Updated: Aug 15, 2019
When booking our flights to Croatia, CaptK offered Amsterdam as a potential fly through city. “Let’s stop for two nights” I begged. The Rijksmuseum, under renovation the last time we visited, tops my list of museums to visit again. As an added bonus the Van Gogh museum, one of my favorites, is just down the street from the Rijksmuseum, so we put our plans in motion.
If you like luxury travel, the American Express Platinum Card is a great resource. Platinum Cards provide numerous benefits, but my most favorite among many is access to Fine Hotels and Resorts through American Express Travel. These luxury hotels offer perks that often include early checkin, late checkout, breakfast for two, resort credits for food, beverage or spa charges and complimentary room upgrades if available. We used the American Express Travel website to book the Sofitel Grand Amsterdam for our two night layover. When we arrived, we politely inquired if there were any upgrades available, and immediately learned that we had been upgraded to the Imperial (Willem de Vijfde) Suite, including butler service, all for the price of a standard room!!
“It is bigger than the entire boat” I said as I compared the Imperial Suite to the 44ft Motor Yacht that had been our home in Croatia. Furnished with a free standing soaking tub and a steam shower (my two favorite bathroom amenities), I found the suite having us wanting for nothing. After a week of marina showers and boat heads (a nautical term for bathrooms), it was sheer delight!! The butter arrived shortly with complimentary glasses of champagne to discuss our plans for our stay in Amsterdam. He was able to get us same day tickets to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum and direct us to a currency exchange to change our Croatian Kuna to Euros. While the Butler did not do anything that a concierge could have done, it was pure luxury to make arrangements while sipping champagne on the sofa in your spacious suite, with barges floating slowing down the canal outside the floor to ceiling windows.
Dinner our first night was a walk down memory lane. I have often been asked, what was my most unique dining experience of my life. My first dinner at Indrapura in 2007 is always in my top ten. Indrapura is an Indonesian Rice Table restaurant. Think of it as a tasting menu that allows you to discovery a wide variety of Indonesian cuisine. The origin of the rice table started with the Dutch Planters in the former Dutch East Indies. These traveler/traders were not satisfied with a simple meal, so more variations and more dishes were added to their meals and the rice table was born.
On this Saturday night, Indrapura was a sparkling, vibrant restaurant, filled with patrons, dishes clattering, and exotic spicy aromas in the air. There are several options for Rice Table including vegetarian, and pricing is based on the number of dishes your appetite can handle. The staff were very accommodating of my coconut allergy. gladly allowing substitutions to meet my needs. There is also an a la carte menu available for those searching for something particular. While drinking wine or beer with meals is not an Indonesian custom, both are served at Indrapura. The wine list is even coded by which wines will go best with mild, medium and hot spice in the foods.
Indrapura is located on lively Rembrantplein in the city center toward the museum district. The center of Rembrantplein is dominated by a sculptural depiction of the Night Watch, one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of CaptK with the Night Watch to match the one I took 11 years earlier on our first visit to Amsterdam. Meandering back to the hotel, the city was teeming with 20 somethings, from all over the world. Amsterdam is truly a party town, with Bachelorette Parties filling the bars, cannabis wafting out of the coffee houses and groups of young men heading to the Red Light District.
The Rijksmuseum is a “cathedral” dedicated to Dutch arts and history. The 350 million euro renovation is a tribute to the treasures inside. We did the highlights tour navigated and narrated by the Rijksmuseum app we downloaded to our phones. The Dutch Masters were spectacular and the miniature replicas of the Dutch sailing ships intriguing, but the library was awe inspiring. The temperature controlled three story room is filled with 450,000 volumes dating back to the 14th century, with a primary focus on art history.
The Rijksmuseum stands grandly at one end of Museum Square. In the square, we stopped for alfresco lunch at the Vondepark3. The sandwiches were delicious and the people watching even better. It was a dry, almost sunny day and all of Amsterdam was out to enjoy it. The Van Gogh Museum is at the other end of Museum Square. Tickets are issued by time to meter the visitors into the museum. The museum houses the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. He produced just over 2100 pieces including, oils, watercolors, sketches and drawings. The museum chronicles the phases of his life, each floor defining a period of his life. Two things strike me about his work whenever I visit this museum. The first noteworthy discovery is the sheer volume of work he produced in such a short period of time. He started painting in 1880 and died in 1890. In those 10 years he produced 2100 pieces. The second noteworthy discovery is that the majority of his work is painted in upbeat colors and of subjects of beauty found in nature, a surprising approach for someone who had such a tortured soul.
After two major museums we declared it cocktail hour and headed to The Tailor, a craft cocktail bar in the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on Dam Square. At the Tailor we found original concoctions that soothed our tired minds. My choice - Traveling Rose - a light and fruity libation with a small shot of mysterious liquor that when added changed the color from rose to lavender. CaptK’s was Tailored Dram, smokey and rich with nutmeg grated on the top.
Our Next stop was Wynard Fockind’s, a Jenever distillery and tasting room that provides many of the liquors to the Tailor, including the one that magically changed the color of my drink. Wynard Focklin’s has been distilling Jenever since 1679. Jenever is a juniper accented liquor frequently named as the grandfather of gin. Today, Wynard Fockind’s produces Jenever of all different flavors but insists on it being tasted in the traditional method. As the burly bartender sets us up with two tasting shots of Jenever, he explained that the Dutch sailors were historically frugal and insisted that the bartenders fill the Jenever glass all the way to the rim. The imbiber leans over the glass and drinks the liquor while it is sitting on the bar, so he gets every drop and none spills!! While I prefer my Jenever mixed into a cocktail, it was fun learning the history and drinking the traditional way in a historic tasting room.
After The Tailor and Wynard Focklins, we felt food was in order. We headed to what is billed as the best pizza place in Amsterdam with true neapolitan, thin crust, wood fired pizza - La Zoccolo del Pocioccone Pizzeria. The family owned pizzeria is a small bright place with tables inside and out. It smells of crispy pizza crust and spicy tomato sauce. All the languages of Europe were being spoken by the patrons. The menu is printed on a chalkboard on the wall, which describes the pizzas available. Italian beer, wine, and bottled water is available with the pizza. We shared a prosciutto pizza that tasted just like Naples. We did not linger because we had one more cocktail to enjoy.
Tales and Spirits is on the 2018 list of the 50 Best Cocktail Bars in the World - currently sitting at number 31. Sticking to our traditional choices, we ordered a T&S Old Fashioned for CaptK and Little Miss Trouble for me. The patrons were an interesting mix of travelers, with great stories to share. Many had been to Tales and Spirits before and overwhelmingly, the Zombie was the crowd favorite drink. After 10 days of travel in Croatia and Amsterdam, Tales and Spirits provided a delicious nightcap on the crowning evening of our trip, leaving us full of tales to tell and spirits to remember.