Some Like It Quaint: Amsterdam
14th Oct 2008
If you're coming to Amsterdam from around Europe, such as Paris, Zurich, or Berlin, chances are the efficient Dutch train network will be a good bet to get you in and out. Those farther afield will arrive at Schipol airport, which is essentially a giant shopping mall with a runway attached.
Don't bother with a taxi into town - the prices are quite high considering the distance. Instead, hop a high-speed train, which will whisk you into the city and around the region for a fraction of the price and at a much faster clip. When you arrive at Amsterdam Centraal, you'll be perfectly positioned to walk a few blocks to most of the good hotels, or can easily catch a cab from the station.
Amsterdam is one of Europe's older cities and was principally constructed during the age of canals (predating rail and automobile). Concentric rings of canals radiate out from the rough area of the train station, and feature lovely views walking boulevards.
Most of the fun hotels are in this area - including the Dylan, one of Europe's most stylish hotels. The Dylan features beautifully appointed rooms in a modern and whimsical style, and while the service isn't what it used to be, still is the place to stay in the city.
Lloyd. The concept behind this hotel, located just a bit outside of the main drag, is to mix the high end with the low-end to create a space that is "economically diverse" - a cultural stew that mixes five star rooms with three and two star rooms in the same space. The lowest end rooms are a disaster, but the mix enables people from all walks of life to share the experience in general common areas. The Lloyd was formerly a detention center, and it shows, but the overall affect is unique, the value of which can't be understated.
On the food front, a number of great restaurants have taken hold in the city. Two of the more interesting choices are Stout! and Envy. Stout! features highly constructed, flavorful dishes in a casual setting, with lots of seafood and ethnic style salads on the menu.
Envy is based on the seven deadly sins and is the most successful of a series of restaurants in Amsterdam based on the theme. Long corridors and attractive design cater to a hip, young crowd, so hanging out here is akin to being in a bar, but with better food and service than is found in most places. Again, the food is constructed in the mood of 'modern', but the experience is worthwhile, especially if you are entertaining clients.
supperclub remains an institution in the city - the original 'bed' restaurant, featuring large lounges and people lolling about, many of them partaking of the herbal remedies for which Amsterdam is so famous. Supperclub offers a mix of performances, art and food, creating a full experience to the evening that even after many years is still going strong in the city. It's a must-see for any Amsterdam visitor, even though copies have sprung up as far away as Singapore and San Francisco.
If you're looking for something a bit more chic, try Restaurant Christophe. It's been around for over 20 years and changed hands in 2006 from Christophe Royer to his protege's Ellen and Jean-Joel. Fortunately, they have maintained the gastronomy of the place, while providing a much needed renovation.
Amsterdam remains famous for its relaxed approach to most forms of soft vice, whether it involves drug culture or the city's famous red light areas. But the reality is that most Amsterdam people tend to avoid these cliches, and a good time can be had at a number of 'normal' destinations. Many feature top DJs, such as up-and-comer Armin Van Buuren. Chemisty offers a spectacular setting for late night activities and quite elaborate parties and settings, especially on weekends.
For a fun, upscale scene, you could check out Jimmy Woo and Mansion, but to get a real flavor for Amsterdam's underground scene, it would be Korsakoff. Korsakoff takes a page from Berlin nightlife, appealing to the city's alternative set. Get set for punk-rock and gothic, which battle it out for domination of the scene. It's an experience, so wear your eyes-wide-shut outfit if you decide to give it a try.
the general view
Despite the tourist impressions that tend to overshadow Amsterdam, the reality is that the city is a strong magnet for international business. The new areas of Zuidas and other ring business centers house large numbers of international companies and their European headquarters, especially in advertising and marketing. This scene gives Amsterdam a permanently outward and international view, a stark contrast to the quaint streets and cozy canals that dominate the historic centre. Together they provide a nice mix between responsibility and hedonism, a balance that Amsterdam struggles to maintain in the right doses.
At the end however, quaint wins. Nothing beats a simple stroll through the canals and narrow streets at dusk, watching as the streetlights begin to illuminate cobbled streets and perfectly manicured row houses, all lit up with modern design. Sure, half the tourists are stoned and you're likely to be dodging locals on bicycles with bells, but its all just part of the charm.