Amsterdam

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We were both excited about our accommodation in Amsterdam, the Hotel-Boot Angeline, a big barge docked right by the Nemo Science museum, and 10 minutes’ walk from the train station.

On exiting the train station we faced a vast expanse of water, with all sorts of boats from workaday barges to tourist sightseeing boats to free public ferries linking one side of the river to the other. The sun was out, and despite the chill factor, it was a glorious day.

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As we gazed at the view and tried to get our bearings, we accidentally strayed into the cycle lane – definitely not done in Holland and we got roundly admonished by a woman with pink hair, tattoos, huge biker boots and artificial flowers wound round her handlebars.

Once we got our bearings we headed off to drop our bags at the boat, which was just as much fun as expected. They let us check in right away and after a restorative cup of tea for me and the first of many hot water and honey drinks for Lauren (whose throat continued to bother her), we headed off to explore.

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I wanted to just wander, and given the weather we set a vague course towards the Van Gogh museum, across the other side of town, and meandered through the streets and along the canals, stopping of for a pic nic lunch on a bench along the way. While we were eating our lunch of humus and falafel and bread sticks, an old man came down to the canal to feed the birds. A fight ensued between the seagulls (who could snatch the food from the air) and the ducks who could be fairly aggressive on the water. The old man beckoned Lauren over, and they happily threw bread for a while. Yes, I know current thinking is that bread is bad for the birds, but he was going to give it to them anyway, and it was a nice moment.

While we wandered, there was at times a strong smell of cannabis, and I had to explain to Lauren that some of the brownies and lollies (seriously people, hash lollies?) were for adults only, and she had a good giggle at some fairly hardcore underwear, but I had learned my lesson from Brussels and scoped out the area to avoid beforehand, and I can definitely attest to that side of Amsterdam being just one facet of a beautiful, edgy and cool European city. It very  high on our list for a return visit.

The Van Gogh museum was good, but to be honest it also served to show just how different a lot of his work was from those paintings that rightly made him famous. We spent a pleasant hour there, saw the sunflowers etc, but I was somewhat underwhelmed. Lauren was more fascinated by the life story of someone so troubled who cut off his ear, produced such manic work, and shot himself, all before the age of 30. There were also some cool interactive displays that allowed us to see how he worked the paint and layered it on to create different effects, which Lauren particularly enjoyed.

After the museum we were fairly wrecked, so headed home for dinner and an early night, jumping on a tram that took us right through the centre.

The next day we were due to catch a lunchtime train for Hamburg, en route to Copenhagen, and so we just had time for a couple of hours at the incredible kids science museum. It was expensive to get in, but totally worth it – Lauren could have spent a whole day there. Spread over a number of floors, very hands on and instructive, she first had a go at simulating all aspects of a global supply chain, learning about just in time delivery, environmental impact of different ways of transporting goods, and navigating a ship around the world. We moved on to physics and did an experiment about how water doesn’t conduct electricity unless it had salt in it, and then she spent a happy half hour learning about water systems. Other interesting exhibits had her exploring the universe, creating a vortex, lifting her body using pullies and rope, and learning about technical drawing with perspective. Thoroughly recommend this place to anyone with kids visiting Amsterdam.

After this we jumped on a train and headed to Hamburg, where we met a lovely Ghanaian taxi driver who took us to our hotel. Hamburg unfortunately doesn’t get its own entry because all we saw was the train station and the Ibis. Just a stopover on our way to Copenhagen.

Next: Copenhagen

On the Road Again!

We are finally on the road again. Write ups a few days behind our actual travels…

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Our current aim is to do a loop through northern Europe and visit the Faroe Islands and Iceland, hopefully seeing the northern lights but really just experiencing a completely different way of life – 6 hours of daylight, subzero temperatures and getting about by boat should be sufficiently different, I think.

The first leg of the journey was from the home comforts of St. Albans, through London at rush hour, to Liverpool street, where we caught the train to Harwich, in order to board the ferry to Holland. Of course it would have been quicker and cheaper to fly , but wheres the fun in that?!

We were both adapting to our new backpacks – wheelie bags may be great for round Europe, but I find a backpack easier on my damaged back than the constant tug and lift of a wheelie bag anywhere other than the super smooth surfaces of hotel lobbies and airports. At least, once I get the damn thing on my back.

Loaded down with school books, my laptop (for schoolwork), and the numerous layers of waterproof and warm clothing we will need for this leg, plus the ‘emergency’ food because I am paranoid that Lauren might miss a meal (which as we all know leads to rapid meltdown), we navigated our way gingerly through Kings Cross and Liverpool street, at the height of rush hour, trying not to hit people with our bags, and boarded the train well in advance of departure. The train actually went through Maryland, the station that for a few years was the closest to home – which was a little odd. How my life has changed since those days.

On arrival at Harwich there is an exit directly from the platform to the ferry terminal, with a lift, which my knees welcomed after the homping up and down the tube with a ton on my back. I’m either going to be crippled or a lot fitter after this trip.

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Excited to be on board and off on our travels again.

There were few passengers at the passenger terminal, as most people were crossing with cars, and there were also a lot of trucks crossing to the continent. Long distance truckers seem to be a hardy, hard drinking, lot and there seems to be a sense of camaraderie among them – those we came across on the crossing from Italy to Greece seemed to have the same brash approach to things as those on the UK-Holland ferry. They have their own separate areas on the boat, including a ‘tuckers only’ canteen and bar.

Having checked in we were taken by bus to the ferry, and climbed up from the car deck to where our cabins were waiting. I’d booked an outside cabin for 2, but we had been upgraded to a family room, which consisted of a double bed with a single bunk above it, plus another set of bunk beds. Everything was clean, shiny and new seeming. The shower was large, and the bathroom itself small but perfectly functional. There was also a desk and chair, a flat screen Tv, and controls for the room temperature. This was all pretty much wasted on us, as we dumped out bags and headed out for a quick explore of the boat before bed.

There were 2 restaurants, but we had already eaten and so we headed first to the shop, where I bought a cheap watch as mine had gone completely haywire, and Lauren spent some of her money on a magnet. She is collecting badges, magnets and postcards from every country we go to.

After discussing our travels at length with the bored Dutch guy on the till, we headed outside to watch the loading of the trucks, and enjoy the fairly chilly sea breeze. The outside area had a bar and even a volleyball pitch, but we were the only ones outside.

The ship wasn’t due to sail until 23.00, which was midnight Dutch time, and would dock in Holland at 0800 Dutch time so Lauren reluctantly agreed we should go to bed before sailing. While it would have been nice and romantic to watch the lights of the UK slowly disappearing into the night, I wanted to make the most of a day in Amsterdam, and Lauren was also starting with a sore throat, so pragmatism prevailed.

The next morning we enjoyed the approach to the Hook of Holland as the sun rose, mist hanging below us as we were overtaken by container ships and surrounded on both sides by windmills looming out of the gloom, cranes and all sorts of boats.

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We docked dead on time, and after some pretty relaxed immigration and customs guys, were free to jump on a bus to the nearby town where we would continue our journey to Amsterdam.

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Next: Amsterdam