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SUBLIME NOW, RIDICULOUS LATER
By Michael Matthews
September 25, 2014 -- As business travelers, we experience the sublime to the ridiculous on the road. And much to my surprise, I experienced the same sublime-to-ridiculous range on a recent leisure trip.

The darling wife and I have just returned from another Seabourn cruise, this one touching on six countries and three protectorates. This was our ninth Seabourn journey, so we expected a bit more groveling than usual as we boarded the Seabourn Quest.

More fools us. Nine trips on Seabourn is nothing. We met guests on board that had more than 3,000 Seabourn nights at sea and they didn't seem to warrant anything more than the standard Seabourn welcome, either. Thankfully, however, each Seabourn cruise we've booked has been better than the last. Definitely an entry on the sublime side of the travel ledger.

But let me backtrack and start in Amsterdam, where we arrived after a pleasant, if not sublime, experience on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. We flew in KLM's Economy Comfort section and had no problem sleeping.

For accommodations in Amsterdam, we'd heard about a small hotel in the heart of everything yet on a quiet canal street. Our welcome at the Hotel Estheréa was wonderful. We were met by two tall, extremely attractive Dutch ladies and escorted to a perfect room with views over a canal. We spent a lot of time just watching the traffic go by.

The Estheréa's 95 rooms vary in size since the property, like so many in Amsterdam, is built into a row of converted 17th-century townhouses. A bedroom is a bedroom is a bedroom, but our guestroom was pleasantly furnished. It had a perfect five-piece bathroom, all of the needed mod cons and free Internet service. The hotel bar was small, intimate and friendly. (The barman occasionally vanished to carry someone's bags to their room.) Breakfast was as perfect as you would wish it to be, à la carte or buffet.

The hotel doesn't have an in-house restaurant, just the breakfast and microwaved room service delivered by the barman. But there is a plethora of restaurants of varying expense within a stone's throw of the front door.

The Estheréa is sublimely situated on the Singel, the oldest canal in Amsterdam. That exquisite location allowed us to walk easily to the fabulously renovated Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. Amsterdam's notorious Red Light district isn't far away, either, and we stumbled upon girls working at 10:30 in the morning. The ART District is just two canal bridges away and the main train depot, Centraal Station, is just down the street.

I can't recommend the Hotel Estheréa strongly enough. Stay there on your next visit. Nightly rates start as low as 100 euros.

One other tip on Amsterdam: Don't take a canal cruise with the masses during the day. Wait until early evening and find a boat that serves local cheese and wine. Then cruise the canals as the sun sets, passing houseboats with their occupants sitting on deck having an aperitif, waving at you as you sail by. Watch the lights of Amsterdam come alive while you sip your wine and eat your cheese. It's magical--or should I say sublime.

My next column, unfortunately, will be devoted to the ridiculous part of travel, which included being delayed North of the Arctic Circle by pack ice.

Before I depart, however, one other sublime experience: Ghent in Belgium, which can be classified as Bruges without the tourists. In the main square, there's a small chocolate shop called Luc Van Hoorebeke. The atelier is in the cellar and the craftsmanship is amazing. The chocolates are, to say the least, sublime--and we are still eating our find.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

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