Whilst I love the airport experience and flying off to new destinations I am what could be described as a fair weather flyer so a few extra fingers were crossed on Thursday morning when both engines on our airbus A319 were put into full thrust to get us off the ground and into 50mph gusts for the short hop over to Amsterdam. So windy was it that as we hurtled down the runway we were being buffeted sideways and when we left the ground, the movement of the aircraft was more akin to being on a boat at sea rather than in the air. A fellow traveller a few rows up found all of this a little too much and was busy filling his sick bag as well as the ones of the people next to him and I must admit that I wasn’t too far away from feeling ill myself. Landing wasn’t a lot calmer either and rarely have I been happier to feel all the wheels on the ground. Soon after this we were taking part in the usual scramble to get our luggage,smiling politely through gritted teeth while some knob gets in the way for the umpteenth time and pushes his rucksack in to my face. This flight was 45 minutes. 45 minutes with mobiles turned off and yet you’d think that it had been a week in solitary confinement for most people as the aircraft was full of the sound of text messages,email and voicemail all being received. The guy next to me has had a full check through Facebook before he’s even got down the steps onto the apron. Schiphol airport strikes me as both enormous and confusing as once into it passengers arriving and departing are all mixed together rather than segregated and it’s a full 15 min walk before passport control and our exit. Like many of our European neighbours the Dutch have built a fast and cheap transit system and for less than €5 we were on a waiting train which took us into the city centre less than 45 minutes after landing. And that’s the first thing that strikes me about this city, it’s so close to home and so easy and cheap to get to and yet the contrast with home couldn’t be greater.
We quickly found a McDonald’s where we could order a coffee and grab a map and decide what to do. We quickly decided that we would visit the Anne Frank museum and did our best to find it on the map before heading off to find a tram to take us there.Even though I already knew the story I didn’t really know what to expect from the museum and from the outside it just looked like a new build exhibition centre but once inside we realised that this had simply been built next door to the house she lived in all those years ago. As we passed from room to room following the story of how she’d had to leave Frankfurt seeking safety away from the Nazi’s, there are videos to watch and excerpts from her diaries written on the wall in both Dutch and English. The tour takes us through the original hinged bookcase that hides the entrance to their “secret annexe” and at that point the whole atmosphere of the place changes. The realisation that 8 people hid for their lives in this labyrinth of hidden rooms for nearly two years simply because of the fact they were Jewish,gives this house a sense of sadness. Seeing the pin ups that Anne herself glued to the walls and photographs from the times showing how the rooms we laid out only makes for the atmosphere to become more subdued. Then we climb a tiny, original and steep staircase to the very room that she was found in by the Nazi’s following an anonymous tip off and in that room are the actual Auswitch records of her, her mum, dad and sister. Prior to today I didn’t know that her father had survived. I also didn’t know that it’s thought that Anne was gassed to death only a few weeks before the allies liberated it. At the same time we were there a group of school children were also doing the tour and being children a few of the more uninterested of them were messing about and being annoying and loud while the rest of us maintained the dignity of the surroundings. Many of us, myself included looked angrily at their teachers for not controlling them properly but actually thinking about it now, given that Anne was forced to exist in virtual silence and not allowed to walk around freely, what this house needs are a few children to run about and make some noise and do the one thing that Anne herself couldn’t. Despite mine and many others disapproving looks towards the kids, maybe Anne herself would have loved it. I’m really glad we took the time to visit this place and recommend it highly.
With lunchtime rapidly approaching we decided we needed somewhere to eat. While the likes of Great Britain,Spain and the Dutch were busy stomping across the globe planting their flags and killing the natives,the Irish were busy following on just behind and opening a bar,so it came as no surprise to stumble across O’reilly’s Irish bar just off the main Dam square which was to become our eating and drinking place outside the hotel and a magnificent place it is too. Cracking service, brilliant food and great music all served with the obligatory Guinness. I thoroughly recommend you drop in should you be in the area. So from there we went to navigate our way to our hotel and again used the tram. €7.50 buys you 24 hours of tram travel which takes you everywhere you want to go and it was at this time that we began to find our bearings. After a few minutes of travel we arrive at our canal side home for a few days, the Notting Hill which turns out to be ultra modern, very classy without being over bearing and just far enough outside the city to be away from the hustle and bustle as well as close enough to be able to walk to everything. We decided that we would stay put here for the rest of the first day but not before it dawned on us that all Dutch people are tall. Our waiter was about 6’6″, the female guests at the hotel who were Dutch we’re tall too and even the passers by we had met we tall. Don’t know why, they just are.
So as day two dawned, we set out to explore. When it comes to these kind of breaks I like to get out and about, use public transport where possible and photograph as much as I can.Most residents of Amsterdam use bicycles so we therefore decided to go straight to the….. Tram stop to get a more civilised mode of transport. We walked to the flower market, rembrandts square and the rest of Dam square. We walked through the red light district on a Friday night and we saw the temporary home of the Van Gough paintings which is a road or so away.We had lunch in an Irish bar, coffee in a Dutch coffee shop and found an English bar for a few beers. We walked to a bar called the bulldog which we assumed was a British bar but turned out to be a place to buy recreational drugs and everyone else in there was stoned off their faces,and we walked through civilised shopping streets full of the same names we have at home. And this is the beauty of this city for me. It’s as diverse as I was lead to believe it was and as beautiful as I expected it to be as well as feeling very secure. For example, we walked through the red light district and yes of course there are shop windows with near naked women plying their trade in them while the streets a mix between tourists and clients yet the was no police presence and there was never a fear that at some point I might get mugged, pick pocketed or assaulted. I’ve walked through soho in London before and never felt anywhere near as secure.
Before coming home I was asked by someone to make a few recommendations as to what to do and where to go. After thinking about this for a bit,I think I’d have to recommend the hotel we stayed in, O’Reilly’s Irish bar and an App called “Amsterdam, the map” which cost about €3 but by far the best purchase I made on the trip and when you buy it you’ll know why. Buy the 24 hour tram pass too, you can get it on the tram itself and they will understand English perfectly. In fact a moment to shame all Brits,language wise, occurred on a tram: Coming home to the hotel on the Friday night, a group of youths boarded the tram without scanning their tickets. The tram conductor called out to them in Dutch to come and buy a ticket but got no response. So she then tried in crisp clear perfect English but got the same response. So she tried German….. and then Spanish before she eventually got her way. Here is,what to all intents and purposes is a bus conductor, fluent enough to converse in 4 languages being paid what I assume is a fairly mediocre salary to do it when our public transport announcers struggle with English on a day to day basis. We didn’t take a canal trip as we couldn’t see the appeal of it as all the pretty picturesque scenes are at street level not canal level.
I sometimes find that there are places where I don’t necessarily fit in for one reason or another but here I felt totally at home and would definitely go back without so much as a heartbeat of hesitation.In fact we have already agreed that one Friday later in the year we will finish work, fly there and have a relaxing few days away. Quick swift public transport got us back to Schiphol airport in time for our return flight home. I’ve flown Easy jet on a lot of breaks now and I know they’re not perfect and I know they can be a bit jobsworth but they have got me home safely every time AND on time and today’s was no different. This time though we had allocated seating but there was still the stampede for the seats when the gate opened and they still operate a speedy boarding system,the logic of which escapes me. Firstly they sit there all smug at the gate entrance pretending to be better than us cattle class passengers and secondly once the last of the ‘speedy boarders’ has left the building the gates are opened for us to start boarding and without putting any effort in, we over took many of them!
Back home sitting down and writing this has made me reflect over the last few days worth of my first Dutch experience and even though we were only in the city for a few days I found myself with a heavy heart when it came to leaving. It’s a city with beautiful yet quirky architecture as well as a historical tourist trail and a smile greets you everywhere so I thoroughly recommend that you go, in fact I think you’d be mad not to.