A civilised, cultural city
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Monday 12 August: Got up at 4 o’clock in the morning, and Rob drove us to Leeds/Bradford airport, ready for our 7am flight to Amsterdam. We arrived at Schiphol at 9.15 local time, and took a packed train into Central Station. It was standing room only on the train, which was covered in graffiti both inside and out! From the station we hailed a taxi to take us to our hotel, Banks Mansion. This fabulous boutique hotel is situated on the banks of Amsterdam’s finest canal, the Herengracht (Gentlemen’s canal). It was too early to check in, so we left our bags and headed off to Rembrantplein for an al fresco breakfast at L’Opera. After a welcome breakfast, we walked round to the floating flower markets, alongside the Singel canal. As well as the flower markets, there were lots of shops specialising in Dutch cheeses, with plenty of free samples too! There were also shops here selling all kinds of dope, which of course is legal in Amsterdam. We decided to take a one hour canal cruise next, to help us find our way around. This was a great idea, although the boat was nearly full and very warm inside. Nevertheless we got to see lots of the sights, several canals, and The IJ, Amsterdam’s busy waterfront. (The IJ, pronounced eye, simply means water in English). Amsterdam has over 100 canals, and over 1,000 bridges, so we only got to see a small percentage, but many more than we would have done on foot! After the boat trip we fancied a Dutch delicacy, chips with mayonnaise, and found them at The Chipsy King. Dutch service is quite laid back, to say the least, and the fries took an age to be served up, but they were delicious! It was now time to check in, so we set off back to our hotel, and were told that we had been given a complimentary upgrade to a room with a canal view. We were also informed that everything was included in our stay, including drinks from the bar! After unpacking, we were treated to complimentary refreshments and nibbles. This included a selection of Dutch cheeses, a range of meats, olives, freshly baked breads, along with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Several wines and beers later, we headed out to Café Luxembourg for dinner. This stylish café is one of Amsterdam’s most famous venues, and was named “one of the world’s great cafes” by The New York Times. It lived up to expectations, and I enjoyed a superb Dover Sole, which was absolutely delicious, and came with yet more frites and mayo. After dinner, we walked around by the Singel canal, and ended up in O’Malley’s Irish bar, listening to old sixties music. We eventually found our hotel again, and enjoyed our complimentary nightcaps, Tia Maria for me. A perfect end to a wonderful first day in Amsterdam.
Tuesday 13 August: We came down for breakfast, which was continental, although a delightful egg chef would cook you eggs in whatever way you requested. Fried, scrambled, boiled etc. I chose an omelette which was cooked freshly in front of me, and served directly to my table. Marvellous. After breakfast the four of took a tram to The Rijksmuseum, which is one of Amsterdam’s biggest attractions. It had been closed for renovations for ten years, and only re-opened in April 2013. The most famous painting in the gallery is Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch, and this is brilliantly displayed in its own gallery, the Night Watch Room, at the end of the Hall of Fame. This museum also houses The Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer, another Dutch work of genius. This museum is one of Europe’s best, without a doubt, but suffers from being too busy, and too noisy. It is also difficult to find your way around, and some paintings attract crowds which can be ten deep, or even more for the really famous paintings. My other gripe was that you had to queue for everything. Queue to get in to the main gallery, queue to hand in your coat, queue for toilets, queue for the café and so on. Also, the information panels next to each painting were too small, and I couldn’t always get close enough to read them. We decided to leave the gallery for lunch, and headed off to find somewhere quieter. We ended up at an eatery called Pompa, which looked ok. I chose bread and cheese, expecting a Dutch Ploughman’s lunch, but literally got two thin pieces of cheese, along with some dry bread. Katy’s meal was forgotten, as was part of Rob’s order. Katy and I went to Vondelpark after lunch, and enjoyed strolling round Amsterdam’s finest park. There is an urban myth surrounding this park that says that starting in September 2008, adults were planned to be legally allowed to have sex in the park, as long as they "take their garbage with them afterwards and never have intercourse near the playground, and the sex must be limited to the evening hours and night". We didn’t see any lovers, but I was delighted to see grey herons, rose-ringed parakeets, and some Egyptian geese. After an ice cream in the park, we took a tram back to the hotel, and arrived in time for cheese and bread, which was much better than my disappointing lunch. After a few complimentary beers we took a tram to the city centre. I had read about an underground glow in the dark crazy golf course in a pub named Noah’s Arq, and I was keen to check it out. We found the pub opposite the waterfront, and sure enough, there was a golf course in the cellar. Armed with our 3D glasses, we descended to the pub’s basement and had great fun putting our fluorescent balls around 15 of the wackiest crazy golf holes you we ever see. This was excellent entertainment, and highly recommended. We then took a bus back to the centre, and decided to explore the red light district before dinner. It didn’t feel seedy here at all, just full of tourists like us checking out the area. If anything, it was simply a pleasant stroll along another of Amsterdam’s many canals. We found a restaurant down an alleyway that was surprisingly upmarket. It was called Blauw aan de Wal (Blue on the quay). Normally you would need to book to get in here, but we were shown to a table up on the second floor. Although this is a top restaurant, there were only two choices of starter on the menu, and likewise only two choices of main course. I went with some sort of salmon and oysters concoction as my starter, but I wasn’t keen on the texture. For main I got raw tuna in ginger broth, and was similarly unimpressed. To be fair, everyone else in our party were impressed with their meals, so maybe it was just too posh for me! By the time we left Blue on the Quay, the red light district was absolutely buzzing with punters and tourists. We made our way back through the throng to the tram station, and arrived back at our hotel around midnight, just in time for a port and lemon nightcap.
Wednesday 14 August: Day three in Amsterdam began with French toast for breakfast, followed by a short stroll to the Katten Kabinet (cat museum). The Cat Cabinet offers a wide look at the role of the cat in art and in culture through the centuries, and was a real treat for me. Everything here is cat related; there were even two resident cats in the foyer. The Cat Cabinet was founded in commemoration of the ginger cat John Pierpont Morgan (1966-1983). This special cat was the stubborn, headstrong companion of the museum's founder, Bob Meijer. The only downside was that the gallery was really rather small, and only kept our attention for half an hour or so. We headed back along Herengracht until we reached the museum of bags and purses, a museum that is exclusively dedicated to bags and purses. Now this may not sound all that thrilling, but I was surprisingly impressed with this attraction, and both Katy and Kate really enjoyed it. There was a lot to see, and we spent over an hour looking at the weird and wacky exhibits, such as bags in the shape of cupcakes, telephones and even The Titanic! Not only was this a fabulous museum, they had an amazing tearoom, where we stayed for a lovely pot of Lady Grey tea, and chocolate mocha cake! After a splendid lunch we walked to Waterlooplein to explore the famous flea market. This bustling market sells everything from Che Guevara posters to bicycle parts, and African drums to military uniforms. The busy square is named after the battle of Waterloo, and stands near to the impressive Amstel River. None of us were tempted to buy anything, so we carried on to The Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. Located in the city centre of the Dutch capital, the garden is a beautiful and intimate place with a unique collection of plants. As it was a warm summer’s day, this was a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. I was particularly impressed with the butterfly house, and the small Mexican greenhouse. Desperate for a cold beer, we were lucky to find one of Asterdam’s famous bars, Café de Sluyswacht. This iconic sloping house overlooks the widest canal in Amsterdam, the Oudeschans, with a great view of The Montelbaanstoren, a 500 year old tower. We sat outside on the terrace watching the canal boats go by, whilst enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Rob and Kate went off to do their own thing, while Katy and I went for a cone of chips at Waterlooplein market, before setting off back to the hotel. As usual there were cheeses, breads, crisps and other nibbles on offer, along with some very welcome chilled white wine. In the evening Katy and I walked down to Rembrantplein, which at night is brash and bustling with locals, and tourists looking for food and drink. We settled on La Madonnina, an ok looking Italian restaurant with seats outside, overlooking the square. The food, when it arrived, was very average, and the staff looked totally disinterested. I even saw one stood near our table having a cigarette, while texting on his phone. I checked later on Trip Advisor, and read that this restaurant is one to be avoided at all costs. What a pity I hadn’t seen the reviews earlier! After dinner we walked round the square, and I saw one place with long queues waiting to get in, so, of course, I had to go and see what is was. It turned out to be a Magnum pleasure store! Here you can create your own Magnum, and the staff will make it up for you while you wait. A great idea, but we didn’t fancy queueing for an ice cream, so instead we popped into a nearby newsagents, where I was able to buy a Crème Brulee Magnum. Magic on a stick! Later back at the hotel I enjoyed a whisky nightcap, to round off a wonderful day in Amsterdam’s capital city.
Thursday 15 August: Unfortunately Katy was not feeling too well this morning, so after checking out we sat in the hotel lobby playing knockout whist. Once Katy was on the mend we went out for a walk to Begijnhof, which used to be a refuge for pious women. Maybe there are not so many pious women around these days, as these houses are now occupied by low-income female senior citizens. This is a rather odd tourist attraction, as it brings in loads of tourists, to what is effectively someone’s place of residence. After exploring this pretty area, we went to The Amsterdam Museum. This massive historical museum is on the site of a former orphanage, and, as you would expect, tells the story of Amsterdam. This museum would interest locals more than tourists, but still has plenty to fascinate any casual museum-goer. It’s bigger than it looks, and we all managed to lose each other. Where would we be without our mobile phones? We eventually met up again in the courtyard, and went in search of somewhere to eat, and found ourselves in Tomaz, which is promoted as being an oasis of calm in the bustling centre of Amsterdam. It was, in fact, a very fine café, although as with most cafes in the city, service is rather slow. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, had we not booked a taxi to the airport from the hotel at 4.30pm. The food arrived at 4.10pm! With just ten minutes to eat, and ten minutes to scamper back to the hotel, we all ended up hot, bothered and breathless, although the taxi driver was quite laid back, so we had time to cool down before setting off back to airport with time to spare for our 7.15pm flight home. We arrived back at Leeds/Bradford at 7.30pm local time, after four magical days in Amsterdam, a civilised, cultural city which I would recommend to anyone considering a city break.
157 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
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