Friday, 12 June 2015


Now I haven't fully committed to writing this post so I'm not entirely sure how it's going to go... whenever I go away I always go bearing my notebook and usually put a little time aside each day to write. Apparently Amsterdam doesn't lend itself particularly well to such behaviour, and instead this time was spent napping. As a result, I have only a list of events to go by and as two weeks have now passed (although I can hardly believe it; madness!) my memory is one hundred percent hazy. Let's see what I can do!

So I've been wanting to visit Amsterdam for some time. Every time I see photos I'm always intrigued, and actually I even remember way back when to a friend visiting in primary school and bringing clogs home and how desperately I wanted my own pair (perhaps something I should have kept to myself?)... Anyway, the overall view is that I'm very glad I've been, but I won't be rushing back. 'Been there, done that, bought 'traditional' souvenirs from the Christmas Shop'!?

We flew from Southend Airport and it was blissful! Such a simple process, so quiet, so calm, so unlike an airport. We were so relaxed we sat down to have breakfast... only to be called for an early boarding!? Totally unheard of, surely? The flight was the shortest flight I have ever experienced. Literally, no sooner had the seatbelt signs switched off and the tea trolley had made its way to the front two rows of passengers, it was back on again and we were making our descent. Absolutely blew my mind.

From the easiest airport experience to the quickest flight, we then arrived at Central Station, Amsterdam. Purchased a 3-day travel card (with attached map; London needs those!!) and made our way to the trams to reach our hotel. We somehow managed to figure the map out pretty easily to decipher where we were getting off. Our only concern was how we'd then find the exact location... until we a-spied our hotel from the tram!? We were there a good two hours before check-in but we hoped that they'd at least let us drop our bags. But they did more than that! Our room was ready! Too much good fortune?

Once we'd freshened up and settled in, it was time to find breakfast (which having been rushed on to the plane we had not yet had)! We were a short walk from a street lined with takeaway places which we'd identified as having potential for hangover curing but we figured there must be somewhere a little more civilised in the meantime. Having wandered around in the most ENORMOUS circle, we found ourselves in Burger King, back on afore mentioned street. Well, at least we knew what we were getting?

After what should really be called brunch by this point, we set off for another wander, this time with a better sense of direction (and a map). The hotel conceirge had circled various points of interest for us and with only three days, we decided we needed to cover as much ground as possible!

First impressions, good!
One place we'd been told to see was the flower market and with Amsterdam's tulip reputation, we felt it was probably something we should see. Turned out that just like everything else, it was right at the end of the road, a five minute walk from our hotel! It wasn't at all what I was expecting as obviously I associate 'flower market' with the likes of Columbia Road. Much more like a glorified garden centre, it was nevertheless pretty impressive with bulbs in clogs as far as the eye could see! Around we wandered until something that struck us with a sense of both amazement and disgust caught our attention. Something I have only ever encountered in tales of other people's travels, there it was. A Christmas shop. In May. Well of course we had to go in...

Out we skipped, me still singing carols (it's amazing what a bit of Christmas can do for your mood, no matter what the time of year) and on we ventured to our next destination.

Turns out canals make navigation incredibly difficult. As someone who prides themselves on a good (nay, excellent!) sense of direction, I could not get my bearings! Anyway, before we knew it we'd stumbled into a rather sleepy Redlight District where we tried to ascertain where life would be when the sun went down and counted Bulldog Cafés.

As we came back on ourselves to the Flower Market, we decided it was time to hop on a tram and go further afield. So we headed for the museum area (or 'Museumplein'). One thing we wanted to tick off was a photo with the 'I amsterdam' sign but we had the feeling it was a little way out of the city and would require a minor mission to find it. So when we stumbled upon it we were pleasantly surprised (although not so by the expected hoards of people photobombing)! Suddenly a sign advertising a sculpture trail caught my eye and in a bid to move away from the crowds, we followed it!...

Claiming that the walk was 10 minutes, at 20 we began to worry we'd missed it. However our feet led us on, so we followed. If nothing else, it was really interesting to see a very different side to Amsterdam. Away from the terraced towers lining the canals, the suburbs were rather Americanised with unusual but relatively uniform architecture; big cars, big doors, big houses! I will say too that Amsterdam (in the centre as well) is incredibly green!

I liked the windows...

We wandered around at least half of the sculptures (there were 70 in total) before heading again towards a tram to take us back to civilisation.

I rather began to enjoy the habit of napping each evening. Still trying to find some way of incorporating it into my working life... a nap and a hot hot shower after a day of endless walking put us in good stead for the evening's entertainment and another tick on the list, the Ice Bar.

I think we all worried the Ice Bar had the potential to be a let down, but we were definitely pleasantly surprised! The warmer bar beforehand was very cosy indeed and offered tasty free cocktails (well, included in our ticket). I think they probably kept it so warm that the ice would then not be such a shock to the system! As we sat there we were surrounded by people who obviously knew exactly what to expect, dressed in hats, big coats and gloves; the anticipation was real. A bell rang, a short film was shown to get us into the spirit of it all and then it was our turn. Adorned in enormous coats, we made our way into a tiny icy room where we drank from glasses made of ice, got accosted by a lairy Northern 'lass', witnessed men stripping (not included in the ticket) and where the hen took a shot from a ram's horn. Normal.

Having succumbed to a nap before our Ice Bar experience, when we got out we needed something to eat! Having had a few beverages by this point it was totally acceptable to grace the street of junk food with our presence. We found pizza. Tasty pizza, too. And for only £5 (for a whole one)!

Pizza consumed, we headed back to the hotel to change into something a little less comfortable before losing ourselves in what was possibly a gay bar where we were searched for 'lady weapons' by a man who then led us to lots of free drinks and a pretty great selection of music!

Day 2 brought with it beautiful sunshine! Before it disappeared again we decided to book tickets for a canal tour and a visit to the House of Bols in the afternoon and then Redlight tickets for the evening. Our canal tour wasn't until after lunch and we'd actually managed to get up and out pretty early considering the night before, so after a hearty breakfast of Wagamamas, we did some more wandering to pass the time.

The canal tour was the most relaxing event of our few days. I would quite happily return to Amsterdam if I could spend the entire time on the canals. On a small boat we were taking through tiny connecting tunnels past enormous homes with enormous windows, canal 'crossroads' and a multi-storey bikepark containing I think the 'captain' said ten thousand bikes!?

After our tour of the canals, we headed again to the Museum area. This time we actually ventured into a museum; the House of Bols. Possibly the most entertaining museum I've ever visited (I'm not usually a fan of museums unless they have specific exhibitions on), we got to sniff, taste and drink various ingredients then the cocktails themselves (which were yum by the way! I had a Golden Aztek which was chocolately and mm and then had a shot of Amore Parfait (or something along those lines) which tasted like a mix between roses and violet). Also had a go at bartending... I won't give up the day job.

Wanting to make the most of the sunshine, we walked back to our hotel from the station, armed with fries smothered in 'sautèsaus' from Mannequin Pis; SO yum!

This is where I stopped writing things down so excuse me if two weeks later my memory fails me...
Fuelled by what claimed to be the best fries in Amsterdam (to be fair they were pretty darn good and just what we needed at the time!) and refreshed by another nap, we were ready to venture into the Redlight District. I don't really think it's possible to describe the surreality that ensued. All I can say is that it just did not feel real. Like Barbies in lit-up boxes. Or wandering through a film set or a human zoo. It was odd. And our visit to the Museum of Prostitution did not make us feel better about it all. Anyway, I'm glad to have been. It was certainly an experience!

Our final day was fortunately a full day but we were still sad to be heading home (especially me, as at this point my shower at home was still out of action after more than 6 weeks and the hotel shower was hot)!

After some souvenir shopping, armed with the map we set off to find what appeared to be the only windmill in Amsterdam; when in Holland... it was on the very edge of said map and we had horrible premonitions that it would be tiny and a disappointment, but when we arrived we were completely overwhelmed despite the fact that it was residential and we couldn't go inside. When one is used to itsy bitsy windmills in Norfolk, this one was pretty impressive!

Via the longest stretch of market I have ever seen, we headed for a tram to take us back to civilisation. Once at the Central Station we decided that sitting in the sunshine in the museum area would be a nice way to spend the remainder of our day. Got a bit confused by trams this time (blame the two-day hangover) and ended up in the wrong direction but it was pretty interesting to see yet another part of the city that we wouldn't have otherwise seen!

The rest of our time was wiled away in glorious sunshine with ice cream, crisps and wedding talk.

Sad to leave but by this time also looking forward to bed, the 'weekend' (that was actually Mon-Weds but felt like a weekend) came to an end. So glad to have finally been to Amsterdam after wanting to visit for so long! We had so much fun and it is such a beautiful place!

Hens in a clog. As you do!

Now, onto the wedding. So. Much. Excitement!