For S’ birthday earlier this month, I figured he needed a really special present, after working so hard for the past year, and since it was somewhere we’d wanted to visit for ages, I booked us a three day trip to Amsterdam. I would have loved to make it a total surprise: mentioning on the Sunday evening that he didn’t have to go to work for the next three days, and as I know his boss (I used to work for the same company) then it might have been possible. But I had visions of his booking meetings without her knowledge, then panicking on said Sunday night, so I had to settle instead for telling him we were going away, but not to where.
It was fun to listen to S’ guesses for the preceding two months, which included the correct place, Brussels, Dublin, Belfast (too many episodes of The Fall) and the Bahamas (ha!). Even on the morning itself, his actual birthday, he still had no real idea, although driving the familiar route to Bristol airport kinda made it obvious we were flying, and when we arrived, the only two flights that fitted the time were Amsterdam and Faro (which I had actually considered but discarded on the basis that we’d talked about going to the Netherlands for the last three years so it seemed daft to go somewhere random).
It had been a somewhat stressful few days before leaving (work being busy, plus the cat deciding on Saturday evening to come in limping, necessitating an emergency trip to the vets on Sunday morning and a contingency plan formulated with my mom for her to come and stay in case Olivia needed 24 hour attention, then having to brief our cat sitter on giving painkillers when it was found that she was fine after all), but as soon as we landed at Schipol I was in full-on pancakes, coffee and beer tourist mode.
We spent the three days cycling round the city, getting our cheeks whipped red with the February wind, loving the freedom the bikes gave us. They had come as part of the lovely apartment in Westerpark I rented through Air BnB, and I can’t recommend cycling in Amsterdam enough. I love to ride, but the roads in Bristol fill me with fear, partly the steep gradient but mostly the cyclist-hating drivers and having to share bike lanes with motorcycles and First Buses. Cycling in Amsterdam was a total and utter pleasure, as there are clearly segregated lanes and drivers are always aware of you. Oh, and the total, total flatness!
We loved being outside in the blue skies so much that while we popped our heads into the Rijksmuseum to check out the refurb, the lure of exploring more of the city on two wheels overcame the excellent Old Masters collection.
On the Tuesday night, we met up with two of our Dutch friends from our Salkantay trek three years ago, who took us to the Food Hallen, a newly-opened collection of food stalls and bars in the old tram terminus, where we drank Dutch beer and ate an amazing meat platter with fresh bread and pickles. Since were tourists in the Netherlands, we also sampled pancakes and waffles (with Nutella, natch), saw tulips and canals, were mildly surprised by naked ladies beckoning to us from windows in the red light district, and had no need to speak Dutch whatsoever, thanks to the amazing language skills of every single person we met (as always, I was ashamed of the British inability/laziness/lack of teaching at school in other languages).
So after three years of wanting to visit, Amsterdam didn’t disappoint, although I feel I may have set the bar very high for future birthday presents!