Saskia Naafs and Guido van Eijck both work as freelance journalists in Amsterdam. Saskia regularly writes for newspaper Het Parool, about music, culture and life in the city. Guido writes about issues such as education for De Volkskrant and is editor-in-chief of Yournalism, a crowd-funding platform for investigative journalism. Together, they write investigative stories for weekly De Groene Amsterdammer. They also like to write travel stories: they’ve travelled to Portland and Paris together and wrote stories about Doel and the Flemish coast. For Luster, they brought together their very best city tips, in The 500 Hidden Secrets of Amsterdam.
Can we call you real connoisseurs of Amsterdam?
“When are you a connoisseur of Amsterdam? The good thing about Amsterdam is that the city is constantly changing. We like to visit lesser-known parts of Amsterdam anyhow, to wilfully explore unknown neighbourhoods. Making the Hidden Secrets-guide has definitely helped us get to know the city even better, but we do not claim to know everything there is to know about Amsterdam. Therefore, we ceaselessly continue to explore hidden secrets, new spots and unknown locations. We do really love cities and enjoy making city trips. The most fun part is to read blogs and newspapers about your destination, and to hoard literature about the city you are visiting and read that during your stay. We also like to explore the history of a city. To visit a city with a ‘local’, who knows all the inns and outs, is the best thing ever.”
To you, what makes Amsterdam different to other cities?
“What is special about Amsterdam is that it is a cosmopolitan and lively city which feels intimate and friendly at the same time. Therefore, it is easy to feel at home here. Guido really loves Amsterdam-Noord (pictured above), the part of the city which lies at the other side of het IJ. Noord has many different faces, like old shipyards that were given a new cultural destination, post war garden suburbs and beautiful old dikes such as the Nieuwendammerdijk (pictured below) and the Schellingwouderdijk.
Saskia in turn loves Oud-West, especially the area around the Ten Katestraat with its lively daily market and many cosy cafés, and two amazing cinema’s (De FilmHallen and Lab111). One of her favourite streets is the Bellamystraat, with its beautiful old arts and crafts houses.”
How difficult was it to select the very best spots the city has to offer?
“It definitely was not easy, especially given that you are searching for addresses which aren’t too obvious. Otherwise, the guide would not be fun to read for people who know Amsterdam already. We searched for the perfect combination of new and old tips, from fairly know and well-loved to unknown and underestimated. We also tried to achieve a balanced geographical dispersion between the various neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. It’s a shame when tourists only visit the ring of canals and the neighbourhood around Museumplein, because Amsterdam has much more to offer.”
What is, for each of you, the absolute hidden gem of the city?
Saskia: “The Maria grotto in the garden of Hotel Arena (pictured below). I wrote about it in Het Parool about three years ago, but it is still a well-kept secret. The grotto is a replica of the one in Lourdes, built in brick, chicken wire and firm papier-mâché. We don’t really know when it was built exactly. At the end of the 19th century the building at the Mauritskade housed the Sint Elisabeth hospital, a shelter for women. They were too ill to travel to Lourdes for healing, so Lourdes was brought to the virgins.”
Guido: “For me that would be Huis te Vraag (pictured below), one of the most quiet places of Amsterdam-Zuid. The tombstones in this old cemetery are ivy-grown; it’s an incredibly green environment with many birds. Various friendly cats guard the cemetery. On regular weekdays, you can quietly take a walk there until 5 pm, read the names on the tombstones or settle on a bench. The name Huis te Vraag dates from the 15th century. Emperor Maximilian I is believed to have asked for directions to Amsterdam here in 1489.”
images by Tino van den Berg