Last weekend, I flew out to Amsterdam with my friend Becky for a whirlwind tour of the Netherland’s capital. If you’re picturing red light districts and ‘coffee shops’, think again. We are grannies on tour.
Saturday 14 April
After a very early morning, an airport croissant and a rather delayed flight, we make it to Amsterdam. Now we’ve just got to make the most of it. Time to brush off the Amsterdam wish list.
I’m going to be honest, the walk down from the station (via an avenue called the Damrak) showcases the worst bits of Amsterdam: crowds, casinos, and hazy green clouds. There is one silver lining, though: eff loads of cheese shops. YAAAAS.
It might be the tackier tourist bit, but some of these buildings are actually really beautiful. There’s a green marbled corridor that looks like Oz, and old street reminiscent of Diagon Alley. Accio my hotel!
Dam Square is first on the list, just a 10-minute walk from the station.
There’s a woman blowing giant bubbles and a breakdancer who didn’t get enough attention as a child: ‘if I position myself even a little bit wrong, I could break my neck and die!’.
Maybe don’t do it then, mate?
(In case you’re wondering, he was fine.)
Dam Square is home to a royal palace, which looks very grand. And a Madame Tussauds, which looks slightly less so. OK, that’s enough of the touristy bit, let’s go.
Just a short walk from Dam Square lies the Amsterdam you’ll know from photographs and film. There are beautiful canals, those classic tall, thin buildings, and far fewer people. (I’m not a huge fan of humans crowds, so this was good news.)
According to Instagram (I half-planned the day by searching #Amsterdam, tbh), I should head to a cafe/boutique called Pluk – it’s only a few minutes away and it sells beautiful chocolate bars. I’m sold!
OH MY GOD, PLUK IS THE BEST SHOP I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE.
Imagine hip glassware and ceramics, chocolate bars in photogenic wrapping, adorable notebooks, gold jewellery, and freshly baked cakes. I could happily spend all my Euros right here.
Laden down with paper bags of confectionary, we head to Bloemenmarkt (the flower market). If you ever find yourself feeling bored, Bloemenmarkt is a super fun word to say. Try it.
En-route is Anne Frank’s house. It’s a little surreal to see tourists smiling and taking selfies with the front door, although I might just be bitter because tickets to the house sold out before we booked our trip.
Round the corner, we see a band of musicians, just starting up. One of them looks remarkably like Daniel Radcliffe.
They’re now singing In Spite of All The Danger, a very low-key Beatles song. So low-key it’s not even the Beatles, but the Quarrymen (pre-Ringo Beatles). I wish I wasn’t singing along, I think it’s scaring the musicians.
‘THIS IS MY JAM, BECKY’
Bloemenmarkt has about 15 pretty sizeable flower stalls along the road. The road is lined with cheese shops. The cheese shops have free samples. My middle-aged fantasies came to life.
April is apparently tulip season, so Becky is in heaven and buys a whole load of silky blooms for her flat. (But if I’m honest, we get bored a few stalls in.)
‘Once you’ve seen three, you’ve seen them all’.
Once we’ve had our fill of the multi-hued tulips:
‘Nikki, do you want to eat?’
‘Eat? Why? It’s 4pm’
‘All you’ve eaten today is half a croissant’
Lesson #1: Get yourself a best friend who reminds you to eat when you’re too distracted to remember human things like that.
We spot Calf & Bloom across the canal. It’s a beautiful brick building with vast windows and a waterfront terrace. Inside, it’s an interior designer’s dream.
Admittedly I’m starving, but I think this toastie is the best toastie I’ve ever eaten.
My stomach full of meat, cheese and bread (my preferred state), we head west to our hotel. This means navigating the tram system.
Lesson #2: Just buy a 48-hour tram pass, it’s a blessing.
Lesson #3: Google Maps is the best thing to happen to humanity. I love that it can work out all your public transport routes – including listing how many stops you’ve got and telling you when you need to get off.
Luckily, there’s a tram stop right outside the front door of our hotel.
Whatever Becky tells you, I did not fall asleep at 6pm on a Saturday for a whole hour. Help, I am literally 70 years old.
I think another sign of old age is heading across the road to the nearest restaurant instead of trekking the urban jungle for hours in search of the newest, hippest bar serving avocado quinoa.
Thank gawd, our local restaurant (La Casa Di Michael) is lovely and serves delectable italian food. According to the reviews, this is the best pasta and pizza you’ll sample outside of Italy.
I’ve never been to Italy, so I’ll take their word for it.
Our bill has arrived with Limoncello shots. As I don’t drink, Becky’s has to take one for the team and down both.‘Oh god, that is strong. I am a little tipsy.’
Sunday 15 April
We have a lot to do today, so we jump on the tram and head towards our chosen breakfast spot, The Breakfast Club.
The menu draws inspiration from London, NYC, and Mexico City, so whether you want pancakes, a healthy juice, huevos rancheros or a full fry up, you’re well catered for.
I’m charmed by the inside of this cafe. It looks like Pinterest come to life: white walls, metro tiles, chalkboards, huge hanging plants, distressed wood, and giant lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling.
My favourite part of the experience was listening to the two American girls on the next table trying to explain what ‘eggs over easy’ means.
This is a big day for both of us.
We’d only booked one activity before heading to Amsterdam: a ride on Europe’s highest swing. And by swing, I mean a metal contraption that swings you over the edge of a building, 100m in the air.
It’s meant to rain this afternoon, so we haveto do it soon. Maybe we’ll just let breakfast go down a bit first. It’s not that we’re nervous or anything… The safest thing to do, we decide, is walk there. That’ll give us 40 minutes to explore Amsterdam through the cool Jordaan neighbourhood.
We’ve arrived at the ferry that will take us across the IJ (that’s the water – it’s not a canal, sea, river or lake – yep, I’m confused too) and to our destination.
There’s an I AMSTERDAM sign in front of the tower, so we stop for a quick photo first:
And then it’s into the building, through the awkward mandatory green-screen photo session and up the dizzying elevator.
Suddenly, we’re at the top of the A’DAM Lookout.
We’re feeling confident and brave, not slightly nervous and regretting our life choices.
We don’t go straight to the swings, we spend a little while wandering around the top deck and enjoying the sweeping views.
‘Come on, let’s do it.’
After queuing for ten minutes, we’re sitting in the red metal chairs and getting strapped in. Yep, we’re about to swing off the edge.
Back on earth, we each grab a hot chocolate from the rooftop bar and agree:
‘I’m SO glad we did this!’
Lesson #4: Do something a little bit scary (within reason) on your holiday, it feels amazing once you’ve done it.
The next thing on my Amsterdam wish list is to visit a museum. Helpfully, many of the museums are clustered together in the aptly-named Museum Quarter.
We decide the best way to get there is via Amsterdam’s famous canals.
If you’re sightseeing, I highly recommend a hop-on-hop-off canal ticket. It’s a smooth, pleasant way to travel – plus you get lots of interesting bits of info you wouldn’t learn anywhere else.
Lesson #5: In Amsterdam, the canal boat is a valid form of transportation.
We get off the boat near the Rijksmuseum. There’s a cool-looking market going on – much better than our standard markets back home (you know the sort – they sell sausages and mysterious wooden ‘crafted’ objects). There are ice cream vans, pizza trucks, a stall selling sweary cross stitches (I can’t believe someone else makes them!) and photobooths.
Our hearts are set on something other than the Rijksmuseum, as we’ve spotted adverts for a Banksy exhibition at Moco. Somehow they’ve gathered over 50 original pieces – you can’t miss that!
‘Do you want to go back to the hotel and chill for a bit?’
‘Oh my God, yes’
Lesson #6: Go on holiday with a fellow Nana
‘Hello, could you tell me where the museums are?’
‘Just over there!
Becky, that lady just asked for directions! Do you think I look Dutch? Like I live here?’
‘Um, no… I don’t think so.’
Rampant with hunger because some silly sausage (me) had only eaten a pastry for breakfast and an ice cream cone for lunch, we head out to our dinner venue.
Only a 20-minute walk away, excellent reviews and –
‘Do you want to go leave and go somewhere else?’
Do you ever walk into a shop and think ‘this doesn’t seem legit’. That.
FAAM, a small restaurant that specialises in pizza, was only a few minutes away. I am pleased to report it looked very legit and the food was delicious. Plus, I get the feeling the diners are locals rather than tourists – which I like.
Monday 16 April
We’re eating breakfast in a library because obviously.
This is Cafe Belcampo, a friendly little reading cafe in the Food Hall. Like most of my favourite eateries here, it’s full of Amsterdam regulars rather than tourists.
Time to plot our next move – there are a couple of things left on our to-do list and only a few hours left.
We’re in Vondelpark. It’s warm and sunny – perfect for a couple of hours of strolling.
There are so many cyclists, joggers and dog walkers here – and people practising yoga or pilates. Amsterdam folk are healthy!
After an action-packed couple of days, it’s so nice to walk around, sit on a bench by a picturesque pond, and chat for a while.
I’ve no idea when I started enjoying parks and flowers and trees, but I have aged. Rapidly. #NanaClub
Have you ever heard of De Poezenboot? It’s a floating sanctuary for stray and abandoned felines. You can wander in and hang out with the cats (under the careful supervision of the Poezenboot volunteers, of course).
It’s pretty perfect for whiling away 20 minutes or so. Entry to the boat is free but donations are encouraged.
Feeling incredibly de-stressed from park walking and cat cuddling, we’re ready to travel back home. It’s time to walk back to the train station and weave through the Damrak area (ugh) again.
‘Ladies! Come in here, have a drink, smoke. Weed is good for you!’
‘I don’t think it is!’
Do you ever hear a shrill posh old woman reply to things and then you realise that voice belongs to you? No, me neither.
Goodbye, Amsterdam! Thank you for a wonderful 48 hours.