A jolly good time in East Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM – Sometimes it’s good to listen to the tourism folks.

Okay, it’s almost ALWAYS good to listen to the tourism folks.

In this case, I have to give credit to the lovely Henny Groenendijk, who represents Visit Holland . I’d been promising to go for years, but somehow never got around to it.

This time, I made Holland the focus of my trip to Europe. I’ve written in the past few days about surprising Rotterdam and about my great bike ride in Holland. But I want to give Henny a special shout-out for booking me a room at the Hotel Casa 400 in East Amsterdam.

I must admit, I was a bit taken aback at first. I was thinking, “Why am I out here and not in a downtown hotel.” Because, I admit, I get a little spoiled in this job.

But I figured Henny is a real pro, so if she suggests Casa 400 there’s probably a good reason.

I came in on a train from Rotterdam and got out at the Amstel train station, a few stops short of the city centre. It looked a tad suburban. But the hotel was a two-minute walk away past a pleasant square. And then I arrived.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I found a bright, cheerful and terrific property with everything I needed in a great location. And a great neighbourhood, as I was to find out the next day.

The hotel has bright pink and purple sofas in a very bright and sunny lobby with high ceilings. One wall looks out onto a glassed in garden complete with a small waterfall.

The rooms aren’t luxurious; it’s a business person’s hotel in a semi-suburban location. But the room was nicely decorated and there was an adorable red cushion on the bed with the words “For he’s a jolly good pillow.” The bathroom was great, with a nice shower and plenty of storage space for the big medicine bag I take along with me wherever I go.

Best of all was a plain, laminated desk that ran the entire length of my room, under a large window that looked out to the street and a nearby canal. I like to spread out on the road (see note above about my toiletry bag) and this desk had to be three metres long. Again, not fancy, but I care far more about space than a carved wooden desk.

I spent the evening checking out central Amsterdam, which was just a seven minute train ride away. The next morning, after a fine breakfast in the sunny second floor dining room, I met the lovely hotel general manager, Hans Vugts, for a bike tour of the area.

Again, I think I was expecting something fairly pedestrian. But I came away hugely impressed with an area that feels a lot like my home part of Toronto around Yonge and Lawrence. But with more parks and those ever-present Amsterdam canals.

We passed an old farm house just a few metres from Casa 400 that’s being turned into a B & B, complete with a new restaurant. We rode through wide open parks with deep green grass and sports fields and more restaurants and towering trees and quiet lakes with herons and fish.

We passed a restaurant called La Vallade, where I’m told they have a different chef each night of the week.

We passed by lovely shops in an area that wasn’t all that interesting five or ten years ago and stop for an utterly fabulous cappuccino at Coffee Bru on a street called Beukenplein, where the baristas have won national awards.

The area near the hotel is fun and lively enough for most folks, but also provides a quiet respite from the hubbub of central Amsterdam, with its wild youngsters downing beers as quickly as possible and scouting out the red light district. You also can find a room for xxx, much better than a lot of places in the city centre. And much cleaner and friendlier, especially for families or business folks.

You can rent the bikes for an entire day for less than $20. And central Amsterdam is just a 20 minute ride away on the country’s phenomenal bike trails.

Two thumbs up. Thanks, Henny.

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