Oh, the joys of independent travel! The lost bag in Bergen arrived late in the evening before we left for Amsterdam. At the huge Schipol airport, we waited at the baggage carousels where the offending Bergen bag arrived pronto – but not the other one! We waited and waited for half an hour then began the tedious process of reporting lost luggage. To put this in perspective, this is really a first world problem where the wonderfully helpful Northern Europeans speak English. Resigned to another 24 hour wait, lo and behold, after over an hour, the lost red bag appeared like a lonely beacon going round and round on the empty carousel!
Slightly frazzled, we took the train to Amsterdam Central railway station. This wonderful 19th century building featured in a recent Michael Portillo railway special. It’s turreted towers feature the city emblems of London and Berlin. We decided to use the Amsterdam travel card which gave us free public transport and at 21€ was great value. The underpass between the bus station from our hotel and the CBD featured many shops including Leonida’s exclusive chocolates, which of course we sampled.
The old city retains its 17th century character, with narrow cobbled pedestrian alleyways and tram lines everywhere. Pedestrians beware as cyclists have right of way and English travellers must adjust to reversing the looking to the left rule!
Houses on the canals lean in. The city is 0.6m below sea level and the original wooden piles supporting houses, bridges and locks often rot away. The whole city has an off kilter atmosphere.
Our plan was to visit the Museum Pleine, where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum surround a green promenade. Arriving at Central station at 8.30am, we were greeted by hundreds of Amsterdammers travelling to work by bicycle. At the station, bike parking is three stories high and stretches right along the Haven. The famous Dutch bikes, where cyclists sit upright, looked very familiar to us. Not a helmet to be seen however and I was very gratified to see many grey haired cyclists powering along amid the trams.
Originally two cities, Amstel and Dam, gradually became the integrated Amsterdam. The sun was just rising when we hopped off the No2 tram at Dam, where we admired the Royal Palace smack bang in the middle of the city without a security fence or guard to be seen. At the Van Gogh Museum the queue was already snaking around the entry. You must buy your tickets online and bursts of art lovers are allowed to enter in 15 minute lots.
We wended our way through Vincent’s early work, the dark oils he painted in Holland and stood three deep at the famous Potato Eaters. But really his later work full of colour and light, capturing the vibrancy of the Provençal landscape was the highlight – The Harvest and Sunflowers. In his last year, Van Gogh painted 75 paintings in 70 days, increasingly abstract and slightly mad. Tortured over his poor financial situation he shot himself and died from his wounds, totally unaware of his future fame. His self portraits tell it all.
In the evening, we wanted to try a Rijstaffel meal, the Dutch Indonesian fusion of Asian cuisine. Very proud of our navigation skills we fronted Indonesian Special, a tiny 20 seater restaurant in trendy Jordaan district to be told it was booked out – and on a Monday. Undeterred we found a second larger Indonesian restaurant which was also booked out so with our multicultural appetites still intact we settled for Tapas washed down with local Golsch beer on tap. Rijstaffel will need to wait till next time.