Wonderful Amsterdam

16 July 2018

I had been intending to go for another run again this morning but as we were keen to get into Amsterdam sooner rather than later, I vowed to go this evening instead.

I woke Cornelia up by opening up Bluebell’s door, and we had a lovely good morning cuddle before she bounced out of bed and into her dress for the day. After a speedy-ish bowl of cornflakes, and a trip to the bathrooms, we were all ready to go.

Cowbat was tied onto the bike strap of her child seat and Google Maps was turned up loud for directions and off we went, heading for Leiden, from where we would take one of the many trains into Central Amsterdam. Apparently 10,000 bikes are parked at this train station every day, but we were fortunate to find two spots in the bike racks next to each other to secure them for the day.

Getting the train tickets and the train itself was very straightforward, and with 15 minutes to kill, I dosed up on coffee while Bugsy and Ian got their chocolate fixes with rice cakes and a cookie respectively.

On the train, Ian remarked how flat Holland is to Cornelia who replied “It’s not like Norway at all, is it?!”

From the very grand Central Station in Amsterdam, we ambled along the ancient canals and side streets, explaining drugs and prostitution to our three year old, while weaving in and out of the Nine Streets.

We were aiming for Vondelpark, but stopped off just opposite the entrance to the gates for pancakes at “De Vier Pilaren” which were so good we stayed for afters! In fact, I was in such a piggy mood that I ate my entire chicken and vegetables pancake, followed by a portion of “poffertjes” with strawberries and whipped cream, all dusted with icing sugar. Poffertjes are small but thick pancakes (blini-sized but pudgier), which are covered in butter and icing sugar. Pure indulgence but as it’s our last full day travelling in Europe, I thought I deserved the treat! The restaurant was perfectly situated next to one of the many canals, and we watched the various tourist boats glide by, vowing to go on one later.

We had one small chuckle whilst we were there. An English couple sat on a table next to us, and asked for “a pancake like we have them in England, y’know, with lemon and sugar”. As if it’s up to the Dutch to know how we like our pancakes in England! 🙄 Anyway, he turned out not to be the idiot I thought he was when the same waitress accidentally knocked a glass of beer all over their table, dousing their iPhones… Thankfully they weren’t destroyed, but he wasn’t unpleasant about it and took it all in his stride, so my view of him changed slightly.

Having been in the restaurant for nearly two hours, we were conscious that time was ticking away, so set off for Vondelpark, when Ian suggested that I might like to visit the Asics shop that we had passed earlier for some new running shoes (as I may have mentioned once or twice that I needed some!). I couldn’t quite believe my ears, and didn’t wait to be asked again, so pegged it to the store leaving Bugsy and Ian to hunt out the play park somewhere in the gardens.

I started browsing the shoes and was asked if I needed any assistance. I did. So we chose some shoes in my child-size and went to the running machine for an analysis, which I have to say was really excellent. They hook your feet up to various sensors then you run for a minute on the treadmill, and it analyses your gait in quite good detail. I tried two different pairs of shoes for comparison purposes and to aid shoe selection. I wasn’t sure how I’d perform running a) without a sports bra and b) after stuffing my face with more food than I’d usually eat in a day, but actually it wasn’t too bad! At least I had plenty of energy!!

Ian and Cornelia then came into the shop, having discovered that the park is basically a chilled-out area for smoking weed and playing music, and not really suitable for toddlers! Or Ian! It was useful to have Ian’s additional input into shoe choice and I am very excited to have a new pair to test out and hopefully put a literal spring in my step!

We were still keen to go on a boat ride, and as the boats left from near Central Station, we quick-marched it back there, with Bugsy on Ian’s shoulders. We selected a one-hour ride as it was leaving imminently but the rather brilliant skipper suggested we went on a different open-topped boat, as his was about 50 degrees inside and he thought it would be unbearable for Cornelia. He charged to the front of the queue and rebooked tickets for us, before disappearing to start his own trip.

We waited patiently for 25 minutes for Bart, our skipper, who turned out to be utterly brilliant! He is Amsterdam through and through and loves his city. He is also hilarious and extremely knowledgeable. Ian kept asking him questions (think “What’s the draft on this canal” (Answer: Three metres) trying to catch him out, but he knew EVERYTHING.) We shared our boat with a couple from South Carolina and a Swedish couple with no less than five children, all under seven. Bart had us laughing with observations such as “Dutch is not a language. It’s a speech impediment!” We learned loads about the city. One particular discussion was about the houses tilting forward slightly – the reason for this is so that washing machines etc can be lifted up and into the higher floors of the house using a hook at the top of most buildings in Amsterdam. The houses lean forward so the items don’t smash the windows. Genius! The houses without hooks were for the very wealthy – they would also own the house behind, which is where the appliances would be lifted, out of sight from the main street. The houses that tilted sideways were as a result of the pine tree pilings, on which the houses were built, settling. Also, most of the houses were very narrow, and this is because of the historic tax on houses being based on the width of your home. All fascinating stuff and completely new to me.

Cornelia was very good for the whole time, despite not really being very interested in the information being provided by Bart. She was on good form though, and had everyone entertained every now and then, especially when she wanted to query Bart on something. For example, he said that he thought one of the new buildings was horrible, and she walked up to him and yelled “Excuse me! Why do you think it’s horrible?!” So he had to explain that he didn’t like the dull grey building and it was not like the beautiful old colourful buildings elsewhere. I love her confidence and ability to converse with adults already. I suppose that’s what you get when you’re stuck with just Mummy and Daddy for two months! At least she hasn’t started swearing yet…!

Once the boat trip was over, we traipsed to the station for our train back to Leiden. Ian managed to lose Cornelia again… I came back from the information kiosk and asked Ian where she was. He looked down next to him and said “She’s right here!” only to realise she was not right there at all. I yelled her name and she burst around the corner where she’d been playing hide and seek… Ian almost blamed her until I pointed out that he was the parent and she was three and it was his job to make sure he knew where she was. It’s not often I put my foot down, but that’s two days in a row he’s lost her!! 🙄

Anyway, the train back to Leiden was uneventful as was the bike ride back to our campsite, where our almost empty area was now filled with a huge tent and a father putting up a tent with four kids in tow – two teenagers and two smaller children. They were German, and Bugsy was keen to play with them, so I gave her a ball and suggested she offer it to them, so they could all play together. Well, that worked a treat! They raced around together for about half an hour, occasionally taking a break to get their breath back, before starting up again. Lisa is five, and her brother, Chris, is three. Cornelia adored Lisa straightaway, and when it was finally time for her shower (it was really late – 21:00 already) she sobbed that she was sad to be be leaving tomorrow as she just wanted to stay and play with Lisa. The tears continued all through the shower, finally subsiding when she realised she could play with her in the morning, if they were around.

Judging by the noise the family is making (they have now been joined by the two mothers and one further dad), I suspect they will be not going anywhere very early tomorrow. We are trying hard to not be small minded, but they have pitched one of their four tents on our pitch and it’s mildly irritating. But it’s nearly 23:00 and we are trying to keep calm about it, although I suspect Ian may be up early, to clatter around the invading tent!

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