13 November 2012 – Canals and pancakes in Amsterdam

After a night’s sleep in a bed that our legs didn’t hang out of we felt ready for a new day. Astrid woke up about 6am, which was less than ideal but went back to sleep and we ended up having to wake her at about 8.30am to make it to breakfast and our train on time.

Breakfast at our hotel would have been really enjoyable if we weren’t trying to throw it down in 10 minutes to make our train. It was the usual European fare of many pastries and breads, cheeses and meats. Our Brussels hotel was quite good. A large room (as big as our Paris apartment) and a good location. It was a big 1960’s but very functional and comfy beds. We had enjoyed Brussels and wished we had another full day there but alas Amsterdam was calling.
It was about 2km to the train station, so not far, but a fair hike with all the luggage.  We had packed lighter for this trip but the bags are still heavy and we had added a whole heap of chocolate to it after yesterdays purchases.  Unfortunately, the metros and buses, to the train station were less efficient than walking and pressed for time we figured our best bet was to load up and run, or at least walk as fast as humanly possible carrying heavy bags and an ever-increasingly heavy Astrid. We were bolting to the train as fast as our bag-laden legs would carry us, and nearly passed out from the effort of rushing, but made it with few minutes to spare.  Of course then train was a couple of minutes late and we found the platform instantly, but neither was guaranteed so it could have been a disaster.  Our legs were already pretty sore after the previous days walking (which our GPS indicated was in excess of 16km) so I’m sure we will feel it tomorrow.

On board our Thalys train to Amsterdam we were again in first class thanks to our pass so we got served several pastries and coffees which we enjoyed and Astrid participated in. The train was packed when we got on, having originated in Paris, and was pretty full through Antwerp and then once we got to Rotterdam pretty much everyone cleared out and the train was virtually empty for the last leg of the trip. This was probably a good thing as although Astrid was happily watching playschool and eating she was getting  bit tired and grumpy and only peek a boo with the neighbouring Italian passengers was amusing her. At this point we were told that there was a fire at Amsterdam airport and trains were being delayed and diverted.  We had an extra stop to let people off to get a connection through to the airport and cruised slowly along in the train admiring all the houses backing onto the canals, with geese and ducks in peoples yards. The landscape is certainly different here – water everywhere, and boats and bikes!

Half an hour late into Amsterdam we decided to use public transport to get to our hotel. It was only a few kilometres but with bags and a tired Astrid, a quicker option would be good.  We obtained public transport cards (OV-chipkaart) and loaded them with credit and efficiently found a bus that got us only a short walk from our hotel. This hotel is a winner. Quaint old building, on a canal and gorgeous big room overlooking the water. Astrid has her own alcove and her cot overlooks the canals. She took advantage of this and had a bit of a rest while her parents planned the rest of our day.

We woke Astrid up at about 2.30pm, it is always annoying to have to wake her, but given how much we have been doing we knew she would sleep all arvo if we let her. We headed out to find a nearby pub we had read good reviews on. We found it, but it was closed. Luckily just around the corner there was a nice cafe and despite the late hour they were still serving lunch. I had a nice bowl of pumpkin soup and cute hand made bread rolls. Anto had a very nice home-made burger and really good fries with mayo.  Astrid ate quite a bit of his burger and didn’t mind the odd fry and mayo either.  They also did good coffee and it was really cheap and a lovely place to sit and eat. We could have stayed all afternoon but decided on a walk around instead.

The weather was somewhat better than the previous day in Brussels and it was about 8 degrees, rather than 4 and icy. Much more pleasant for walking around in. We did quite a long wander around the canals and marvelled at how pretty it was with the falling autumn leaves and lovely buildings lining the canals.  The buildings are really funny to look at. Most are not at all straight and seem to lean in funny directions. It really messes with your head and I suspect if you partook in some of Amsterdam’s well known specialities it would be even more strange.  We also noticed that most of the buildings had basements you could see into and they were full of people working and playgroups with small children and babies. It was fun walking around and seeing all the different things going on. Every now and then you would walk through some ‘interesting’ smelling smoke or see someone wandering around who had obviously been inhaling said smoke.

There were of course bikes everywhere. You pretty much get knocked over with them hooning down the streets. Cars did seem to give way to pedestrians and bikes. The bikes do look like a fun way to get around.  We loved all the mum’s picking up the kids from school and dinking them home on the bikes with special ‘kiddy baskets’ on the front. I got a photo of an empty one, but not one with kids. Will try again tomorrow to get that as it is very impressive!

We spent a few hours walking around and  managed to see some lovely shopping centres and the main square, Dam.  It was getting to dusk and all the lights were coming on and there was an Aussie entertainer in the square who was promising to set himself on fire, or something similar, but we didn’t hang around as we wanted to get on a canal cruise.  We managed to jump on the last one leaving for the day. They seem to shut early in Winter, but it was already getting dark and cold so we weren’t surprised.  The cruise we were on was mostly empty so we had the back of the boat to ourselves. Despite being tired, Astrid  was well behaved, although not that interested in the sights.  We, however, enjoyed the commentary and found it a good way to learn more about the canals we had just been walking around.  We got a good view into many of canal-side buildings and it was funny seeing people working in one window and the next house over it was someone’s lounge room. There were also some very expensive ‘mansions’ and lots of houseboats to keep us amused.

We had a tour under many bridges and past some churches and other landmarks we had walked around. The commentary was interesting and we learnt about how many bikes and cars ended up in the canals and how far below sea level most of Amsterdam is.  The tour also went out into one of the big bays and we saw some impressive floating restaurants and large architectural buildings.  It was also interesting to have floated around the back of the train station, which is built over the water.  The cruise lasted and hour and it was totally dark by the time we got back, but it was actually a good time to do it as it was extremely pretty seeing everything lit up. Terrible for taking photos from a moving object but lovely to look at!

It was now after 6pm and we had a tired and hungry small person so we decided to catch the bus to a pancake restaurant for dinner as it was a good half an hour walk. Of course we just missed one bus and the next one was late. We eventually got to the restaurant and it was closed for the night.  We had a search nearby for something else to eat but most things were very vegetarian unfriendly.  We headed back towards our hotel hoping to find something decent to eat. Nothing exciting popped out and we headed down some side streets and happened upon a huge square of restaurants and pubs.  There was a lot of Indian and Thai restaurants and most of the pubs looked good but we ended up at a sports bar as their menu was in English, it was cheap and we were sick of looking.

The food was cheap (and meals huge) but there was no prices on the drinks menu and you HAD to order a drink if you wanted food. We took this as a bad sign but it turns out the diet coke and beer we ordered were no more expensive than any drink in Paris (and probably cheaper).  We can’t say it was the best food ever but we were tired and hungry. I had a vegetarian burrito, which was actually quite good and full of vegies. Astrid mostly enjoyed my sour cream which she dipped various things into. She did eat some of Anto’s fish and chips and then mostly ate the ice cream and dutch pancakes we had ordered.  Despite it being late she got a second wind and was being quite cute and charming the waitresses and drinkers.

We wandered back to our hotel and got the small one ready for bed. The canals are very pretty at night and the streets were still busy with people out walking and riding. Our hotel window has a beautiful view out over the canals and we tucked into some delicious Dutch icecream, so we aren’t feeling too hard done by tonight.

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