Solo trip to the Netherlands

By Francis Garcia
This item appears on page 29 of the May 2018 issue.

Pavilion at Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Photos by Francis Garcia
Months after booking a week’s lodging for the last week of May 2017 in New York City, I decided to approach the Big Apple by way of visits to Amsterdam (Netherlands), Bruges (Belgium) and Reykjavik (Iceland). This would be my first solo trip to Europe as well as my first encounters with Bruges and Iceland.

Following excellent advice garnered from ITN, I traveled with only a carry-on (which, among other things, held my stuffed little companion Ernie, who has now made friends in 20 countries), a folding umbrella and the versatile and secure SCOTTeVEST (www.scottevest.com), finding this more than adequate to carry me through European cities and, finally, to the laundromat at my favorite NYC hotel.

In planning my trip, which took place May 12-24, I worked with Beatrice Varene of Santa Cruz Travel (Scotts Valley, CA; 800/642-0212, www.santacruztravel.com). 

The advance arrangements cost me $4,295, which covered airfare, San Francisco-Amsterdam-Reykjavik-New York-San Francisco; 11 nights’ lodging in Amsterdam, Bruges and Iceland; round-trip rail from Amsterdam to Bruges; private car transfers to and from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam’s Centraal Station; a walking tour of Bruges, and two full-day tours in Iceland.

In this letter, I’ll just talk about the Netherlands portion of my trip.

Flying KLM Royal Dutch Airlines overnight from San Francisco, I had a late-morning arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Although I relied on private car transport during this trip, in the future I would choose Amsterdam’s convenient public transit system (Feb. ’18, pg. 22).

I stayed at the centrally located Hampshire Hotel - Eden Amsterdam (Amstel 144; phone +31 20 530 7878, www.edenhotelamsterdam.com), located in the city’s Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square). [The name of this hotel is now Eden Hotel Amsterdam. — Editor]

In three interconnected buildings, the Eden Hotel has 218 rooms plus elevators, a lounge and a brasserie. All rooms have private baths. Though some rooms have views of the Amstel River, canals and the Nationale Opera & Ballet, others are quite small and have no view. I’ve stayed in both types of rooms and found them all to be clean, attractive and functional.

The Rembrandtplein has many restaurants, cafés and coffeehouses (cannabis and espresso, anyone?). The Eden Hotel is also steps from the flower market, the Metro, trams, buses and hop-on/hop-off canal boats. In addition, Museumplein, Dam Square, Vondelpark and other central Amsterdam sights are easily reached, for those who like to walk, in this flat-as-a-Dutch-pancake city. 

While waiting for the hotel’s 3 p.m. check-in, I crossed the Amstel River to the Nationale Opera & Ballet (www.operaballet.nl/en) and purchased a ticket for €106 (near $130) to an evening performance of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” The opera, sung in the original Italian, featured both Dutch and English supertitles and boasted an excellent international cast.

Later during my visit, I purchased a ticket (€40) at the Concertgebouw (www.concertgebouw.nl/en) to hear Bach’s “Missa Brevis” and a cantata performed by the Collegium Vocale Gent. It was a treat to hear the massive organ in the venue’s Grote Zaal (Main Hall) during the Bach performances.

The outstanding acoustics for this glorious concert were enhanced by the complimentary glass of wine served to each attendee during intermission. 

Near the Nationale Opera & Ballet, I discovered an intimate concert hall, the Huis De Pinto, where I enjoyed a classical guitar recital for €5. 

I also visited the Rijksmuseum, which has an extensive and varied collection but is especially strong in Dutch art from the 17th century. 

Back home, I had purchased a ticket online for the Keukenhof gardens (keukenhof.nl) for €29. The Keukenhof Combi-ticket includes several convenient pick-up spots in Amsterdam on city bus 197 (Amsterdam Airport Express) to Schiphol airport, transfers to the Keukenhof Express bus 858, admission to the gardens and return bus transit to Amsterdam. The tickets may be used at any time during the seven weeks in which the garden is open.

Part of Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands.

Keukenhof Park is beautifully landscaped with elaborately designed gardens, water elements and fountains, numerous dining options and several large pavilions displaying orchids, lilies and floral-inspired art.

I was fortunate that, despite my arriving late in the season, the tulips were still abundant. Friends of mine who visited in mid-May have missed seeing the tulips altogether, but last year’s late, heavy winter worked in my favor.

Dining options are varied and many in Amsterdam. At Rembrandt Corner (Jodenbreestraat 2; www.rembrandtcorner.nl), a bistro with outdoor seating in the old Jewish quarter near the Nationale Opera & Ballet and next door to the Rembrandt House Museum, I enjoyed a traditional Dutch meal of stamppot (mashed potatoes, sausage, meatballs and a boiled egg) and a Belgian beer for $24.

In the Jordaan district, overlooking the Keizersgracht canal, I enjoyed the buffet breakfast and a dinner at Jansz (Reestraat 8; www.janszamsterdam.com), a restaurant connected to the intriguing Pulitzer Amsterdam (Prinsengracht 323; www.pulitzeramsterdam.com), a hotel complex consisting of several interconnected historic buildings with a central glass walkway, gardens, a bar and cafés tying them all together. 

The breakfast buffet cost €26, and dinner options were in the €25-€45 range.

In Rembrandtplein, I had an Indonesian dinner for $20 at the Indrapura Indonesian Restaurant (Rembrandtplein 40-42; www.indrapura.nl/en) as well as a couple of delicious late-evening hamburgers at the casual chain restaurant Burgerbar (www.burgerbar.nl), where every burger is made to order, with choices for types of meat, veggie, cheeses, etc. My burger with fries ran around €17. 

From the Centraal railway station, I made the 50-minute trip to Den Haag (The Hague), where I visited the Mauritshuis museum’s excellent collection of Dutch art.

Den Haag is a lively and lovely city, notably quieter than Amsterdam. The train station is within easy walking distance of the museum and other central sights, including the royal palace. 

I headed next to Bruges. 

Anyone with questions may contact me at jazza@cruzio.com.

FRANCIS GARCIA
Santa Cruz, CA