They don’t make cities like Amsterdam any more. Like a moth to the flame, an addict in search of his fix, a lemming jumping helplessly off a cliff, I return again and again to this beloved city of mine. And it never disappoints.
I travelled in autumn, a season peppered with delicious uncertainty, forever on the cusp of something. The streets did not have the quietness of winter yet, but the clamour of summer had definitely died down.
As a great maritime culture, the Dutch have been open to influences and ideas from around the world, but what they create out of them is uniquely theirs. Which is probably why Amsterdam manages to dig its claws just a tad deeper into me with each visit. There are very few European cities that can compete with Amsterdam when it comes to museums, and I’m not talking about the state-owned Rijksmuseum, although it is quite possibly the greatest museum in the world. There are scores of quirky museums all over this city, some of them bordering on the bizarre. I managed to squeeze in a few of them during my—oh, too short—Amsterdam trip. These included the Amsterdam Sex Museum, the very first of its kind in the world and the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum. I also visited the Torture Museum which, I must confess, put a damper on my spirits.
The Hyatt Regency Amsterdam, where I was staying, proved to be just the right antidote to soothe my rattled nerves. Drawing its design inspiration from its location in the Plantage neighbourhood—a ‘cultural garden’ marked by leafy boulevards and home to Artis Royal Zoo, the city’s botanical gardens and dotted with numerous museums and cultural institutions—this hotel, which only opened last year, offers bright and spacious guest rooms with all the comforts of a modern, urban getaway. If you imagine hotels in Europe are always pokey, think again. Rarely have I encountered such a bright, airy and green hotel lobby in a European city. My room, which I retreated to, was elegantly decorated with blooming botanical artwork.
The neighbourhood itself is brimming with possibilities. Nature is woven into its fundamentals and you’ll find it abundantly wherever you turn: parks, gardens, ancient trees and exotic species. According to one famous biologist, the Plantage neighbourhood is as close to paradise as you can get in terms of a city.
Remember what I said about the influences of the world washing up on the shores of Amsterdam? Mama Makan, the Regency’s Indonesian restaurant, is inspired by the strong roots that bind Holland and Indonesia and are still alive in the Plantage neighbourhood. Their signature rijsttafel was stunning, which I had with a cocktail inspired by spices, herbs, and all things botanical. The Indonesian fare is as authentic as it gets, and includes a refreshing gado gado, spicy rendang, and mouthwatering tongseng kambing (lamb stew), alongside a variety of Indonesian signature gorengs and assorted satays.
Thus braced, I headed out to explore Amsterdam’s most iconic feature: its canals. Really, what would Amsterdam be without them? The three main canals—Herengracht, Prinsengrachtand Keizersgracht—dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel. Being on the water is an amazing experience, and you pass beautiful gables, picturesque bridges, modern architecture and the famous houseboats which lend a new dimension to sightseeing.
Back in the Plantage, I managed to take in the tranquil atmosphere of the Hortus Botanicus. Lush forestry and the most beautiful terrace in all of Amsterdam make this botanical garden a favourite hangout with both locals and tourists. Built as a medicinal garden to provide doctors with herbs in the 17th century, it still contains a marvellous collection of those. I wandered through the colonial glasshouse filled with exotic palms, sat in the sun besides waving stands of bamboo, and feasted on some organic fare on the terrace. At the Hyatt Regency, they told me that the garden serves as a great inspiration for their cocktails, design and way of service. Kudos to that. I only wish more hotels were as attuned to their surroundings. It would make for a ’dam good world.
Jet Airways and KLM provide direct flights from Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi to Amsterdam. You’ll require a Schengen visa to enter Holland.
Where to Stay
The Hyatt Regency Amsterdam is located in the heart of the city, just minutes from the iconic siteseeing sites (approx. €225 onwards, including breakfast, taxes extra). The hotel offers 211 guestrooms, including 13 Regency Suites with all basic amenities. Guests can use a 24-hour fitness centre, steam and sauna, and enjoy casual all-day dining at Mama Makan, a modern interpretation of a Dutch-Indonesian grand café, on the ground floor.
What to See & Do
>A canal cruise is a must in Amsterdam. The canal ring, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers visitors a new dimension to sightseeing and a cruise provides interesting, historical facts about the city. There are various kinds of tours, with or without food and drinks.
>The Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, established in 1638. With more than 6,000 plants, including a 2,000-year-old agave cactus and a 300-year-old Eastern Kape giant cycad, the garden is a delightful and peaceful stop for tourists (entry €9).
>One can’t leave Amsterdam without visiting the museums.The Rijksmuseum is dedicated to the history and arts of the city. With over 8,000 objects on display, let Rembrandt and Vermeer originals leave you stunned, see the stern of the HMS Royal Charles and the Hartog plate, and also the Asian collection (entry €17.50).
>The Van Gogh Musuem next door has the largest collection of works by the post-Impressionist master in the world. The museum also displays his drawings and letters, letting viewers see how Van Gogh’s style evolved through the years (entry €18).
>Anne Frank House should also be on the list. The hiding place of Anne Frank and her family during World War II, the main house and annex have been converted into a museum. One can see her original red-checked diary, traces of the people who hid there, and learn about the trying time through pictures, videos and original items. Tickets (€10) are available online only, 80 percent are released two months in advance.