Even though I have lived in Europe, and even though I have been to the Netherlands, I have not been to Amsterdam, except to fly through. I thought I knew the city. I certainly knew parts of its story, through courses in history and culture, through travel advisor studies, and through art history courses. Vermeer, Rembrandt, Steen et al from the Netherland’s Golden Age. I knew Amsterdam had a vibrant modern art and design scene. Canals, diamonds, all that. And of course, Anne Frank lived and hid here until her deportation. Read more about my private guided tour in Amsterdam below.
How a Privately Guided Journey Taught Me More About a City – and Made My Immersion into Amsterdam Complete
But … I did not have the complete picture, the things to tie it all together. Until now.
What Brought All Aspects of Amsterdam Together For Me
AN UNEXPECTED AND SPECIFIC TOUR OPENED MY EYES TO THE ENTIRE CITY HISTORY, AND TIED TOGETHER ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS ASPECTS OF THE CITY
Guided Tour in Amsterdam’s Jewish History
Interestingly, an opportunity came my way unexpectedly. When I was planning my time in Amsterdam, I thought I needed an overall city tour to learn about Amsterdam’s history. And, by and large these introductory tours are a good idea. But, the guide I wanted was not available that day, and a colleague suggested I take a tour with a renowned guide in Amsterdam’s Jewish history.
I am not Jewish myself, but many of my clients are, and I always encourage them to take a tour on the Jewish history in a destination if they can – like in Spain or Eastern Europe, for example. So, I joined an American Jewish family with 2 pre and teen children at the Portuguese Synagogue with our guide Naomi.
Through this tour, I not only learned of the society of Amsterdam as a city of tolerance (for instance, there was no walled section of the city to contain a population as elsewhere),
- I learned the reasons for the migration of first the Sephardic Jews from Iberian Peninsula when they faced intolerance and persecution to convert.
- I learned of 100 years in Spain and Portugal of not being able to practice the religion properly and the importance of the synagogue to make a reconnection.
- I learned of the rise in society of these citizens and the ways in which they were instrumental in bringing Amsterdam into its financial world prominence and its Golden Age.
And I learned of the influx of the Ashkenazi Jew from Eastern Europe, and how this poorer community supported itself, as supported by their brethren already there, and what industries they helped develop like fabric and eventually design houses and department stores, all starting from what they could do when they first arrived- selling second hand things in the market.
And I learned of the terrible demise of most of the population once the Nazis came, even though the Dutch resistance tried to intervene.
When I toured the Anne Frank House the next day, all this history came to fruition to understand why the family chose Amsterdam to move to, why they were helped so much. The story is all the more tragic because they almost made it through the occupation; the Liberators were advancing. The family and those with them on the very last train from the Dutch deportation camp.
An Amsterdam Food Tour
What better way to know a city than through its food? The surprising thing about Amsterdam is that there is not a huge variety of typically “Dutch” food. Oh, it does have its specialties – pancakes, waffles, herring, fresh seafood and potatoes and small bites.
But, remember, this is a city that has invited all cultures because of its prominence in trade in the past, so there are about 180 cultures represented in the county. And this is reflected in the food. So, yes, you can get what the Dutch may typically eat at home, or in a higher style with a modern twist, but you also will eat excellent Indonesian, Thai, Argentinian, and Italian food!
An Immersive Stay
My immersion into Amsterdam was made complete because of where I stayed. I chose the Pulitzer Hotel (yes, of the family of THAT Pulitzer) specifically because it is wedded to its neighborhood – the Joordan, which is also the oldest of the city. Here you will find the old warehouses, worker and merchants’ homes that made up that period you know from the Vermeer or Rembrandt paintings. The time when the Guilds existed. The time of prominence in the world through trade. The Pulitzer is comprised of 25 such warehouses and merchant homes built in the 1600s and connected into a wonderful property.
Besides the immersive-yet-modern accommodations, there were 2 things I did that were spectacularly immersive.
Private Canal Touring Boat Tour
A private boat tour of the canals in Amsterdam. The Pulitzer hotel has its own boat, a wooden beauty built in 1909 and converted from diesel to electric.
- We glided, champagne in hand, through the principal canals, to the channels in the modern area, learning history and local life all the way.
- We passed the stylized buildings, houseboats, parties of people cruising the waterways, swimmers.
Neighborhood Walk with Head Concierge
A neighborhood walk with the head concierge. This is something the hotels offers its guests, and is well worth it. I discovered
- secret gardens in hidden courtyards,
- observed how the locals lived and started their days,
- learned where to try the best apple pie in the city – yes, it was delicious.
So I am truly glad I didn’t explore Amsterdam until now; I never would have had the encompassing view of the city and its far-reaching culture and history without using the partner and accommodation partners. They pulled together what I knew with a mixture of things I did not. And this made all the difference in a transformational Amsterdam city tour.
I recently visited Amsterdam for 30 hours. I wrote here about ways to immerse yourself in a short period of time. Now I want to tell you about how even a short city break can be transformative.
My thanks to Finest Journeys for the introduction to Naomi, and to The Pulitzer Hotel.
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