Amsterdam, the last place I visited before this new normal. And what a city. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel slightly awkward and clumsy, being English. Like being at a cool party, where everyone can skate, dance, ride bikes and drink mid-afternoon without the slightest bit of embarrassment or remorse. Why haven’t we Brits yet mastered the art of any of this? I can’t quite believe it took me until my mid forties to visit this wondrous Venice of the North, but I’m so happy I squeezed it in just before all travel came to a halt for me.
With a few tips from old friends and a list of design destinations under my arm, I set off to meet my husband for our first European break ever, without our kids. Airports without kids are like a whole new world for parents. Suddenly; the duty free, a book and a glass of wine at the bar are attainable things that were only distant memories for many years.
I decided to take a taxi to my hotel right by the 9 Streets. Why waste time trying to figure out public transport, feeling more local or saving twenty euros, isn’t that was what my twenties were about? This is my forties, and I want the flash hotel and the design stores.
I had booked us into The Pulitzer Amsterdam, and it did not disappoint. When I book into a hotel, I look for four main things, service, aesthetic, comfort and atmosphere. The Pulitzer has them all. As an Amsterdam newbie, there is so much magic in the canals and bridges and as my taxi pulled up in front of the hotel lobby on a cobbled street, I felt a shudder of excitement and awe to finally be here. With barely any room to dodge a bike let alone grab out your luggage I was greeted at my taxi door (just as it should be) by the concierge and guided to the desk in the dark yet inviting and sultry lobby. I knew I’d booked right.
When checking in I could see from the corner of my eye small groups enjoying breakfast in the lobby cafe and was already calculating in my mind a future trip, with the girls perhaps… Our room. What can I say. My colour palette of dreams. Through a maze of crittall glass corridors to the back of the hotel, up some stairs as dark as a moonless night… I opened the door, I knew this was my best possible home for the next two nights. (Little did I know Storm Eric would take hold and strand us here for three). The floor length blush curtains had me at hello, the contrasting mustard velvet chair is the perfect pop of colour against the muted walls.
I languished in this room alone for a good long while, appreciating its quiet, yet impactful decor.
Next on my list, before my husband finished at his conference was to explore the 9 Streets. Named so as they are a grid of nine streets running East to West and North to South. They are not only home to brands we all know and love such as Cos, American Vintage and many more.. but also so many little independent design and clothes stores. I was in my heaven. I fell upon too many to mention but amongst my favourites were DR Wonen, 360 Volt and The Frozen Fountain which was a little south of the streets.
During this first afternoon I learned that Amsterdam is a challenge, but not impossible. It’s cool, but not pretentious. And it’s bustling, yet not too busy. When can I move here I thought as I clambered back along the cobbles with my many many shopping bags.
New outfit on and ready to explore Amsterdam by night as my weekend mate returned to the Pulitzer. I’d come across a restaurant from the street I really wanted to try but hadn’t realised it was actually part of my hotel and fully booked.
We dined in Cecconi’s at Soho House the first night, at the bar, like the true New Yorkers ( I know they say 10 years but I’ll take 6) that we are. I love to dine at a bar. With a live jazz singer and all the dark corners of the dimly lit bar bustling with people, we felt lucky to have got in. Soho House in Amsterdam is a towering Art Deco inspired hotel in a former trading office. Whilst I loved the cosy cool vibes of the bar and restaurant, the lobby felt a bit more prison deco than art deco to me with it’s cold grey subway brick and dreary stairs, but it’s a matter of opinion I guess. The second night, following a negroni in their teeny waterside cocktail bar, we dined at the hotel. Normally hotel restaurants screams soup of the day or club sandwich depending on the city you are in, but not Janz. It’s a high end, high quality feast of dreams.
This being my first visit to Amsterdam, I couldn’t leave without a late night stroll through the red light district. I’ve romanticised this in my mind for years, narrow alleys with gorgeous girls, scantily clad and the aroma of mystery. Sadly, the reality can’t be further from this. It’s now diminished to two streets, where, yet again, as I do on SO many occasions, I felt slightly embarrassed to be British. Streams of drunk stag and hen do’s, crushing into a bottleneck of people trying to get into one of the two remaining ‘red light’ streets and sneak a peak. Yes, they stand in the window, but no, they take no notice of their hungry eyed crowd, nor do they look sexy or sultry. They look bored, scrolling through their Iphones. like the rest of us.
As we walked back to the hotel, I felt slightly deflated. Not sure what I was expecting. something taboo, something exciting. Neither were found. Still. There was always tomorrow.
With a cancelled flight and a stolen extra day, we filled it with a visit to the Banksy exhibition, the Rijksmuseum and a final morning of brunch at Bakers & Roasters ( a local’s recommendation). We had to wait three hours for the table whilst we headed off and soaked up some culture as well as raindrops. When we finally got to eat our brunch it was top notch and well worth the wait. I feel we really experienced the very best of Amsterdam in only 3 days. I can’t wait to go back, but for now I’ll have to rely on my memory and the beauty of time travel within it.
Now… where to next? xo