By Rita Cook / The Ellis County Press
I don’t usually begin my tales of travel at the hotel where I stay, but in Amsterdam the Movenpick was as much a part of the experience as the other stops I made along the way. Located in the City Centre just steps from the high and low brow culture this city has to offer, take note of the 17th-century canal houses nearby that are now the playground for residents living here alongside students and tourists all buzzing from an excitement that is at once felt as soon as you arrive. The Movenpick is also said to be one of the most sustainable hotels in Amsterdam with fair-trade linen, bikes to ride as needed and located near the eco canals where you can hop on and off as you tour the old town.
The Amsterdam tourist office gave me a city card to use while visiting, which was good for a variety of museums that are musts like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. You can get a card that is good for 24, 48, 72 or 96 hours and it give you free entrance to most museums and attractions in the city as well as unlimited public transportation.
The city recently celebrated its 400th jubilee of the Amsterdam Canal Ring – after all this city is all about the canals and the merchants who made it so. The canals started way back in 1613 with just three to begin. Fast forward to this century and in 2010 UNESCO added the Canal Ring to the World Heritage List.
Be sure and take the walking route around the Canal Ring beginning from Westermarket and from there you will find yourself seeing all you need to and more. Crossing several bridges as you gain momentum on the walk look for the unusual installations of streetlamps, historical buildings, a section of the canal known as little golden bend and eventually you will end up at the rear of the Royal Palace on Dam Square. Take some time in the Felix Meritis Observatory, which is over 225 years old and opened again after 200 years in 2013 for visitors.
Take special care to enjoy the Spiegelkwartier for antiques and art. This might be an interesting find for you, the Museum of Bags and Purses, which is the largest of its kind in the world. With a collection that spans 500 years you will see a 16th-century goat leather purse and then just minutes later a bag once owned by Madonna.
A canal exploration will take you a day or two and you will want to pick and choose the highlights of your visit. Consider the always popular canal cruise and see much of what the city has to offer faster from your seat in a boat. Highlights are the Golden Age merchant houses, the ancient city’s towers and bridges and locks such as the Magere Burg and in the evening, there will be no better seat in the house as the lights begin to twinkle adding an extra magic to this already charming metropolis that surrounds you.
For a lunch or dinner, I also discovered MOMO Restaurant, Bar & Lounge. The mastermind behind the kitchen is Yossi Eliyahoo owner of the group that owns the restaurant. MOMO features high-end Asian cuisine served with a defined sense of style. Notice the flavors and textures as each combine to offer the most delicate sensation with signature dishes like black cod with spicy miso and the MOMO roll with tuna, salmon, sea bass and tarragon miso, raising the bar indeed.
The folks from the Utrecht Tourist Office met me at the train station and whisked me off to check my bags at Hotel Apollo before I began a guided city tour. A canal boat excursion was the perfect way to get acclimated here taking in the historic facades and ancient wharves with trees lining the water along the way.
While in Utrecht put on your bucket list Dom Square with a Gothic Church located here alongside the Dom Tower and Utrecht’s University Hall. There is a DOMunder tour where you will find 2000 years of Dutch history. The route under the centuries old square is led by torch and you get to see the history from the Roman time when they built the castellum Traiectum in 45 A.D. to a more recent history that is still going on today.
Climb the Dom Tower just 465 steps and see the city from the top. It is the highest church tower in the Netherlands at 365-feet-high.
Dinnertime in Utrecht is no normal affair so do indulge. I had dinner at Humphreys located in a wharf cellar and not only was the food exquisite, but the atmosphere could not come more highly recommended.
Getting around Holland is easy and from city to city you can easily take the train. I arrived in Rotterdam’s Central Station at which point I picked up a Rotterdam Welcome Card and had the entire city at my fingertips.
First stop was Museum Rotterdam telling the story of the city’s history and inhabitants for the last 100 years. You will be mind-boggled with the fact the museum has more than 100,000 Rotterdam-related objects there.
On the first night in the city I found my way to a restaurant called Las Palmas, a modern fish eatery that is the brainchild of tv-chef Herman dan Blijker. If you want the best bouillabaisse you have ever tasted sidle up to the long bar and order for yourself.
A second day in the city will also have you heading to a museum called Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. This is one of the oldest museums in the country with a collection that was built by Frans Jacob Otto Boijmans. He left his personal collection to the city in 1849 and a little over one hundred years later Daniel George Van Beuningen left his collection here too. Located in red brick houses and opened in 1935 the galleries are the perfect setting for the art with natural lighting and plenty of room to stay awhile to enjoy art as diverse as paintings, sculptures and drawings that range from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh to Dali.
You might also want to stop in at the Kunsthal Rotterdam, striking in architectural design and featuring everything from the old masters to modern photography.
The Markthal is the largest indoor market in the Netherlands and is located under a large arch where you can shop and eat or just sit and relax. There are 100 fresh produce stands, 15 food shops, eight restaurants and notice the 4000 tiles, all in color, that cover the inside of the arch. Indeed, the arch is a definite piece of art all its own.
Check out the Het Netherlands Fotomuseum featuring much of the country’s best photography and with a strong emphasis on innovation in documentary filmmaking.
For dinner Restaurant De Jong is suggested as it is centrally located and is a tasty bistro with seasonal products from the restaurant garden and a kitchen helmed by newcomer chef Jim de Jong.
Back at the hotel where I stayed a few nights, the Mainport Hotel in Rotterdam is located in the Maritime District and is a five-star design hotel that got an extra nod from me because it is also eco-friendly. Opened in 2013, the hotel offers great views of the Maas River and the city skyline. No matter what you are hungry for, flavors from around the world are offered at the Australian kitchen of the Down Under restaurant at Mainport. And take note too, each guest floor stands for a continent and designer Feran Thomassen gave each floor a color scheme with wallpaper patterns to reflect the atmosphere of each continent.
For the gourmet inspired the Eating Amsterdam Tour is going to be necessary in order for you to really enjoy yourself while visiting. You will begin just south of the canal belt in the multi-cultural neighborhood known as de Pijp. This is a more local area and away from the tourist buzz, which I say all the better. The tour gives you a greater appreciation of the food and international influence found in Amsterdam. Not to mention it’s all just a cool experience. We took off with about four other folks on the tour with us and walked around the area taking a few bites here and there and getting an overall feel for the city and the gourmet trends. First stop was My Little Patisserie where the owner hauls from Paris and makes the most delicious choux buns. Then on to Olive and Cookie for a meet, greet and eat with a Serbian-Croatian couple offering recipes culled from their grandmother’s cooking. Other stops on the foodie evening tour were Sari Citra for Indonesian, De Turk for Turkish mezze, Café Par Hasard where we found the most delectable fries in Europe a mixture of Dutch and Belgian and then finally to Brouwerij Troost a hipster hangout for beer and snacks, as if any more food is needed.
This is one tour you don’t want to miss so check it out and make sure you eat your way through Amsterdam when visiting because, well, why not? www.eatingamsterdamtours.com
A special shout out to The Hoxton Amsterdam where you should either spend a few nights or duck in for dinner or lunch. All roads lead to cool in this city, but the Hox was a standout for lunch and the food and drinks made us do a return visit the following day.