This is it. My first attempt at travel writing.
Amsterdam And Blast
I set off for the airport on a sunny September morn with the sound of my friend Tobias Brimington's* last words, still ringing in my ears: 'Under no circumstances are you to bring me back any clog-related souvenir type rubbish - do I make myself clear? If you do it'll be going straight into the bin. I'm not joking!'. I haven't known TB for 40 years without knowing not to take him seriously. I immediately made a mental note to remind myself not to forget to bring back a little present for TB.
I was on my way to Luton airport, (not our most glamorous airport! [poss. legal action if say this?]) for a weekend on my own, in wonderful, wonderful Copenh Amsterdam, made famous by the TV series Van Der Valk. Canals, tulips, tall houses, yellow trams, pancakes, mouses on stairs is what I was looking forward to experiencing.
I arrived in Luton airport and queued up to check in, along side a large party of men in their 60s, dressed in T shirts with the words, 'Lads on Tour' printed on the front. I considered pointing out to one or two of them that, as it was more than forty years since they could legitimately call themselves 'lads', they might feel more comfy in M&S cardies. I find though that however well-intentioned advice is, it is sometimes taken the wrong way, especially by those drinking pints of lager at 10.30 in the morning.
In just a few short hours we were all seated in the plane. The captain began speaking, in English, thank goodness: 'Welcome on board this short flight to Amsterdam. This is your captain, John Green.....'. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. I know I shouldn't admit to this but somehow I always feel happier when the pilot driving my plane is a man and is not called Pedro or Mohammed. Any woman would feel safe in the hands of a man with a good Anglo-Saxon name like 'John Green'.
The flight was short and enjoyable and I managed two large G&Ts before the pilot gave me a fright: 'The weather this evening in the Netherlands......'. I was on the wrong flight! I called one of the male air hostesses: 'I'm supposed to be on a flight to Holland!'. That little misunderstanding was soon cleared up.
I arrived at the airport and in no time at all was on a train to Central station. It was a double decker train and I allowed myself a nostalgic moment or two thinking about the dear old Routemaster, gone but not forgotten!
Central Station is undergoing extensive building work so it took half-an-hour to find the tourist information office. I must say, by this stage I was looking forward to putting my size sixes up [Fact checkers - US size?] in the bedroom of my canal-side hotel.
'This hotel is a long way away!'
The woman in the tourist office was a middle-aged lady so a few years younger than myself.
'You must take the Metro'.
I sometimes wonder why people choose jobs for which they are imminently unsuited. One would imagine that liking foreigners who do not speak Dutch was one of the essential requirements for the job of a tourist official in Amsterdam.
When I arrived at my hotel I was teensy bit disappointed to discover it was in a business park in the suburbs rather than overlooking Ann Frank's Haus [check -could this be considered disrespectful?]. I opted for the bottom bunk and was soon settled in.
Hunger drove me out into the Amsterdam night. I was soon in Rembrandtplein [sp?] which was very lively - lots of men, also wearing T-shirts. I chose a Dutch Italian restaurant for my evening repast. The waitress seated me at a little table in a bay window at the front of the restaurant where I could watch the people passing by. She bustled around, handing me a menu and lighting a small red candle on my table. For some reason this made me feel a little uneasy.
I ordered Risotto. English Risotto is a truly comforting dish made from creamy arborria rice, a glass of good dry, white wine, a handful of Parmesan cheese and a tablespoonful of wild mushrooms. Dutch Risotto is a slightly different dish. To make it you boil some mushrooms in one pan while in another you boil some American rice - you then combine these ingredients and fry in sunflower oil in a frying pan. I did my best to get through it while ignoring the rather rude people outside on the street who were staring in at me and sniggering. I suspect they were Germans.
I woke up on Saturday morning refreshed, with only a tiny crick in my neck, and ready for whatever the day could throw at me. I headed down to the hotel restaurant for a breakfast of cheese sandwiches which I had to make myself [is this normal in Holland?] and currant buns.
I spent the day going to markets. Albert Cupy is the busiest street market in Europe [that's what it said in the guide book - check needed?] and reminded me very much of our own Chapel market here in Islington, except with more herring and people smoking pipes. I could not help noticing how fond our Dutch friends are of coffee. There were coffee shops everywhere and I resolved to sample some of their wares before my visit was finished. Noordmarkt market [sp?] is next to a very nice Church - Protestant, naturally, and very much to my taste. I stuck my nose in the door and discovered there was something going on. A Dutch woman approached me:
'You are coming to the concert?'
'Oh no, my dear, I'm....'
'The best musicians in the Nederlands - hurry, it is just starting!'
'What is the concert?'
I got the last seat in the house. It was in the centre of the front row between two Dutch women. 'Oh you are very lucky indeed. You arrive so late - the last person - and yet you get the best seat of all even though you have not booked several weeks in advance like we had to do!'
I thought it politic not to mention the two euro discount.
I went back to my hotel for a little snooze and then my stomach told me it was dinner time. (It is strange how a large slab of apple cake and slag cream [sp?] looks so filling and yet half an hour later one is ready for something else?) I decided that I would go Dutch. I headed off to a little cafe I know in the Jordaan [called after Michael?] and ordered a typically Dutch dinner - boiled white fish, boiled carrots and boiled potatoes. Afterwards, I strolled up and down the cobbled streets next to the canals which was very relaxing apart from the few times I was almost killed by cyclists. Dutch swearing sounds so much nicer than the English kind.
The following morning after another breakfast of cheese sandwiches I headed out into the Dutch sunshine. It was a glorious day. My destination was the Reich museum [something to do with the occupation maybe?] where I saw some rather good Dutch paintings, including a lovely little thing by the once little-known artist, made famous by the film, Girl With A Pearl Necklace, Vermeer. There was also a special exhibition of a painting by Rembrandt of a man called Strada. I read all about it in the handily provided notes. (They did not mention that his ancestors this century, opened a chain of restaurants, rather unimaginatively called, Strada, here in London.)
The Dutch are very progressive except in one respect - they do not allow photography in their art galleries. Many of the visitors were milling around, confused - some were looking at the paintings through cupped hands - and others were just staring at their switched-off mobile phones. Poor lambs.
I lunched in a cafe nearby and due to some misunderstanding ordered potato soup without bread. It was a little bit disappointing but soon forgotten after another large slice of apple cake, this time in the Van Gogh museum cafe.
Van Gogh, made famous by the well-known song, Starry, Starry Night, was a Dutch painter who moved to the south of France and cut off his ear. All of his early works are pictures of potatoes painted in shades of mud - his later work is much more jolly - mainly sunflowers and pictures of himself with a bandage over his ear. Sadly he killed himself, allegedly because of teasing about his red hair [check this as may have accidentally made it up].
I left the museum district and headed towards Dam Square. I'm hardly the first person to notice this but the Dutch are very fond of bicycles. They cycle everywhere, often with a friend perched on the back or, more often still, with several small children, attached to the bike in some fashion or other with scant regard to health and safety issues. Everywhere you go there are small, dumpy figures, with blue eyes and blond, tousled hair on bicycles, waving their arms about and jabbering on in Double Dutch Really, one couldn't help coming to the conclusion that Boris Johnson must have fathered most of the under-5s in Amsterdam [poss. legal action]!
My little trip was almost over although important business meant I needed to remain in Holland for a further day or two. Sadly I never got a chance to visit a coffee shop and I'd completely forgotten to get the clogs fridge magnet for TB. Next time.
*This name has been changed.