Tag Archives: Amsterdam

God rest ye Merry Gentlemen

Once again Christmas is upon us. Every year it’s as much of a surprise, isn’t it?  Though, let’s not pretend it’s the most amazing time of the year for everyone. Lots of people are alone and it is more painful than ever around Christmas. We miss the people who aren’t with us any more because at Christmas we’re supposed to be together with our loved ones. Still, we have to think about the beautiful memories and the joy they gave us when they were around.  It is a time for joy, but also for remembrance and love.

Every season and every day has it’s own pleasures and joys, but it has to be admitted that when most parts of Europe is covered in a thick blanket of snow it really is the most gorgeous. Amsterdam, The NetherlandsAll the lights in the Christmas trees and candles in the windows reflecting in the snow against the dark night sky, can it be more idyllic? Dear old uncle Scrooge would call out ”humbug!”, close his computer (or Bob Cratchit’s I guess) and walk away in a huff, but for those of us who wants to enjoy some magic I think Christmas is the time to do so. Children and grown-ups alike. Forget the stress and the daunting prospect of the credit card bill in January. If it’s too much hard work it won’t be fun anyway. If you don’t want the Nigella Lawson Christmas Extravaganza, just pop down to the nearest supermarket and buy everything prepared. If you don’t want the stress and risk of getting in hysterics over Christmas presents, don’t buy any. Or agree on simply swapping paperbacks this year. If you’ve got kids that might be a hard one to negotiate, but at least cut down on the prezzies for the adults. Being together, having a nice meal, getting tipsy and fall asleep in front of the BBC Christmas Special is what we all want anyway, isn’t it?

When I watched the old movie Miracle on 34th Street the other day I suddenly remembered how high expectations and magic surrounded the Christmas holidays when one was a kid. Why and when did it change into being a logical and commercial, almost cynical, “happening” instead? Why is it so hard to hold on to something romantic and beautiful? One doesn’t need to believe in Santa Clause as a grown-up just to think that Christmas is great. Or does one? Why is it childish to be a romantic around Christmas, but not at other times of the year? Then it’s just plain silly if you ask some.


For me, having dragged the Christmas tree home on the Metro the other day it gave such a wonderful feeling of contentment. When the tree is decorated, the fairy lights glowing and the presents are lying underneath, I can just sit back and relax. When I look at the Christmas tree, the signature symbol of Christmas I have always loved, I feel an inner peace and warmth I simply can’t explain. I love it and hope all of you will have the opportunity to feel the same.


Mr. Freelance wishes you all a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New years 2011! And don’t forget, Christmas is a time for relaxation and peacefulness. And a slightly excessive imbibing of champagne, I guess…


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Coffee in Amsterdam: part 7

Is this the best coffee house in Amsterdam then? No, not when it comes to the coffee. There’s no reason beating around the bush. Latei on Zeedijk 143 is not the best coffee in town. Good, but not great.

It is, however, one of the most characterfull places I’ve visited since moving here. It is situated by Nieuwmarkt , just at the end of Amsterdam’s China Town district.  Walking past, it looks like a really tacky junkshop at first. But if you give it a second or two you see that it is full of chic students and an arty clientele. Full of horn rimmed glasses and knitted, if terribly expensive, sweaters that are just the right shade for bohemia.  If you see what I mean. I’ve never seen so many intellectuals crammed in such a small space in my life. The only thing that beat this, if only just, is probably the photographs of Sartre and de Beauvoir sitting with friends in Paris in the 1960s.

Latei don’t just serve coffee. They also sell vintage bags’, dinner china, glasses, chandeliers and quirky stuff you really don’t need but could kill for ‘cause it’s just so cool. In general I don’t care about cool, but after having found this place I do.  How will I survive without a 1970s freestanding cigarette lighter? I just have to do my best. Or go back and buy it. It’s only €7.50 after all. The atmosphere is what makes this place so great. As I said above, the coffee is good but not world class. For my second order I actually couldn’t be bothered to order another coffee. Instead I opted for the freshly pressed orange juice and a croissant. The juice was really nice and, believe it or not, the croissant was a dream. Really buttery without going soggy. I have to try one next time as well to see if it was just pure luck or if the croissant level is consistently high. If it is, that’s just another reason to come back here often. The staff is sweet, helpful and what seems to be the standard requirement in Amsterdam: good looking students working extra. Over here I’ve hardly seen café staff over the age of 25. And as long as the service standard is high, I could not care less.


With its white walls, overwhelmingly bright wallpapers and lime green windowsills this is one of the quirkiest but nicest places I’ve been to. London included. A place like this in London would have been way under the standard I expect from a place serving food and drink, but here it smells nice and all is clean and fresh. For this I love Amsterdam. If you’re looking for a nice place to relax and read a book (as long as it is not by too common an author) this is where you must go.

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Coffee in Amsterdam: part 6

I’m considering putting together a web based compilation of really good coffee places in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. These are the countries I spend most time in when travelling. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to add more countries along the way. The reason? Well, when sitting here in my rented flat it’s a thought that strikes me over and over again since there really isn’t a very good guide out there. The rating system on many sites easily becomes biased since the owner of any place can just rate it as many times as he wants and then his place will be at the top. Fair? Not really. This is something I have figured must happen since some of the places I’ve been to have had amazing ratings and if not mediocre coffee, it certainly hasn’t been top notch in town. Still, other places haven’t even been listed but have had some smashing stuff brewed up for me. Confusing but true. This project would then give me an incentive to do a thorough Michelin-taster-like, almost scientific research of the coffee places I stumble across, or, are looking for on purpose. What do you think? Who knows, it might even end up in a printed format one day.

Coffee house no. 6 in my so far unscientific quest for perfect java is called Espressofabriek on Gosschalklaan 7. I wouldn’t call it a hidden gem since it’s really well frequented, however, it’s a bit off the beaten track and therefore you won’t just randomly pass it. You have to go there intentionally. And my recommendation is that you do.  It’s reached easiest from the Central Station by bus 21 to Van Hallstraat or tram 10 to Van Limburgstirumplein. I know, the Dutch stops have really complicated names but rest assured you’ll find it sure enough with the great signs showing the next stop on both buses and trams. You can’t miss it. The Espressofabriek is then situated in a contemporary, culturally oozing area called Westergasfabriek. As the name tells you (!) it is the old gasworks turned hip and funky. Big lawns and old brick buildings are now home to arty boutiques and the creative arts in general with film companies, theatre groups and what-have-you. Exactly the kind of vibrant area I like. In the middle of this is the very New York like coffee place I was looking for. This time I wasn’t let down. S. found her latte a wee bit bland but my cappuccino was perfect. And more importantly this was the place that produced the best milk foam so far. It held up much longer than normally. Eureka! One also got a glass of water with the coffee without asking. I don’t necessarily need that but I find it really nice. Maybe more nice looking than anything else, but still nice. A big plus for that guys.

With seating outside as well this will be lovely in a week or two, when the autumnal colours have started to explode and create an even more vibrant feel to the season lurking around the corner. With a narrow but esthetically pleasing interior in black and off-white with massive chalk boards with “literary quotes” (more likely from contemporary pop songs than Proust, if you get my point) on coffee and life in general I felt really welcome. It’s not cosy the way I usually look for, but it works. It’s arty and it’s Amsterdam. A place with great coffee and good vibe. I think I’ve found a new coffee house for my Top Three list.

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Coffee in Amsterdam: part 5

This is becoming something of an obsession of mine. Mind you, when you’re in a new place for a prolonged period of time even people with an addictive behaviour disorder like myself can get way too enthusiastic over a project or a past time. Like finding new coffee places serving decent coffee.  For those less interested in this quest of mine I promise to have a blog entry on a quirky fashion issue soon.

The latest coffee place I went to is just off Spui, towards Singel, hidden away in a little alleyway. It’s nice to walk around Amsterdam since these small alleys are just like the Closes in Edinburgh, just not as steep. They pop up more regularly in certain areas of the city than in others but are always really cosy and hiding interesting shops, cafés or bars. The place I took S. to the other day is called Lungoccino and can be found at Heisteeg 5. It is a really wee place so not for long lounging with your Sunday paper. But that’s okay since it is a small coffee bar kind of place with no intentions of being anything more than that. Great for an espresso or for take-away. It has been very highly ranked in an espresso ranking list over espresso places in Amsterdam so I thought I just had to try it when I had an hour off work and, well, so I did. Was it as amazing as one could expect? No. It was a very good espresso and an equally good macchiato, but to have the top ranking in Amsterdam? No way.  The Feama machine did a good job, as did the barista on the day, but I don’t know what it was that made me feel let down. I think it was just a bit plain. No real roundness in the taste, no proper créma on the espresso. On the plus side it wasn’t bitter at all, so something obviously worked in Lungoccino’s favour. I can probably assure you won’t get a bad espresso, but there’s no need to run there first thing you’re off the train from Schiphol.  Go to Coffee Connection instead. It’s so far the best coffee I’ve tried here in Amsterdam. It’s also much closer to the train station.

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Coffee in Amsterdam: part 4

The need for coziness has been aptly fulfilled and there’s no need to feel sorry for the state of coffee places in Amsterdam. As it was Sunday I and S. went for a stroll along the canals of Amsterdam and found this really nice little place past the infamous Red Light district, on Zeedijk 43. It’s called Wijs & Zonen and is one of the oldest coffee roasters in the Netherlands. Apparently. It was founded in the 18th century, I believe, but exactly when is a bit hard to figure out from the info on their homepage. After a couple of minutes browsing through the “history” section I got so tired and confused of all the dates and various families  involved that I gave up. So if you really care you have to do the homework yourselves. Sorry guys.

More importantly though, this is a place with real character.  With its tiny forecourt it was lovely to sit outside for the first bit, drinking tea (!) and reading my beloved The Observer. I have found this really nice place by Spui where one can get the British newspapers on Sundays and then simply find a nice spot to sit for hours, reading and drinking coffee or, like today, start off with a pot of tea. Sounds blasphemous, I know, but I just happened to crave a nice Assam tea this morning. The world’s blatantly gone topsy-turvy. Later on though, after the rain had started drizzling for the umpteenth time this week, I moved inside for a macchiato and the world order was restored.

At Wijs & Zonen they roast their own coffee beans and blend their own teas to perfection. I guess that’s why they are Purveyors to the Royal Dutch Court. The coffee was good, not extraordinary in any way but really good. Nothing to complain nor to write home about. However, what made it a nice cup of coffee was that it had no hint of bitterness. None what so ever. They use an Indonesian coffee  blend called Toradja Prince with a fairly low caffeine percentage, but regardless of that obvious flaw, it tastes really smooth and well rounded. I might just have to go back for a bag for myself. With that in mind I would really recommend a visit, but also since it is one of these places where you feel that you could sit forever. It felt like home, or like a good friends living room. The furniture is rustic but still welcoming. The white walls contrasts well against the darker furniture in the central part of the coffee house. In the back are the big cases and crates full of coffee beans and tea leaves, where you can also sit and look out on the little forecourt. The street in the front can be quite busy but it’s nothing you notice thanks to the coffee rooms being at the back of the shop where you can also buy their products.  All in all this is a place, even if it wasn’t my greatest coffee experience so far, where I’d love to become a regular. For the nice staff and for the homely, home-made-pie sort of feeling.

And not to forget: they have a house cat named Peppy, how great is that? A place with their own house cat just have to be gold!

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Coffee in Amsterdam: part 3

For once I’m not as ecstatic as I usually am. It’s a shame really, I was expecting more from my visit to Brandmeester’s Koffie on Van Baerlestraat 13. I guess it would be unfair to say that it’s not good since that’s not the case. The coffee is supreme and, well, I was just expecting something more than a shop with a bar desk in the middle where one can sit on uncomfortable chairs.  And the staff wasn’t particularly smiley either. Fine, it was a dreadful day with torrential rain but come on, that should not be reflected in the general mood of the staff.  That’s just not on, guys.

The coffee then? With a great La Marzocco and a skilled, if a bit overly Dutch, barista and high quality roasted beans it is every inch as good as one might demand from a place like this.  Brandmeester’s have shops with café service in Amsterdam, Harlem and Utrecht. I haven’t been to all of them but I can’t imagine anything else than that they are as good as the one I went to in Amsterdam. But beware, it is a shop and not a coffee house. It is a place you go to either to get barista equipment or a take away coffee. Not to sit and enjoy your coffee. And I must say that is a capital mistake from their side. They would, if they were interested, get even more customers and would be talked about in a different way if they made parts of the shops nice and cosy. Since they offer muffin, croissants and the like there is an apparent effort towards hospitality. So the drive is there, if not particularly thought through. A shame, that’s all I can say.

The question I always ask myself after a visit like this is: will I go back? The answer has to be: yes, if I’m in the neighbourhood and want a coffee-to-go when on my way to the van Gogh Museum or Concertgebouw which happens to be in the area. However, I would not go there just to get a coffee. It’s to far off the beaten track and after being supremely disappointed with the interior and the general uncomfortableness of the sitting area I must be a grumpy old sod who says “no, this just isn’t good enough”. As a shop I can see it’s brilliant, but I didn’t go there looking for a barista brush. I went there to sit down with my TLS and a good cappuccino. Next time I’ll enjoy it on a bench in a park nearby. That’ll be nicer and more comfortable.

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