We bump into Anne on Prinsengracht… it would be easy to miss her. But then they all did for two years.
We follow her up the staircase behind the warehouse bookcase into the annexe where she hid from the Nazis with her mother, father, sister and four others.
It is not was she left it but as the Germans did, in too much of a hurry to rip down the pictures she had stuck up on her wall, of Hollywood stars, a field of tulips, a world beyond her reach.
It is hard to think of Anne Frank as she might be today, nearing 90, and harder still to imagine what she’d make of the world and the Amsterdam around us now.
The Jordan of Anne’s day was a poor, working class area and had been for centuries. In the Middle Ages the locals had been spared the plague by being granted free beer so as not to drink the contaminated water.
Today they still drink ale but in finely adorned canals die bars like the snug Cafe Chaos on Looriegracht with its cherubs hanging from the ceiling which we pass from our Stromma canal cruise. We even pop by for a blonde beer or two later.
Captain Bo gives us a potted history and an earthy commentary of her beloved city steering us expertly through the canals, Amsterdam history and the best museums to visit – the Tulip Museum, also on Prinsengracht, as it goes.
Tulips are at the heart of the Dutch story, a revered royal flower that could also make an artisan rich overnight and could even save your life.
At the height of their popularity in 1633 three bulbs of the red and white flamed and feathered Semper Augustus sold for 10,000 guilders, the cost of an expensive Amsterdam canal house at the time. Rembrandt’s signature painting The Night Watch which draws in the crowds to the Rijksmuseum meanwhile sold a dozen years later for a tenth of that, 1,400 guilders , by which time the bulb had fallen out of the market.
Jan Brueghel the Younger captured it better than anyone in his painting A Satire of Tulip Mania, a copy of which is in on display here in the museum where one of the investors, they’re all monkeys, urinates on a flower.
The tulip got a bad name for a while after the financial crash, but its fortunes were soon restored in most part because the low-lying and damp Netherlands are particularly conducive to their cultivation.
And thank God for that because it was to the tulip that the Dutch turned to in the Hongerwinter of 1944-45 when they were to forced to eat the bulbs to stave off famine – the taste variably described as somewhere between cardboard, onions or potatoes.
The Dutch endured, as they always do, and went back to just growing, admiring and selling their tulips around the world, and thankfully never had to resort to eating them again, although the Ice Cream tulip on sale in the museum?…
You can’t come to Amsterdam and not sample the cheese. We do…. blue pesto cheese next door in the Cheese Museum.
We need to walk it off but run into angry cyclists screaming Bike Path.
An Amsterdam card http://www.iamsterdam.com will give you the option of saving your legs. it gives you free transport which means the ever-so-efficient tram service.
The card which also gives you free entry into many of the museum bar the Anne Frank Huis http://www.annefrank.org (only 10 euro but book ahead and online) and a free river cruise will at 74 euro for 48 hours be the best investment you will make all week.
The best investment you could have made in the late 19th century would have been in a firebrand artist from Zundert in provincial North Brabant. Although Vincent Van Gogh famously only sold one painting in his lifetime, Red Vineyards, for 400 Francs ($1,000 today) his popularity and wroth grew in death and his Portraite of Dr Gachet fetched $82,500,000 four years ago.
It is only be getting up close and pesonal with Vincent and seeing the thick encrustations of his work in the flesh and smell he potatoes and vegetable of the peasants he lived among that you really get it.
Vincent, NOW I think I know what you tried to say to me.
That I’m hungry.
But not for potatoes and cabbage. I’ll leave The Potato Eaters and the Vincent Van Gogh Museum and head for the melting pot of Amsterdam. Multi-cultural De Pijp drew the peoples of the Dutch colonies to work at the Heineken brewery in the Seventies and they in turn infused their cultures, spices and flavours into the Dutch mix.
The market traders are packing away their wares at the Albert Cuypstraat in Our-Zuid (Old South) when we visit in early evening. But the smells of their produce fill the air and beckon us on and into of De Pijp’s most celebrated eating houses, a renovated prayer house.
De Bazar http://www.hotelbazar.nl specialises in Turkish and Middle Eastern food and its staff comes largely from that part of the world with our own server Rasha being a year in Pijp, having arrived here from Jordan while the clientele is a blend of races and colours, a modern-day Amsterdam the Nazis would have hated and Anne loved.
And for that reason alone, I love it.
De Bazar is well, for want of a better word, a bazaar place to eat. Being a former mosque, it is balconied with large parties occupying long tables upstairs.
We are downstairs, and are lucky, as walk-ins, to get seated.
The bar is in an island in the centre, and the kitchen is in the recess while all around are murals and chandeliers.
The food is as colourful as any Van Gogh. I have the Meeghoe, a grilled prawn kebab skewered on the type of Ottoman sword you might find on a market stall, mild curry sauce, and for me the milder the better, roasted vegetables and rice while the Boss goes vegetarian, Tepsi Boregi, a wise move.
The dish is a combination of baked non-leavened Yufka dough filled with fat cheese served with salad, garlic and yogurt-flavoured haydari dip, olives, walnuts and fresh mixed herbs, the coriander and mint especially popping out,
And for only 38 euro with a couple of Kens, naturally, and nearly half the price of our underwhelming meal on the last night near the Old Tow, it is a reminder that the best food can often be found in the more ethnic areas of any city.
Like an Old Master there is something in the Amsterdam picture for everyone.
For some, it’s the hectic Red Light District, for others it’s the history and art and for The Boss, it’s the architecture and canals.
We pop over from our own fancy billet for these two days, Dylan Amsterdam, on our last morning to the Museum Van Loon, also on Keizersgracht.
The oldest house in Amsterdam, it dates back to 1672. The owner lives upstairs but does use the grandiose rooms and secluded garden for her own private functions, although she has little need of the coach house now.
Ferdinand Bol, a student of Rembrandt’s, is one previous careful owner, the first in fact, and would have spent hours on end, learning at the great man’s hand at Rembrandt’s house on Rembandtplein which we whizz around stopping only two inspect the casts he used to form the perfect facial impressions.
I feel I have a picture now of Amsterdam – it is of me, standing on guard among the statues of the perfectly recreated Night Watch surrounding the Old Master.
Our two-day trip was merely a brush stroke, but Amsterdam, you have left quite an impression.
WHO TO FLY WITH
All major airlines fly to the Netherlands. We flew with KLM http://www.klm.com which is just over an hour from Dublin to Amsterdam. Complimentary drink and snacks board and seamless travel and friendly staff. Schipol Airport is easy to get around, is fun and well-stocked with high-end stores and souvenir shops as well as bars and restaurants. And be sure to visit the Boss Cocktail Bar. I found return flights Dublin-Amsterdam from 97 euro.
WHERE TO STAY
The Dylan Amsterdam http://www.dylanamsterdam.com. Rooms from 293 euro per room per night, based two sharing a double including tax. Email email@example.com or call +31 20 530 2010 to book.
And to come…. where George and Amal stay when they’re in Amsterdam.