Amsterdam – We take a Trip

It didn’t involve anything illegal but it did involve being picked up from our Amsterdam hotel at 2pm and windmills, cheese, eels, cocoa and clogs.

Windmills Zaanse Schans

When I was at school, way back in the 1960s, the school atlas showed Holland with an enormous great bay called the Zuiderzee extending about 100km into the country.  In truth the Zuiderzee’s entrance to the North Sea had been dammed off back in 1932 to form a freshwater lake called the Ijsselmeer, which just goes to show how old my school atlas was. Mind you my father’s school atlas (which I still have) from the 1940s, still showed half of  Oklahoma as the Indian Territories!

Zaansee Schans is on the coast of this former inland sea and the reclaimed land around the town is famous for it’s lush grass which is the starting point for some really good cheese. Naturally our first stop on our excursion out of Amsterdam was a traditional cheese factory, complete with windmills and wandering sheep. Stepping off the bus though the first thing you notice is the overwhelming smell of chocolate. This is from the cocoa mills further up the coast. Incidentally it was a Dutchman, Coenraad Johannes van Houten who first discovered how to make cocoa powder in 1828.

At the cheese factory a young lady in traditional costume  gave us a demonstration of how the cheese is traditionally made, including the pressing into traditional “plastic” cheese moulds. After that we enjoyed the opportunity to wolf down as many free samples of the tiny shavings of the cheeses on offer in the shop as we could , since the produce on sale was extremely expensive. Cheesed out we stepped outside to enjoy the windmills which in this locality were mostly used to pump ground water out of the reclaimed land and into the sea, except that these windmills and other traditional buildings have been brought here from all over Holland and include mustard, dye, oil and sawmills. Each windmill charges an entrance fee of about €1.50.

Stalking predator Zaanse Schans

Back on the coach our next stop was Volendam. Now a lot of fuss had been made about how the local people in this former fishing village wear local traditional dress and how we would be taken to a local restaurant for the best fish and chip lunch in Holland (though not included in excursion price), even though it was by then mid-afternoon. On arrival the town was enjoying a local festival and every restaurant and pub on the front was packed with drunken revelers, not a clog in site.

Volendam a bit like Walton-on-the-Naze only with Dutch people

I thought Volendam was rather like a British seaside town, similar to say Walton-on-the-Naze. There was even a seafood stall with smoked eels.

Smoked Eels

Given that by then it was about four in the afternoon and that we had lunch before being picked up,we declined the offer of fish and chips and made do with a couple of beers and some bitterbalen ( beer €2.40 half pint, bitterbalen €4.60),

Bitterbalen

in  Le Pompadour Restaurant  (Hotel Old Dutch, Haven 142, Volendam) on the front, before boarding the ferry to what used to be the island of Marken.

Marken Ferry

The trip across the IJssselmeer took about an hour and since the weather was so good we sat on the open deck enjoying the sunshine and more beer.

Harbour at Marken

Marken, like Volendam used to be a fishing village. The damming of the Zuiderzee changed all that, now the fishermen are gone so the  pretty little green and black clapperboard houses are mostly home to workers from Amsterdam and the local tourist industry. Speaking of which our final stop was a clog factory where we discovered how the traditional wooden shoes were made on a traditional modern pattern lathe.

Clogs seasoning hanging from the ceiling at the clog factory Marken

Our return journey to Amsterdam took us across the dyke which now joins Marken to the Dutch mainland getting back to Amsterdam Centraal Station by about 6.30pm.  All in all a fun afternoon out despite the odd ideas about having lunch in the mid afternoon.

Our excursion cost €34 from Tours and Tickets   http://www.tours-tickets.com/home and included a free transfer from our hotel.

Amsterdam – We Have a Lazy Morning

With so many places in the world to visit, a place has to be pretty special to merit the happy crew coming back time after time. Amsterdam is one of those places.

Tourist Boat Amsterdam

There are several reasons for this, we like the food, the pubs, architecture and art are great, it’s easy to get to from London, the Dutch are really friendly and they have a brilliant sense of humour. What’s also quite nice about a return visit is that sightseeing can be a lot more relaxed, there’s no pressure to cram in Rembrandt’s House, the Rijks Museum and a canal cruise and the Van Gogh Museum, etc.

We had booked a trip to Volendam and the fishing village of Marken for the afternoon, but in the morning we thought we’d just take a wander and enjoy some of the city’s architecture and the canals.

Canals and Architecture Amsterdam

Close to the hotel at Waterlooplein we found the flea market. There were no fleas but plenty of clothes, army surplus, old vinyl, bric-a-brac and tourist tat. Some of the stuff was actually quite good, so we picked up some gifts for the folks back home.

Flea Market, Waterlooplein

Still there is only so much shopping a bloke wants to do so we had a bit more of a wander, before we found the Frenzi Restaurant (Zwanenburgwal 232)

Frenzi Restaurant

where we popped in for a beer (well actually sat outside in the Sun) and liked it so much that we ended up staying for lunch. Nick and I had massive Amsterdam Old Cheese sandwiches, which came on black bread with a quince jam (much like Manchego does in Spain) and salad while Mab had a very tasty soup. With two rounds of drinks the bill came to €43.80, not too bad and it was just the thing to set us up for our afternoon of sightseeing.


Amsterdam – ned if we were

Last week was pretty busy what with our flying visit to the Edinburgh Fringe and then three days in Amsterdam.

Our Dutch adventure began far too early in the morning with a dash to Stansted for our flight to Schiphol. Mercifully security were not too bad, although I really felt sorry for the guy who got busted for having the inappropriate stupid little liquid bag. He was given the choice of having his toothpaste and shampoo confiscated and destroyed as a terrorist threat or having to buy the right kind of bag for a quid, before he would be allowed into that vast shopping concourse packed with litre bottles of flammable liquid in packaging that shatters into razor sharp shards.  I can only imagine that the idiots who make the inflexible security rules have never seen one of those movies where Lee Marvin goes into a bar in a navy uniform!

After an uneventful journey we arrived at Schiphol and after seemingly walking halfway to Amsterdam from the arrivals gate, got the train into Centraal Station for a mere €4.20. Naturally on arrival in a foreign city my first thought is where can a I get a drink and in Amsterdam that’s easily sorted, because on Platform 2b the old First Class waiting room has been converted into the rather splendid Eerste Klass restaurant.

The Niewe Kunst interior of Eerste Klass bar

Although it is a bit pricy it’s definately worth dropping in just to see the Niewe Kunst (Dutch Art Nouveau) interior and sample what Mab decided was the best chocolate cake in the world.

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World

And you know what? She was right, it was gorgeous. Eerste Klass is also famous for this chap

Who's a Pretty Boy Then?

who I was delighted to see, after our two years away, was still running the place.

So suitably refreshed we discovered that the city Metro was being refurbished. So we got the tram to Waterlooplein to drop our bags at the Hotel Falcon Plaza before looking for some lunch. Now despite being dog tired it was still only 12 in the morning so it was too early for our favourite Amsterdam boozer, de Sluyswacht to be open (boo) so we wandered down Waterlooplein until we fell into Pashouderbon (403 Waterlooplein) . However the restorative power of beer and some very good steaks, beefburgers and chips (meal with drinks for three €65) soon had us all fancying a bit of siesta and as luck would have it by the time we got back to the Falcon Plaza we were able to check in to our somewhat overpriced room (€222 a night)

Now I don’t know what it is about hotels that makes them try guests out with the crap rooms first, but it wasn’t long before we were back in reception demanding a room without water damaged ceiling panels, cobwebs and a cracked sink. Fair enough it got changed for one where the door spring was the only broken item, still it was somewhere to catch a quick snooze before heading back to De Sluyswacht (Jorddennbreestraat 1) to watch the sunset over a few beers, an old Jenever and a plate of Bitterballen (Pint between €4.5 – €6.50, Jenever €2.50).

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Sun down we trekked down to the Tujah Maret Indonesian restaurant (Utrechtsestraat 73). This is another old favourite haunt and it does a staggeringly good rice table meal of 25 different dishes ranging from the mild to the ferocious,

A Small Fraction of Tujah Maret's rice table

all for €27.50 a head. The wine list  is a bit limited though it’s either red or white. so suitably stuffed we headed out into the night for a night cap before turning in for the night.