Saturday, 15 November 2014

48 hours in Amsterdam - Part Two

I left you at lunchtime on the Saturday afternoon in 48 hours in Amsterdam - Part One having had a wet afternoon on a canal cruise, a chilled evening at the Van Gogh Museum and a reflective Saturday morning at the Anne Frank House. Here's how we spent the second 24 hours...

Prada bag and size, I think.
It's too easy as a tourist to visit a city and just focus on the Top Five attractions, as if by ticking them off the list you have officially 'done' the city. I would much rather hand pick a couple of the must-sees then find something a little off the wall. This is why I felt compelled to drop in on the Museum of Bags and Purses during our short stay in Amsterdam. The museum was free for holders of the I amsterdam City Card so this gave me a great reason to have a little accessories fix. 4000 bags, over 500 years of history, housed in a series of elegant rooms in an exquisite canal house. The most gorgeous purses, decorated with beads, feathers and crystals, had me drooling up against the glass cabinets and, for good measure, there was a special Forever Vintage collection (until March 2015) featuring classic designers from 1920 to 1994. Could this have got any better? Yes, we discovered the most mouth-watering p√Ętisseries in their cafe: a window seat looking out onto the pretty courtyard, a perfect cup of coffee and two freshly made strawberry mousse cream a handbag museum. Heaven.

I suppose visitors should come to Amsterdam to see Dutch things. You might think it odd to immerse yourself in all things Russian for an afternoon? Hermitage, Amsterdam, is a satellite branch of the Hermitage in St Petersburg so, as we weren't planning to visit Russia in the near future, it seemed churlish not to have a quick dose of the country while we had the chance. The current exhibition, Dining with the Tsars, is heavily discounted with the City Card and proved to be a stunning collection of posh porcelain.

Could you pass the salt, please? 'Dining with the Tsars' in the Hermitage

Back outside, we walked at length, taking in the cheese shops, markets, dodging trams and cyclists and generally absorbing the atmosphere of the city. We didn't plan to visit the Red Light District but somehow turned a corner and there it was. It was a very disturbing and unsettling experience as the pavements are narrow and the windows are surprisingly close. I didn't want to be there and yet had to carry on walking in order to find another street to turn off, all the while following groups of men who, bolstered by booze, were checking out the 'shop windows'. An intrinsic part of Amsterdam but not a savoury one.

Yet not far way from the Red Light District is Begijnhof, a calm, beautiful sanctuary of handsome houses, accessed through a large wooden door - a secret garden, just steps away from the bustling city streets. It was founded in 1314 for members of a lay Catholic sisterhood, the Beguines. Yet again I had this sense of Amsterdam being a city of contrasts. Is this because it is liberal, tolerant and accepting of all? Certainly it has a long tradition of caring for the sick and the poor: the number of almshouses (hofjes) funded by wealthy merchants in the 17th century, is testament to this.

On Sunday morning we printed off a themed walking tour I had spotted in the Amsterdam guide on KLM's website. It took us to the Jordaan, one of Amsterdam's most elegant neighbourhoods. Charming canals and streets, pretty bridges, student houses and almshouses. We followed the trail as best we could but did get temporarily lost on occasions and some of the hofjes, which we had been told might be open if we tried the doors, were unfortunately closed. Sunday morning might not have been the best time to peek into the courtyard of an almshouse but it was perfect for seeing the city at its most peaceful, as it was just beginning to stir.

An easy walk back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, a tram to the station, and we were soon being whisked away from the city centre. It felt sad to be going. I wanted another day, another two days. We had only just scratched the surface of this intriguing place and were keen to delve deeper. We hadn't been to the Rijksmuseum or Vondelpark, hadn't tried a pancake or wobbled on a bicycle. So much we hadn't done and yet, in 48 hours, Amsterdam had made its mark. We'll be back.

This is what I call recycling...

My husband and I flew as guests of KLM from Humberside to Amsterdam.

We were provided with the I amsterdam City Card by Amsterdam Marketing.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembering each and every one of them

Knowing some weeks ago that Remembrance Day, 11 November, would fall on a Tuesday, the day my weekly column appears in print, I was in no doubt what I wanted to share with readers.

This is our own family story of my uncle and his campaign to bring justice for one group of marginalised soldiers from the First World War. I would love you to read it and share my pride in his compassion and dedication.

We will remember them...all of them


If you want to catch up on other recent articles, feel free to have a look at these three:

Farm shop has it all - finding a fabulous replacement for our retired butcher, plus some food shopping habits: the Aldi conveyor belt wicket-keeping and the unexpected item in the bagging area.  

Surprise is still the magic of Christmas lists - thinking back to toy crazes from years gone by: clackers and space-hoppers anyone?

From South Holland to Amsterdam, Holland - how it's taken me 26 years to travel from one to the other.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

48 hours in Amsterdam - Part One

"I took a wrong turn on the way to the hotel and for several hours wandered aimlessly, shops decorated with glass baubles and grey dream alleys with unpronounceable names, gilded buddhas and Asian embroideries, old maps, old harpsichords, cloudy cigar-brown shops with crockery and goblets and antique Dresden jars. The sun had come out and there was something hard and bright by the canals, a breathable glitter."
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Just before we arrived in Amsterdam I had been reading this Pulitzer Prize winning novel and absorbing the atmosphere of the city through the author's words. Although most of the book's action takes place in the United States, the denouement occurs in Amsterdam in the depths of winter and despite the bleakness of the weather in the novel, there was an appealing sense of warmth, even cosiness, in the way it was described.

The weather was certainly quite bleak when we stepped out of the grand Centraal Station, a tourist attraction in itself standing proud and quite magnificent in the autumn drizzle. We made a dash for the tourist office across the square and picked up our I amsterdam City Cards which had been provided for us by Amsterdam Marketing so we could make the very best of our short stay in the capital.

Free public transport provided by the card was a godsend just at that moment. We hopped on Tram 26 to trundle to the next stop so we could check in to the Movenpick Hotel, our base for the weekend (more on the hotel in a separate post....I know, I am a tease). A quick turnaround and we were soon back at the station.

The rain was still we opted to take a canal cruise, many of which depart near to the station. Holland International's 100 Highlights tour is free with the city card so we happily hopped aboard, saving ourselves about 30 Euros in the process. This is when we realised that, no matter how fabulous a canal cruise sounds, it would have been so much better without the rain. Keep the windows shut and they steam up so you can't see very much: open the windows and the rain comes in and annoys your neighbour. They do provide small hand-held window-wipers but it's a full-time job and, tempted as I was to climb on the roof, they were a little ineffectual. If only we had waited until the Saturday when the weather was glorious: we saw many boats gliding up the canals, roofs down, with happy smiling faces peering out.

One of our better decisions, after a short rest and hair-dry back at the hotel, was our evening visit to the Van Gogh Museum ( and another 30 Euros saved with our cards). On Fridays the museum opens until 10pm and the vibe is definitely chilled. There can't be many countries in the world that offer cocktails and DJs playing mood music while visitors amble around some of the most famous and priceless artworks in the world. We even decided to have our dinner here at Le Tambourin cafe to save rushing our visit. Dinner, cocktails, DJs and VJs (video jockeys I presume?) plus a large helping of sunflowers to boot. Top night.

The sun broke through on Saturday morning which I suspect was at least one positive thing for the large number of people queuing to visit Anne Frank's House. I can't stress this enough but if there is only one tip you take away from this post, book your tickets online for this museum in plenty of time before you go. A small number of tickets are available for each timed slot which gives you access to a separate entrance to the museum. If you don't pre-book you will have to queue up...possibly for hours. The museum is sensitively run so visitors are given time to reflect on the story of Anne, her immensely moving diary and contemplate what it must have been like to live under such conditions. Such reflection cannot be rushed.

Anything you choose to do after visiting Anne Frank's house is bound to feel somewhat inappropriate. A time, then, for a walk along the canals, looking in shop windows, admiring the elegant houses. Amsterdam has plenty of lively streets, like most capital cities, but there are an extraordinary number of exquisite properties just a step away from main thoroughfares which give visitors the impression of walking through a small town: a little like seeing Mews houses off the main streets in Central London. Suddenly you are aware of residents going about their daily business and that's when you feel a connection and a sense of what Amsterdam is all about.

As Donna Tartt wrote in The Goldfinch: "friendly, cultivated city with its florists and bakeries and antiekhandles...rosy housewives with armloads of flowers, tobacco-stained hippies in wire-rimmed glasses..."

My husband and I flew as guests of KLM from Humberside to Amsterdam.

We were provided with the I amsterdam City Card by Amsterdam Marketing.

The Anne Frank Museum kindly allowed me complimentary access to the house.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Humberside Airport to Schiphol, Amsterdam with KLM

We're back from a fabulous weekend in Amsterdam You'll have to wait just a little longer to hear our tales from the city as I wanted to share our experience of flying from Humberside to Schiphol. Does it pay to fly local?

Humberside Airport
  • Its location, just off the M180, makes it very accessible for people in North Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. For us, travelling up from South Lincolnshire, 90 minutes of leisurely driving via the back roads was wonderfully stress-free.
  • The car parks are just at the door so no need for buses to take us to the terminal.
  • Humberside airport is small but beautifully formed. Functional outside but rather pretty inside with the very chic Aviator lounge and bar. 
  • Passport control and security is swift. On our return journey we were back in our car within about 10 minutes of the plane touching down. Even passengers with hold luggage were able to pick up their bags as soon as they had cleared immigration.
  • Unfortunately very few airlines fly from this airport. On the day we travelled there were three flights with KLM to Amsterdam each day plus some internal flights. The rest were helicopters. I may have to start a one-woman campaign for more routes. 

The Aviator Bar, Humberside Airport, at 9am...

KLM flight
  • Cityhopper planes are clean, comfortable and have plenty of leg room.
  • I had no idea the flight would be so quick: just less than an hour to Amsterdam. No sooner had we reached cruising altitude than we began our descent. I hardly had enough time to finish reading the in-flight magazine. I should have snaffled it, as it was a good one. 
  • No-fuss catering. As the flight is less than 90 minutes, complimentary water and a snack is provided. 
  • Staff at check-in and on board were friendly and efficient.
  • Great system for hand baggage. Rather than everyone trying to squeeze their luggage into the overhead lockers, a number of cases (ours included) are given pink tags and told to leave them at the foot of the steps before they are put in the hold. When the plane arrives at Schiphol, passengers are only allowed off once the pink-tagged cases are ready to be picked up at the steps again.

Our Cityhopper plane waiting to take us to Schiphol

Schiphol Airport
  • There's no denying Schiphol is huge so it does take some time for the plane to taxi to the terminal. This, however, is made very enjoyable by the fact that the plane trundles over a motorway bridge once it has landed. That must be quite a sight for motorists. 
  • Passport control is very efficient: no queues when we passed through.
  • The train station is underneath the airport terminal so onward travel is swift and easy. Trains are every 15 minutes to the centre of Amsterdam at a cost of 5 euros. My only complaint is they should have a one-queue system like we do in the UK, rather than passengers having to choose a queue and inevitably choosing the slowest line. Of course we could have bought a ticket from one of the many yellow ticket machines but you know how we have a habit of breaking them...
  • Schiphol Plaza is a tourist attraction in itself. If you have time to spare before your flight you will have plenty of options for eating and shopping. Trish's top tip: on your return journey don't throw away your bottle of water before you go through passport control. The security checks only occur when you reach your departure gate so you have plenty of drinking time before the no-liquids rule applies. 

Can I book this clog to take me to my departure gate?

In short, Humberside airport is a dream and KLM offers an efficient, comfortable service. As for Schiphol, if we were travelling long-haul in the future, I would seriously consider flying from Amsterdam. For us, driving to Humberside for a connection to Schiphol is a possible alternative to driving to Heathrow and would provide us with a lot more options for onward flights.

My husband and I flew as guests of KLM from Humberside to Amsterdam, however, a return flight from Humberside to Amsterdam with KLM starts from just £119 per person. As ever all opinions are my own.