Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Silver Wedding Anniversary celebration trip to Amsterdam

Wonderful Amsterdam
Hi again,

Thursday 21st August was our 25th wedding anniversary. We had decided some time ago that we would celebrate it with a trip to India in December. However, I just couldn’t let the date go by with a simple dinner. After all it’s not every year you celebrate 25 years of happy marriage. I decided at the beginning of July and on the spur of the moment to book a trip to Amsterdam. It had to be a city that was romantic and that what was new to both us. I had been before on quite a few business trips but had only actually ever seen Anna Frank’s house and not much else.

Keeping the secret for over a month was not easy and the few days before the big day I was on tenterhooks, not lest because we were supposed to be in a saving mode.

The worst thing about the whole idea and trip was the coincidence of the terrible air crash at Madrid airport the night before. As we were following the events on TV, Eladio kept saying how he wouldn’t want to travel by airplane for a long time!

I hardly slept the night before. When the alarm finally went off I started telling Eladio gently that that night he would not be having dinner in Madrid. It took some telling and not until after his shower did he react. Frankly he is not the right target audience to prepare such a surprise. Surprising your partner with a trip has always been a dream I would like to happen to me and as it has never happened and it probably never will, I have done it to my partner. Eventually Eladio was very happy with the trip of course, but after this experience I don’t think I will ever prepare a surprise like this again.

After an uneventful trip, unless you count the slight apprehension about flying, we arrived late afternoon in Amsterdam and took the train to the famous Central Station. The sun was shining and we couldn’t have felt happier.

We booked into the Amrath Hotel nearby and settled in for our 3 day stay. The hotel was good but not our style; all a bit dark and gloomy. The building had been the Dutch maritime offices and the whole place is built like a ship. Each room is different and I’m not exaggerating if I say the ceilings were at least 5 metres high. On the plus side our room looked out on a canal and the “wellness centre” (how I hate that word) was excellent with its Jacuzzi, Turkish bath, swimming pool with power jets and a choice of 3 saunas. We spent some time there every day!
Eladio by our hotel, map in hand ready to explore the terrain
The first day we just had time to do a bit of exploring and ended up walking for nearly 2 hours!. What is most memorable about Amsterdam are the canals and the bicycles. We learned later that there are 165 of the former and more bicycles than people. There are also apparently 1919 small boats and 1200 bridges. There are also many boat houses, some of which we could see from our room. We read in the guide book that it is the dream of the inhabitants of Amsterdam to live in a boat house on a canal. It looked romantic but perhaps lacking in the main home comforts to spend your life there or so I thought.
Me by one of the many many canals
Bicycles as transport are a way of life in Amsterdam. There are hardly any cars so the streets are really quiet. They also seem to have preference to pedestrians and you have to keep you eyes open the whole time not to get in their way. On top of the locals using bikes, so do a lot of the tourists which makes getting around Amsterdam a bit dangerous some times. I can safely say there must be as many bikes here as in Shanghai and I have been to both places!
Bicycles and bicycles galore
Thousands are also lifted out of the canals on a weekly basis, as are cars and even dead bodies; at least one a week! Actually we found Amsterdam rather a dirty city which is quite inexplicable for such a rich country as Holland. The canals are literally filthy. We witnessed a barge lifting out bikes and also saw the amazing debris in them.
What is also memorable about Amsterdam, unfortunately, is the Red light district. It is also Amsterdam’s number one attraction! I had seen it before and it was actually the first thing we saw this time as it was so near our hotel and we almost had to go past it to go anywhere. Later I realised just how grotesque it is. There are 2 main canals and side streets dedicated to it and many of the buildings house the windows where the prostitutes show their wares and entice passers by in. The last thing you should do in Amsterdam is take photos of them. I was stupid enough to try and later heard you could get stabbed for doing it.
Forbidden picture of a window (work going on inside) in the Red light district
I had planned the trip but hadn’t really done much research on the restaurants. Soon we were to learn that Holland doesn’t have much to offer in gastronomy unless you like rather bland cheese. Having said that I must admit that their bread and butter is actually also very good.

Believe it our not our anniversary dinner took place at an Indian restaurant called Kamasutra in the red light district itself, but it was actually very good.

The weather took the turn for the worse and on Friday it rained the greater part of the day. But as we are walking people come rain or shine, we put on our best smile and weathered the rain with our anoraks.

On Friday we visited the fascinating little courtyard and houses which had belonged to the Begin RC religious order called Begijnohf. It is like a little town inside the city and is very peaceful. Even today it is inhabited by women only. It is a very special place.
From here we made our way to the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s top attraction according to Trip Advisor. Luckily I had bought the tickets online so we didn’t have to queue up. And the queues were long! As we are not great museum or gallery people we did the round of the 200 paintings quite quickly. I think if there had been fewer people we would have looked at them for longer but this wasn’t possible. The museum is impressive but there are just too many people.

The forbidden photo, the famous sun flower painting.
From the Van Gogh Museum we made our way to the St. Nicholas Canal Cruise organisation which was highly recommended on Trip Advisor. It turned out to be a “free” (tip only) canal tour on an old open boat for about 10 people. People were encouraged to smoke dope and eat on board. Our fellow passengers who were all in the early 20’s were not at all interested in hearing about Amsterdam or seeing the sights from the boat. The German boys in front of us were obviously quite high on whatever they were smoking and seemed almost asleep!

The only photo of the two of us, on the St. Nicholas canal cruise
Our “captain” Diego was Argentinian and it was from him we got all the interesting statistics about bicycles etc. On the canal tour we were able to see many of Amsterdam’s sights including the Westertoren (tower visible from everywhere), the Weight House (I think that’s what it’s called – where they used to weigh prisoners and witches who were to be burned at the stake during the Inquisition!), Anna Frank’s house on Prinsengracht (Amsterdam’s longest canal), the building that had housed the Gestapo HQ in the war, the famous House of the heads, the amazing floating Cat’s house on one of the canals as well as the smallest and second smallest houses in the city.

Typical Dutch houses
We found a great little place for dinner that day called Hemelse Modder on Oude Waal near our hotel.

Unfortunately on Friday I was tortured by a terrible headache. So I wasn’t really able to enjoy the visit to the Resistance Museum or to Rembrandt’s House and when we saw the enormous queue for Anna Frank’s house, we decided not to go in. Neither did I appreciate the Waterloo and Noordermarkt flea markets that day. Amazingly I didn’t buy anything at all.

Luckily a long session in the sauna at the “wellness centre” in the afternoon helped my headache and we were able to go out to dinner. This time it was to the slightly disappointing Look Restaurant round the corner from our hotel.

And all so soon the surprise trip was over. Our flight was at midday so there was plenty of time for shopping at Schipol airport. Here we filled up with cheese, biscuits, chocolates and wooden tulips!

It was lovely to be home again. The house was full of people as, apart from the girls’ friends, Anne and Timo had arrived and would be staying with us for 3 or 4 days. Their arrival was a great excuse for a big family dinner for all.

Timo and Anne with me, relaxing by the pool.
And you can see more photos of our trip on Facebook

Cheers till next time.


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