite cities, and I am always charmed by it. We didn’t have a lot of time to see too much – arriving on Saturday morning, leaving on the cruise on Sunday afternoon – so we had to be selective in what we chose to do.
Even in the early morning light,as we arrived in the city, there was lots of movement on the streets of Amsterdam. This is a city that lives life large, twenty-four seven. I think that’s why it has an exciting pulse – it reminds me of New York City. But then, it was the Dutch who first bought Manhattan, and in typical Dutch fashion, got it at a bargain.
And speaking of bargains, the I Amsterdam card is a great buy and I would highly recommend it. (www.iamsterdam.com) The pass gives you access to trams and buses, free entrance to most of the city’s museums and a complimentary canal cruise, as well as discounts in restaurants and shops.
The pass costs 40 euros for 24 hours, and you can also buy a 48 hour and 72 hour card. You make your money back very quickly.
Our hotel, the Ambassade, (www.ambassade-hotel.nl) is right on one of the canals, and is surrounded by historic canal houses. We walked through the streets and visited one of the historic houses that has been turned into a museum, the Museum Van Loon ( www.museumvanloon.nl) on the Keisergracht canal.
The house is authentically furnished as it would have been in 1602 when it was originally home to one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company. The secret garden behind the house is a quiet green oasis.
We walked through the ‘Dam, which is always full of activity, and peeked into the Nieuwe Kerk – not so new, dating from 1414.
And we kept walking as darkness fell and the canals lit up. The Spui District is a busy one, with lots of bars, entertainment and cafes. I think the city is so pretty at night, and it is a safe city, despite its reputation for marijuana cafes and its Red Light District. Those activities are permitted but controlled.
We went to the perfect place for dinner. The weather was chilly, with a cold wind blowing in off the Ij River. So we found Restaurant Haesje Claes (www.haesjeclaes.cl) on Spuistraat.
It is a cosy, traditional Dutch restaurant, well reviewed on TripAdvisor, and well loved by locals.
Its interior is wood paneled and welcoming, with lots of blue and white china and fresh flowers.
The food is not gourmet – it is classic home cooking, substantial and filling, just what we needed for a cold evening.
The restaurant was founded in 1974 in one building but has expanded to comprise six different interconnected buildings. The name Haesje Claes comes from Lady Haesje Claes, born in 1520, who was the daughter of a rich salesman and founder of the “Amsterdam Burgerweeshuis” (orphanage) formerly located in the Amsterdam Museum.
I had a stamppot, a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables.
This version was served with sauerkraut, bacon, sausages and beef, with a delicious gravy. Substantial and warming – I cleaned my plate. For dessert we had the traditional stroopwaffels with nougat ice cream.
It was a short walk back to our hotel across two canals. The city was just starting into its celebrated nightlife as we headed for bed. We felt like a couple of wimps, but jet lag has a way of dampening your urge to party.