Sunday, 5 April 2009

AMSTERDAM APRIL 2nd - 4th 2009

Meet 'Claire' or was it 'Sheila' or 'Olga' or 'Heidi'? It's difficult to remember names when you're nearing the dreg ends of a bottle of rose wine.

Whatever her name, she certainly needs serious make-up lessons.

I've decided that I'm going to call 'her' 'Vicky Pollard in a good mood'.

Vicky was out with 'her' dad, soon to be dad-in-law, plus friends, on a special 'hen night' and if they all managed to return home to Nottingham in one piece, the wedding is in a couple of weeks time. So, good luck for that and guys, if you can send me a wedding photo, I'll attempt to put it on this blog. But please give Vicky a make-up session beforehand!

This, by the way, is Amsterdam and a very fine city it is too with its myriad of canals, over 1000 bridges (which makes it hellish difficult if you get lost), fascinating tall houses lining the canals and a joie de vie which makes it a very fun city.

This was my birthday present: three nights in Amsterdam and John and I had an absolute ball.


We got up at 4.30 (!) on Thursday morning for a 6.50 Flybe flight from Southampton Aiport, which has to be one of the most user friendly airport in the country.

And after we had arrived at our hotel and left our bags (it was too early to actually check in) we hit the city running, so to speak. Things just kept happening!

* went to our favourite hat shop, The English Hatter, and bought a panama hat for me (for Morocco). I've already got a selection of their stetsons.

* had coffee at a smashing canal-side cafe - Kafe Kaldi - which serves excellent coffee (and hot chocolate with cream), cookies to die for, incredible loose coffee which is a delight to sniff even before drinking, an array of coffee machines, special heat-resistant mugs and glasses (I'm already hooked on the ones we bought), and a wide choice of tea-pots and coffee pot. We already have quite a range of their goods in our kitchen from previous visits and now have even more!

John sitting outside Kafe Kaldi

* I then left John to his own devices and walked (about 20 mins) to the local Leisure Centre for a swim. It's been revamped since I was last there and it's a swimmers paradise - two pools with lots of lane swimming (one pool and obviously my favourite, has beautifully warm water and a jacuzzi-effect blast of water coming out of one of the walls) and not a whiff of chlorine. The water is disinfected with the latest technology, the name of which I cannot remember...yes, I can - ozone treatment. You can tell the difference - it's much, much better than chlorine, which stinks and stings!

* Walked back to meet John outside our designated meeting point (a bakery) and promptly twisted my ankle on the awkward pavement (most of the pavements in Amsterdam are narrow and awkward) because a bicycle was propped up against a wall.

Work in progress so don't expect total accuracy or photos where a photo should be.

The bakery, me and the offending bicycle.

Now this does bring me onto my main criticism of Amsterdam: there are too many bl...y bikes. It's a bicycle nightmare. They come at you from every which way and you have to be focused all the time because they don't take prisoners. This does, of course, mean that most people look very fit and tanned, and it's certainly the best way to travel as well as eco-friendly but it's really nerve-wracking for pedestrians. We are definitely at the bottom of the pecking order in Amsterdam.

* Limped along to the hole-in-the-wall chip shop with John to buy chips with mayonnaise. (I'm telling you guys, the Dutch certainly know how to cook chips.)

* Limped to one of the squares to eat our lunch on a bench. As we ate, we talked:

Me: If I sat here all afternoon and shot at passing cyclists, how many do you think I'd get?
John: Not enough

Me: How many benches do you reckon there are in Amsterdam?
John: Not enough


* Decided we needed to go to a supermarket for essentials like water, chocolate, wine and an anti-inflammatory gel for my ankle. So, because I was finding walking difficult, we found a taxi at a taxi rank, got in and were talking to driver about our destination, when we all felt a strong push moving us backwards. The car parked (illegally) in front of us had reversed into us and the driver was trying to drive away.

Our driver got out of the taxi and there then followed a heated discussion, the car driver denying what he had done, and eventually he just shrugged his shoulders and drove off without giving any details and leaving our taxi with dents at the front. And since it was a very smart Mercedes taxi, it was obviously going to cost a lot to fix. John and I know this only too well, both having old Mercedes. Fabulous cars to drive and admire but hellish expensive to repair.

So, we got to the supermarket through heavy traffic, bought our goodies and then all three of us set off to the Police Station so our driver could report the incident and use us as witnesses. John and I sat in the taxi, enjoying the opportunity of watching Amsterdam life from a stationery position, whilst the taxi driver went inside. Eventually, policeman Bruce came out with our driver and took a statement. Bruce is very young, very charming and fluent in English. So all in all quite a fascinating time.

Our driver then returned us to our hotel and it was only then that we checked in and went to our room to unpack!

Just to finish off this story, our taxi driver, Reda, brought us another form to fill in the next day for his insurance company and it would seem that they will cover the cost of the repairs. And when we left Amsterdam on Saturday, Reda took us to the airport, so I really think it was a case of "All's well that ends well." Plus, the long sit in the taxi rested my ankle wonderfully and it was fine the next day.

This is where the incident took place


* Paulo and me outside Hotel Hegra

Our hotel was just what we needed - small, inexpensive, clean and welcoming, set on a canal and central to the city. I can thoroughly recommend it, despite the incredibly steep and narrow stairs, which all these old houses have and which makes setting off from and returning to the room an adventure in itself.

Paulo was one of the guys working there and it was fun to take some photos together. Paulo is a ballet dancer by profession, as you can see in the next photo, where we took up our ballet positions, and very friendly, like most of the Dutch people we met.

Check out the Hotel Hegra on its website:-

And so our brief stay in Amsterdam progressed at a similar pace. We certainly hadn't come for a rest and yet, strangely, now I'm home I feel invigorated. But I haven't quite finished with my report because there are a few places that I want to mention because they're worth looking up if you ever go to Amsterdam. (And no, no-one is giving me commission to show-case these places!)


This is a jewellery shop that John discovered a few years ago. It's run by two sisters who make most of the jewellery and it's really funky, funny stuff. Below is a photograph of me wearing the tulip broach and circular ear-rings which we bought this trip and below that is a photo of one of the sisters, Sandra, and me outside the shop.

I also have a collection of really cute animal badges bought over several years from the shop and at some stage I'll photograph them and put the pictures on this post so you can see how cute they are. And here they now are:-






all purchases are individually presented in attractive gift boxes

Visit the Laloli website at:


It was having supper here on Friday night that we spotted and 'shot' Vicky and friends and I include this restaurant because the food was excellent and we had a lovely chat with one of the waitresses who, we discovered, is Moroccan and loves Gnaoua music. John played her one of his recordings on his i-pod and the whole thing was just very special. Any reminder of Morocco rates highly for us. She left before I could get her name but she knows who she is and I wish her well.
Check their menu at:


Outside Zeppos Restaurant with the waitress, Claire.

We happened upon this restaurant, down a little street, and had a superb lunch. I had a Croque Madame, which is, basically, cheese on toast with a fried egg on top but very tasty all the same. It was very peaceful sitting away from all the hustle and noise so that's why I'm recommending it, plus the quality of the food and the service.

Check their website:,Netherlands/Restaurants/French/97565/Kapitein_Zeppos_Amsterdam/


This fascinating shop sells everything you need for stamping (i.e. creative work). I bought a couple of stamps and a colour pad here well over ten years ago and still use them - their condition is still pretty good. And now I've got some more!


If you want a cup of coffee in Amsterdam, don't go to a coffee shop or you'll get a big surprise. Coffee shops are for selling cannabis, which is legal in Holland. This shop is one of many. But don't try lighting up an ordinary fag inside because that's illegal!?


There are lots of shops here and no cyclists but crowds of people so you can't walk at your own pace. I much prefer walking by the canals where there are an abundance of small, interesting shops and beautiful architecture to would be perfect if it wasn't for those darn cyclists. (And like many British cyclists, they ride down the wrong way on one way streets, jump traffic lights and ride on pavements, too)

And finally, the CANAL TRIP. All these photos were taken on our one hour trip, which really is a must for any visitors to Amsterdam. What made this trip so special was that the driver cradled one of his 'customers', a fractious baby, in his arms towards the end of the trip and sounded the hooter several times, which fascinated the baby into silence. Sadly, I don't have a photo of that but these are pretty good and give you a flavour of canal life in Amsterdam.

By the way, did I mention that the weather was glorious? Well, it was, as you can see from the last photograph. The Thursday and Friday were beautifully sunny and warm and Amsterdam, which, apparently, had had dull, cloudy and cold weather for most of the year, just blossomed, with people sitting outside enjoying the sun. Sheer bliss!

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