Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Important Small Christmas Eve Stay At The Intercontinental Amstel Hotel

The Important Small Christmas Eve Stay At The Intercontinental Amstel Hotel

Our normal Christmas as probably for most families contains: family, food & gifts, the new years for us always meant going aboard to celebrate the new year.
As we just bought a house and we will get the key on the 30th of December, the celebrating aboard kinda went out the door, as we have to be in town to receive the key and start tearing down the place, before the builders come in starting the rebuilding a week later and I am in the busy seasons of my job.

As I wanted to have a small break before the busy work seasons starts and the rebuild, I started searching for some alternatives in my own country. As we also had tickets to the "World Christmas Circus" in theater Carré, I thought it would be a nice to combine those too. Being a loyal reader of Lucky's blogs at boardingarea.com and him becoming an independent agent working with Virtuoso since a couple of weeks, I gave a quick e-mail about the possibilities. Although Amsterdam has a couple (and increasing with the Conservatorium Hotel and the Andaz opening mid-2012) of 5-star hotel, they are still miles apart from similar properties in London, Paris and Frankfurt. The reason for this is I imagine the Dutch mentality about wealth/luxury. Anyhow the suggestions I got where the top hotels in Amsterdam being the Amstel Hotel, the Pulitzer Hotel and hotel de l'Europe. 

Hotel de l'Europe pretty much was a no-no from the start (personal preference and stories I've heard), so it then narrowed down to the Pulitzer or the Amstel Hotel and although I did a quick price check between the town, it would be the Amstel Hotel without a doubt a just small difference between the two, confirmed it would be the Amstel.

So the package I booked was a: - Queen Bed Executive - Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability - Complimentary buffet breakfast in restaurant or continental breakfast via room service - Welcome gift, a bottle of wine, fruit platter, and mineral water - A light lunch in Michelin star gourmet restaurant in la Rive - Complimentary access to health club with indoor heated pool - Complimentary wifi access - 4PM late check-out.

The lobby with Christmas tree and check-in area on the left side.
We wanted to check-in at noon, as the misses had an appointment with the hair stylist in Amsterdam. The room was ready so we could check-in. As mentioned on the confirmation, we got an upgrade on arrival to the next available type, the next available upgrade appeared to be the Executive Suite with River View (the river "Amstel", hence the name of the hotel), with a stunning view over the Amstel-river. We received a gift certificate, which was basically the voucher which entitled us for the light lunch in La Rive.
The staff member who checked us in, asked if we wanted to be escorted to the suite or wanted to find our way ourselves, as I love to roam through the hotel myself I opted for the latter. A few moments after we got to the room our bags were brought to the room.


Wonderful king sized bed


Next stop was the restaurant la Rive, this is were the only glitch was to be found in the staffing. As we went down stairs to the restaurant la Rive, we found it to be empty, well expect for the waiters who were there. 
As I already knew by reading the gift certificate, la Rive is closed for lunch on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The gift certificate stated that if la Rive is closed the lunch would be served in the Amstel Bar & Brasserie instead, which was something what we were aiming, as we wanted a quick lunch, because we needed to head in the city center pretty soon. 

Spacious Living area
We approached the waiters (who were all pretty young, judging on their behavior and attitude all interns) and asked for the lunch and showed them our certificate. At first we got a weird look from the waiter saying that la Rive is closed on Saturdays for lunch and then nothing was said anymore. So I asked if we could not use the Amstel Brasserie as stated in the certificate, which the waiter agreed we could do, but he was not still sure if this was the way to go (I really got the feeling he didn't want to serve us). Anyhow we entered the brasserie and seated ourselves at a window-table which has a nice view on the Amstel. We were approached by the waiter, taking our drinks and really stumped with to do with us. Obviously I understand, there might be a change in the game plan, because it was Christmas eve, but he didn't know what to serve us for lunch!
In the end we could not choose from the menu (no biggy as the certificate also states that the chef would make "something" for us), but instead he said we could have one of the three items outside the menu or the complete four-course Christmas lunch. We eventually picked just one item of the three items for lunch due to the limited time we had available, this was the salmon with cep, celeriac and shij-meij. As this was normally served as a starter we asked for a double portion, however we received just a normal portion, meaning we didn't really had lunch. It tasted however very delicious!

After this we headed to the hair stylist, which for me meant a sit and wait game of +2 hours. As this was a pretty high-end barbershop it had free wifi, so it could  have been worse. We were back at the hotel around 5pm, with the Circus starting at 8pm we had some time to kill. For dinner we could not have this at La Rive or the Amstel Brasserie as they served Christmas Eve dinner only starting at 7:30pm, so we had to go for the room service, as the entire room service menu was applicable we just choose for a good old hamburger. Of course room service meals are pricey, but a full €20 ($26) for just one hamburger is steep, all though it was definitely worth it! Just before we wanted to leave the turn down service came around to make our bed and leave some chocolates on the bed. We rang the concierge to arrange a taxi for us and went downstairs with the taxi just pulling up.


Daytime view from the room with Carré in the far right top.
I won't go into much details about the circus, but it was lovely. Okay its not Cirque du Soleil, however it comes very close!

Christmas card, Defltware Christmas Ball and personal greeting from the reception manager
As we came back the room was cleaned from our room service tray and we received a Christmas card from the hotel and an original Delftware Christmas Ball. This is one the most suited amenity I ever had, it will have a nice place my Christmas tree next year!

During the night we woke up from a strange banging/snapping sound coming from the floor above, which was the roof as we were on the top (4th) floor. We didn't bother to call the reception, because it would mean either a move to another room at 3 in the morning and we would be check-in out the following morning. We did notify the reception on check-out about. The staff was very apologetic about it and told us it was the first time they heard somebody notifying them about it. Not a big deal, but it did gave us a short night.

Clock near the elevators.
Overall conclusion, we had a lovely stay at one of the best hotels in Amsterdam, would stay here again without a doubt!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Important Small Shave

Some things which were already done back in '50s and '60s, should be done by every modern man of style and taste. Getting an old fashion shave by a barber with a "straight razor" is one of them.

As this is something I also always wanted to experience, because back in the day when I used to live in Belgium, my dad would go to a local barber and get his weekend started by getting a shave with the straight razor. 

So when I was browsing through a magazine, I read an article about an "old school" barber shop in Rotterdam, which also shaves, I was very interested. Now I know in some countries this is still regular practice, however here in the Netherlands it is quite rare to have a barbershop which also shaves.. 

The New York Barbershop
I discussed the article with my girlfriend, about how I wanted to get a shave and how nice and cool an old stylish Italian shave would be, however due to a busy schedule and us living in the vicinity of Amsterdam and the barbershop being in Rotterdam, it is was something which was quickly forgotten about. 

That is until my birthday was coming up. "So what do you give a man who already has anything for his birthday" is what my girlfriend thought. So ensuring a couple of day before my birthday that I didn't shave and was at home that afternoon, we made our way to the New York Barbershop in Rotterdam, to experience my first ever "Italian shave", which something really nice.

As we parked the car and walked towards the Hotel New York, in which the barbershop is located, we saw the shop in the basement of the Hotel. When walking down the stairs towards the shop we could hear music being played from an LP, giving that '50s feeling straight away.

As I am a huge fan of Aqua di Parma I was in heaven when I entered the shop and saw that they have almost every available Aqua di Parma product there is from shaving crèmes till the latest perfumes! They also have a site from which you can order all the products they also have in the store.

Being welcomed by one of the Barbers I was asked to take a seat for a moment as a couple of towels were placed in a warm bath to heat up. Once they were ready I took place in a barber chair which came straight from the 50's to my idea. I was put in a full recline position (something that KLM could learn from with their out dated "World" Business Class). The first part of the shave consists of receiving a damp warm towel being wrapped around the face with just your nose sticking out for breathing, this to warm up the skin and soften the facial hairs. 

In the mean while the barber puts on a water boiler to cook the water, which is used to wetten the shaving brush with and foam the shave cream. After removing the warm towels, my face was gently brushed full with shaving cream and then felt the sharp straight razor do its work! Which felt really nice to be honest and I could feel my skin transform from rough and hairy, back to nice soft and smooth. After the shaving was done they "seal" the skin by putting a cold towel (it came straight from the frig!) around the face in a similar fashion as the hot towels. After this I was good to go, starting my weekend with a baby-butt soft skin!

The barbershop also offers some packages including breakfast and such, this is something I am aiming the next time, I make a visit to the New York Barbershop, which is definitely going to happen.

My new shave set from New York Barbershop

Obvisouly I would not leave without receiving a wonderful gift my girlfriend a complete New York barbershop shaving set!