From seafaring people to a naval power, from the golden age of Dutch masters to the modern era of design, from world trade leader to global financial hub — the Netherlands has never stopped exploring, innovating and reinventing themselves.
This outward-bound energy, along with a near Calvinist work ethics — tempered with a great sense of humour, mind you — fascinated me when I lived there. For despite a limited territory made of mainly coastal lowland and reclaimed land, this little kingdom withstood the turmoil of history to become one of the most prosperous nations on earth.
Amsterdam was always at the heart of this expansion drive, reaching a peak in the 17th century as the world's wealthiest city, and Europe's nerve centre for science and the arts. Fuelled by a context of freedom and riches, culture flourished in the self-proclaimed "valiant, steadfast, compassionate" port city.
The Venice of the North has also been the home of many famous Dutch artists and, naturally, has inspired designers for centuries. In fact, it's one of Quebec designer Anne Cahsens's favourite destinations in Europe. Her brand of home accessories, anita, reminds me of Dutch design: inventive, minimalist, witty and cheery.
Come along as Anne takes us on a guided tour of Amsterdam!
Corinne Cécilia: Where do you like to stay?
Anne Cahsens: I like to stay in a local apartment. It really makes you feel like you're living like an Amsterdammer. This gave me a reason to go to the farmers' market on Saturday and buy local Edam and Gouda cheese and flowers. I used the services of the Short Stay Apartment. Next time I would like to try living on a houseboat. This is an experience that is unique to the area. But you need to plan that ahead of time, they book up quickly.
CC: What's your favourite restaurant?
AC: I ate really well in Amsterdam. The Kinnaree Thai restaurant served amazing Thai food. It's a discreet place but it was filled with locals and the price is so reasonable. For a special night out, I chose the Buffet von Odette on the Prisengracht. This is not at all a "buffet" as we know it; it's a French style bistro with great wine and great food. The ambiance is a perfect mix of warm and cosy with airy and spacious.
CC: Where do you go out for a drink?
AC: I like hanging out upstairs at the Droog Gallery/Hotel. I could hang around upstairs all afternoon. On the main floor is a gallery boutique and the upper level is a casual restaurant/bar. The food was a modern version of typical Dutch food and they had the most delicious beer there. It's a different ambiance to be upstairs in this kind of loft space. The interior is a really interesting open concept with a mix of white furniture and great artwork. It's mysterious how this place feels so warm and cosy but the ceiling is high and most of the furniture is white.
CC: Where do you love to shop?
AC: You can walk the entire afternoon on the Nieuwendijk, which is a pedestrian and tram street. This is a shopping area mostly for clothes and shoes. For more local boutiques, I found many interesting shops in the Jordaan neighbourhood. You can find original places like Shirdak, which sells beautiful textiles from Central Asia.
CC: Where do you like to go when you want to relax?
AC: It's romantic and so picturesque to roam around the canal streets of Amsterdam but it's wonderful to stroll or even better, bike, through the grand Vondelpark. There is a huge maze of paths with hidden duck ponds here and there. It's the perfect place for a picnic.
CC: Do you have a favourite hang out?
AC: One of my favourite galleries in Amsterdam is the Smelik & Stokking. I fell in love with the work of so many local artists in this gallery. They carry a mix of work from sculpture to originals and prints that seems to reflect the feeling and style of the Netherlands.
CC: Your favourite airline?
AC: No real preference.
Anne Cahsens's best address for interior design in Amsterdam: In Amsterdam a good start is the gallery of the Hotel Droog. They carry works from local, industrial and furniture designers. It's quite a large lofty kind of space with an interesting gallery-style way of presenting objects. If you're interested in design, check out dates for design events in the fall.
Corinne's travel tip: Like to mix business & pleasure? Visit the Netherlands when professionals met up to discover tomorrow's design: the 13th annual Dutch Design Week will take place from October 18 to the 16, 2014 in Eindhoven.
Corinne's reading pick: Vincent's Trees: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh by Ralph Skea. (2013, Thames & Hudson).
See a gallery of prominent Dutch designer Marcel Wanders' work.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7,12. NBTC Holland Marketing
6. Amsterdam Marketing
8. S.M. Tunli via tunliweb.no
9. Moon Jansen via Buffet van Odette
10, 13, 14. Thijs Wolzak via Hôtel Droog
11. Marianne Tuerlings via Shirdak
15. Chloë van Diepen via Dutch Design Week