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Unread 12 Jul 15, 12:04 PM  
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Gill H
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Happy Amsterversary! Day 2

<<<Day 1

Goedemorgen folks, and welcome to Dag Twee of the trippie, or Day 2 to you and me.

My phone alarm goes off at 7 and I head for the lovely bathroom to try out the rain shower. It’s my first experience of a ‘wet room’ with no shower curtain or anything to partition off the shower from the rest of the room, and I do find it a little disconcerting trying not to get water absolutely everywhere! Then I wake Peter up and investigate the TV while he’s getting ready. There are a couple of BBC channels as well as Dutch, German and Italian ones. I also try to make us a coffee, but I must be doing something wrong with the machine, as it doesn’t seem to pierce the coffee pod properly and the results are undrinkable! Soon we’re both ready and sorting our stuff out for the day. We didn’t bother unpacking last night, but now we make use of the lovely old-fashioned wardrobe which also has plenty of shelving space. We also unpack our extension lead which has UK sockets and a European plug – very useful for charging all your gadgets. We stick the camera and video camera on to charge while we head downstairs for breakfast.

There’s no sign of either Rachel or Pepjin when we go downstairs into the breakfast area. Instead we are greeted by the third member of the team, a Ghanaian guy called Gabriel. He shows us to our seats in the small breakfast area and sets about making coffee for us, and taking our order. As well as the usual continental breakfast of meats, cheeses, bread etc, we’re also offered bacon and egg, which we gratefully accept. However, for me at least, the star of the meal is the little plate of local cheeses and ham which we’re served along with home made bread. I do love the whole ‘meats and cheeses for breakfast’ thing when I’m travelling in Europe, and these are really good quality. We’re also given fresh croissants and a choice of spreads including local strawberry and quince jams. One nice touch is that fresh cherry tomatoes and strawberries are served too. There are also various mueslis, yoghurts etc if we want them, but we don’t have room this morning!

After our plentiful breakfast we negotiate the narrow staircase once again to pick up our things before we go. Unfortunately the charger for my camera doesn’t seem to be working, so any further photos in this trip report are probably from my phone. However, the video camera is juiced up and ready to go, so we head back downstairs, where we find Rachel and Pepijn getting ready for the day. We tell them we’ve decided to go for the iAmsterdam cards after all, as we plan to do quite a few things they cover; so they bid us a good day and we head off to find the tourist information centre opposite the Centraal railway station.

This turns out to be about a 15 minute walk, past Niewmarkt and through what looks like the Chinese area – lots of the businesses and restaurants along the canal are Chinese-owned. As we walk, it starts to rain steadily, and by the time we get to the area around the station it seems to have set in for a good while. We soon find the tourist information centre, where there’s a small queue ahead of us. As we reach the front, we’re unsure who – if anyone – is going to serve us. One woman is walking around behind the desk area, and another is staring into space at a point to the left of us. No one smiles, says anything or indicates that we should come over to be served. It’s ironic that of all the people we’ve met in Amsterdam so far, the only unwelcoming ones work in the tourist information office!

Anyway, we know what we want – two iAmsterdam cards, oh, and I’ll have a tacky souvenir umbrella with the iAmsterdam logo on it please. Hey, it may be 6 Euros but at least I’ll be dry. So we get our FairFx card out to pay for our purchases, and put it in the card reader. Now, we used the FairFx card several times back in March at DLP and it worked fine. The only surprise was that we needed to use a five-digit PIN instead of the usual four-digit one. So we’ve reminded ourselves this morning – don’t forget it’s five digits for the FairFx card. But when we go to use it, the card is refused. We’re not sure why, as we know there is plenty of money on it, so we try again, this time with four digits. But that comes up as wrong too. We give it another try with the five-digit PIN, and this time we get a message we can’t decipher, but which obviously means the card doesn’t work. We ask the girl what to do. She says ‘Do you have another card?’ Well, we do, but it’s back in the hotel safe. She shrugs and suggests we go to a bank. When we ask where there is one, she mumbles something about the station. Gee, thanks for the help.

We go outside into the rain, and head into the station, where we search fruitlessly for a bank. Eventually we ask at the information desk in the station. The lady there suggests we find an ATM, and says the nearest one is about ten minutes’ walk away. Since our card didn’t work in the card machine, we’re doubtful it will work in an ATM, so now we’re not sure what’s our best move. We do have some Euros in cash, but not enough for the whole trip, and both of us want to get this sorted.

So we walk back to the hotel in the steadily worsening rain, in moods which match the weather. We go up to our room, get the iPads out and get the FairFx website up. Once we log on, we can see that the card has been locked because of too many failed attempts to use it. OK, so what now? There are various automated numbers for different things, but we can’t see what to do in this situation. We try several numbers, and find that either they don’t connect, or they lead us to an automated line that doesn’t give us what we need.

Eventually, tucked away in the FAQ section, we discover what to do. We call and get the number unlocked, and then go through the whole automated rigmarole again to get a new PIN number (which, by the way, has four digits! Confused? I know I am…) The whole process has taken about an hour. Not a great start to the day.
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Edited at 11:06 PM.
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Unread 12 Jul 15, 12:07 PM  
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Gill H
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Anyway, time to start again – and this time I grab my raincoat before we head out. Rachel sees us at the door and asks us whether we got things sorted. She mentions that the staff at the tourist information centre are notoriously bad, and she wouldn’t recommend going there! Frankly I think they should employ Rachel instead. She tells us that iAmsterdam cards are also sold at the Rembrandthuis, which is only 10 minutes’ walk away, so that’s where we choose for our next destination. Fortunately the rain has stopped now and it’s nicely warm.

As we cross over the bridge to the opposite side of our canal, we notice a shop selling Piper’s Crisps – an expensive UK brand, which were also in our hotel room. Obviously they are popular here.

Walking through the quiet streets, we notice a lot of English writing everywhere. For instance, this place seems to have taken a Tripadvisor rating as a badge of honour.



We also notice that there’s an awful lot of Nutella everywhere. Whole shop windows seem to be full of huge jars of the stuff. One waffle house even has buckets of it in the window. Interestingly, they have a notice up saying they’re looking for ‘female staff’, and I’d say they probably won’t have to wait very long…

We soon find ourselves at the Rembrandthuis, where the friendly guy at the counter is happy to sell us iAmsterdam cards and activate the ‘attractions’ chip to let us in. There’s a separate chip for transport, which will be activated the first time we get on a tram or bus.

Rembrandthuis is a house which the artist Rembrandt lived in for part of his life. It’s a typical Amsterdam house, narrow and tall! We begin in the basement where there are lockers for your belongings if you want to leave them, and also free handsets for self-guided audio tours.

We work our way through the different rooms a floor at a time, listening to the audio guide. There’s a good mix of information, not just about the paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries, but also about the house, and how people lived at the time. For instance, the box beds are so short because people usually slept sitting up!

The house has been furnished pretty much as it would have been at the time, using information from a detailed inventory of the furnishings which was made when Rembrandt went bankrupt. Amazing how such a sad event for him at the time has resulted in such a well-researched museum so many years later.

We also learn much about Rembrandt’s personal life. Sadly his wife Saskia died after childbirth when she was only 23, and we are very touched by a beautiful etching he made showing four portraits of Saskia and one of ‘an older woman’. We can’t help wondering if the older woman is how he imagined she would have looked in later life.

We also see his mirror – which is something few people would have owned at the time. He spent a lot of time practising different expressions in the mirror and then drawing them (you do wonder what he would have made of the infamous selfie stick…) and his ‘surprised face’ is the emblem of the museum. Is it just me who thinks he looks a bit like Tom Baker in this?

After climbing all the way up the many stairs to the top of the house and seeing all we want to see, we take the lift (ooh, a lift!) downstairs to drop off our audio tour handsets, collect our coats and move on. We’re very pleased with the first use of our card – the Rembrandthuis is definitely worth a look, whether or not you’re interested in art.

Spotting a café nearby, we get ourselves a couple of cokes and sit by the nearest canal for a while. They’re 2.50 Euros each so we take our time! Moving on, we pass a branch of the Hema supermarket, and recall a handy Dibb tip to try the hot dogs, so we pop in and grab ourselves two hot dog and drink deals for 3 Euros each. The hot dogs are encased in a bread roll, with a mustard sauce inside, and very nice indeed. We stroll along enjoying them as a late lunch.

We wander along rather aimlessly, not sure what to do next, and eventually we come across a tram with ‘Centraal Station’ written on the front. We know that several of the canal cruises go from near the station, and our card is valid for one cruise. So we jump on the next tram – or at least we try to. There’s a guy in front of us with a folding bike, trying to get on, and he eventually manages to squeeze past the barriers, but when we try, they won’t give, and people make signs for us to get off and go to the front instead. Oops. We walk to the front of the tram, where the driver gives us a stern look and explains that you need to get on at the front or the back ‘and that boy with the bike also’! We activate our tickets and take our seats, rather embarrassed but sure we aren’t the first clueless tourists to have done the same thing.

The tram goes through Dam Square and up to the station, which turns out to be only a few stops away. We jump off, and then spend a frustrating few minutes wandering up and down trying to find where we get a cruise from. There are plenty of clearly signed places to buy the tickets (or in our case, show our cards and get tickets given to us) but it takes a little while to find where we actually get on. We end up going with a company called Lovers, and our skipper is the wonderful Captain Louie. As we board he asks us all where we come from, and then he gives his commentary not only in Dutch, but also English, German, French and even a few words in Chinese! We’re seriously impressed. Not only is the cruise a great way to see the sights in comfort, it also means we can escape the rain, which has come back for the afternoon. And Captain Louie’s commentary, which is interspersed with pre-recorded information, is very funny at times. He shows us a floating Chinese restaurant which is apparently based on a famous one in Hong Kong. He says it was built to seat 1000 people, but when it opened they discovered it only held 700 Dutch people because they were bigger – and then with a knowing chuckle he quips ‘or 350 Americans!’ He also tells us about the hooks which used to be placed on the tops of houses, so that furniture could be winched up on a rope and brought in through the windows – and claims that sometimes disobedient wives were hoisted out there too, although we’re not sure we believe him. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable ride round the city, although I’m not sure we know our way any better afterwards, as all the canals tend to blur into one after a while.
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Edited at 09:59 PM.
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Unread 12 Jul 15, 12:11 PM  
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Gill H
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After the cruise we decide we’re a little peckish, and I call to mind another Dibb tip. We’ve been recommended the local chips, ‘Vlaamse frites’ or Flemish chips! We spotted a place as we came up here on the tram, and it’s only a few minutes away from where we are. It’s called ‘Manneken Pis’ named after the famous statue in Brussels of the little boy having a wee. Not sure that sounds the most alluring place to buy food! But as we get near, we spot the long queue outside, and figure all these people must know something.

When we get to the front we ask for an ‘Obelix’ or large size, with mayonnaise, and take them nearby to share. They are absolutely delicious – fresh and crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and with plenty of creamy mayonnaise. However, we didn’t realise just how big the ‘Obelix’ size was, and after a while we have to admit defeat.



Besides, it’s starting to rain heavily again. The building next to the frites stall has a notice up telling people not to gather there to eat their frites, but nevertheless, people are gathering there to shelter from the rain. Instead, we dispose of our rubbish and duck into a nearby coffee shop, Café Stock, for a latte and a stroopwaffel – the caramel waffles which are sold everywhere here. Unlike a certain well known coffee chain in the UK, this place still serves its coffee in cups that are small enough for you to put the stroopwaffel on top so the caramel melts a little before you eat it. Delicious, and good coffee too - a nice place to take a break.

On the other side of the road from the café is a large and imposing building called Beurs van Berlage (which we will investigate later in this trip) and we work out from our map that if we cross the road and go through to the road behind that, we should easily be able to find our way to our next destination - Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, or ‘Our Lord in the Attic’.

And so we walk through the narrow streets, which give us our first glance at the red light district. I have to admit that the number of (ahem) ‘rooms to rent’ and the scantily clad girls in the windows are a little disconcerting, but we do feel perfectly safe to walk around here. And soon we reach what seems just another 17th century canal house- but this one has a secret. During the 1660s, when Roman Catholics were forbidden to hold public services, the owner of the house turned the top three floors into a hidden Roman Catholic church.

We are welcomed by a small team of people who are giving out free audio guides and directing people to the free lockers for their belongings. Fortunately my bag is deemed small enough to take with me, although as we climb up the narrow staircase I can see why they try to ensure people don’t take too much stuff up here.

As we reach the first floor we are asked to put on fabric overshoes to protect the floors. The audio guide explains that having so many visitors has put a strain on the building, and in fact they have had to build new stairs over the original ones as the wood was being worn away.

We spend a good hour going over the three floors of this fascinating building. Definitely worth a visit, particularly as it is included in our iAmsterdam card.

Our journey back to the hotel takes us past the Ouderkerk, or Old Church, but we decide we’ve seen enough historical buildings right now, and we give it a miss. Within minutes we spot the Waag building – original a medieval gate house, later a weighing house and currently a restaurant and arts centre. But for us, its main importance is that it’s right in the middle of Niewmarkt, and therefore only a few more steps back to the hotel. Soon we’re back in our room. It’s a little warm this afternoon, but rather than use the fan provided, we open a window and enjoy the cool air coming in from the garden. Remember this, it will prove important later!

We relax in our room for a while, watching TV, dozing or of course Dibbing (hooray for free wifi!) We also look up walking directions to the Pancake Bakery where we plan to eat tonight. It doesn’t seem too difficult a walk, and I take photos on my phone of the directions so we won’t need to use data when we’re out. Peter also tries to use the coffee machine again, but still can’t get it working and this time the coffee pod gets stuck in it!

After an hour or so we shower and change, and head out to find the Pancake Bakery. I spotted it from the canal boat earlier today, so I know it has red shutters and a red awning. Using the handy directions on my phone, we reach the end of our road, turn right and walk down a street full of tacky tourist shops, waffle houses, restaurants (including many Argentinian steakhouses, which seem very popular here) and quirky shops. Including this one which has penguins stuck to the ceiling for no obvious reason...!



Within minutes we find ourselves in the busy Dam Square, which we passed through earlier on the tram. We’re surprised to find how near it is! It seems to be a good place to catch trams as there are plenty running through here – if you can make your way past the throngs of people and hundreds of parked bikes around the national monument!
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Edited at 10:00 PM.
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Unread 12 Jul 15, 12:18 PM  
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Gill H
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We continue to follow our directions, and eventually find ourselves at the Pancake Bakery. It looks quite full and we wonder whether we’ll have to wait for a seat, but the friendly waiter welcomes us in and finds us a place almost straight away.

There are several reasons why we’ve chosen to eat here. Firstly, it’s been recommended by several websites and also some Dibbers. Secondly, we get 25% off an ‘international pancake’ with the iAmsterdam card. And thirdly, well, you have to do pancakes when you’re in Amsterdam!

Following a Dibb recommendation, we start the meal with French onion soup. And oh my goodness, are we glad we did! It’s full of flavour, hearty and satisfying, and as is traditional, it comes with a slice of bread with toasted cheese on top. However, rather than the French or Swiss cheeses you’d find if you had this dish in France, here it’s topped with ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese, which has a rich, nutty flavour that really adds to the dish.



We move on to our ‘international pancakes’. Peter has gone for the Canadian – crispy bacon, onions, mushrooms, ham, cheese and BBQ sauce.



I’ve chosen the French – melted goat cheese, thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and honey.



They are enormous! I do think we could easily have shared one. We do our best with them, but neither of us manage to finish. That’s not the fault of the pancakes though, they are absolutely delicious.

However, of course we have a little corner left for something sweet to end the meal. The speciality is poffertjes – little puffed pancakes served with butter and icing sugar. So we decide to share a plate of these between us, and two lattes.



When our order arrives, the waitress brings us two plates by mistake! We can’t possibly manage one each, so we explain that we only ordered one, and she apologises and takes one back. The poffertjes are lovely, fresh and hot, and just enough between us. As well as the butter and sugar, we add some syrup from one of the bottles on our table. A tasty and indulgent and to the meal.

I haven’t made a note of exactly how much the meal cost, but with the discount on the pancakes it’s about 40 Euros in total - pretty reasonable, considering how much we’ve eaten! As we leave the restaurant, we see a woman scrutinising the menu, deciding whether her group want to go in. She asks us whether the restaurant was good, and we recommend it. She’s a bit worried about the cost, but we explain that they could easily share a pancake between two and still have a good meal. One day in Amsterdam and we’re being asked for help by tourists already!

Now that we know where we’re going, the walk back feels much quicker. We soon reach Dam Square and then it’s only a short walk until we’re back at the hotel. Rachel and Pepjin aren’t around when we get there, so we can’t ask for an earlier breakfast tomorrow; but we decide that it will be fine to have a slightly later start and go for the standard time of 9am for a change. And with that we go up to our room and soon we’re sinking happily into our comfy bed after a wonderful day. Goede nacht, everyone.

>>>Day 3

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Edited at 01:00 PM.
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Unread 13 Jul 15, 07:37 PM  
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Great day
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Unread 13 Jul 15, 08:01 PM  
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Great day.
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Here we go again.
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Unread 31 Oct 17, 07:02 PM  
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What a busy day, you managed to do so much even with the unhelpful tourist information ladies.

I have never been to Amsterdam and not have it rain, so I am not surprised but it sounds like you did not let the weather hinder you.

So much yummy food too. Those Obelix frites look delicious and those pancakes had my mouth watering.

A great anniversary celebration so far
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Unread 20 Jan 18, 11:34 AM  
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You crammed a lot in. The Netherlands really doesn't have a "service" culture so unhelpful staff aren't really a surprise here. The stairs in some Dutch houses and restaurants are insane, like climbing a stepladder. People use the hooks on buildings to this day and will ask when you are getting delivery from ikea if you have one when you are on a higher floor. The pancakes and poffertjes you had look lovely.
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