22 April 2018

48-hours in Amsterdam


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

1.15pm 

After a very early morning, an airport croissant and a rather delayed flight, we make it to Amsterdam. Almost every other flight got cancelled, so we've beaten the odds to get here – now we've just got to make the most of it.

Time to brush off the Amsterdam wish list...

1.50pm

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.
Am I in Gringotts?

1.55pm

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?

I'm looking like a tourist version of ET

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, we're done with the tourist bit, let's go.

I had to crop about 5,000 people out of this shot

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!

2.25pm

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.

 This is basically the inside of my mind on a good day

I mean, look at these...

I may or may not have purchased four bars because the packaging was so beautiful

3.50pm

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'

Becky quickly walks away

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.

If I'm brutally honest, we get bored a few stalls in.

'Once you've seen three, you've seen them all'.

Pink tulips, orange tulips, red tulips, yellow tulips, lilac tulips... there were even blue tulips! 


Silk tulips, for those of us who can't bring real flowers home

4.15pm

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'
'Oh yeah!'

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.

Naturally, the menu looks like a newspaper

Admittedly I'm starving, but I think this toastie is the best toastie I've ever eaten.

Do you think they do overseas toastie deliveries? 

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. 

7.10pm

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.

8pm

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. 

9.20pm

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.'

Maybe shots make bill-paying easier to stomach? Or is it so people leave bigger tips?

Sunday 15 April

9.30am

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. 

A misty morning brightened up by tulips

10.30am

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 have to 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. 

The views of Amsterdam at 11am on a Sunday are mostly the buildings and canals, plus this houseboat museum

12.15pm

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.

You see that tower behind me? Those are the swings, right on the edge!

There's an I AMSTERDAM sign in front of the tower, so we stop for a quick photo first:

 Hanging out, spilling the T


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.

Enjoying the view with one of favourite human beings

'Do I mind heights or not? I can't remember'

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.

So, that happened

The first few seconds after you're propelled into the air are bizarre. Not entirely stomach churning, but your body definitely has a 'wait, WTF are you doing?' moment. Don't worry though, you quickly relax into the experience and enjoy the view!

Do you want to see a GIF of the event? Of course you do.


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.

My fringe never really recovered from the swing

It was still a little misty, so I felt like I was in a Scandi crime drama
1.45pm

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.

It's so sunny, as you can see from my reflective skin

'No, Nikki, we're not getting the lovers' canal cruise'

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. 

You don't get this view from the bus or by walking

2.30pm

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 photo booths.

A beautiful moment

Taking photos of a grand building I didn't even go in: The story of a blogger

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!

 Sucks to be Mickey

 Some call it vandalism, some call it art. I'll call it vart. 

This was voted the UK's favourite piece of art. Good choice!

4pm

'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

4.05pm

'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.'
'Oh.'

7pm

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?'
'Yes please'

Do you ever walk into a shop and think 'this doesn't seem legit'. That.

7.30pm

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

9am

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.

So wholesome

Time to plot our next move – there are a couple of things left on our to-do list and only a few hours left.

10.30am

We're in Vondelpark. It's warm and sunny - perfect for a couple of hours of strolling.

Can't argue with this view, can you?

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


12pm

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. 

Living my best life

What a handsome kitty

12.30pm

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.

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