It’s fair to say that I’m a bargain traveler. OK, some in my family might be cruel and say I’m cheap. Frugal is such a kinder word.
So I’m pretty pleased with myself when I actually manage to impress my wife Grainne as we check into the Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam. She starts off a little concerned as the clerk at the front desk leads us up an extremely steep set of stairs to our room.
The stairs are virtually straight up, with the last six steps more like a ladder than a staircase.
“It’s very Amsterdam,” the hotel clerk tells us.
Then we enter “the room.” But this is no simple room. It’s actually a suite with a lovely bedroom, a sitting room, a small dining area and a kitchen - overlooking one of Amsterdam’s famous canals.
It’s pretty dang cool. And Clay, the cheapskate… errr bargain hunter… finally does something right for a change.
The funny thing is we never had planned to go to Amsterdam. But of course, the COVID-19 virus blew up our original plans to go to England and on to Ireland. England still has its mandatory 10-day quarantine in place. I don’t know about you, but spending 10 days of your hard-earned vacation in a “quarantine hotel” where you never leave your room is not my idea of a good time.
We still plan to head out for Ireland on Wednesday. I’ll let you know how that goes since we will need a clear COVID-19 test before heading out. We’re both vaccinated, so fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands is wide open. When we arrive at the Ambassade Hotel about 9:30 a.m., our little suite is not yet ready, so we have coffee and tea in this charmer of a hotel overlooking one of Amsterdam’s 160 canals. The hotel boasts a bar that will speak to the heart of every writer. You can sip your spirits surrounded by 5,000 books, or perhaps engage in a game of chess. And there’s no law against just sitting there thinking of nothing if that’s what the occasion calls for.
As our suite is being cleaned, we finish up our coffee and tea and head out for a stroll. We beelined for the flower market, where you can ship endless varieties of Dutch tulip bulbs to your home. We wander into cheese shops where we sample traditional unpasteurized varieties and goat cheese. We check out kimonas, tea sets and designer chopsticks at an Asian bazaar before finally ending up at Cafe Luxembourg for lunch.
We score a table outside as hungry lunchtime diners seemingly come out of nowhere, filling just about every spot at the cafe. We order a Dutch treat - veal croquettes - to share. Croque Madame for me with a rich bechamel sauce. Grainne orders breakfast - fried egg, bacon, waffle.
We leave happy and full. As we walk away, the hotel gets in touch saying our room is ready. That’s when I spring my surprise on the wife with the fancy schmancy room.
Once settled, we clean up, take a quick nap and get ready for dinner at the hotel restaurant, the Brasserie Ambassade. The highly unreliable Dutch weather surprises us with a lovely late July evening, so we sit outside next to the canal, chatting to a lovely couple at the next table from the south of Holland who had come into Amsterdam for a quick getaway.
The Dutch are remarkable when it comes to language. Cursed with one of the most difficult languages on earth, they have readily adapted by learning everyone else’s tongue. Which explains why they are so dang good at commerce. But they are also incredibly friendly, with quick humor and hearty laughs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few Dutch co-workers over the years and I’ve had a blast with them all.
We talk with our dining neighbors about the changing climate, our respective families and our plans for the next few days. In between, I devour my three course meal - pate’, duck confit and creme brulee. Grainne enjoys her salad with goat cheese, steak frites and a chocolate cake with a molten center.
It was all so incredibly good.
We stretch our legs once more on a late evening stroll since it’s still light outside, window shopping among the many art galleries and jewelry stores. Grainne can’t wait to get back to them tomorrow when they are open for business and ready to process credit cards with a smile.
Thank goodness my secret is safe. Because the truth is that I got the hotel for a real bargain.
What? You didn’t actually think I would pay full price, did you?