In Amsterdam’s city centre, turn off the tourist thoroughfare that is the Leidsestraat to take your time in the “Nines”. You’re in for a game of engagement with the board-of-sorts formed by the 9 streets connecting the Prinsengracht, Keizerstraat, Herengracht and Singel canals. Tic-tac toe? Well, not really but with “DE 9 STRAATJES” (“The Nine Streets”), think waterways with charmed bridges, boats, bicycles, and an alarmingly beautiful concentration of storybook gabled houses.
It’s Amsterdam and photo-ops abound everywhere. With the canals and colorful centuries old homes there’s an enchanted feeling to these Dutch Renaissance rich streets. From the simpler buildings lining the 17th century Prinsengracht canal eastward to the Keizersgraht and Herengracht canals you see the growth of affluence with the progression to stately mansions – the larger the windows facing the canal, the wealthier were its occupants. The street facing residents of the Nines may not as well-to-do but what they lack in water views they more than make up with quaint charms.
Venture a block or so beyond the Nines and you’ve got the ANNE FRANK HOUSE, the home where the young diarist hid with her family during the Nazi occupation of Holland and who later perished in a concentration camp. Nearby is Amsterdam’s WESTERKERK church, its Westertoren, the Habsburg crown-embellished spire, prominent in the Amsterdam skyline as it has been since the 16oos. If this church moment leaves you feeling pious then off to the BIJBELS MUSEUM where the bible gets central cultural billing- definitely not the arts powerhouse that is a tram ride away at the RIJKSMUSEUM and VAN GOGH MUSEUM.
While there’s not much commerce on the canals not so for the Nines. Don’t expect a splash of Abercombie anytime soon (strict controls aim to preserve the “Dutch-ness” of this historic port city and UNESCO world heritage site) though brand-minded boutiques are taking over many of the old quirky shops. Welcome to the 21st Century. Even still, there’s good dose of vintage, accessories and book shops to engage you along a retail stroll. FIFTIES SIXTIES is a standout retro shop where the display of lamps, accessories, furnishings, tchotchkes and clothing is as much art installation as it is a resource for cool vintage finds. Don’t be fooled by the t-shirts hanging in front of BOEKIE WOEKIE (“Books by Artists”) – this old school shop is a gem even if not as glossy as the posh coffee table offerings at MENDO across the street. To this mix add games, candles, flowers (you are in Holland!), antiques, socks and a shop that sells tooth brushes and everything oral-hygiene (DE WITTE TANDENWINKEL, Runstraat 5, Tel. 020-6233443, Closed Sundays & Mondays).
When you think of Amsterdam you’re not likely to think
of haute cuisine – this is not necessarily a bad thing. While it’s no culinary cauldron of inventiveness, factor in the flavors from Holland’s days as a colonial power and trader on the seas via the Dutch East and West India Companies and simplicity takes on a uniquely seasoned and spicy edge.
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a visit to a cheese shop and as far as we’re concerned DE KAASKAMER is tops. Likewise with a visit to a pancake house but most of these are sub par tourist traps. Not so in the Nines with the aptly named PANCAKES! but be prepared to wait as this small restaurant fills up fast. For exceptionally good brodjes make your way to the match-box sized mom and pop sandwich shop t KUYLTGE. Ham and cheese sandwich without a doubt but what about a strawberry sandwich? Who knew – this fruit-meets-bread combo is a big hit. And about bread, for the whole grain organics of it all make a stop at BAKKERIJ PAUL ANNEE where simplicity pays off in unadorned loaves and where cakes and cookies often have a spiced edge – ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg factors prominently in Dutch baking. France is not far from Holland, so no wonder that you can up the sweets ante at PATISSERIE POMPADOUR, a classic, if a bit precious, tea house.
CAFE NIELSEN is the spot for Dutch diner-like fare where locals gather for great comfort plates. If a fine dine is on your mind then reserve ahead at the super polished and high culinary achiever that is the Italian BUSSIA. Speaking about culinary achievers, there’s reason to head to the inventive ENVY with its cool industrial style and creative cooking. Thinking of that fine dine, you might want to stop at the charming Restaurant Keizersgracht 238 at the Hotel Pulitzer but better yet, it’s worth the short walk along the canal to the superbly chic Hotel Dylan and its Michelin starred RESTAURANT VINKELES.
Great to have all these meal moments but what if all you want is a cup of joe? After all, this is Amsterdam and it’s easy to stray into a mind altering state at their renowned coffee houses. But if it’s caffeine rather than sensimilla that you’re after then it’s time for a brew from SCREAMING BEANS. For a canal view with that cappuccino take a seat at the FELIX MERITIS, a storied building with a cafe in great unadorned meeting house style.
Amsterdam to the Nines? That may not be fancy but that’s just fine.