The challenge for any travel writer is to capture the essence of a city or town accurately, even when long lists of “must sees” outweigh the amount of time to accomplish this overwhelming task. My preparation for a 24-hour visit to the popular Dutch city of Amsterdam included word-of-mouth advice from trusted travelers, a perusal of the city’s official tourism website, and a consultation with The Dylan Hotel concierge. As I would soon understand and sincerely appreciate, the heart of Amsterdam is hospitality.
After a swift check-in at the Small Luxury Hotels of the World‘s boutique property The Dylan, I was given a detailed map of the city; and a planned route was discussed and I was pointed in the right direction to begin my self-guided walking tour and subsequent boat excursion of the city.
It was an easy and beautiful stroll along the canals and side streets to the Blue Boat Company‘s launch area. I crisscrossed my way, stopping to snap photos of every adorable building, flower and bridge… nearly missing my boat because of all the fascinating distractions. Despite the overcast day, the glass windows and ceiling inside the boat kept it light and cheery. As the boat meandered through the series of canals, including the Herengracht (gentlemen’s canal), the Keizersgracht (knight’s canal) and the Prinsengracht (Prince’s canal), I listened intently to the details of how the lavish houses built in the 17th century were engineered with exterior pulley systems to move furniture and goods to the upper floors because the staircases inside are quite narrow. Gables helped to hide the engineering bits and added a nice architectural element. I learned space was at a premium during the heyday of this busy shipping and financial port, thus the narrow width of the structures. What tourists view as a charming architectural style, was actually born out of space constraints and financial limitations.
The international and modern vibe of Amsterdam was also revealed by water. We moved past a three-story floating Chinese Pagoda restaurant along a pier with the contemporary Conservatorium van Amsterdam Dutch Academy of Music and the futuristic Nemo Science Museum on the other.
Old world bridges with electrified antique gas lamp fixtures were just a few of the details that captivated me during the 90-minute cruise. After marveling for a while at the skinny and slightly (and some not so slightly) leaning gabled homes with uneven roof lines and mismatched window heights, it gave me pause to think that Paris once looked a bit this way. Prior to Haussmann’s restructuring of the City of Light, it too had buildings of various heights, widths and hues. My “A type” personality loves the symmetry of Paris, but my spirit adores the colors and quirkiness of Amsterdam.
On the way back from a successful day learning about the history and way of life of the Dutch, while stealing some time to also shop for the must-have souvenirs at the chic area called The Nine Streets, I purposefully kept the map tucked away and wandered in the general direction of the hotel, allowing myself to get lost in observation verses focusing on the most direct path. A sobering stop at the Anne Frank Museum could have put a damper on the mood, but I found it surprisingly uplifting to feel her courage and determination within the walls.
The sun peeked through the clouds, which resulted with Leiden Square buzzing with locals and tourists eager to catch a few rays, but not without pints of their favorite local brew (Heineken) in hand. I opted for perch at French themed Le Pub Leidseplein for a hot chocolate, and a perfect location fora people-watching. I couldn’t resist a stop for some street food — a piping-hot foot-long frank cooked over an open fire – no regrets.
When at last my feet could no longer keep up with my enthusiasm for sightseeing, I decided it was time for sustenance and a rest. Suddenly, however, my trip went awry. A strong warning was given to me by the concierge earlier in the day, “Watch the bicyclists; stay on the pedestrian sidewalks at all times.” It is estimated that over 600,000 bicycles are peddled along the cobblestone streets so I adhered to the advice, yet was still run over by an out-of-control cyclist who hit me from behind on the pedestrian path. Thank goodness that was AFTER a full day of wonderful activities.
The kind folks at The Dylan patched me up – literally. They then set me up with a comfortable seat by the roaring fire in Brasserie Occo. Afternoon teatime is super, but afternoon “High Wine Time” is even better. French pastries and savory treats were served with a flight of three wines paired perfectly with the delicious assortment of sweet and savory delights. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Feeling out of sorts, I scraped my dinner plans, had a hot soak in the relaxing oversized tub back in my room, nibbled on the homemade trail mix and crisp ripened apples that housekeeping delivered during turndown service, and then slipped under the luxurious covers in my bed for a wonderful slumber. However, I awoke stiffened, and in tremendous pain. I rang the front desk and they jumped to my aid, helping me get organized and ready for my departure.
I may not have seen everything on the list as planned, but I came away with a delightful impression of Amsterdam for its beauty, history, innovation and art. More than anything else, I left with an appreciation for the hospitable Hotel Dylan, and how they managed to not only rescue me in my time of need, but did so in such an effortless and generous manner that my stay was still lovely even under the difficult circumstances.
Amsterdam’s motto is IAMsterdam. After my whirlwind visit with highlights and lowlights, I feel that now I am Amsterdam too!