Amsterdam – Day 3-4 (Dec 2015)

Following on from days one and two in Amsterdam, I had one final full day (Thursday) to enjoy the city before waving goodbye to Amsterdam on the Friday. My only concrete plans for Thursday were in the evening so I had the rest of the day to do as I liked.

There weren’t many things I felt like I “had to do” whilst in Amsterdam, I was pretty relaxed and flexible about the trip but two things stood out. The Anne Frank house which I’d visited the previous day and a canal boat tour. I’d explored plenty on foot already but thought it’d be cool to kickstart my day with a tour on the water.

I headed down to the area the tours departed and got a ticket for an hour long tour. I enjoyed it, it was an interesting way to see the city and allowed me to see a few parts I hadn’t seen before. Our captain talked about the history of the city and pointed out some cool points of interests along the way. It’s such a pretty city and the canals play a big role in that so it was good to see them in a little more depth.

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Having now ticked off my two “must do’s” I had no real plans left until the evening. I passed a little café and decided a cup of tea was a good chance to ponder what to do whilst enjoying a little people-watching. It was away from the main tourist crowds so was a good opportunity to mix in and see what the locals get up to.

I decided I’d go and explore the area around the I Amsterdam sign and that I could probably squeeze in a museum or two too. Walking in that direction took me via Amsterdam’s famous Bloemenmarkt (flower market) which was particularly pretty with a range of colourful flowers on display, including the tulips you’d hope to see at any good flower market in the Netherlands.

As pretty as they were I avoided the temptation to take any flowers home with me and got back on track to where I wanted to be. Soon enough I was looking up at this spectacular building which is home to the Rijksmuseum. At the back of the building was a pretty garden area with some sculptures and then a little further on was the I Amsterdam sign and an ice rink overlooking the area.

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I expect this area attracts a lot of tourists anyway, it’s an “Instagram favourite” so no doubt draws crowds whenever you visit but as I walked up there was this large red truck in front of me. It was the Coca Cola lorry! Santa was in town and was all too happy to give me a thumbs up – I guess I wasn’t on the naughty list! Hurrah!

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Santa had a busy day ahead of him so I left him to it and got some photos from around the area and moved on to the Rijksmuseum for a while. I spent a bit of time there before moving onwards and looking for somewhere to grab an early dinner. Pretty closeby was Amsterdam’s Hard Rock Café, as some of you’ll know by now – a favourite of mine. It was in a good location overlooking the water and met the usual HRC expectations.

Following on from food I had a bit of time to kill. I passed the Heineken brewery and was tempted to give the tour a try but there was a bit of a queue and I didn’t have an endless amount of time so instead had a little wander before catching the metro to the evening’s big event I’d been looking forward to!

I was off to the football! The Netherlands most illustrious football club, Ajax, just happened to be playing at home in Amsterdam! It wasn’t a particularly glamorous game by Ajax’s standards so after tackling the ticketing website in Dutch I managed to pick up a ticket for the game – sat right at the very back of the upper tier mind you.

I have a general ‘bucketlist’ of places I want to visit and then an additional ‘football bucketlist’ which occasionally overlap. I’d obviously wanted to visit Amsterdam at some point but similarly I’d always dreamt of going to watch Ajax someday. Growing up they were a club I’ve always held a huge respect for and the good relationship between Ajax and my beloved Tottenham hasn’t harmed that either.

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I was in the stadium pretty early. I’d anticipated there being a little more near the ground to entertain myself beforehand but with little to keep me amused I figured I’d just go in and soak up the atmosphere. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but it was a “must win” game for Ajax if they were hoping to progress in the Europa League so come kick off there was a bit of a buzz in the air with flags waving and most of the noise coming from the corner of the opposite stand.

I’d like to think for a bigger game the atmosphere would have been better but Ajax’s noisiest section of fans did their best in keeping the noise going and trying to get the rest of the stadium involved.
One of the favourites amongst the Ajax vocal support was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds’ – synonomous with Ajax football club but feeling a little surreal watching a game between a Dutch and Norwegian football team in Amsterdam and hearing the fans singing in English.

It’s hard not to be impressed by it either. I’m sure Bob Marley didn’t write it with the intention of it being sung by thousands of Dutch fans at a football game but in unison it sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s so damn catchy too, it was stuck in my head for days! “Baby don’t worry..”

and now again! Damnit Ajax! The video above is actually from this summer when Bob Marley’s son attended an Ajax game and sung it together! Incredible!

Anyway despite Ajax’s best efforts the result didn’t go the way it needed to. It finished 1-1 but Ajax’s slim hopes of European football in the New Year were dependent on winning this game so a draw left many, including myself, rather frustrated.

Ajax were playing in the 7pm-ish fixture which ended around 8:50pm I suppose. My beloved Tottenham were then playing at 9ish (8 UK time) so I was hoping to make a mad dash in to the centre to find a bar – expecting to miss a chunk of the game.

Post-match traffic / delays seemed minimal. I don’t know why – better efficiency perhaps but I was pretty much straight on to the metro and back in to the heart of Amsterdam. Somewhere along the way it started raining so I walked out on to the street with the rain falling and jumped in to the first bar that caught my eye. I’d only missed around 10 minutes but Spurs were already winning 1-0.

I grabbed myself a drink at the bar and seemingly missed us score a second. I initially thought I’d be lucky to see the first half, I’d amazingly only missed 15 minutes of the game and we were 2-0 up. Typically Tottenham had chosen tonight to start so impressively.

We scored a third before half-time so it made the rest of the game a chore in all honesty. Spurs had wrapped the game up in the first half which meant the second half was played at a rather pedestrian pace. I’d wanted to finish my night with a couple of beers and some good football but Spurs had taken their foot off the gas. I spent most of the second half people-watching, amused at the drenched pedestrians outside whilst looking on at the drunken conversations taking place across the rest of the bar.

The game finished and I took that as my sign to call it an evening. It was just shy of 11pm so I hurdled the puddles of Amsterdam and made my way back to my hostel. I walked in to the bathroom of my dormroom and it was clear I had new roommates.
A huge selection of beauty products were sprawled across the bathroom that hadn’t been there this morning!

Within a few minutes the ‘beauty queen’ had returned – “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!!?” she asked.

Wait, what? A million questions started running through my head. I’d been exploring Amsterdam obviously. Is that not an expectation in hostels? How long have you been waiting for me? Have you regularly been returning awaiting my arrival? I was a tad confused – “sorry, didn’t realise there was a curfew!!”

In her defence it was a question formed out of friendliness. She was clearly sociable and looking to make new hostel / traveler friends and I’d, rather selfishly, spent my whole day out of the hostel doing my own thing. Having made our introductions it only took a couple of minutes before she followed it up with an invitation to the hostel bar.

At long last!! Wait, no, I’m leaving tomorrow and could do without waking up hungover. What do I do? Where were you when I wanted friends to mingle with on Tuesday and Wednesday night? You’re a day too late!
I was a little hesitant. I was looking forward to a chilled end to the night and getting comfy in bed.

My new hostel friend made her way to the bar without me and after overthinking it a little too much I decided to make my way in the same direction. I’d been disappointed at the lack of social interaction the last two nights so why not make up for it?

It wasn’t long before I was in conversation with new friends and perhaps just coincidental but I seemed to get talking to a few other people this night too. Why it had to happen on the last night I don’t know. This was what I’d wanted earlier in the trip! Sadly I took the sensible approach and after 2-3 beers called it a night. No hangover this time but at least I’d ended the trip on a positive. Thursday had been my favourite day in Amsterdam and I was sad it was almost at its conclusion.

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Friday morning I was up bright and early – and hangover free! My train home from Brussels was mid-afternoon so it left me with a few options. I could explore Amsterdam a little more before catching a later train to Brussels, I could go to Brussels now and spend some of my afternoon in Brussels exploring or I could potentially travel to somewhere in between and squeeze in some time in a new city.

Call me cynical but the UK train network has made me distrusting of trains ever being reliable so I decided I’d get on the first train to Brussels. Better that than risk getting stuck in Europe because of train issues later on. I think it was the right decision, soon enough I was back in Brussels.

I’d first visited Brussels two years earlier (Dec 2013) but more recent than that, I’d been to Brussels about six weeks ago! One of the bonuses to having visited a place is knowing exactly where everything is! I only had 3 or so hours in Brussels so luckily didn’t have to waste any of that finding my bearings, Brussels was still fresh in the memory from October so I was quickly on to the metro system and in the heart of the city.

Brussels is nice, probably not a city you’re ever going to fall in love with but it is likeable. However I think if there’s ever a time you’ve going to fall in love with the city it’s going to be in December.
It’s incredible how different a city can change in barely six weeks. Brussels appearance had been uplifted and there was a bit of Christmas magic in the air. It’s dreariness in October had been replaced by Christmas decorations and Christmas markets lighting up the city.

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There was only one place to start my limited time in Brussels and that was with the appropriately-named Grand Place. No matter how many times you walk in to this square it doesn’t seem to be any less breath-taking. I strolled down to see what festive attire Brussel’s peeing boy (Mannekin Pis) was wearing on this occasion and then I went to find a spot of lunch.

I settled down with some good food and enjoyed my last taste of some Belgian beer for a while – it hadn’t been particularly long since my last visit but it felt good to be back in Brussels. As content as I’d have been to keep watching the Belgian beer flow, sadly I knew time was passing by all too quickly. I made one last little walking lap of central Brussels before bidding it farewell and making the slow journey back to London.

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Amsterdam had been wonderful, everything I’d hoped it would be and a few hours in Brussels just rounded off my 2015 travels perfectly. I arrived back in London, enjoyed the festive period at home and then switched my focus towards the first of my 2016 travels.

Stories of that will follow soon but next time round on the blog I’ll be sharing which city I’ll be visiting next week!! Stay tuned!

Jason!

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Amsterdam – Day 2! (Dec 2015)

Day one in Amsterdam had been a bit low-key, I spent a chunk of the day traveling and being December it was already dark by the time I’d arrived late-afternoon. It was also pissing it down with rain which meant there was only so much exploring I wanted to do on my first evening.

So I woke up relatively early on the Wednesday morning keen to make the most of my first full day in the city. Amsterdam is just one of those places that wins you over pretty quickly. In December you have a lights festival sprawled over its canals which makes it look spectacular after dark but it turns out it’s no less impressive by day either.

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After Tuesday evening’s miserable downpour I was pleasantly surprised to wake up to blue skies, hopeful they’d last and make exploring the city a little more enjoyable. I wanted to kick my day off with a ‘free’ walking tour of the city. I find these are useful for familiarising yourself with a new city, see a few of the sights and learn a bit about the city in the process.

I’d got out in to the streets a bit earlier than anticipated though and the starting point wasn’t as far from my hostel as I thought either so I arrived far too early, giving me a chance to have a little wander nearby beforehand.

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As I strolled along one of the canals, admiring Amsterdam’s beauty, I was caught by surprise and pretty much jumped out of my skin.
Just to my left was some woman, stood inside with only her underwear, knocking against the window. She was waving me in for a cup of tea I think but I politely declined and moved along, a little surprised that the women of Amsterdam were looking for company so early in the day. It can only have been around 9-9:30 in the morning so I wasn’t expecting it.

Soon enough I wandered back towards the starting point for the tour, you’ll find New Sandemans based in a lot of European cities offering ‘free’ walking tours (you tip what you like after). I quite enjoy their tours and this was another decent effort as we wandered along Amsterdam’s canals and got a bit more insight in to the history and quirks of Amsterdam. This particular spot on the tour was nicely hidden away and not too busy.

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I’d pre-booked the Anne Frank House museum for later in the day so had a bit of time to kill after the walking tour. I didn’t really have anything planned so just wandered aimlessly for the next couple of hours.
It’s recommended that you pre-book for the Anne Frank House and I passed the building a couple of times throughout my trip and the queues were fairly lengthy. It’s also suggested that Wednesday is the quietest day to visit and it showed when I arrived, I had sensibly pre-booked but there wasn’t actually much of a queue at the time I went anyway so I probably could have got away with not booking in advance.

This was really the one thing I’d wanted to do in Amsterdam and I can’t say that it disappointed. I thought the museum as a whole was really well done and is a credit to the memory of Anne Frank and the horrors of that time. I can’t say I enjoyed it as such because it’s not one of those experiences you enjoy but I came out feeling educated, humbled and sombre which is what you hope to take away from a place such as this. It’s somewhere you should make time to visit if you’re in the city.

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Whilst it wasn’t overly late, it was pretty dark by the time I came out so after a little stroll through the city I went and found myself some dinner to round off a rather enjoyable second day Amsterdam. The route back to my hostel afterwards took me by Amsterdam’s Red Light District and whilst I’d had a brief introduction to it earlier in the trip, I have to say it’s a part of the city that surprised me a little. I had this image of it being this seedy little district full of old men or stag-do’s leering over women in windows but it’s as far from that as possible.

I’m sure there is that element there but surprisingly it’s a real tourist trap, there’s a little buzz to the area at night. I wasn’t looking to do any “window shopping” but the whole area was just crawling with tourists, at times it felt like they were literally crawling.

“Can you please either walk quicker or get out of my way!”

If you actually want to get anywhere it’s an area best avoided, in theory passing through it should have made my route quicker but I spent most of my time hurdling tourists that were just dawdling along.

The red lights reflecting over the canal added a little atmosphere to the area, I didn’t ever at any point feel unsafe or uncomfortable passing through it. Perhaps the legalisation of the prostitution and having it (all) on display makes it somehow seem a little less seedy but beyond the hordes of people it’s a relatively nice part of the city to walk through day or night.

After finally escaping the crowds I made my way back to the hostel and thought I’d give the hostel bar another effort, hoping for a bit more luck at making friends than I’d had the night before. Again it seemed the height of the social activity was in the smoking room which, even in Amsterdam, has never had any appeal to me.
Following a couple of beers I headed up to my dorm, contemplated how I’d spend my final full day in Amsterdam and got myself some sleep ahead of another fun-filled day in the city to come.

Stay tuned for day 3!