Amsterdam 2013 – A Quick Cruise and Home

We were determined to make the best of our final day in Amsterdam despite being faced with a couple of hours lugging our bags around with us after checking out of our hotel at noon. However first things first – breakfast. We had the option of an eat as much as you can buffet at the Ibis for €16, but I think that’s a bit pricey for stuff that has been hanging around under heat lamps for hours and mucked about with by other people’s kids with machine coffee. However the receptionist told us there was a good place for a light breakfast just a few doors down from the hotel in Volkenburgerstraat.

Koffie – en eethuis de valk turned out to be a delightful little coffee shop where the lovely Melinda somehow juggled multiple breakfast orders and got them all right. It was a lot lighter on the wallet too at around €10 per person for a full English and a nice coffee. Next stop was the flea market at Waterlooplein.

Flea Market Waterlooplein

Flea Market Waterlooplein

It always amazes me that people will buy some of the junk you find in places like this, I can’t think of anything much worse than wearing someone else’s old shoes for example, but amongst all the old tat there is the odd gem. Some of the traders are a bit reticent about having their stalls photographed too, so perhaps there is some truth in the local gag that it’s where people go to buy back their stolen bikes. We bought a few T-shirts for folks back home before heading back to the hotel to check out.

We still had a couple of hours to kill before heading back to the airport so we decided that a canal cruise will be the ideal way to polish off our trip. Most of the cruises depart from quays around Centraal Station and there are quite a few operators offering trips around Amsterdam’s waterways.

Our cruiser awaits

Our cruiser awaits

You can pay anything up to €15 for a canal trip, so it pays to shop around. Our canal cruise cost €8.75 and took in the docks. the NEMO museum of science,

Renzo Piano's NEMO

Renzo Piano’s NEMO

that is gradually sinking back into the harbour and the replica East Indiaman the Amsterdam,

The Amsterdam

The Amsterdam

that was built by unemployed people, giving them something meaningful to do rather than stacking Poundland shelves for free like they do in the UK.

Round the stern of the Amsterdam

Round the stern of the Amsterdam

Leaving the deep water we pootled around Amsterdam’s picturesque canals passing the flea market and Waterlooplein before passing through the lock at de Sluyswacht,

Mine's a lager with a gin chaser - de Sluyswacht

Mine’s a lager with a gin chaser – de Sluyswacht

and returning to Centraal to disembark. Having enjoyed a leisurely hour on the boat we had just about eniough time for a drink at the rather gorgeous Niewe Kunst Eerste Klass Bar

Who's a Pretty Boy Then?

Who’s a Pretty Boy Then? – Eeerste Klass Bar

at Centraal Station before catching the train back to the airport.

One final obserrvation about Amsterdam’s canals is that there seem to be a lot more wild birds using them than there used to be. On this trip we saw mallards, coots, cormorants, mute swans, herons and great crested grebes. I was particularly happy to see the grebes, very pretty birds.

Great Crested Grebe photographed from our canal boat

Great Crested Grebe photographed from our canal boat

Amsterdam 2013 – We go Dutch at De Roode Leeuw

Having sampled some traditional Dutch snack food at Cafe Hoppe for a late Sunday lunch and an Indonesian rice table meal on Saturday night, we decided to try and find somewhere that offered traditional Dutch food on Sunday evening. This turned out to be more difficult that we anticipated as, like in many other northern European cities, there are plenty of restaurants offering overseas menus, everything from Chinese to Uruguayan, although Argentine seemed to be the most popular.

Undaunted we got a recommendation from the hotel receptionist and set off for a place called the King William steakhouse. I think we must have misunderstood the directions as when we arrived in Rembrandtsplein all we could find were pubs full of celebrating Ajax fans, who had been drinking since lunchtime. We asked a friendly cop, who was most surprised that a group of 50 somethings didn’t have a smart phone between them, for directions and he sent us up to Centraal Station. Passing yet more pissed up Ajax fans we found the restaurant and promptly decided it looked both expensive and not that authentic, with just a couple of pancake dishes tagged onto some international dishes.

The Eleventh Commandment

The Eleventh Commandment

Marginally brassed off we realised that we were pretty close to Het Elfde Gebod at the top of the Red Light District so we dropped in for some Belgian beer, Dutch gin and cheese. While ordering the drinks we got chatting with the  barman and asked him if he knew anywhere where we could get some real Dutch food. He suggested a place called in English the Red Lion or De Roode Leeuw (Damrak 93-94) as he helpfully scribbled on the back of a beer mat.

So setting off down Damrak from Centraal station we passed several groups of Ajax fans, a couple of groups of riot police and the War Memorial, before tracking the place down. to be honest it didn’t look much from outside, but inside we discovered a dark wood panelled interior with crimson and gold upholstery and wooden carvings of carriages hanging from the ceiling, while neatly uniformed waiters flitted between tables laid with crisp white linen.

After going through the ‘have you booked’ routine we were shown to our table and presented with the menu. I chose the herring with beetroot to start and it was lovely, beetroot and herring is a perfect partnership especially when it is served as creatively as it turned up on my plate. However as far as presentation goes that was only a taster. Nick and I had both ordered the hash of beef with black pudding which dully arrived in four separate serving dishes on a trolley pushed by a very attractive young waitress.

Artistry on a plate

Artistry on a plate

As we waited she crafted the mashed potato into perfect quenelles with a pair of spoons then created an appetizing design on the plate with the hashed beef, red cabbage and black pudding.

Perfectly crated hash

Perfectly crafted hash

It tasted as good as it looked, especially the crisp black pud which together with the red cabbage and apple was a match made in heaven. Needless to say our attempts to help ourselves to seconds were not quite as visually appealing, but we wolfed them down nonetheless.

As you can imagine we were all pretty stuffed, but I still found room to polish off some cinnamon ice cream.  If you fancy some good hearty cuisine served with panache De Roode Leeuw is certainly worth searching out and it’s not bad value either . For four we paid €166 for starters, mains, wine and water, plus two desserts and tip.

Amsterdam 2013- Windmills, Cheese and a Fat Cat

You can’t bring someone on their first trip to Holland without showing them a windmill or two or even three.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

On our previous visit we had taken an afternoon excursion from Amsterdam that took in the towns of Zaanse Shans, Marken and Volundam. This time we took one that left at and it turned out to be a much better trip. We booked the trip (€36 each) at the tourist Information Office just opposite Centraal Station and arrived at our pick up point outside the Tours and Tickets shop at Damrak 34 in time to get a pretty good English Breakfast (€7.45 plus latte for €2.50) at the Allstars Steakhouse next door (Damrak 32). This worked out to be much cheaper than having the breakfast buffet at the Ibis (€16) and it was cooked fresh to order too.

Houses - Marken

Houses with royal changeover bunting – Marken

Hunger satisfied we boarded the bus and within about twenty minutes we were driving along the dyke that links the former island of Marken to the Dutch mainland. Thankfully the weather was glorious and I spotted hares, lapwings, greylag geese and herons on the polder land while on the lake there were lots of great crested grebes. Now one of the reasons the morning tour is better is that it works in the reverse order, so after our demonstration of hand-making clogs on a traditional electric pattern lathe,

Clogs hand-made by machine!

Clogs hand-made by machine!

we didn’t have too long to hang about in this pretty, but not very exciting town,

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn't a pub

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn’t a pub

before boarding the ferry to Volundam. As we cruised the Ijsselmeer there were plenty of local sailing craft out on the waters of the former bay as well as some massive Rhine cruise ships.

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Disembarking at Volundam we were taken to a cheese factory for a demonstration of cheese making

Cheese Factory Volundam

Cheese Factory Volundam

and more importantly a chance to sample the local cheeses with various jams and mustards. Unlike the cheese factory at Zaanse Schans that we visited last time they were a lot more generous with the samples too. I have to say that the aged cheese goes very well with mustard, if only there had been some beer and old jenever to wash it down.

I don'tthink this fellow is lactose intolerant

I don’t think this fellow is lactose intolerant

Cheesed out we had time for a swift pint before getting back on the coach to Zaanse Schans and the windmills. You can read about them on our previous trip here

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Of course the object of the trip was to see the windmills, but I could not resist taking a snap of this little fellow,



who was sweltering in his fleece or this chap enjoying someone’s dropped ice cream.

Everybody likes ice cream

Everybody likes ice cream

So after a brief walk around the windmills we were back on the bus heading back into Amsterdam for an appointment with a big plate of Old Amsterdam cheese at Cafe Hoppe.

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Amsterdam 2013 – Arrival

It’s been a busy old week for the residents of Amsterdam, what with a round of royal musical chairs, the Dutch remembrance weekend and Ajax playing at home. To cap that we turned up.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

When we arrived there on Saturday afternoon there was so much orange bunting around that you could even have concealed someone in an easyJet uniform. We’d booked into the Ibis at Waterlooplein this time rather than take a risk at a booking site as we did last time. You know what you are getting with an Ibis and as soon as I managed to get myself up from the floor (why can’t they put the in room safe at eye level?) we were ready to sink a Head Knock (lager with an Old Jenever chaser) at our favourite Amsterdam pub de Sluyswacht (Jorddennbreestraat 1)

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Like the British as an imperial power the Dutch developed a taste for the cuisines of their overseas colonies and we’d taken the precaution of booking a table at our favourite rice table restaurant Tujah Maret (Utrechtsestraat 73) in advance to give the Powder Monkey her first taste Indonesian food.

The table groans under 25 different dishes at Tujah Maret

The table starts to groan as 25 different dishes arrive at Tujah Maret

I’m glad that we did book, there’s something quite gratifying about seeing other people being turned away as you tuck into 25 different tasty dishes of chicken, beef, fish and veg, all tastefully arranged in degrees of fiery flavour from left to right (unless you were on the other side of the table that is). We even had room to share two deserts between the four of us . With wine, beer and water the bill came to €157 which allowing for the exchange rate is a lot less than you’d pay in London.

The Nightwatch

The Night Watch

So hunger assuaged we headed off into the night for a rendezvous with the Night Watch who are now back on guard in front of the statue of Amsterdam’s most famous painter at Rembrandtpein.

So do I get the job?

So do I get the job?

The bronze figures by Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov returned in 2012 from a trip to New York and Russia, hopefully they are now home for good.


My Old Dutch – London WC1

For as long as I can remember the My Old Dutch Pancake House has been a fixture in High Holborn (132 High Holborn to be precise), but up until this weekend I had never ventured inside the place. I fancied trying somewhere different, but economic on Saturday night when Mab remembered that she used to eat here when she was an impoverished student at the Middlesex Hospital.

An old windmill at My Old Dutch

An old windmill tile at My Old Dutch

So after a few drinks at the Holborn Whippet (a marvelous little boozer in Sicilian Avenue serving craft beers like Adnams Oyester Stout) we decamped to the rustic Dutch splendour of My Old Dutch. The place was absolutely stuffed (mostly with students from London University and UCL, but with a good few tourists as well) so it was just as well that we had made a reservation. The restaurant is on two levels and our table was on the ‘quiet’ ground floor. Downstairs was a bit more rowdy with a bunch of Irish lads celebrating st Patrick’s Day.

We started off with a Dutch sharing platter for two.

Sharing Platter

Sharing Platter

This came with six bitteballen (Dutch meatballs), two slabs of deep-fried cheese, a selection of Edam and gouda cheese and some twists of smoked salmon accompanied with a sour cream and a mustard dip. This high cholesterol treat slipped down a treat even if I did burn the inside of my mouth with a hasty bite of thermonuclear bitteballen. For anyone expecting the mustard dip to be a bland continental affair, think again it’s made with English mustard so expect a bit of a kick.

Then the pancakes arrived.

Good heavens they are massive

Good heavens they are massive

They arrived on massive Delft plates covering them right up to the rim. They looked a bit like pizzas’ only they were on a Dutch pancake rather than a bread base. I had the Hot Dutch,

Hot Dutch

Hot Dutch

a wonderful confection of pepperoni, chorizo, cheese, red chili and tomato. Hot and spicy it reminded me of the Vesuvio pizza that I had enjoyed so much at the El Toro Steakhouse in Salou only with a pancake base that contrary to what I had feared worked really well. I also sample Mab’s ‘build your own’ pancake with chicken, spinach, cheese and chili which was quite nice too. Much to my surprise although the pancake base looks very insubstantial by the time we had munched our way through the main course we were too stuffed to even contemplate a sweet one for dessert!

My Old Dutch has only a very limited wine list, but it does have a good selection of Belgian Beers including Fruli strawberry ale and the draft Heineken at £3.40 a pint is cheaper than most nearby pubs.

So what’s the damage? We paid £97.76 for four people with starters, mains, a potato wedge side, a bottle of Cabernet, two pints and Malteasers shake (just imagine slamming Malteasers in a blender with some ice cream) . Price includes optional service charge.

Would we go back? Yes it has a good ambience, it’s not that expensive and there are lots more things on the menu that I fancy trying. They also do a loyalty card – buy nine pancakes the next one is free!

There are also branches of My Old Dutch at Kensington and Chelsea.

Amsterdam – Historisch Museum

Just like the Artis Zoo, Amsterdam’s Historical Museum is one of the places that we had missed on previous visits. Originally the site at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 359 was a convent then in 1580 the building became an orphanage. Rebuilt in 1664 by Jacob van Campen, the orphans were evicted in 1960 and in 1975 the museum moved in. However the room the orphanage governors used to meet in (the Regent’s Chamber) has been preserved complete with period furniture, chequerboard flagstones and Flemish paintings, opposite the cash desk.

Regent's Chamber

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and with its benefit, it might have been useful to my understanding of Amsterdam to have visited this place some time ago, as it does present a pretty comprehensive history of the city and it’s institutions from its early days under Spanish rule through independence, empire, Napoleonic and Nazi occupation to the liberal city of decriminalised prostitution and cannabis cafes of today, that in my opinion most other European cities could learn a lot from.

One of my favourite exhibits is The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

The Anatomy Lesson

I believe this is a copy of the 1632 Rembrandt original, which is in the Hague’s Mauritshuis. Now the reason I think this is an important work is because it shows how Amsterdam was a centre of scientific learning at a time when such knowledge was frowned upon by many religious factions.  Even so city anatomist Nicolaes Tulp was only allowed one public dissection a year and it had to be the corpse of a convicted criminal, because obviously he was going to Hell and would not need a fully functioning body come the resurrection. In this case it was Aris Kindt who had been hanged for armed robbery on the morning of January 16 1632. It was a similar absurd attitude to the scientific use of bodies that led to the murdering spree of Burke and Hare in 19th century Edinburgh.

Other highlights of the historical Museum for me were the 16th century Civic Guard’s Italian Armour and the reconstruction of lesbian biker Bet van Beeren’s Cafe ‘t Mandje, the first openly gay bar in Amsterdam and possibly the world, when it opened in 1927.

My only bitch about the museum is that I think the entry price of €10 is a bit steep.

Amsterdam – We do the Zoo

Amsterdam Zoo (Artis)  is in the leafy Plantage district of the city, a short walk from our hotel in Waterlooplein.

African cattle

Despite having been to Amsterdam many times before this was the first time we had been to the Zoo and the weather was so good even the lions woke up for a bit.

Wakey wakey Mr Lion

I liked the way the animals seemed to be kept in very nice enclosures, I was particularly taken by the walk through lemur island, where the only thing keeping the residents in is a moat and a cattle grid.

Lemur Island resident

This fellow was of course much happier under the water and we got a really good look at him sharpening his teeth on a rock from under the sea lion pool.

Sea Lion

There is also a big African animal paddock for the giraffes, antelope and zebra, a fantastic steamy reptile house,

Smile please

an aquarium with over 2000 fish and a bird house, where we met these two little owls who were having a kiss and a cuddle.

Ah Sweet!

There is also a planetarium, a geological museum and a collection of tatty stuffed animals, although they are in a room with those funky graphics with a conservation message.

Meanwhile these bats were just waiting for an opportunity to swoop down and drain our life’s blood,

Bats just hanging around

unless of course they were fruit bats, while this furtive looking penguin was on his way to find some fish before the herons from the canals ate them all.

You haven't seen me

Artis (Plantage Kerklaan 38 – 40) makes a great morning or afternoon out. Admission €14.

Het Elfde Gebod – Thou Shalt not get Found Out? – Amsterdam

This was a new place to us at the top of Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Slap bang next to t’Apjen is Het Elfde Gebod. Translated literally Elfde Gebod means the Eleventh Commandment, so I guess that makes it Thou Shalt Not Get Found Out.

The Eleventh Commandment

It’s a lovely little wood paneled boozer with about eight draft and hundreds of bottled Belgian beers.

“We only serve Belgian beer in here” said the bar keeper proudly as if “none of that Dutch muck” was about to follow.

Author growing head out of a bottle at Elfde Gebod.

It didn’t and fortunately the prohibition of Dutch beverages did not apply to oude Jenever, although Belgium along with two provinces of France and two German federal states are allowed by the EU to produce the distinctive ancestor of gin which must contain at least 15% malt wine. Jonge (young) Jenever may only have up to 15% malt wine.

At the rear of the pub is this rather nice leaded light.

Spot the Penguin

Blow the picture up and see if you can find the penguin.

Pint of draft beer about €5 upwards.

Amsterdam – got change for a chimp?

This is t’Apjen (Zeedijk 1, Amsterdam). It’s about the first pub you will stumble across when you enter the city’s red light district from Centraal Station.

t'Apjen, one of the oldest boozers in Amsterdam

This boozer is said to be the oldest wood framed building in the city, dating back to 1551 and the name, which means the ape, relates to Dutch sailors paying for their accommodation at the inn with a monkey.

“Two nights stay with full Dutch, that’s a mandrill and two marmosets sir”

“Got change of a chimp?”

Enough for two Heinekens and an old Jenever

Now the only monkeys inside the pub’s delightfully cluttered interior  are a couple of stuffed ones unless you count the English stag parties.

We spot a monkey

Pint about €5

Amsterdamned Fine Boozer – Cafe Hoppe

‘And how do you pronounce that?’ I asked pointing to the part of Amsterdam’s map labelled Spui.

‘Spau’ answered the lovely receptionist at the Falcon Plaza Hotel.

I’m glad we finally settled that, especially as we had been calling it ‘spewey’, ever since I narrowly avoided a stream of projectile stoned student puke when disembarking a tram in that very location back in 1985.

Spui showing Cafe Hoppe and ' Hoppe the Brown House'

Despite the infantile comedic value of that lone incident Spui is actually a very pleasant part of Amsterdam. Essentially  a small square lined with cafes and bookstores it is very popular with students because of it’s proximity to the university. It’s also the location of one of my favourite Amsterdam hangouts the Cafe Hoppe (Spui 18/20).

Bar at Hoppe, plenty of sawdust not so sure about the spit

One half of Hoppe is a traditional Amsterdam ‘brown cafe’ with sawdust on the floor and the wooden walls stained an even deeper brown by 300 years of cigar smoke. This is a great place for an old Jenever, a pint and maybe a plate of old Amsterdam cheese, but if you fancy a smoke now it has to be outside as smoking is banned inside cafes and pubs everywhere in the city except of course the cannabis cafes.Yes it is a bit of an old man’s pub, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

If you fancy a more substantial feed try the Cafe Hoppe next door.

The three of us had an excellent platter of local delicacies: including bitterballe, old cheese, battered prawns and pancake rolls  plus beers and gin for €48.

Plate of local pub grub

Beware the raw beef sausage, it’s literally that, a ball of raw mince rolled into a sausage served with mustard. I gave it a go, it wasn’t horrible, just a bit bland except for the mustard.

The only kind of place you can light up inside smokers