Every time I visit Amsterdam I wonder why I have not yet up and moved. The city checks all of the boxes: fantastic energy, an ever-growing creative buzz, stylish residents, ravishingly tall men, fabulous boutique shopping, a predisposition for exercise and wellness, intuitive transportation, and a ramped-up food scene. The only box left unchecked is ‘Mediterranean Climate,’ but I shall forgive their rainy northern winters for one more muesli roll, alsjeblieft.
Sleep. The city has upped its luxury hotel game in the recent years, with refurbishments at the Pulitzer and the Dylan. Add on to that the gem of the Museumplein, The Conservatorium, and the luxury traveler has a perplexing predicament on his or her hands. Each is a bastion of preserved history, inherently Dutch colors and textures, and architectural impressiveness. The Dylan is ideal for seclusion, relaxation, and romance in the heart of the city’s ancient canals. Once tucked away into the new Bar Brasserie OCCO and adjacent sitting room with wood burning fireplace, the city is canals away. Rooms are decorated in luxurious fabrics, cooling hues, placating Dutch woods, and modern white bathrooms.
The Pulitzer is a labyrinthine infinite-level maze connecting multiple townhouses. Decorated in colors that reflect the Old Masters at the Rijksmuseum, it extends a thinly veiled hush over its interiors. I feel at once that I am inside an aristocratic uncle’s home circa Downton Abbey, with someone watching from the shadows of a corner and whispers beneath the floorboards. Just watch out for the sneaky stairs without banisters; I find myself walking around Amsterdam’s canal houses like an old lady in the dark with one hand upon the wall (as if the wall will save me from falling grace on these shockingly short and tall steps).
The Conservatorium contrasts the canal hotels with its largesse and cutting edge design. The showstopper is the quadruple height atrium restaurant. Amsterdam is a city of windows; characteristic, ancient looking glasses line the canal streets. Home owners are not allowed to even think about touching the exterior of the canal houses without permission from the city; the center is a UNESCO world heritage sight and every bit is a piece of history. Hundreds of years ago, residents paid taxes based on the width of their windows; the wider the window, the wealthier the homeowner. This explains the many narrow homes along the canals. If the Conservatorium Hotel were taxed on its windows, it would make Tom Hanks’ and Shelley Long’s ill investment look like the Money Puddle instead of the Money Pitt.
The building was originally built as a bank near the end of the 19th century and later became home to a music conservatory. 100 years after its completion, Italian interiors star Piero Lissoni took on the project, injecting his signature clean lines, Milanese grey tones contrasted with playful accents, and clever uses of natural light. Lissoni gives contemporary chic a tangible definition.
Be one of the first at the Rijksmuseum to appreciate its impossible-to-capture, modern entrance hall. Designed by Pierre Cuypers in 1885, the structure is one of the oldest and most celebrated in Amsterdam. When it was placed in the hands of two talented Spanish architects in 2012 for a renovation, the motto ‘Continue with Cuypers’ signified the country’s loyalty to the original mastermind. The height and enormity of the lobby showcases the city’s natural ability to mix classic Dutch brick with clean, linear lines and contemporary style. The Dutch aesthetic lends itself towards all things spatial and practical; in the same vein as their seamless systems and quotidian routines (one ride on the tram and a trip to the local supermarket exemplifies their efficiency), any new construction in the city is purposeful and clean, in no way fussy or over the top.
Inside the museum, the Dutch masters are obviously not to be missed, but the museum houses a number of exquisite exhibitions. This year was the inauguration of the ‘Catwalk,’ an automated, moving exhibition showcasing Dutch fashion from 1625 to 1960. Take a front row seat and imagine yourself in Balenciaga’s taffeta cocktail gown as it passes you by. Do not miss a walk through the bicycle path, one of the residents’ literal rites of passage in the city. A few years ago, the Director of the museum tried to close the path to the cyclists, and locals met his proposition with uproar and a sizable legal battle. In the end, the city residents got to keep their historical shortcut through their state museum.
Shop & Stroll:
The Pijp and the 9 Streets are two of the most popular neighborhoods for hip and quirky cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. Caffeinate yourself among the casually cool at Lot Sixty One. Stock up on Peruvian converses at Mipacha. Bloom stocks colorful bedding, pajamas, and fabrics designed by the owner and hand-sewn in India. Terra is a fantastic mix of two specific commodities: ceramics and leather shoes. I wanted each and every one of the antique Spanish bowls and plates affixed to the walls, but sadly, only the newer items are for sale. The leather shoes are designed by the owner and made by Dutchies in Amsterdam.
On Saturdays, don’t miss the Noordermarkt. Get there before the massive lunch crowd. On a sunny day, it is so packed it feels like you are moving in a snail pace line through the nonsensical rows of focaccia and honey stalls. Bread and cheese play a big part at this market, as does hipster herbal remedies and organic everything. Local artisans are mixed in, and there are endless gift possibilities for yourself and others. Bring many sturdy shopping bags; you will not walk away empty handed.
The smart Oud-Zuid neighborhood near the southern end of Vondelpark is the most prestigious address in the city; its streets are lined with handsome mansions and many a chic shops. It feels very much like a stroll through South Kensington, and its residents resemble the smart-set of the posh London neighborhoods to a tee. One could go wild here with clothing and beauty stores, salons, upscale florists, gourmet delicatessens, and a bakery that smells so divine I could stand at its periphery all morning just relishing the scents of freshly baked muesli bread.
Speaking of bread, the Dutch are premier bread-bakers. I was in town visiting friends, and each morning I would be the first at the local bakery, trying to decipher the indecipherable Dutch names of the endless choices of non-white flour breads with mixtures of nuts, seeds, grains, and other organic ingredients. I think there was maybe one white bread in this entire bakery. Toto, we’re not in Tuscany anymore. My favorite at Bakkerij Klopper En Stolk remains the muesli bread. I would gladly fly from Florence to Amsterdam any day to bring home a few freshly baked loaves, still warm from the ovens. Sourdough loaves are equally favored; the whole wheat sourdough at the Conservatorium’s brunch was as outstanding as any I’ve had, from the king of ‘pane’ at Gjusta in Venice Beach to the irreplaceable Parisian baguette.
There is no better way to end the day than with a stroll through Vondelpark, brimming with Dutchies celebrating Spring weather. They are strewn over the lawns, bicycles at bay, cell phones put away, and conversation free and flowing. This is a populous that knows how to live and live well; they are proud of their city and its history and they aim to constantly move it forward with respectful intentions and well-thought plans. Now I only have to get used to the whole ‘life on a bike’ thing, and then I am ready to go Dutch.
Coffee & Coconuts
Bakkerij Klopper En Stolk- The world’s best Muesli bread
Museumplein (Oud Zuid neighborhood)
Arjan- Exquisite florist
Lot Sixty One Coffee
Mipacha- Sneakers with Peruvian fabric
Terra- Ceramics from Spain and leather shoes
Bloom- Bedding and pajamas designed by the owner and handmade in India
Jarig mennokroon- florist
Shops along the Cornelis Schuyt Straat in Oud Zuid
Bakker Bertram- bakery
Babassu skin spa
Buffet van Odette