In Books, Travel

Books &… Amsterdam

The rain is ice cold, we are drenched, bleary and completely lost… Our phones are dead and the warren of streets near The Red Light District all look the same. As the ‘experienced’ Amsterdam visitor I feel responsible.

My fourth time to Amsterdam and Patrick’s first. It’s February, cold with an almost bitter wind and patches of warming sunshine. But, I discover an Amsterdam I never did before. Getting lost is sometimes the best way to discover a City and putting Patrick in charge means that getting lost happens repeatedly over the weekend.

Getting to the hotel from the airport is easier than I imagined, and Patrick is feeling very happy with himself. Of course, we get lost getting out of Amsterdam Central Train Station – as in literally can’t find the door, but once outside we easily find The Hoxton Hotel and pass by an Irish Pub (O’Reilly’s) along the way.

Inside the hotel is buzzing, with a small reception area that seems to be largely taken over by a bar and eating area. We’re happy! We’re checked in by a local who gives us some great tips and we quickly book a less typical canal trip (more about that later). Rooms range from Shoebox to Concept and we’re somewhere in the middle with a Cosy Room. The bathroom is beautifully tiled, the bedroom tight but with some gorgeous finishing touches and a feel of authenticity (the building was originally the home of the Mayor of Amsterdam) completed for me with a lovely stack of books.

Visiting tip… they serve great cocktails at the Lobby Bar. Patrick samples a Dublin whiskey we hadn’t actually tried before by Roe & Co, check them out on Instagram @roeandwhiskey.

And hey if this is a blog about Books &… well I’ve certainly come to the right place. From books stores to book markets, stores old and new – the Dutch really do seem to love their literature. On the streets near the Hoxton book stores pop up one after the other until we reach the American Book Centre; with a tree inside it has plenty of fantastic books in English should you run out! It’s also conveniently located next to the Spui Book Market – if that’s what it’s called, which is just being set up as we arrive into the square.

When one thinks of Amsterdam… Anne Frank, her diary and The Anne Frank House are one of the first things that come to mind. We pre-book tickets (this is a must beforehand), I have visited a few times but don’t really talk to Patrick about it beforehand. We don’t speak much during the visit and I know that is less to do with the guided headphone tour than the impact that the house has. It is truly moving, if that term is fitting enough. It’s so hard to look at some of the photos from the concentration camps whilst listening and watching one of her friends describe the last time she saw Anne from the other side of a fence in one of the camps. The amount of people that were taken from just this part of Amsterdam is heart-breaking.

Yet the book, from memory, has so much hope. The gift she is given as a writer means that we will never or should never forget the people that died across Europe during this terrible time.

Amsterdam really is all about trying not to get run over by bikes, carefully choosing which museums to visit (we go for the Van Gogh), finding small bars and restaurants in little streets, drinking the most amazing hot chocolate, getting lost in the Red Light District which whilst lost did have a slightly scary veneer, beer, canals, energy, choosing whether or not to have some ‘cake’…

Another tip we’re given before arriving is an apple pie tip! In winter there’s no queue at Café Winkel 43 – we sit at the counter and take our time over hot tea, a toasted sandwich and finally the apple cake… Cake/pie who knows which, it’s just amazing…

Final tip: Our canal cruise has that bit of a twist.. an Australian living in Amsterdam telling us everything he seems to know. Which seems to be everything. Huddled with about eight other people, sharing gluhwein, wrapped in blankets – it really was the perfect respite. Without telling you much more, check it out yourself

Book… I’m reading Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty this weekend. About an Irish couple taking a winter weekend trip to Amsterdam; I expected it to feel a little close to home. Compared to us this couple live in Glasgow and we’re Manchester based, but they’re older and have experienced more and are questioning the very heart of their relationship. Beautifully written, the contrast between the male and female perspective is wonderfully captured as is the approach to age. I console myself with the fact that they seem to experience a colder visit than we do! Having not read any of MacLaverty’s previous books, I would recommend this novel.

We stayed at: – recommended by the lovely Amy Sykes!

Just a little mention to this place, we really don’t usually go to Irish bars when abroad (although my next piece on Utrecht contradicts that) but escaping the cold to an Irish barman at was really something we needed. He even changed the music to The Frames for us… which leads me nicely onto Utrecht..


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