Villa Augustus – view from our table at the Restaurant
After Amsterdam, we took a train ride out of town for a weekend at Villa Augustus. The Villa is a 5 minute bus ride from the central train station, and as the bus pulled away and we stood on the sidewalk, Nik said, “Whoa! Look at that cool brick building.” And I replied, “I know…that’s where we are staying!”
The hotel/market/restaurant/event space/garden is housed in an 1882 water tower and pump house that was built to provide municipal water for the town of Dordrecht. The facility was functional into the mid 20th century, but sat vacant for a while before the current owners reinvented it as a design hotel. The main building alone is magical with 37 beautifully appointed and unique rooms, but it is also surrounded on all four sides by gardens and greenhouses. These supply most of the fresh produce and herbs for the restaurant and market housed in the adjacent and more modern (1940s) pump house.
The hotel, market, restaurant, event space, and garden each draw their own crowd. Visitors wander the gardens without stepping foot into the restaurant. People sleep in the old basin of the water tower without ever buying produce from the market. Guests walk straight to the Lemon house for a wedding without even realizing there is an Italian garden out back. I wanted to do it all. Before we even dropped off our bags, Nik was pointing to the broccoli plants and pear trees. After we dropped them, we criss-crossed the vegetable garden before finding a terrace seat at the restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we continued to explore the grounds before heading up to our room. After relaxing a bit, we went to the market to buy a pint of hotel-made rhubarb sorbet which we shared on a bench sitting next to the greenhouse where the rhubarb was grown. Then we climbed the exterior stair tower to the top before strolling through the rear gardens. Then we went back to the restaurant for dinner, but this time we chose a seat inside and watched the chefs do their magic as families and couples dined all around us. Afterwards, we retired to our room for a little while before walking out again into the garden for sunset. This place is everything I have ever dreamed a hotel would be. It is a destination for everyone, young or old, moneyed or not, couples or families, singles or sisters. It is unpretentious and affordable. The staff is kind and does not get in the way of you enjoying your day. The place also teaches anyone who wants to learn about edible gardens. It was a dream come true, and I hope to find more places like this. Or perhaps I’ll create a place like this of my own one day.
The view from our room
The Italian Garden out back
The water tower from the Italian Garden
On our second day in Dordrecht, we walked into town to explore the historic center. On the way we found typical apartment buildings filled with families slowly beginning their Sunday. Once in town, we found most of the commercial area shuttered for the day which created a calm and somewhat abandoned feeling to the streets. We didn’t mind because it meant that we had fewer obstacles to maneuver around and could see the buildings better!
Apartments that remind me of my grandfather’s 1950s house
Dordrecht Entry #1-2
Dordrecht Entry #3-4
Dordrecht Canal House
After our walk, we enjoyed Villa Augustus some more by strolling through the gardens, relaxing in our room, having dinner at the restaurant, sharing another pint of rhubarb sorbet, and watching the sunset from the stairs.
It was a truly amazing weekend, and if you ever find yourself in The Netherlands, spend at least 2 nights here. You will thank me.
Nik’s Blog: 5 Days in Amsterdam, 2 Days in Dordrecht
Our first stop in The Netherlands was its most populous city, Amsterdam. We stayed in an apartment just outside of old town for five nights, and made the most of every moment. As soon as we arrived, we had dinner at a local bar/cafe and wandered around the neighborhood before getting groceries. Then on our first full day, we walked downtown and explored the nine streets area where I fell in love with the canal houses. Each one had its own character with subtle differences. We also admired all of the houseboats that lined each canal and were covered with potted plants and deck furniture.
While we were out, we stopped by the central train station and purchased 48-hour Amsterdam city cards (€59 each). We did the city card thing in Dubrovnik, and it easily paid for itself. I thought about it in Copenhagen, but decided against it and kind of regret it. So when we looked into the Amsterdam version and saw it covered admission to a few different museums we wanted to go to anyways, all public transportation, and a canal tour, we decided to go for it. Of course, as soon as we made the investment, I looked at every single “free” admission item and charted our route for the 48-hour window taking into account opening hours, distance from home, access to transportation, and proximity to restaurants. It turned out to be a great way to see the city, and we only saw about half of the buildings/museums/exhibits I had marked.
Amsterdam Zoo – the butterfly house was by far our favorite
Micropia – By far the best exhibit I have ever been to. Props to Kossman.Dejong & Art+Com Studios
The Hermitage – The portrait gallery is amazing, and because we went pretty quickly through the Alexander, Napolean, and Josephine exhibit, I left a little more informed but also confused by their relationships to one another and the early 19th century history of France and Russia. I think that’s okay because now I want to research it more so that I actually understand it.
The Botanical Gardens – Again, the butterflies! Also, the beautiful green houses were a highlight.
Canal Tour – pretty gimmicky and the view from the water isn’t any better than from the street. I definitely wouldn’t pay for this on its own.
Stedelijk Museum – I went for the architecture. While the exterior of the new addition looks like a bathtub, it’s still intriguing. However, the interior galleries are beautifully lit, flow seamlessly between the old and new, and highlight the original details including the grand staircase. Unfortunately, the new super escalator tube was closed when we were there. Also, there happened to be a Matisse exhibit that was great.
FOAM – A photography gallery in an old canal house. Kind of quirky and confusing.
Museum Geelvinck – An old canal house with a beautiful garden. The house wasn’t much, the garden was.
Museum Van Loon – Another canal house with an even more beautiful garden! The interior was just as amazing as the exterior.
NEMO – Again, I wanted to visit this one for the architecture and I actually thought it was the maritime museum because the building looks like the hull of a ship. But it’s a science museum full of little kids and germs! Even so, Nik and I walked in expecting to walk back out in five minutes and ended up staying an hour.
EYE Film Museum – There are several reasons to go to the EYE…1) The building 2) Free ferry ride 3) Dinner or drinks overlooking Amsterdam 4) cool exhibits (The William Kentridge exhibit there now is fantastic) 5) fantastic movies – we saw Blade Runner – Final Cut and I finally understand what all the hype is about.
On our final full day in the city, the public transportation portion of our card was still active, so we rode one of the street cars all the way to the end near the IJmeer Lake. It was nice to see the mid-density residential neighborhoods and we had fantastic ice cream.
Next year’s tulips
Amsterdam Entry #2-3
Amsterdam Entry #4-9
Amsterdam Entry #10-11
Amsterdam Entry #12-13
Amsterdam Entry #14-15
Canal lined with boat houses
Red boat & nest
Nest & Baby
Boat House Garden
Amsterdam Entry #16
Butterfly with large yellow & blacks pot
Butterfly with zebra markings
Butterfly with leaf green markings
Micropia…you should go!
Glass Wing Butterfly
The Amsterdam Neck Gables
Chillin in the window
Dwars…our dinner destination
My worn out dinner companion
Stediljk Museum – Benthem Crouwel Architects
Stediljk Interior – old meets new
Museum Van Loon
Van Loon Garden
Van Loon Garden
Nemo Science Museum – by Renzo Piano
EYE Film Institute – Delugan Meissl Associated Architects
The IJmeer Lake
Our Amsterdam AirBnB Wishlist
Amsterdam City Card Info
Nik’s Blog: 5 Days in Amsterdam, 2 Days in Dordrecht
Like many Americans of my generation, I studied abroad for a semester in college. I stayed with a host family in downtown Copenhagen, went to school with about 50 other Americans, rode a bike every day, didn’t mix with the locals, discovered that urban living was great, and once the semester was done I packed up to backpack around the continent.
It has been 12 years since that semester, and when we began planning this trip, Copenhagen was at the top of my list. I wanted to show Nik the first city I ever saw outside of the United States. I wanted to retrace my steps and bike through my old neighborhood. I wanted to eat Danish rugbrød, “snails” (cinnamon rolls), bagel sandwiches, Fransk hotdogs, and shawarma. I wanted to browse through the Danish furniture and homewares stores for days. All of my memories of this place are precious, and I wanted them to all hold up.
Well, some held up, but many didn’t.
First, I wanted to find all the buildings and plazas I remembered from my daily life. Before we arrived, I starred everything on my phone to jog my memory, but I didn’t think I would need it once we were there. Wrong. The problem was that we came into the city from the west, and I used to come into the city from the east. Because of this, nothing was where it was supposed to be. We even found the Carlsberg brewery on our first bike ride, which I could have sworn wasn’t even in the city of Copenhagen. This made me realize that I missed a lot of the city even though I was there for 3 full months, so I was glad we decided to stay in two neighborhoods I had never heard of because it was a completely new-to-me city.
My second set of memories to recreate were food based, and I mostly failed at this. The rugbrød was exactly as I remembered and I ate a ton of it. I never found the “snails” shop I remembered, and the cinnamon rolls we tried did not live up. I never found the bagel sandwich shop, but I also didn’t look very hard because of my geographic confusion. I couldn’t bring myself to try the Fransk hotdog (a hot dog shoved inside a french baguette with mayo) or the shawarma, but the Døp classic organic hotdog was delicious. Luckily, all was not lost because Copenhagen has become a foodie town in the last decade. They now have local and international food trucks, great coffee shops, top-notch bakeries, several farmers markets, and beautifully designed restaurants with menus to match. We had our first Asian meals since we left the US, we had great coffee and pastries, and we had one amazing dinner at Sankt Annæ 8. I wish we could have taken more advantage of the food, but the one thing that has stayed the same about the food is that it was all very expensive. I’d say everything was at least 25-50% more expensive than San Francisco, so we weren’t willing to pay that.
The third memory I wanted to recreate was my adoration for Danish design. For this one, it was a complete success. Just as I remembered and better. Their homes are simple and well thought out. Their restaurants are clean with no fluff. Their parks are comfortable and well used. Their bike lanes are wide and safe. Their bikes are beautiful with all the kid seats and hauling capacity. Their fashion is sharp. They are just a notch above the world in so many ways. Of course, they know this and are proud and sometimes pompous about it. But they have a successful and creative country, so why not?
In hindsight, I put a lot of pressure on Copenhagen to be perfect, and when it wasn’t I struggled to not be disappointed. But the city has changed, and I have changed. I think both are for the better.
Where I slept on my very first night in Europe
It’s a biker’s city
Up the ramp of the Round Tower
From the top of the Round Tower
Places I missed the first time…
The Main House
Stucco vs Raw
The Øresund Sound
Mid Century Auditorium
Basket weave seats & linen
Through the Labyrinth
Aspects of the city that didn’t exist before…
Wholesale shopping carts
We didn’t go in, but we saw it
Dreamy canal apartments
Our AirBnB wish list for Copenhagen
Bycyklen: The Copenhagen version of City Bikes
Nik’s Blog: An Expensive Week in Copenhagen, Denmark