When Intelligent Travel contributing writer Cathy Healy decided it was time to divulge her favorite hotel—and hotelier—in Amsterdam, we leaped at hearing the scoop…
Long, lanky Mark Bakker is dangling out of the window of my room, helping hang the repainted Hotel Prinsenhof sign. I’m in the south-facing breakfast room with its wall of windows bright with silvery November light. Do I look like a Vermeer painting as I read my e-mail?
The rippled glass in the tall panes of the hotel windows are from the 1820s. Vermeers hang in the Rijksmuseum, alongside the Rembrandts and other Dutch masters, about a ten-minute walk to the left. The Van Gogh Museum is three minutes beyond. The Amstel River flows two minutes to the right. Straight ahead, across the Prinsen Canal (Prinsengracht), is Rembrandt Square, a heart in a multi-hearted city that is a masterwork itself.
A former radio journalist, Mark is my interpreter of Amsterdam and the Dutch. He is the manager of the one-star hotel which has ten rooms, some of which overlook the canal, some with bathrooms down the hall. I have a canal view and a bathroom in my room. Price: 84 Euros.
Ann Williams, a National Geographic magazine writer, discovered the Prinsenhof on a vacation with her husband. “You must stay there and you must stay in Room 4, which has flower boxes,” said organized Ann. “And be sure to say ‘Hello’ to Mark.”
I sent a hello and asked a favor. Did Mark know how I could track my Dutch roots? He rooted around, found the head of the historical society in my ancestors’ town, and made an appointment for me.
That was in 1997. Mark didn’t hear from me again until 2000, when I traveled to Europe with my nephew Brian, 16, who reported when we got home: “We started our trip in Amsterdam with our friend, Mark.”
- Nat Geo Expeditions
This is my fourth time in Amsterdam. I’m still at the Prinsenhof—in Room 1 this time. Not much has changed. Mark is still lanky. He still wields paintbrushes in a constant battle against easily chipped, antique paint. He still takes off from mid-January through mid-March to India. He still is forthright. Amsterdam opened a cruise ship terminal a few years ago, but experience shows that the Prinsenhof is not suited for the passengers. “They travel with too much luggage, and the average age is higher,” he says.
What Mark means is that when you’re inside the Prinsenhof, you are inside old Amsterdam, with stairways pitched at 45-degree angles and with stairs so narrow you have to climb sideways. So of course cruisers and backpackers and businessmen and film producers and college professors all want to stay here—and to enjoy Mark, the master hotelman, their guide to life outside the entrance: a double Dutch door, naturally.
Photo: The Prinsenhof Hotel