Amsterdam

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Amsterdam, Holland.

Amsterdam. The final city in our three city whistle-stop holiday, which sadly was all over far too quickly; both the holiday and our stay in this wonderful city of canals and cobbled streets.

I deliberately chose to go to Amsterdam on a Monday rather than over a weekend, I’m not a party person and the thought of a city full of stag-dos and hen parties was horrifying. I want some semblance of peace and quiet while I holiday and don’t want to be lumped in with the louder drunken English tourist.

All our inter-city travel has been via train, it’s long been my favourite form of travel. Headphones on and gazing out the window as we move through the world is one of the true joys of travelling. I like to take photos through the window as we go, mostly unsuccessfully; a lot of attempts went into a virtual bin to get a couple that I liked. The countryside is mostly flat and rural, I was looking for olde worlde windmills but didn’t see anything other than large modern wind turbines; though there is a beauty in those as well; I’m glad I don’t live near them though.

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We loved Amsterdam, as in Brussels and Gent we stayed outside the centre but within easy walking distance; though we really didn’t do much in the centre, a quick walk through and that was it. We missed all of the central city attractions, mostly deliberately. I’m not that sort of tourist.

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We walked past Rembrandt’s house, I knocked, though he wasn’t in.

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The view from our hotel room in the Jordaan.

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We spent most of our time walking around the canals that fringe the centre of town. Canal side walking was such a joy, just like Gent the inner suburbs were dominated by cyclists and pedestrians. There were cars, but few and they all seemed to give way to those not in tin boxes, it was quite civilised. I don’t recall the constant blaring of horns at any minor inconvenience caused by someone cycling slowly up a cobbled single lane road. The Heineken sign is above the door of my favourite bar of the whole trip.

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One of things that I found very amusing was the number of (often white) vans parked on bridges, I have so many photos with unexpected and unwanted vans in them.

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I took a lot of photos of canals and bridges. Did you expect anything else?

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There were some great houses here, though not all of them were straight. I like the variety of residential architecture in the different European towns and cities I’ve visited over the years; different weather and environmental conditions has led to a different style of building. This makes urban walking so much more interesting.

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I loved these tiny cars, there were a lot of them about, some powered by cranky old petrol engines that sound like they’re held together with gaffer tape and ancient congealed grease and street dust, the newer ones are electric and silent; neither seem to move very fast. I’ve not seen these anywhere else.

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As in Gent and Brussels we found a number of quite chilled cafes and bars (not the ‘special’ kind’) to hang out in, mostly out of the main tourist areas. There was a bar round the corner from the hotel that I spent a couple of hours in over a couple of small beers while I read my book and listened to the dub reggae they were playing. It was the local bar I dream of having where I live but have never found. I guess everything looks better through the rose-tinted glasses of a holiday. On our last night we found a whisky bar that had a nice range of whisky based cocktails, we stayed for a couple; the music was good and they place felt nice; admittedly there weren’t many other customers. Like the gin bar in Gent on our first night this place also had ladderlike stairs going to the toilet, not a place for cocktail wobbly legs.

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When we planned the trip we intended to visit the world renown Rijksmuseum art gallery, but wow, it’s expensive!

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We decided we would visit the MOCO Modern Art museum instead, it was a bit cheaper and was focused on street and pop art rather than the classics. Amongst the Banksy and Warhols they were exhibiting a couple of Stik paintings, the kind of thing you normally see painted on city walls.

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MOCO was in the same precinct as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, another nice part of Amsterdam about 30 minutes from where we were staying.  There were quite a few people here, probably the largest volume of other tourists we’ve seen. A lot of accents and languages being spoken around the coffee and waffle cart tables.  It was nice and I miss that sort of thing quite a lot; I find a joy in being amongst strangers, who have all come to somewhere else to gather a drink coffee. Of course I don’t talk to them, that would be madness.

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All too soon it was time to head back home; a week away was enough to refresh, and enough for a taste of the low countries, but I left wanting more; which is a good thing. Like most other places I’ve visited, I would willingly come back.

The train back to London was really busy and I really should have checked out seats before we left, our view was, um, limited. At least we were near the bar.

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A 60th birthday treat to Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Wednesday 23 September 2022 – Gent, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Theoretically there’ll be individual blog posts with photos from all three places, though I can’t promise anything as I’m not enjoying the blog that much anymore. I feel it’s time is done, so we will have to see how it goes over the next few weeks. This could be the last one for a while, but then again it might not who knows.

I’m in a small neighbourhood bar a short way off the beaten track in Amsterdam as I type these first words into the laptop I’ve been lugging around for a week and not used until now. I like this bar, it’s small and dark, other than the Heineken the tap beer is all new to me so there is plenty of choice and the music playing at a sociable volume is some obscure (to me anyway) reggae. It’s all quite conducive to scribbling a few notes. In fact we haven’t been into a bad bar in the three cities we’ve visited on this, my 60 birthday trip away and the first time we’ve been to Europe since July 2018 when we last visited Valencia, a situation we have to change this coming year. I love and miss Europe, especially places off the beaten track like this small backstreet bar. Experience says bars in Europe are different to bars in the English speaking world, and different in a good way.

I spent far too much time to work out an affordable and sensible break for my birthday, initially trying to link a stay in a town to a concert by a band I liked. Nothing really made economic or time sense so I stopped trying and chose a simple train based trip to three towns in close proximity (read cheap) to England. I’ve not been to Gent (Ghent) or Brussels and last visited in Amsterdam almost exactly 35 years ago, very close to my 25 birthday. Eleanor’s experience of these places closely mirrors mine; she’s been to Amsterdam but not Gent or Brussels.

It’s now a number of days later and we’re back in London, Eleanor’s house sale and purchase is getting close to being finalised and we had a good weekend down at my flat. Work has been as busy as you would expect after two weeks away and I’m just getting my head back into writing a bit more of this post. Thankfully all the photo editing is done. I still stand by my earlier thought of winding the blog writing down, but aim to at least upload some of the edited photos I took in each city. There isn’t a lot of point in taking photos if they just stay on a hard drive in a dark drawer somewhere. Anyway….

It was a fabulous, awesome, wonderful holiday. It was so nice to be out of the UK for a few days and to spend that time in three great cities. We had nothing planned, other than the train back to London and a birthday meal in a restaurant in Brussels. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted; perfect.

It’s impossible to name a particular highlight and there is no way I can nominate one city over each of the others, I liked them all. So, here are some overall impressions and things I learned.

Cities with lots of cycling and walking and fewer cars are so much more pleasant than cities dominated by cars. In all three places non-car based transport was king.
I like trams.
Lots of young people smoke cigarettes in NW Europe; there was very little vaping going on. I was surprised.
The music in all the bars we went into was way better than most bars in London and Auckland.
The gin in Gent is lovely, as were the bars we drank gin in.
Every bar we visited I felt like I could rock up on my own, order a small beer and read a book in a corner on my own and the other customers would not make me feel like I was weird.
Canals are awesome.
Walking 20,000 + steps a day seven days in a row is tiring; though not walking up steps meant my knee survived the trip.
Neither Gent nor Brussels are dead flat.
Brussels had a car free day on the Sunday and I loved it.
Everyone speaks English; my constant shame is not speaking another language.
Good coffee can easily be found everywhere.
Excellent vegan food is easy to find.
The trains in Europe are cheaper than the UK by a long way.
In Amsterdam vans park on canal bridges.
I still love castles and cathedrals and cobbled street and anything that is a bit old.
I still love mainland Europe a lot and feel I’ve wasted years not coming here as much as I should have.

A favourite photo from each city; not for the quality of the photo, just for the memories.

Gent
Gravensteen Castle and the lovely Le Alchemist, a gin bar over the road from the castle that we nipped into as it was raining.

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Brussels
Car free Sunday

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Amsterdam
Vans parked on photogenic bridges over equally photogenic canals.

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