By Alison Appelbe
In spite of superstar Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who disparages Amsterdam for what he sees as its anti-modernist, pickled-in-aspic appearance, Amsterdam remains knockdown gorgeous.
To my eye, visual treats are everywhere — maybe a wrought-iron swirl on a townhouse railing; an art installation like the Brobdingnagian side-tables piled beside a city tram stop; or an imaginative jazz-concert poster wrapped around a canal-side kiosk.
Also, of course, Amsterdam offers the lure of sex and drugs, mostly along and around the canals of the Oude Zijde (old side). Here the Red Light District draws hoards of gawkers (as well as, presumably, customers), as does a generous sprinkling of “coffee shops” where marijuana and hashish are smoked and sold.
One morning, at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, on the edge of the Oude Zijde, a couple of wags streaked naked across the lobby. No one seemed to know why — or care. And it should be noted that the Amsterdam Tourism Board doesn’t discourage the rogue in visitors. It recently acquiesced to the use of the city’s 16 th -century, red and black “coat of arms,” featuring three suggestive x-es (as in “xxx”), as a tourism and souvenir symbol. (The three crosses actually represent St. Andrew, who is said to have died by torture.)
Ideally, hotels reflect a city’s personality while providing an easy entrée to its nearby pleasures (or vices). The following are a handful of my favourites.
The lobby of the 468-room NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky , on Dam Square, is usually a sea of people, and its lovely Winter Garden atrium delivers an unbeatable buffet breakfast. But a lesser-known attraction is its new wing, with rooms located above a side street lined with drinking and pizza joints. With full-height windows extending over the Damstraat, the rooms function as a perch from which to enjoy the scene below. But be warned: the Damstraat runs 24-7. Hotel Krasnapolsky rooms begin at 195 Euros.
If the Oude Zijde encourages raffishness, the Western Canal Ring, a five-minute walk from the Dam, is decorous. The 70-room Hotel Estheréa — opened in the 1940s in a house on the Singel canal, then expanded to four houses — epitomizes old-world charm. My traditionally furnished room included a claw-footed bathtub, but more importantly spectacular nighttime views of the illuminated canal. Rooms start at 171 Euros.
From here extends a series of canals characterized as strings of pearls — including the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. This is a shopping area, embracing the De Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets), Leidsestraat (fashion) and Spiegelstraat (art and antiques). It also boasts a number of canal museums, including the Huis Marseille (Museum for Photography), Biblical Museum and Theatre Museum.