The ‘Beast from the East’ chilly weather front had gripped Europe into March 2018 with no sign of Spring in sight. Good grief! It was only days from Easter when our short vacation in Amsterdam came up but brumal weather was ever present. Detemined to enjoy ourselves despite the cold wet rain, we arrived at Schipol Airport.
The quickest and cheapest transfer to the city centre only 12 km away was by train. With 150 trains per day, you can catch one to Amsterdam Centraal Station in 15 minutes for less than €5 or US$6.
Amsterdam Centraal was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers and opened in 1889. It features a Gothic Renaissance Revival station building and a cast iron platform roof. Today, it is a major transport hub with underground passages, retail and dining outlets, a Metro station and even a supermarket. It is a major transfer hub for municipal public transport GVB trams, buses and ferries.
Every journey starts from Stationsplein or Station Square. The station stands on one side of the large Open Haven waterway and is joined to Prins Hendrikkade running in parallel across the water by four bridges. A ‘gracht’ is a canal or waterway in Dutch and a ‘kade’ is a quay or wharf.
The two bridges from the middle of Stationsplein led to two major roads: Damrak and Martelaarsgracht. We’ll visit Damrak later but for now, lets cross the bridge to Martelaarsgracht. Just be aware of the ninja killer bicyclists in Amsterdam! 🙂
You’d think that pedestrian crossings and sidewalks would be ample protection but alas, the Amsterdammer on her bike is a silent assassin.
On the corner of Prins Hendrikkade and Martelaarsgracht is the oldest cafe or bar in Amsterdam: Café Karpershoek was stablished in 1606 and today is a cosy, traditional pub for beer, coffee and offers an outdoor seating area. On the close-up map above, it is south-west of the Centraal Station, across the second bridge.
Address: Martelaarsgracht 2, 1012 TP Amsterdam, Netherlands
In 1606, Café Karpershoek started as a guest house for the crew of merchant ships of the Dutch East-Indian Company (VOC). The first documented pub holder (Vrerick Gerritsen) began selling beer. Today, it is an authentic Amsterdam pub, attracting both locals and tourists, enjoying the typical Amsterdam atmosphere and pints of Heineken beer.
The harbour is long gone but Café Karpershoek has remained mostly unchanged. The walls are covered with old sayings, mixed with ancient wood carving an colourful tiles.
Check out the thin layer of sand on the floor. Harking to the days of chewing tobacco and spitting, the sand caught the residue, to aid cleaning. Chewing tobacco is no longer popular but the sand remains as a testimony to olden times. Another tradition observed in this “talk café” is the lack of background music.
Unlike us, you may get good enough weather to sit al fresco on the terrace to watch the world go by on Martelaarsgracht and Prins Hendrikkade. The Martelaarsgracht (Martyr’s Canal) got its name from the criminals who were executed by hanging here; it was the spectator sport of the 17th century. The Martelaarsgracht was filled up in the 19th century.
The Heineken beer on draught is very fresh as the brewery is just on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It tastes completely different from the ‘Heineken’ beer that I had drunk before……better!
Beer is an excellent chaser for the local Dutch ‘fire water’ or jenever, from which, gin is derived. I tried the range of young, old and aged jenevers with great satisfaction.
The original Heineken Brewery was located nearer the centre of Amsterdam until the new brewery was built in 1988. The former brewery is now a museum and Heineken Experience attraction.
Dutch Herring — Dutch Courage
It’s time for a Dutch snack or lunch. Stepping carefully out of the pub, head for the parallel street of Damrak and walk south towards Dam Square and the Royal Palace. Just before Dam Square, you will come upon the venerable ‘De Bijenkorf’ (The Beehive) department store. Feel free to indulge on its six floors of retail therapy but the real reason to find this building is as a landmark.
Directly opposite De Bijenkorf is a small side street called Zoutsteeg which joins the parallel street of Nieuwendijk. ‘Dijk” is the Dutch word for dike.
On the map above, Zougsteeg is located at the letter ‘R’ of the printed street name ‘Damrak’, opposite the car park symbol.
A few steps along Zoutsteeg is the famous ‘Rob Wigboldus Vishandel’ (Fishmonger) at Zoutsteeg 6, 1012 LX Amsterdam. Here, the eponymous Rob serves the best raw and pickled herring (haring). The modern way is to serve in a bread bun with onions and pickled gherkins.
Herring is caught in the North Sea and the East Sea (near Denmark) from mid=May to mid-July when the fish are at their fattest, getting ready to lay eggs. The fish is frozen until needed, when it is laid in salt for a few days to ripen (soused herring). A good Hollandse Nieuwe haring (herring) must be big with high fat content (ovr 15%) and have soft texture but still with a bite. It should smell fresh and salty.
I loved my herring sandwich and went back for more. This time, I tried the traditional way to eat Dutch herring without the bun.
Picking up the herring by the tail, you dip it in chopped onions and let the slippery raw fish slide into your mouth…..Yum!
I hope you enjoyed this brief and gentle introduction to Lazing in Amsterdam.
What’s not to like?
Beer, Gin (jenever) and slippery Herring make for a great start to our mini vacation in this city of canals.
Other Articles about Amsterdam
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).