I am going to start this piece by being 100% honest and tell you that I really had not great desire to visit Amsterdam. Drug culture does not impress me and having read my DK guide to Holland from cover to cover to see what there was to do – I was not overly impressed. I don’t like Art/Art museums. However, my daughter does like arty things and we decided to make trip up towards Amsterdam. I knew I was going to have to work a day for a full day online meeting so this meant I was not going to get quite the same experience as the rest of my family.
I decided to make the journey up to Leiden (where we were staying in a lovely Golden Tulip hotel) by going up the coast route as much as possible in search of polders and dykes. We were having a few issues with our car – so, I was reluctant to stop en route (which was disappointing as this was part of the original plan). But – we did get to see a lot as we passed through and by arriving a little earlier in Leiden that we had planned – meant that we had a bit more time to explore Leiden.
As a geography teacher – I remember many years ago having to teach pupils about the Dutch polders and I wanted to see these for myself. As we travelled up along the coast there were two key things that struck me along the route:
- Industry: Along the Belgian and Dutch coast – I was not really expecting to see the massive amount of industry and ports that lined the coast. There was mile after mile of industrial complexes and massive chemical plants and factories. Coming from Northern Ireland – this was unlike anything I had ever seen before and it made me think about how much more stuff they must make compared to us!
- Renewable energy: I was expecting (and did) see a lot of wind mills in Holland. However, I was not expecting to see so many massive wind turbines that lined (the incredibly windy) coastline and then the massive amount of tidal sluices and barrages that were used to convert daily tidal flows into energy. To think that in NI there are major disputes and concerns when a small group of 10 wind turbines is put up on top of hill – pales into comparison with the scale of things along the coast in Holland. In a time of massive fuel crisis – we have a lot to learn about the scaleability of renewable energy.
We were pleasantly surprised by Leiden. We has chosen a hotel that was deliberately close to the train station so that we could commute the 5 stations up to Amsterdam Centraal as quickly as possible. But, the hotel also provided good parking and was within walking distance of central Leiden. We dumped our bags and went to explore the centre and find a place for dinner.
Leiden was easy to navigate and there was a series of canals through the centre. The main street presented a lot more shops than what were expecting and we walked round trying to see if we could work out where the locals went for food. There were lots of bars (some on barges) and ice cream shops providing some nice, cheap ice cream favours. Many of the shops sold cheese. There was not much we could do to buy and store much cheese for our next 2 weeks in Europe so we could not really partake. Having explored much of the centre – we eventually found a pavement restaurant where a lot of local were eating. Following an ice cream on our way back, we scoped out the train station and how we were going to make our way to Amsterdam the following day. I was amazed by the number of bikes parked up outside the station. I have often taught about some of the integrated transport networks that exist in places like Holland and southern Germany but had never really seen one up close. One of the bike parks was a massive multi-storey bike park. Very impressive layout and allegiance to public transport – though the cost of the return ticket at €20 each for a couple of stops was relatively expensive.
I was in an online meeting for most of the day when the rest of my family went into Amsterdam, though I did join them later on for a quick explore and dinner in the city. A couple of months before I had planned ahead and got them tickets online to the Anne Frank house/museum. My wife and daughter were really keen to get to see this. At the minute you need to cook these ahead of time – about 6 weeks before the actual date. You cannot just turn up and wait in queues anymore – so this system benefits someone who is a forward planner like me – so I put the booking date into my online calendar and when it popped up in my reminders I was able to get them booked in for the tour. Sometimes, when you are travelling to a place for the first time – you really need to plan ahead and make sure that you get to see the main attractions.
Part of the joy of experiencing a new place is the opportunity to just walk about and try and absorb the scenery, culture, architecture and pathos of the new place. We love to walk about new places and find our way with google maps or a paper map (these are sadly increasingly difficult to find) and to pick out the key features of that place. It involves walking a lot of miles. We reckon that for one day in Amsterdam we did about 29km of walking. Their legs were already tired by the time I joined up with them in the evening and I wanted to see some of the main things before we found somewhere to eat before getting a late train back to Leiden.
- Anne Frank House – my wife and daughter loved the opportunity to visit this place. They had both read the book and wanted to see how the Frank family had lived. It was easy to try and picture the Nazi occupation and how people would have had to live under that oppressive regime through the Second World War.
- Rijks Museum – my daughter was really keen to see round the museum but a combination of a lack of time and her unwillingness to part with €20 meant she did not get to go into the museum. However, she did discover that people under the age of 18 could get in for free – so she sent her brother in to buy here a few things in the gift shop!
- The canals and waterways – the most visually unique aspect of any visit to Amsterdam is the canals and waterways that criss-cross their way across the city. They are usually really nice and appealing. I fancied taking a quick boat tour but the rest of the family were more focused on getting some dinner by that time!
- The food – some of the food we got was really good! They even bought me a cinnamon swirl that was possibly the best I have ever had!
- The shopping – my wife and daughter had great fun in some of the shops – especially the ones with little porcelain and delft houses. Glad I was not about to see how much that all cost!