“Daddy? Why hasn’t the woman standing in that window got any clothes on?”
In accordance to the universal inevitability of Sods Law, of all the things for which Amsterdam is famous, we hit the one I didn’t want to see within 15 minutes of arrival. The Child is often found ignoring her homework, pouring talcum powder down the sink or banging all the drawers and cupboards at 6am with complete and utter disregard to the rest of the household, so why does she choose now of all times to develop an insatiable appetite for those questions a Dad doesn’t want to answer? I attempted evasive manoeuvres into a nearby cafe but were caught in a cross fire:
“Daddy? This place smells funny and those people all have brownies, can I have one please?”
No. No you can’t and actually I’m not really that thirsty anymore. Who wants to go on a boat trip? It was with these childhood innocence ending verbal grenades that The Child kicked off trip 4 of our Big Brexit Tour.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands is a truly lovely place to be; the buildings, the canals and the people are all incredibly interesting and full of beautiful moments to stop and take in. Despite it’s world renowned reputation, in fairness to Amsterdam it’s actually fairly easy to avoid the more hedonistic parts of the Red Light District in the city (so long as you haven’t mistakenly booked a hotel two streets away because you didn’t check beforehand); just grab yourself a map of the city from any of the major tourist points and you’ll be navigating like a native in no time.
We jumped on the official blue canal cruise (there are red and blue options), and massively enjoyed it. As we drifted through the canals of the city, the captain regaled us with all the interesting sights, highlights included: “If you look to your right, you’ll see two houses that were built to be exactly the same. We call them ‘The Twins’ and there on the left you can see three different houses next to each other with three different gables.”
I’m joking of course (but those gables are pretty, right? And putting all three of them together? Wow.), but actually Amsterdam is a city chock-a-block full of genuinely elegant architecture. The original city was built on the back of the trade routes bringing goods in from across the globe; spices, porcelain and pretty much anything that a 15th Century up-and-comer could want. There was a lot of money flying around and that gave Europe the biggest and best metropolis of it’s day.
We took our free historic walking tour guide around Amsterdam from http://www.amsterdam.info/itineraries and it gave us a route along with some information about what we were looking at. Perhaps not as good as a true tour guide, but we felt that it gave us a good feel of the city as well as allowing us to pick and choose what we saw at the time we wanted to see it. That was particularly useful when we visited Anne Frank’s House which, if you’re not part of a paid tour (free entry starts at 5pm), consistently had a queue in excess of 1 hour wait. Alongside the Picasso and the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank’s house was a must visit for us; we had given the book to The Child a few weeks before to prepare her for the visit but actually going there was an extraordinary, insightful and humbling experience for all of us. It does get busy but personally, I would rather see a lot of people remembering the horrors of the last century than not enough.
Once you’ve pounded the pavement yourself there are really only two ways to see the rest of Amsterdam, the first is from the canal and the second is on a bike. Try and fit both in if you can (the Amstel park in the city suburbs is a stunning location and such a quick ride from the centre), but just heed this one word of warning; the cyclists in Amsterdam are brutal. Once off a cycle path a better group of mild mannered, accepting and unfailingly polite people you will never hope to meet. But get on a bike, manage to miss a couple of signs and end up cycling down the wrong side of the road and they turn into an angry mob hell bent on drawing blood. Just FYI.
We ended our few days in Amsterdam with a visit to the Hilton Sky Lounge as it offers unparalleled views across the city. However it also charges an unparalleled amount for a couple of drinks, some crisps and the privilege of seeing it.
Was it worth it? Of course it was. We didn’t manage to see everything we wanted to but we did get a brilliant introduction to this incredible and diverse city.
Everyone meet Viktor, Viktor this is everyone. I met Viktor on the platform of Amsterdam railway station while we were waiting for a train and as you can see he cuts quite the dashing jib. As is my current habit of introducing myself to random strangers, I struck up a conversation and we got to know each other a bit. It turns out that Viktor knew quite a lot about Brexit and certainly wasn’t backwards in discussing it.
“Brexit is fundamentally bad for the UK and the Netherlands, people in Europe are stronger together both economically and geopolitically. The march of the far right is fuelled by fear, they don’t necessarily want to govern but they do represent the message that people don’t want uncertainty. Marie Le Pen and The Netherlands’ own far right are gaining in support, not because they are saying the right thing, but because people believe they mean what they do say. Brexit is a bad deal for all of us because this will give strength to the xenophobic views of a small number of people.”
Quite apart from expressing his view far more succinctly than I was expecting given the fact that he had just been surprised by a scruffy bloke on the edge of a train station platform, I liked Viktor because he had clearly thought about what Brexit would mean in a much wider context. I really hope we meet more Viktors as we go across Europe, whichever side they support. It’s only with this level of understanding of such a complicated issue that we have any hope of survival in a world where the greatest threat we face is that the nuclear trigger is being held by a childish and delusional head of state who supports Nazi sympathisers and systematically eliminates his own staff one by one if they do something he doesn’t like, oh and let’s not forget that Kim Jung-un has got one as well.