Just back from: Amsterdam
Tell us more… I had unfairly judged Amsterdam as a destination solely for rowdy stag parties and tourists looking to ‘relax’ a little. But after reading Jessie Burton’s book The Miniaturist, based on the curious story of Petronella Oortman, I knew I had to visit. Petronella lived in 17th-century Amsterdam, and spent years obsessively recreating her own grand canal-side home in the form of a tiny, miniature doll house. I wanted to see if the city had held onto some of this Golden Age charm; and of course, its tiny furniture.
In a nutshell… While the stag parties are still out in force, Amsterdam has kept much of its seventeenth and eighteenth-century magic. Walk the cobbled lanes of the Keizersgracht canal, visit eccentric canal house museums like Museum Van Loon, or explore the antiquarian stores that line the Spiegelkwartier quarter, and you’ll catch a glimpse of the city’s former self. I even unearthed a miniature chair in a local antiques store: proof that Petronella’s world did indeed exist!
Defining moment… Aside from finally being able to see Petronella’s real doll house, illuminated in all its tiny glory inside Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum, we had a fantastic afternoon inside one of Amsterdam’s most legendary hotels: The Dylan. While the rain poured outside (it was biblical), we sat inside this almshouse-turned-hotel drinking Dutch beer and admiring the original 17th-century bakery that is still housed within the hotel’s restaurant. It was a great reflection of Amsterdam’s laid back and relaxed appeal.
Bizarre encounter? We were walking down the Herengracht canal when an elderly man stepped outside his canal house in front of us. Dressed head-to-toe in black, complete with a wooden smoking pipe, he watched me take some photographs before telling me that this canal was where his wealthy ancestors had dumped their entire stock of Asian sugar, as it had been contaminated by rat urine on the long voyage over. I’ve no idea if any of this was true, but it definitely made for a great story!
Quintessential experience? Although a bit of a tourist trap, the canal cruises are beautiful and provide a fantastic perspective on a city that couldn’t have thrived without these watery motorways. Be sure to take one of the dusk cruises, as around this time the bridges are lit up by sparkling fairy lights – it’s all very romantic.
Fridge magnet or better? I bought the tiny wooden chair that I found in Spiegelkwartier. It’ll forever remind me of a fantastic city that straddles both its historic Golden Age and its reincarnation as a liberal city, with a candor and quirkiness that only the Dutch could pull off.
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