After Amsterdam

Back from holiday we were plunged into ‘real life’ again so a pause in the blog. We enjoyed Amsterdam but made some observations about life there. The first thing I noticed on the drive north was the lack of signs saying we had crossed into Belgium and later, Holland. Coming home we saw them, maybe the signs were blocked by lorries? It did make us a bit disoriented but thankful that we can drive straight through. Long may it last even if it is a security nightmare in these troubled times.

Talking of security Lou was bothered by the number of scooter and moped riders without helmets. They whizzed around the streets of Amsterdam, dodging trams, tourists and cyclists with what seemed to us reckless abandon of their own safety. Something to Google!

Friends spoke of tulips and windmills but we didn’t see fields of flowers studded with windmills. I saw and captured on my phone one windmill beside the autoroute going and another coming home. Apart from the myriad offerings in the tourist tat shops, that was it.

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As for tulips I spotted the occasional one in shop windows or in the baskets on a couple of bicycles but that was all. However. I did appreciate the large glass vases seen in a gallery and a couple of cafes filled with tall fresh flowers with a token tulip in each. I imagine the cold spring must have delayed things. Mind you, Lidl had bunches last Friday when I dashed in.

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As we wandered about the place the smell of ‘herbal tobacco’ constantly assailed you. Lou said he didn’t notice but I have a keener nose. It reminded me of meandering along the river bank at Toulouse one sunny afternoon amongst the student population! 🙂

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There were bicycles parked everywhere and I was amused by a statistic I read that said at any one time there are 30,000 bicycles at the bottom of the canals and thousands more on land. My guide book suggested hiring one to experience the city as the natives do. No way would I attempt it! The trams and cyclists speed around seeming to know instinctively when one of the others is about to bear down on them. Plus there seems to be a one way system around the canals, up one side and down the other. Add that to not quite knowing where you are……terrifying!

 

Talking of canals, which is hard to avoid when discussing the Venise of the north, while on our canal cruise we were told a house we were passing was the old sluice house that once filtered the water of the canal and that each year there is a festival when people swim in them.

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Looking into the murky water not far below us on a bitterly cold evening it seeemd the height of folly.  Even the queen has swum in the canal we were triumphantly told. I’ve googled, of course, and she did swim in the canals as part of a charity event in 2012, when the city authorities pumped cleam water in to the particular canals used.  i still don’t fancy it!

Cheese features on many menus, ‘Old Amsterdam’ seeming the favourite. Whisper it quietly but I am not a fan of Dutch cheese so didn’t succumb to temptation either in a restaurant or in one of the many shops offering huge circular slabs of the stuff. They made good photos though. 🙂

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I mentioned the young people thronging the Moco gallery. That would please its founders. I’ve discovered (good old Google) that they are a couple who deal in art through their gallery and opened Moco as a way to bring art to a younger audience. From what we experienced at the cold start of the tourist season they have succeeded.

And lastly, the waiting staff everywhere. In the cafes and restaurants and our hotel we were treated with what came over as genuine care and interest and not forgetting the guides in the various museums. Information was shared and suggestions made in a friendly way which always enhanced the experience. It helped wipe away the bad feeling after the rudeness of the boat booth man!

Lou tends to operate on a ‘been there, done that’ attitude to visiting places but I wouldn’t mind going to Amsterdam again but when the east wind isn’t blowing!

 

 

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‘home James!’

Up early in a gloriously sunny morning…but cold.  Breakfast in a quiet dining room before checking out. Suitcases in the car plus balloons and bottle of red wine, bien sur.

We were facing the journey south with some trepidation remembering the traffic jams around Antwerp and Breda but despite it being Monday morning we sailed through both places. Traffic was heavy on the north bound carriage way and at a standstill for a long way after Antwerp but we were fine.

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Our usual style of journey, coffee stop then a lunch stop followed by a long spell through Paris and out to Orleans. There was snow on the fields and trees as we approached Paris but it soon disappeared as we left the city behind. A quick stop for gasole at Salbris and on to vierzon, our stop for the night.

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As we settled into our room a message from the family came through and we had an impromptu video chat with our grandson. He is really beginning to form what sound like words and he delivers them in such a way that you know he knows what he means! Adorable and just what we needed after a long day ‘in the saddle’.

Off to the local gruffalo bill for dinner and the prospect of a ‘short’ drive home tomorrow. Nightie night

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A smashing time?

Birthdays. How they come around before you have time to get used to the last one. Age that is. I never get tired of a little birthday spoiling!

When I decided Amsterdam would be an interesting birthday venue I got googling and picked out which attractions I would like to visit and which ones to add on to placate the other half who finds museums and galleries hard going. Lists were drawn up, routes plotted, timings anticipated and likely lunch spots noted. Then the ticket buying online to complete the master plan. The other half always tells people he’s ”just the driver’. Personally I think he prefers it that way, less hassle and he can always blame me when it goes awry.

But it didn’t, so long as you don’t count my phone crashing onto the cobbled patio at the second museum, its face now resembling a drunken spider’s web.

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It had been bitterly cold as we walked to the bus stop. I had my scarf up over my nose as my face was in pain from the cutting wind. Happily a bus came as we arrived at the stop so into the warm without hanging about. At central station we hopped off, checking out our tickets like old hands and walked over the canal to find the tram. A tour group were already loading onto ”our’ boat. At nine in the morning, poor things. The boat hadn’t been that warm the other night.

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The tram took us to museumplein where the rijksmuseum loomed at me, reminding me I had voted not to visit, well, not this trip. My printouts worked their magic at the van gogh and we were into the warm again. We were early but that seemed not to matter so we were soon dodging around people glued to their audio guides washed up in shoals in front of certain paintings.

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We worked our way up all three floors and I learnt several new things about Vincent. Also, that the museum doesn’t seem to own many of his most famous works. Private collections, Lou suggested. Or scattered around the world’s bigger museums?

After that it was lovely to sit in the museum cafe over a capuccino, bathed in bright sunshine and reading birthday messages from the family.

Van Gogh ticked off and coats collected from the cloakroom, we layered up again to face the glacial winds. The next gallery, the Moco, is very nearby and was quickly reached.

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An old house with a maze of rooms which were busy with a very different demographic from that in Van Gogh.

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Younger and northern European. Maybe Banksy’s irony only works if you understand British humour?

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Roy Lichtenstein was in the basement and the poor relation in terms of visitors. He was always an acquired taste; maybe but colourful!

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(i am happy with my watch…this birthday!)

Leaving there via the cobbled patio it was as i tried to organise myself into my layers that the phone went tumbling. Bum! Muttering to my foolish self we walked towards the voldenpark as a seafood restaurant i had googled and noted was in that general direction. Turning a corner I noticed Prada and then Louis Vuitton, then other purveyors of expensive goods.

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The Bond Street of Amsterdam we wondered? Turning into the next road towards the park but with no clear idea where the restaurant might be we were delighted to find ourselves in front of it. And they had a table free. Up on high stools but no matter.

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The menu had us salivating but cold fruits de mer was not what we wanted on this cold day. So we decided on the two person platter called the ‘mixed grill’, a cornucopia of fish and shellfish. We passed on chips and shared a very good salad bowl. White wine from Sicily and I was loving the whole experience, even the bibs we agreed to wear. Memories of eating boullabaise in Marseille similarly attired!

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It was an effort to make ourselves leave and face the cold again but we did. This time it was to go back the way we had come and investigate the stalls that were being set up when we first arrived this morning. It appeared to be a craft fair and I was told it happens once a month. There were some pretty things but nothing I couldn’t live without.

We had some debate about how to reach the foam photography museum but thought we were headed in the right direction. We were surprised to see about eight mounted policemen ride by but then noticed a protest march passing the end of the street. We couldn’t see or hear much but a lot of police vans were following them and later we saw what Lou said was a van with water cannons on top. Maybe it will be in the news?

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We got ourselves thoroughly lost and still don’t know where we walked. We spotted a tram going to central station so follow that tram!!

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At the next tram stop there was a map and the canal we wanted not too far away. First some roadworks to negotiate (happening everywhere it seems) and trudged towards our goal.

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A canalside house again with a mixture of old and modern features. The Jacob riis exhibition was fascinating but the more recent work left me confused. Photography being used in an abstract context just leaves me floundering.

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As at the Huis Marseille we twisted and turned up and down staircases and into tiny rooms glimpsing the secret gardens behind the houses.  but here theer were many modern design touches.

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Having exhausted the photos and ourselves it was back down to the coats in the basement locker and out to find the tram ‘home’. Unlike last night we managed to get off the 22 bus at the right stop so were able to walk back with the wind behind us rather than battling through a windy tunnel.

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as we walked from the tram to our bus the station was illuminated by the evening sun and positively glowed!

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Boots off and kettle on there was a tap at the door. Our cheerful waiter from the brasserie was outside bearing balloons, a birthday card, sweets, a bottle of red wine and two glasses…for my birthday!

Smashing!

 

 

 

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Arctic but a little sunshine

A busy breakfast room this morning, clearly everyone was putting off going out into the biting wind. But it had to be done. We trekked off to the bus stop (roadworks outside the hotel means the nearest bus stop is out of action) and one came along very quickly. I love the automatic clock that tells you when the next bus will arrive….and they do!

Our first task of the day was to go back to the transport office in the station to get our bus tickets. 25 euros bought us two 48 hour passes for bus, tram and metro.

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Back down Damrak to C and A for Lou to do a bit of shopping. He didn’t, in the end, but did have a successful foray into the Swatch shop. New strap fitted on his old watch and a free battery. I got a birthday present too!

Then the exploring began. A few twists and turns and we found the Begijnhof, a quiet grassy square surrounded by lovely old buildings with a church in the middle. I offered to take a photo of three french girls but it was unsuccessful. The camera was a very old poloroid and twice refused to spit out the photos I took. ”you broke it’ Lou told me as we left. I do hope not.

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From there we wandered around taking photos and avoiding bicycles and trams. The sun was trying to shine which cheered things up but had no warmth in it, sadly. We tried to spot which canals we had cruised the night before but it was not easy.

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I’d googled loads about Amsterdam so had a lunch venue in mind. After some map consulting and a lot of instinctive guesswork, the cafe was found. Google hadn’t been wrong and we enjoyed our lunch, especially being in the warm.

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Bracing ourselves, we set out to discover the area known as jordaan, celebrated for its quirky boutiques and cafes. The canals became prettier I felt as we walked westward, still dodging cyclists. A young couple asked me to take their photo and this time it was successful, phew!

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We passed Anne Frank’s house, the cheese and the tulip museums and lost ourselves in the alleys.

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We found trees in tubs outside front doors and garden benches chained to house walls. Every so often we turned a corner and were buffeted by that dreadfully cold wind. Time to get inside again.

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I had bought tickets online for the Huis Marseille photo museum so, after a bit of canal confusion, we found the right one and after a few minutes walk were back inside in the warm again.

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No problems with my printouts this time and no need to prove we were over 65 and entitled to our discount. We must look very old. In the bus last night, a young couple got up and gave us their seats!

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The museum is in a beautiful canalside house with magnificent ceilings and a secret garden behind it. I sneaked photos of it and its neighbours.

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We climbed up and down exceedingly steep staircases to reach the maze of rooms. The stairs in our modern hotel are steep and not very deep, is it an Amsterdam thing?

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After that the last thing I hoped we’d see was the floating flower market. Oh, what a disappointment. I had romantically imagined a market full of glorious sights and perfumes bobbing on the canal. Wrong. Stall after stall full of tourist tat, admittedly with endless bags of bulbs but not the market if my imagination. I toyed with buying a ”delft blue’ pot with lid but told myself I didn’t need it so put it back.

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A shop window of ‘decent’ delft that was NOT in the floating flower market!

Eager to leave the ugly place we spotted a tram going to the central station so managed to catch it just in time. Our new tickets made a satisfying ding ding as we waved waved them at the machine for the purpose.

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And so back to our fourth floor nest, a nice cup of tea and the end of the Milan San Remo cycle race. Now it’s the final match of the six nations. Well, we are old and need our rest!

 

 

 

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Icy blasts

When we left Lille the sun was shining but as we approached Ghent (gand) the sun was disappearing into the mist and the road becoming damp. We had always thought of the A1 through northern France to be full of lorries but it has nothing on the roads north to Antwerpen and Breda. The further we drove the more container lorries we passed. Scary stuff. Awful jams around Antwerp and Breda. We’re even contemplating a different route home.

It was a great relief to find the hotel and be able to check in early. A very jolly room confirming the arty vibe they publicise and a ground floor brasserie with comfy chairs and good beers. A lot of Brits and, tonight, a hen party!

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So lunch and then we trekked through the roadworks to the nearest functioning bus stop. Arriving at the central station we sought out the cruise office. The young man told me we could go straight to the boat.  But at the boat pier an officious man shouted at me that I had to change my printout for tickets by going to the cruise office ten minutes walk away. I pointed out, calmly at first, that that wasn’t necessary as I had the printout. I pointed to the sentence that said as much. But he insisted. We tried anyway with the guy by the gangway and the same response. By now I was losing it. I was cold and wanted to get out of the wind, preferably onto a nice warm boat! But nothing doing. I grabbed the paper back and said I’d get a refund and forget the whole thing (boy, was I in a strop!).

I stomped into the station with Lou following and down to the warm shopping mall underneath. Here we bought warm hats, having not thought to bring any with us, and discovered shops here put a charge on the use of bank cards. Bit of a cheek as ours are debit cards not credit ones.

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But onwards. The Delft shop i had found online turned out to be very tourist tat and as I tried on a bracelet (present for someone) the wretched thing fell apart. Oh, the shame of it, but oh, how lucky I didn’t buy it and present it as a gift! Lots of apologies and I bought some overpriced earrings and scurried out.

Lou suggested we had a little wander and we headed down Damrak, a big wide street built over a canal many years ago. It occurred to me we were close to the ticket office I had been told to go to so in I marched to claim a refund. That wasn’t possible immediately i was told. At this point Lou decided to play mediator and suggested I swap my now pretty scruffy printout for tickets and we take the cruise as planned. So I did. And we did. I looked the other way as we queued up and boarded the boat so didn’t have to face the obnoxious jobsworth (he had been unnecessarily rude to me while I was sooo calm… not). Some cheerful Dutch chaps sat next to us and we all plugged ourselves into the audio sockets.

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A trip around the harbour, truly, kicked off the cruise and then it was all canals. Photos taken through a spray spattered window while I imagined how it would all look under blue skies and with leaves on the trees. I was glad Lou had prevailed!

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Off the boat and off to try to buy bus tickets. Unsuccessful as the counter in the ticket office had closed and the machines had ‘tomber en panne’ but in Dutch.  So off down Damrak again in search of coffee and waffles.

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Then a mooch around C and A, as you do, and the red light district before a bus back to the hotel.

A good meal in the brasserie to round off the day.

Cream crackered!

 

 

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Into every life a little rain must fall…

Today we had bucket loads of the wet stuff. At times visibility was frighteningly poor. A dash into an aire for coffee cheered us up a bit but the rain still lashed out of the sky. The discomfort was compounded by a windscreen wiper that erratically thwacked the screen, making us jump and frightened it would fling itself into the murk and leave us sightless.

However, by Chateroux the sky was considerably brighter with even some sunshine now and then. The view behind us of banked black cloud must have terrified the oncoming drivers.

The traditional peacock ‘on the move’ lunch, home made ham sarnies, with a shared bag of crisps and twix, was eaten at Salbris and we headed for Paris. The gps decided to take us right up to the peripherique but then got confused by all the tunnels. We stopped listening and followed the signs for the airport, Charles de Gaulle, and the A1. It is years since we have driven north by that route so every so often there were gasps of recognition. Especially for the little blue boat that has been marooned in its green field for ever and seems not to have aged at all!

After an age of boring driving through a flat winter landscape we made it to seclin on the outskirts of Lille.

Off to find supper.

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at au bureau in seclin’s zone commercial, very cosy and good grub.

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Leaving for Lille

Well, that was good news and bad news! I managed to create a post but couldn’t work out to add a photo. Then I lost the whole thing. Time for bed, leaving at nine tomorrow for Lille en route for Amsterdam.

but i hadn’t! 🙂

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