Thursday, November 20, 2014

Travel Report from Amsterdam - Andaz, Mercure Arthur Frommer, De Kas and Senses

From Germany, we made our way by train to Amsterdam.

It was my first time in the city of canals and bicycles (not counting getting stuck overnight once at Schiphol airport due to an Italian airline strike).

As I mentioned last month, whenever I travel I try to look for eco-friendly accommodations. In Amsterdam, that meant picking the Mercure Arthur Frommer, which has made a commitment to recycling hotel waste and using green cleaning products.

In fact, the entire hotel represents a sort of large-scale recycling project since the guest rooms are packed into 19 former weaver's houses that were built in the 17th Century. That's adaptive reuse!

As you can imagine with such an old building, the Mercure Arthur Frommer is right near the center of town, while still being on a quiet side street that allows for a good night's sleep.

I liked the artistic touches in the rooms:

The decoration in the sink at the Mercure Arthur Frommer reminded me both of Delft pottery and also of Amsterdam's nautical heritage

The headboard of the bed at the Mercure Arthur Frommer was covered with a large scale reproduction of a work of art. Just the inspiration you need to explore the marvelous collection at the nearby Rijksmuseum, with its famous "Night Watch" painting by Rembrandt.

The other hotel where we stayed in Amsterdam was the Andaz, a fancy Hyatt property with a marvelous Alice in Wonderland themed garden. Only, in this case, as you can see it's actually Alice in AMSTERDAM. :)

Here's a real bed of herbs in the Alice in Amsterdam garden!

The Alice in Amsterdam garden has some big ducks.

Nothing particularly whimsical about this patch of perennial geraniums (I presume) in the Alice in Amsterdam garden, but it sure does look pretty.

A fireplace, a wrought iron bench and a chessboard-motif floor? These are just some of the quirky elements that await you in the Alice in Amsterdam garden.

A pretty hydrangea blooms alongside the fireplace.

The Amsterdam Press Office kindly arranged for me to sample the fare at De Kas, a restaurant built around the appeal of ultra-fresh produce. We took a tram from the center of town to get to De Kas. When we disembarked from the tram, we had to walk on a bridge across a pond. Looking down, I spotted this water bird with its young. I believe it was a Eurasian Coot!

(The Press Office also furnished me with a complimentary 72-hour I amsterdam City Card, which was super helpful not only because it provided free public transport and a free canal cruise, but also because it gave free entry to a number of the most popular Amsterdam attractions including the Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, National Maritime Museum, Hortus Botanicus and Dutch Resistance Museum.)

Eurasian Coot feeding its young.

Approaching De Kas, the first thing you notice is a large greenhouse. This is where the restaurant grows some of the produce for your meal. Many of the vegetables not produced in the greenhouse are grown (in season) at a farm the restaurant cultivates not too far from the city in the Beemster Polder (land reclaimed from the sea),
All those bicycles outside the greenhouse? Many of the restaurant patrons probably arrived there by bike. That's Amsterdam for you.

A tray of the restaurant's apples greets you when you walk through the door.

In the greenhouse, you'll find cucumbers...

And lots and lots of tomatoes, beans, eggplants and other healthy fresh produce.

I found these melons, persimmons and nuts in the greenhouse near the kitchen. According to the founder and owner Gert Jan Hageman, the restaurant only harvests enough food each morning for that day's dishes, so you know your vegetables and fruits are as fresh as can be!
The restaurant has won praise and attention from international media such as The Telegraph.

Continuing to explore the greenhouse, I came upon these great looking beans. Everything seems so lush and healthy. 

The De Kas manifesto, printed on its menu.
De Kas knows that not all tomatoes taste (or look) the same! 

Not only are the fresh ingredients delicious at De Kas, they're also given the artistic presentation they deserve.
Kicking it old style - traditional Dutch wooden shoes at the entrance to the De Kas greenhouse.

 In addition to De Kas, I made a point to seek out other eco-friendly restaurants during my time in Amsterdam. This search led me to Senses, an aptly-named restaurant inside the Albus Hotel that features organic, local and sustainable ingredients.

I thought Senses did a great job of engaging all the senses - nice relaxing lounge music, sexy decor, plush materials and of course delicious food. I'll be honest - I can't recall whether the fish served here was herring or sardine, but either way, it was fantastic. Being so close to the sea, you can find some wonderful seafood in the Netherlands.

I don't know if I'd ever eaten goose before, but the version that Senses served was fantastic. And as you can see, it was a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth. In fact, the colors and arrangement on the plate are truly a work of art.

Senses did not skimp on the details. Notice the high quality tea and the fair trade honey. That's a sweet deal.

Full disclosure: 

The Mercure Arthur Frommer hotel provided me with a two-night complimentary stay and two additional nights at a discounted media rate in exchange for this review. I did not receive any special treatment from the Andaz hotel.

As mentioned, the Amsterdam Press Office arranged for me to have a complimentary lunch at De Kas. The management of the Albus Hotel was kind enough to provide me with a complimentary dinner at Senses restaurant. 

All of that being said, all of the opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and I stand by them wholeheartedly. I would not hesitate to suggest De Kas or Senses to a friend visiting Amsterdam. They were two of my favorite meals from my entire three weeks in Europe - both for their eco-friendly qualities and in terms of taste, ambiance and service. 

As for the hotels, frankly I preferred the Andaz to the Mercure Arthur Frommer, but the Andaz can literally be almost four times as expensive. For a three-night stay around the Christmas holiday, for instance, you might have to pay almost $400/night at the Andaz, but only a little more than $100/night at the Arthur Frommer. For the location alone, that makes the Arthur Frommer a great value in pricey Amsterdam!