Tuesday, February 13, 2001


Being a New Amsterdammer can make one rather jaded. The overwhelming and exciting pace of Manhattan makes the rest of the world seem terribly quaint in all of the worst ways. One must work at staying open-minded and clear-headed. Peter Stuyvesant would likely be unimpressed by what DeWitt Clinton, of Little Britain, New York, did to that fair city during his twelve-year reign as Mayor of New York. Mayor Clinton was responsible for flattening much of the City above Houston Street and constructing the grid for which Manhattan is now famous. Fortunately, Greenwich Village was spared, and the grid really begins at 14th Street.

My favorite New York political rumour is that another Clinton, one William Jefferson Clinton, of Little Rock, Arkansas, after relocating to join his wife, the junior Senator from New York, will run for Mayor!

But, I digress . . .

The best part of my recent Four Cities In Four Days adventure was a weekend in that place where the Amstel River is dammed.

When much of Northern Europe was bombed during WWII, the Dutch capitulated to the Nazis and saved the beautiful city of Amsterdam only after Rotterdam was flattened. We each make our personal judgment of what wisdom lies where these six decades later.

I managed to get a few hours sleep in London on Friday afternoon, and remembered to order a taxi to the station before I nodded off. At six o'clock, we were waiting for our ride, when I learned that we had no reservation! It was pouring rain and the cab company would only send a taxi for a trip to Heathrow -- no cabs available for a ride to get the express train at Paddington Station. We were out of options, and the combination of frustation and exhaustion did not play well with my spirits or attitude.

Without too much whining and complaining, we made it to Heathrow and got seat assignments for the quick flight to Holland.

Our friend, Bonnie, was kind enough to meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel.

We had reservations for a double room with private bath and view of the canal at the Quentin Hotel, near the Leidseplein. The hotel is right next to the American Hotel, which we decided against because it is under construction. The Quentin is in an amazing building. It is a beautiful piece of architecture. It was listed as a three star hotel, which was perfectly fine and the rate for the weekend was a good deal.

We had read and been told that the hotel had gone under a renovation in the recent past, and was a popular haunt for gay men and rock and rollers. This made it more appealing!

Unfortunately, whoever had purchased the Quentin and decided to make it a hip, cool, downtown kind of a hotel must have run out of money. Everything about the place seemed like a good idea, it was just very poorly executed! We did have a private bath, and we did have a beautiful view of the canal; but, the excitement stopped when the bathroom was cold and run-down and the french doors that opened to provide an unobstructed view of the canal opened onto a puddle of stagnant water that emitted that stagnant water stench! Fortunately, opening a window in the room made the stench dissipate.

We did not unpack upon arriving at 2330, we hit the streets and made our way to The Dolphin, our favorite Coffee Shop. The crowd was young and attractive, the soda cold, and the walk short. Next thing we knew, it was 0200, and Bonnie's husband was ringing her mobile to make sure all was well.

We walked back through the Leidseplein and made plans to meet Bonnie for breakfast at her home, which is within walking distance. So, we made our way up the steep steps that make an Amsterdam building an Amsterdam building and slept until after dawn, awaking to realize we had not adjusted our clocks for the hour difference between London and Amsterdam!

Quick showers and cups of coffee found us crossing the canal to Overtoom for the walk to Bonnie's. We stopped along the way and bought tulips, which are remarkably inexpensive in Holland! Did you know that?

After a relaxed meal with Bonnie, Marcel and Cody, we made our way through Vondel Park to Pieter Cornelisz Hoofstraat, which is Amsterdam's best shopping area, and is near the Museumplein. We shopped and shopped and shopped until we could only point at boutiques and say, "We'll have to go there tomorrow!" The US Dollar and British Pound are very strong there, and shopping is irresistable.

We went to Cobra, a trendy place named for the arts movement of the same name at Hobbemastraat 18 Museumplein, for drinks and a bite to eat. It was a bit crowded and cramped; but the cheery and almost efficient service, which is unheard of in Amsterdam, was a pleasant surprise! The food is not a good value for your money. Because it is convenient to Rijksmuseum and vanGogh Museum, with much better food than can be gotten in those instutions, It is worth visiting between viewing the Dutch Masters and the Impressionists.

The short walk back to the hotel was the perfect prelude to a nap. No amount of coffee could keep me from resting after the four days I had just experienced!

We met Bonnie for dinner, and the three of us wandered along the canals seeking some trendy Asian joint that turned out to be a horror of rooms! So we choose wisely and moved on. I still can not bear spending my money in a restaurant where I am the oldest customer. I just can't do it! Anyway, there are plenty of restaurants like that in London, and even more in New York. We made our way to a Dutch restaurant and had a good hearty meal that lasted for hours. Part of the time was spent enjoying traditional Dutch service. If you have not had this experience, it is basically the worst service available on the planet. Service staff in Holland just do not care, and they are proud of it!

Amsterdam is really a beautiful city and is great for walking. The buildings are old and tall (taxes have always been based on the width of your home, so they are narrow and high with very steep and narrow staircases), and even the buildings with tacky lover-lit store fronts look fantastic from a distance.

We walked back to the Leidseplein, looking for a night cap. Late on Saturday night is not an ideal time to find a small table in a quiet place for a cocktail, in any city! After pushing ourselves through a couple of trendy establsihments, we made our way back to the lobby of the hotel and enjoyed ourselves there for a couple hours. Another late night made for another late morning.

Sunday was time to check out of the hotel, and found us in a taxi back to Bonnie's with our luggage. After a brief visit, we left them to their lives and made our way back through Vondel Park, to PC Hoofstraat for a final binge of shopping and a visit to the vanGogh Museum. Both were wonderful experiences. Anne got some great clothes at The Peoples Republic of the Labyrinths and the museum was a real treat.

I had never seen any of vanGogh's paintings from his 'Japanese period.' No he was never in Japan! He and his brother collected Japanese prints and he did a series based on them. Excellent pieces.

The vanGogh museum is everything a modern museum shuold be: well-lit, well-ventilated, spacious, organized, accessible, and obvious. The building is huge for the collection, which is a relief when compared to other cramped modern nightmares of design, like the Tate Modern, in London; and their older cramped counterparts like the Metroploitan, in New York. If you have not been to the vanGogh museum, please add it to your list of places to see -- the building is NOT part of the show, so the artwork is a real treat.

A late lunch at the Melkhouse, in Vondel Park, wrapped up our trip and only a short visit at Bonnie's and a taxi ride to Schiopol Airport remained before British Airways returned us to London and plunked us down at Heathrow. An express train to Paddington Station and a taxi to Wardrobe Place found us warm in our apartment, unpacking our treasures, and preparing for another week of work!

So, go to Amsterdam and DON'T stay at the Quentin!

It is now after 2200 (GMT) and it is time for me to go home from the office. I got time to write this, because a colleague in the DC office has failed to return my calls and I am going home!