I’m currently holed up in a basement cafe, hands wrapped around a nice hot tea and shoes steaming on a radiator as I attempt to dry off and warm up. It’s October in Amsterdam, and it’s tipping it down outside. Far from dampening my experience of this city, it’s given me the perfect opportunity to take stock and reflect on my short but sweet third visit.
In the realisation that a large portion of my life has been dedicated to travelling long before I’m even going to take my first step towards the ‘big adventure’, I’ve been spending the last few months trying to pay long overdue homage to the many wonderful cities and countries I’ve already visited. Whilst compiling the list, it didn’t cross my mind to include a dedicated post to Amsterdam. The last time I came here was for a alcohol-fuelled birthday weekend – 20 of us piled onto a budget airline, annihilated the seediest and scuzziest dives of the red-light district, passed out at dawn in a bunk-bed dorm, and piled ourselves right back on the return flight to London. After a 20 hour sleep, I woke up with hazy memories both of what we’d all got up to, and of the city itself. Hardly a blog-worthy experience, even if it was a fun one.
I also visited the city once with my family, driving over from our home in northern Germany for the weekend. Thanks to my Dad’s near-religious devotion to sightseeing and route marching, we managed to cover a large amount of the ‘real’ Amsterdam, or at least the tourist friendly facade. The trip was full of fantastic and formative experiences – from shopping for tulips and seeing original Van Gough masterpieces in the flesh, to eating avocado for the first time – a random memory, I’ll admit, but life-changing in it’s own way!
An especially poignant memory is the heartbreaking and sobering visit to the Anne Frank House, which deserves dedication of its own kind which I can’t even begin to do justice to here.
Highlights of this trip still stand out today, but the sense and spirit of the city has slowly slipped my mind over the years. Until now. A last minute work trip has provided me with a chance to relive previous experiences, and hopefully garner something new from this amazing city. After spending the weekend at my Dad’s place in Brussels, I arrived late on Sunday evening and was almost immediately hit with a shot of Dutch history in the form of Hotel Lloyd. My home for the next couple of nights, Hotel Lloyd is an impressive tiled building in an up-and-coming area just outside the centre. It’s a building with a past, having operated first as an established part of the shipyard, but later being converted to a German prison and then a youth detention centre. The hotel has made the choice to retain all the momentos of its history, including its long, imposing tiled corridors, and ominous prison fixtures.
The rooms were also completely bizarre. One colleague had an open shower next to his bed, with a handy mop propped against the wall – wetroom meets lounge. Another’s resembled an acid-green space station, complete with moving fibreglass walls – the bath hidden inside the cupboard was an unexpected surprise. A third had an elaborate lace wedding dress hung up in the corner, without any apparent rhyme or reason, except perhaps the haunting outfit of it’s resident ghost bride?! It’s the lucky dip of the hotel world.
Dotted throughout the macabre and bleak are flashes of modern Scandi-inspired decor. The bar is light, open and devastatingly stylish with quirky design touches at every turn.
A walk from your room to the lobby has you yo-yoing between horrified, curious, inspired and just plain spooked! Falling prey to my overactive imagination, I had a disturbed first night, drifting through dreams where prison officers peered through my cell door and the screams of prisoners echoed across the halls. In spite of this, I’ll take a one-of-a-kind architectural melting-pot over an Ibis any day, so no complaints here.
The trip itself left little time for exploring, until today, when we were treated to a tour of the Special Collections Library. As a massive book-worm, I felt instantly at home drifting in and out of huge bookshelves filled with centuries-old tomes of all shapes and sizes. From hand-printed reference works, to huge canvas maps, this was a book-lovers haven and I spent a very happy hour flitting (quietly) around the impressive reading area.
With underwater adventures never too far from my mind, I was delighted to discover a room of old globes many of which depicted the oceans filled with obscure and terrifying beasts.
Monstrous enough to turn the stomach of even the hardiest sea-faring folk…
I can’t say that I’ll ever lay eyes on the majority of these strange sea-creatures even if I dive every day til I die, but a beautifully ornate cabinet (one of only two surviving) filled with a 10-volume atlas made in 1662 has given me more than enough inspiration to keep planning the next great adventure.
Food for thought
So it’s with thanks (and one final beer) that I look back on this very short, but mostly sweet trip and remember that Amsterdam is a city full of hidden gems. I’m sure I’ve yet to scratch the surface of what the country’s capital has to offer, but for the boost of travel inspiration on a cold and dreary European day, I’ll always be grateful. Cheers to you Amsterdam – I’ll be back.