“Everyone smiles in the same language.”
That message appears on a sign in the cafe of Shelter Jordan, a friendly place where vagabonds from around the world stay when visiting Amsterdam, one of Europe’s great student travel destinations.
Ever since the hippies made Dam Square their hangout in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Dutch capital has been a hotbed of counter culture, tolerance and youthful energy.
Shelter Jordan, a hostel run by a Dutch Christian organization, is named after the Jordaan, a former working class neighborhood that today buzzes with shops, galleries, cafes and nightlife. However, it’s still mainly residential, and during my recent stay I enjoyed walking its peaceful side streets and canals.
The three-story hostel, a former school, fronts Bloemstraat (“Flower Street”), a quiet lane seemingly far removed from Rozengracht, a busy avenue where trams rattle just a block away. Looking east down Bloemstraat, you see the tower of the Westerkerk, the church whose tolling bells serenaded the family in hiding of a teenage girl who became the most famous diarist of the 20th century. Lines for the Anne Frank House, the actual canal house where the Jewish family hid during World War II and now one of Amsterdam’s must-see attractions, wrap around the church all day.
Though most guests are in their 20s, Shelter Jordan welcomes travelers who, like me, are well beyond their student years. As hostel guidelines state, “For the over-40s, we just want to mention that all our beds are bunks so you need to be able to climb up into a top bed, but if you’re young at heart then we’d love to welcome you to stay with us.”
Sure enough, I was assigned one of the top bunks in the 18-bed dormitory on the men’s floor. I had booked this category because it was the least expensive (about $35 a night), but other options on the (third) floor include four-, five-, six- and eight-bedded rooms. Similar accommodations exist for women on the second floor. My stay brought back memories of the days when I roamed Europe on the cheap for three months after graduating from college.
Shelter Jordan is recommended in Rick Steves, Lonely Planet and other travel guidebooks, and is considered to be the quiet choice among Amsterdam hostels. It forbids drugs and alcohol, and smoking is allowed only in the courtyard garden. I found all guests to be respectful of one another and felt comfortable among strangers, most of whom were much younger than I. My bunkmate, though, was an insurance company employee from England in his 30s, and two other men (maybe from Spain or Morocco) in our dorm were pushing 50. Other guests were from India, Africa and Japan.
As a Christian hostel, Shelter Jordan offers Bible studies, but they are strictly optional. In fact, most guests are not Christian.
The luggage storage room is a relatively secure place to keep your bags, but a sign on the door reads: “We are a Christian hostel, but that doesn’t mean everyone staying here will obey the 8th Commandment (Exodus 20:15).”
On the day of departure, I kept my bags in the storage room a few hours after the mandatory checkout time of 10 a.m., but most of the time my stuff was in a locker in the dorm. There is one locker for each bed. I brought my own lock, but the hostel also sells them. Sheets, blankets and pillows are provided free.
The hostel is orderly and well taken care of. I was impressed with the clean, modern men’s restroom, which has individual shower stalls. Showers are cleaned three times a day—a reflection of the Dutch passion for tidiness. (Looking to defray travel costs in Amsterdam? You can work for a month at the hostel in exchange for free room and board.)
Shelter Jordan’s cafe is a great spot for socializing and using the hostel’s free wifi, and where breakfast (included in the price) is served. You choose from three breakfast options: the day’s hot item (like pancakes, French toast or eggs), bread with jam and cheese (or maybe raisin bread with marzipan and powdered sugar), or muesli with milk or yogurt and a piece of fruit. I really liked the Dutch pancakes, which I liberally smothered in syrup, hazelnut spread or jam.
Group dinners every night provide a good chance to meet guests and staff and to have a filling meal for only 6 euros (about $6.50). It might be Hungarian goulash with pasta or Moroccan couscous, always with salad, drink and dessert. Or you can order your own dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. from a menu that includes hamburgers, spaghetti, chicken schnitzel and falafel with couscous. Some people bring in their own food to eat and are welcome to use the refrigerator and microwave.
The cafe has a guitar and piano for guests to use, plus a shelf with books and games. Each table has a Bible in four languages, and there is Scripture on the walls.
Soon after checking in, I went to the cafe for a quick lunch, ordering a grilled ham and cheese (“tosti”) and poffertjes, a Dutch specialty of moist, melt-in-your-mouth mini-pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and served with butter on the side.
The Shelter Jordan staff speaks fluent English, as do most Dutch young people. They can book discounted tickets for tourist attractions like the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Most Amsterdam points of interest are less than a 30-minute walk from Shelter Jordan. Dam Square is 15 minutes away. Central Station, the main train station, is a 20-minute walk or eight-minute tram or bus ride from the hostel.
As I explored Amsterdam, I found Lonely Planet’s Amsterdam (327 pages, $21.99) to be a trusty companion. As other books in the series, it’s geared to adventurous travelers and has excellent descriptions of cafes, restaurants and nightspots, plus all the practical information you need for sightseeing—all organized by neighborhood. I especially liked the foldout city map and the 20 pages of easy-to-read neighborhood maps in the back of the book.
Shelter Jordan bookings can be made online at www.shelter.nl. The same Christian organization operates Shelter City, a hostel closer to Dam Square and Central Station.