Thursday, 16 April 2015

In Amsterdam...

One of many canals found in Amsterdam
I flew out of London City Airport on Monday afternoon heading for Amsterdam and around 45 minutes later I was there. I jumped on a train from Schipol to Amsterdam Centraal Station and then, rather than take a taxi, I walked to my hotel on the other side of town (approximately a 30-minute walk). Walking is fine and I admit to doing a lot of it, but hauling a suitcase behind me makes it a little unpleasant. However, eventually I reached my destination – the Best Western Leidse Square – and a small room (room 356) with a single bed and cell-like proportions. There was definitely not enough room to swing a cat although, after a fashion, I found myself liking my cell. I've said before that large rooms I find uncomfortable. I don't like them and I suppose it's got something to do with the unused space surrounding me. In a similar manner, I'd rather camp in a small back garden, say, rather than in the corner of a very large field. I don't know, something along those lines.

I was tired and if I'm honest I could have done without dinner. In fact I was seriously considering not having dinner and just hitting the sack but convention kicked in: I always have dinner at dinner time (although the time was edging towards 9pm). So I went out with no idea of where to eat, although, having stayed in this hotel once before – in room 357 opposite room 356 and a much better room, I hasten to add – I knew what was out there. There was an Indonesian restaurant about five minutes away, there was an array of cheap and nasty places, plus some standard trattorias and pizzerias in and around the Leidseplein area and, nearby, a couple of hotel restaurants.

Soup served in a jar at Joost. Why not a bowl? Why? Why?
Avid readers will recall that the last time I was here I went down with food poisoning. At the time I initially blamed it on the Indonesian restaurant, but I was wrong: it was a seafood restaurant near the coast that I'd visited with a Dutch colleague. That aside, I didn't fancy the Indonesian place so I went into the cosy-looking restaurant in a hotel owned by the NH Hotels chain (I'm assuming it's a chain). It was dark and candlelit and I'd left my glasses in the room so I couldn't really make out the items on the menu. I worked out that the restaurant was predominantly offering steak (this was a place for people who like to pig out and while I used to be that sort of person, for the past year or so I've been watching my weight so I wasn't impressed. I opted for the soup of the day (I think it was potato and leek) followed by some kind of risotto, but I could have made do with soup and bread, I just felt a little guilty coming into a place where I was expected to eat half a cow and just order soup – a bit like going to an Indian restaurant in the UK and choosing egg and chips from the 'international menu'. I had a glass of red wine and some mineral water and then went back to the hotel and hit the sack.

My business meeting for the next two days was back near the Centraal station, mildly annoying as there was a cocktail reception for the event in question the night I arrived and I could have dropped in and introduced myself had I known where the place was. Still, it was not to be and I eventually opted for a cab on Tuesday morning to take me to the hotel in question. But that was my only taxi. For the rest of the trip I walked there and back and it was very enjoyable, thanks to excellent weather. Hotter than Spain the UK papers were saying before I left for Amsterdam and I have to admit that it was very nice walking along the canals and through the streets of this great Dutch city, watching the many cyclists riding along the cycle paths. I could have cycled to work these past two days but because the cycle paths don't necessarily follow the same route one would take on foot I decided not to introduce any more confusion into my daily routine. Besides, with the sun shining it was very pleasant.

A traditional Dutch 'Stampotje'. Tasty.
On Tuesday night I had another late dinner in the hotel restaurant across the road from the Best Western (which doesn't have a restaurant). The Vondel Hotel is worth remembering should I find myself here again, which is highly likely. First, it has a restaurant and, judging by the demeanour of the staff and the general vibe, it's probably quite a decent hotel all round. That said, I've never been a fan of 'quirkyness' because, like Quentin Tarantino movies, a lot of the time the word quirkyness deserves the inverted commas because it's not natural, it's contrived. In the case of the Vondel Hotel's Joost restaurant it was serving soup in a lidded jar, not a bowl. I wonder what they were thinking? "Right, this'll impress them: soup in a jar, not a bowl!" Well, no, it's just annoying. What sort of reaction are they expecting. "Wow! Soup served in a jar! Radical! Perhaps next time they'll hollow out the receiver of an old telephone and fill both ends with that would be really impressive!" Having said that, the soup was good and the main course even better, it was a traditional Dutch 'Stampotje' (I hope that's right) and consisted of mashed potato, a fillet of white fish and pickles – very tasty. I skipped dessert.

Last night, business over, I took a longer walk than usual and tired myself out in the process. I ended up enjoying a glass of wine and some very salty nachos with a guacomole dip by the canalside, reading The Economist's view on various subjects from Iran's nuclear deal with the west to the fact that both David Cameron and Ed Milliband are making predictable promises to the electorate along the usual ideological lines. The paper argues that had they both gone against the grain – let's say Cameron announcing he would end the non-dom taxation rule and Milliband cutting taxes for top earners – then the electorate might have more respect and turn out to vote; it's looking as if turn-out will be low and that another coalition government will be in place after May 7th or whenever it is the election is taking place.

My view of the canalside last night.
By the time I reached my hotel I couldn't be bothered to go out again so I skipped dinner, hit the sack around 8.30pm and here I am, refreshed after a decent night's sleep (and a pleasant breakfast) ready to see what the day has to offer. In essence, not much. I've got to check out of the hotel, put my bags in storage for an hour or so, probably find somewhere to have lunch (near Centraal station) and then jump on a train to Schipol. Before I do that I've got to write a couple of emails and then I'll be heading home.

Oddly, I gave the Best Western Leidse Square a fairly poor review on TripAdvisor the last time I was here, but this time I had a better stay. Perhaps they knew I was coming as the phone in my room didn't work and the room was tiny, although, compared with my last visit, the breakfast was much better – the fresh fruit salad wasn't as tired-looking and the general vibe was better, possibly because there were more people than last time. But if you consider the faulty phone, the tiny cell-like room and the mildly grubby and very slow to arrive lift, well, perhaps another poor review is on the cards, especially when there's a decent hotel just across the road. That said, the room was fine, I got a decent night's sleep, the shower worked fine so I shouldn't really complain and let's face it, the hotel is bang in the centre of Amsterdam. Who could ask for more? Well, alright, a restaurant would have been nice, a phone that worked, a faster lift, a bigger room...

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