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The International Writers Magazine: Dutch Treat:

Amsterdam Weekend 2008
Aurelie Montfrond

I am recalling a phrase that I heard once. Though it was in French, I am going to try my best to translate in the appropriate English. "One never feels comfortable anywhere but one only feels comfortable with someone." On a Friday afternoon, I had just arrived in Amsterdam. I took a long bath followed by a shower, sat at my desk and went through my emails while I was drinking all the soft drinks from the mini-bar. I pressed a button and rang the reception,
image © A Montfrond

I asked for something "off menu" which was simply a ham and cheese sandwich. Menus can get quite complicated in such places for someone that eats really simply or in other words, nothing at all. At least properly. A sudden knock on my door and I thought to myself "That’s quite an efficient room service!". It seemed it was actually the manager of the hotel. He welcomed me and hoped everything was alright for me. I then ate my sandwich, looked at the view through the immense windows. There was a canal full of boats along an asymmetric and distorted architecture. This might have looked like Lego land, though I have not been there myself but I can imagine the settings. I lied in my bed with my computer, listening to some music. The phone rang. It was a friend from Paris that just arrived in Amsterdam to join me for the Week End. It had been a year since I last saw him. He was telling me about his hostel and he thought the ambience was nice. There were a lot of young people. While I was telling him about the hotel he thought that was nice but one might feel lonely in a room like this. I smiled and glanced quickly at my room, before telling him "To be honest, I could not care less….!!!". He burst out laughing and so did I. I fell asleep holding the ten pillows. One can therefore feel comfortable anywhere, it all depends where you are staying and not with whom you are. Although you can be with someone you really like anywhere but better being comfortable somewhere and with someone.

It basically makes you feel you are in a castle. The rooms have incredibly high ceilings and exaggerative large windows that give you a fantastic city view over the canal. There is a swimming pool and sauna which is also free. I did not know that and I am not particularly interested in this kind of things but for people who want to spend time at the hotel. It can be good to know.

The five stars Grand Hotel Amrâth is the most luxurious hotel in Amsterdam. It opened recently and its location makes it accessible by foot. A five minutes walk from the central train station. The hotel can’t be missed. Its romantic and almost magical architecture looks like it came right from a Disney film. The rooms are spacious with shower and bath. There is also free wireless Internet access in the rooms as well as free mini bar.

On the Saturday morning, my friend came at my hotel and we started to embark for a long weekend. The first stop was the Van Gogh museum. We could not find it and were completely lost. We jumped in a tram and it looked like everyone was heading to the Van Gogh Museum.
I could not speak a word of Dutch but generally most of people would speak French and English. I did not need to make any sentences. I asked the driver "Van Gogh?" and he replied, "Next stop". Then two other people asked me "Van Gogh?" and I replied, "Next stop". We stood on the street looking around with the other people while the driver with a blasé look on his face, made a sign with his hand to show us the direction of the museum. I looked at my friend and smiled "Poor guy, could you imagine how many times in a day and maybe for years he had to show the direction of the museum!"

This is the home of Van Gogh after all. The world’s largest collection of his works are there so no wonder it attracts the majority of tourists that come to Amsterdam. Even though I am an admirer of Van Gogh works and was quite eager to see them I was quickly disappointed by the queue at the entrance. I tried to skip it and got inside but even though I had a ticket, I had to queue for a ticket. This did not make any sense and I could feel that my friend was realising that it might have been the first time I would have to queue for anything. We were laughing but persisted to see the exhibition anyway.

When we got inside it was over crowed and there was a queue that formed a line like in a supermarket. We could not have a close look at the paintings. That was a bit of a pity as I enjoy looking at the brush strokes and details of any painting I like. The museum has also a shop with a lot of different art books especially on Van Gogh with museum publications. If you don't mind the crowd I guess you would enjoy the visit. The other interesting place is the Rembrandt’s house museum. It is where Rembrandt used to live. He raised his son Titus there while he created his most famous works. I walked through his atelier and could see his old brushes and art sets. Some of his oil painting tubes were still almost full. Even though Rembrandt was not one of favourites painters, I felt curiosity towards this master and its technical abilities that had disappeared in the art of today. On the evening, we headed to the Hard rock café for a drink before having dinner at my hotel.

On the Sunday morning, we went for a one-hour cruise through Amsterdam’s canals. You can appreciate some of the city’s most beautiful spots including the old city, elegant mansions and carillon-crowned churches. You get this cruise free with the Amsterdam card as well as many museums including those I am mentioning. You also get a lot of discounts, a free coffee and a silver key ring that might be worth 1/3 of the card itself. In the afternoon, we chose to visit Amsterdam’s botanical garden "Hortus Botanicus" which is of the oldest botanical garden in the world dated from 1638. There are 4,000 plant species in the garden from six different climates. I was quite fascinated by the carnivorous plants. They all had the same features with traps. This place is a paradise for people that enjoy being close to nature.

On the Monday morning before catching my plane, we visited the Jewish historical museum located in the heart of the former Jewish quarter. It is about the history of the Jews in Netherlands from 1900 onwards and its culture. There is an interesting bookshop inside the museum that sells some books in Hebrew. We then visited the Synagogue nearby when we managed to find it. The hidden Portuguese synagogue dates from the 17th Century. Its interior is completely intact and the synagogue is still active.

We got back to my hotel. I took my stuff and we headed to the central station. I was feeling a bit nostalgic and told my friend I felt like I wanted to stay. He replied, "That’s because of the hotel". I don’t mean it is only about the hotel but it made me feel so comfortable that I liked Amsterdam and enjoyed it more and also with a friend.
The Amsterdam card comes with a booklet listing all free attractions, gifts and discounts.

More info:
General info, reservations :
Grand Hotel Amrâth
Prins Hendrikkade 108
1011 AK Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0) 20 5520 000
Aer lingus flies directly to Amsterdam from Dublin and London

© Aurelie Montfrond November 2008
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