Europe by Train 2012: Amsterdam

I decided to do an Interrailling trip after many conversations with people who’d done it and had an amazing time.  They had both done it around ten years ago in their twenties; one chap had done a trip around Europe in ten weeks with a large group of University friends whilst another girl had spent many weeks on many trains with various friends and loved it. Both were full of epic stories and adventures and enthusiastically recommended it.  I was inspired and looked into it some more.  I found a website, and information about a global rail pass that would give me access to 30 countries within Europe, brilliant, I also had different options for the time allowed and opted for ten travelling days out of twenty two and planned my route.  As I was travelling alone, I could go wherever I wanted.  I booked hotels in my chosen locations as selecting a private hostel room proved rather expensive.  I am not in my twenties and didn’t like the idea of sharing a room with youngsters who may or may not steal my things, keep me awake with their snoring and/or laughter.  I found some amazing deals and was perfectly happy with my choices and felt quietly prepared for my amazing trip that would last for eighteen days.  I’d told people I would check in on Facebook occasionally but not every day, I would be contactable by phone if necessary but would not activate Vodafone traveller as £3 was extortionate and would be exploring Europe… best laid plans of mice and men and all that……My IPhone decided to die a death literally before I left the house but phone numbers, my itinerary and adequate cat food were left with my excellent neighbours who were looking after my cat Gromit and I was off. 

My first stop from Southampton was to Amsterdam. I and around thirty other passengers got a bus from the airport across several runways and walked to our plane which was unnervingly diddy. I had a window seat, watched the safety announcement and started to get excited about my adventure that was about to begin. A chap who was sat next to me was reading a Clive Cussler book, we spoke politely before he went to sleep and snored for a bit whilst I read 50 Shades of Grey.  I arrived in Amsterdam an hour and twenty minutes later, saw tulips on a screen in the airport so took my first photo – such a tourist! 


Amsterdam airport with tulips and a random man forever immortalised in my photo.


I’d read that a taxi from the airport would be around €40 or I could get a train and two trams to my hotel. My navigation skills are not brilliant, my suitcase was heavy and I was a little shakey with nervous excitement so I opted for the taxi just to get me to the Easy Hotel quickly. There were lots of Heineken displays on the way to my hotel and I do mean lots in various sizes and shapes. My initial impressions of Amsterdam were that the buildings looked like the ones I’d seen in Paris five years ago; there were no discernible smells but many, many, many, bikes. They are everywhere. My hotel room was sparse but as expected from the website. I was going to be there for three nights so rather than racing around on the first evening I went on a search for a restaurant as I realised I was ravenous. I found a nice Italian restaurant around the corner from my hotel and requested a nice bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese, a carafe of red wine and a table in the window so I could absorb the café culture. I was a little annoyed that I wasn’t enjoying a Dutch delicacy but intended to find one within my three days. I was also annoyed with my lack of phone and ability to contact friends but I would survive plus had access to Wi-Fi in my hotel! Right before I could take my first sip of wine on Dutch turf, I was asked to move to allow a larger party to sit in the window. Initially I thought that was quite rude but I sat at a different table and then saw the most amazing light hanging from the ceiling. I f I had stayed in the window I would not have seen this:


It was made up of cutlery, mini sieves, ladles and a large whisk.


  And then there was light – pretty!


The spaghetti bolognese went down veeeery well as did the wine, I sat there for quite a while people watching.  The Restauranteer was singing a lot, random strings of song would suddenly be heard with no connection to each other. I asked about the medals that were hanging from the ceiling, you can see them to the left of the light and the Restauranteer told me that his chef entered a lot of marathons! The restaurant cat came to say hello, beautiful little tortoiseshell kitten who, I was told, was 8 months old. She was undisturbed by me or a large, floppy dog that had accompanied the party which had ousted me from my original seat. I was suddenly tired after all of the travelling, excitement and wine so went to bed quite early.

I’d been to Germany many years ago on a student exchange and remember having eyebrows raised at me in disbelief when I asked for milk in my tea, I even got introduced to neighbours as ‘Das ist Sarah, sie ist aus England und hat Milch in ihren Tee!’  (‘This is Sarah, she is from England and has milk in her tea!’) I had forgotten this until I asked for a black tea with milk in a local café in the morning.  I felt slightly mocked by the waitress but then remembered that it was considered odd outside of Britain.  Again, wanting to absorb the Dutch culture I spent some time with my two glasses of tea with milk and a croissant with jam and cheese, yes and cheese and gazed out of the window. Many, many, many people on bikes passed my window and I noticed this odd car:


It was like someone had chain sawed a car in half.  It was smaller than a Smart car and parked randomly on a pavement.

I might need to explain Zingy.  I thought it might be amusing to take pictures of ‘him’ in random places on my travels.  He may turn up again.

I had been advised to take the Canal Bus around Amsterdam and I’m very glad I did. For €22 I could spend all day on a Canal Bus hopping on and off as I wished. I wanted to see a windmill, the Red Light District and experience what Amsterdam had to offer. The routes offered are below:


I got on at Rijksmuseum around 11.15 and headed along the green route. The guide told us interesting facts about Amsterdam as we went along. The city was one of greenest in Europe with many gardens or patches of grass being grown on the roofs. Elm trees lined the canals, adding to this greenness and these types of trees were used as their roots grew down instead of out into the canals. 

Below is the well-known Skinny Bridge



Above is a typical line of buildings I saw.  The gables are adorned with a hook which enables residents to pull large, bulky objects up and into a window at the proper floor. Most homes in Amsterdam have narrow, steep, often winding staircases that make it difficult to bring large, bulky objects upstairs.[1] Our guide had said something about ground space being limited which is why the buildings were so tall instead of broad. The architecture was very neat, in fact the whole city was very neat and very clean. Many of the houses by the canals had family crests and ornate sculptures on them. I got off the green line at  Rembrandt house and investigated the flea market which our guide had recommended. Just as I got off the boat the heavens opened and I dashed beneath the first stall I found which was curious:


I had never seen such colourful tights and my initial feigned interest became genuine and intrigued.  The owner of the stall was wearing an equally colourful pair of tights and despite my saying that I didn’t really have the legs for them; I bought a pair of purple marble tights!


Behind me I was amazed to see what looked like wedding dresses hanging in the wind, unfortunately getting wetter and wetter.

Elsewhere in the market were curious stalls selling ‘historic brasses’ and large bronze items. There were strict, large signs instructing customers to only take photos after buying, a shame really but I understood the request as one stall owner stared at me until my camera was put back into my bag.

The rain would not let up and I ventured to a shop to buy a poncho. A mere snip at €2 and I didn’t care if I looked like I was wearing a huge condom. I was dry and able to continue wandering around the market buying what I thought was a stripey skirt, some fabulous clog shaped slippers and some clog shaped magnets for me and my neighbours who did request them, I promise! I found a café selling Dutch savoury pancakes, Waterloo Lunch café. I was soggy, tired and on holiday so ordered the local delicacy as well as a large Heineken, when in Rome and all that:

Amsterdam11 The savoury option with ham and cheese – yum!


I decided to embrace gluttony and try the sweet ones as well, this wouldn’t continue…

Whilst in the café waiting for the rain to subside, I decided to locate an Apple Store which may be able to help with my phone. I found one quite quickly with the aid of excellent english speaking Dutch people and trapsed soggily into the store. I explained my situation and an appointment was made for me at the Genius Bar at 4.40pm. I was delighted as this was only 90 mins away plus the Genius Bar actually existed, I had heard about it on The Big Bang Theory but it was real! I went and found a place where I could get a cup of tea and a bit of people watching and the time flew past. I had not been into an Apple Store before that day so when I returned I made my way up a white winding staircase with a stainless steel bannister and found the Genius Bar. My phone was taken away for investigation and returned very quickly – a faulty cable. I was allowed to sit and let my phone charge for as long as I wanted and play on the internet for free. I retrieved necessary phone numbers, checked in on Facebook (had to, sorry) and looked around the Apple Store. There were I pads ALL over the place, a child’s section and Apple store helpers speaking in a variety of languages, everything was white and silver with black chairs and looked clean and shiny. I returned to the Canal Bus red route, went past Anne Frank’s house and swapped to a blue line at Centraal Station as that was the way I could see a windmill. The historian in me felt obliged to visit the well-known Second World War house but I had been told it was horribly commercialised plus you didn’t see that much, I wanted to see a windmill!

Unfortunately the last working windmill in the city was privately owned and was not for exploring but the canal went right alongside of it:


Hurray! This is the De Gooyer windmill. I’m going to use a website to give you the information on it as I wasn’t listening, too intent on getting the photo: The history of this windmill goes back to the 18th century. It was moved several times, and placed on its current location in 1814. It was in use as a grain mill. It was heavily damaged in 1972 when a storm made it run wild. After the repairs in 1976 it is again used sometimes. Part of the windmill is the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a beer brewery that makes its own brand of beer. It also has a cafe/pub, with terrace, which is popular with locals, especially on warm evenings.

I was weary in the evening, went back to a restaurant near my hotel had steak, fat chips and a glass of red wine. I had seen a lot of Amsterdam today as well as a condom on the floor, children’s welly boots just left on the pavement, a man wearing a dress and some amazing buildings. 


The number of bikes I had seen was quite immeasurable; there had even been a multi-storey bike park!

I was pleased that I’d travelled on all of the Canal Bus routes albeit incompletely but I could see some more tomorrow.

Woke up late but after breakfast at Bagels and Beans I ventured to the Heineken museum on the recommendation of a friend.  I was not disappointed; the information was displayed in mainly English and was rather amusing.  It was not a museum but an experience, I paid €17, got given a rubber wristband with plastic tokens on it and entered into the history of Heineken with its smiling e in its logo:


I saw the brewing process, smelled the hops, barley, ground some hops, tasted some pre-finished lager which was icky, had the Brew You Experience which takes you through the process AS a bottle of beer, collected my free beers – three of them and used the free Wi-Fi.  On my wristband I had a token to collect a free gift from the brand store.

I suspected that the free gift would be a beer mat or something similar but after taking the free Heineken boat to the store, I found that there was a choice of free gifts and I selected the mirror sunglasses!  I’m sorry but I don’t have a photo of them and gave them to my neighbour who’d been looking after my cat.  I was surprised at how nice they were and realise that advertising was a major part of our tour but the free boat tour took me closer to the Red-Light District which I wanted to visit that day.  When I came out of the tour I walked for aaaages until I got there.  As I said, my navigation skills are not great and the helpful people I asked directions from were great but I ended up walking for a considerably longer time than the ‘it’ll take you ten minutes at most’. On the upside, I got to see a lot of Amsterdam on my must-have-taken-a-wrong-turn-somewhere wander! I eventually walked through some narrow streets and saw scantily clad ladies in shop windows and realised I must be in the right place. Although I had read about the Red Light District in Lonely Planet I felt quite out of place in this unusual scene and felt that laughing groups of men on a stag weekend should soon be walking by. There were lots of people around but I wanted to sit and soak up the Café Culture, I spotted a Coffee Shop over a bridge with brightly coloured exterior so ambled over for a cup of tea. 

This photo is from the internet as there were so many people coming, going and 

I headed back over the bridge and saw more ladies in windows. I had read somewhere that taking photos of these ladies was frowned upon, a friend had said I would probably get charged for it so I thought I’d take a photo of the bridge and canal with a window framed lady in the background but just as I was about to capture the image I heard a knock on the window behind me. A prostitute was shaking her finger at me pointing at the camera, I protested that I was taking a picture of the canal but realised I’d been busted! I found a lovely little café on my walk away from my telling off. After establishing that the owner spoke English (of course he did), he sold black tea with milk and the chocolate brownie on the counter (which was in fact a normal brownie), I sat down and looked at my surroundings. There was no theme in the café but the furniture was mismatched, there were twenty odd lights coming down from the ceiling at varying heights, uneven flooring, a black cat that had adopted the café owners about a year ago and a set of shelves which homed an array of items and clothes hung in the windows. It had a higgledy piggledy feel to it which, if I’d try to replicate it at home, would fail. 


I then found another place to enjoy the café culture, the Cotton Club:

Amsterdam18As it had finally stopped raining or threatening to rain I sat outside and again observed.  People on bikes, a bearded man with one tooth enjoying a half pint of lager whilst smoking a cigarette and watching the world go by and occasionally eyeing me suspiciously as I wrote in my journal.  I ordered tea (of course I did) and had a little look inside as I wondered how far the theme extended.  There was a piano, a long bar, photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and other jazz musicians in the 1930s.  The owner told me to look in the ladies toilet as I might like the tiles, intrigued I did:



I stayed there for ages, outside although not in the toilet (!) and heard the piano being played. A young lad was playing a jazz piece which I then found out he’d self taught himself! The bearded man with one tooth left and I continued to absorb my surroundings. I wandered down to Centraal Station to get a tram home, got talking to two chaps who were local, one British, one Dutch and agreed I could loiter with them as I wasn’t  sure where I was going. They were getting off the stop after mine and I was very grateful when they said ‘Now’ when the bus stopped in the right place! I was going to Luneburg in Germany tomorrow but hadn’t booked a hotel yet. After dinner I went into a internet café and booked a hotel 900m from the station, chatted to friend on facebook then went to bed.

My train to Lϋneburg was leaving at 10.56 the next day. As I’d successfully got the tram yesterday, I opted for this means to get to Centraal Station. I got there quickly, established that my global pass was filled in correctly, that the train was indeed leaving from the platform that I thought it was and that yes, the changes at Hannover were manageable by just moving from one side of the platform to the other and I sat down for breakfast. I don’t like the way that Starbucks is featured on maps as if it’s a necessary sight to see but I did appreciate the restaurant and breakfast pannini before I embarked on my first interrail journey.  My trip would consist of three trains;

10.56              Amsterdam   to       Hilversum       IC4537

11.21              Hilversum      to       Hannover       IC145

15.59              Hannover       to       Luneburg        IC2372

I found the right platform – hurrah and a nice man helped me up the flight of stairs with my bag. I was surprised to see a double decker train arrive:


My first journey was only going to be 20 mins so I wasn’t going to go too far from the door.  I found an excellent seat literally two feet away next to a man listening to very loud rap music through his ear phones.  We did the courteous smile as I sat down then fifteen minutes later he very kindly helped me with my bag off the train.  I did indeed just need to cross the platform to the other side.  There were lots of people with backpacks and suitcases so I walked down to a less busy part of the platform.

After checking my ticket, platform and belongings were all where they should be the train arrived and I managed to get an excellent window seat with my bag stored just behind me.  The train journey was four hours to Hannover on the IC4537. My train ticket had been stamped and validated EVERYTHING WAS FINE yet I was shaking like a leaf. I put it down to excitement and nervous anticipation and made a monumental effort to relax and reflected on what I’d seen in Amsterdam. My lasting memory will be of hundreds of people riding on bikes with no gears, many of them with IPhones stuck to their ears and/or with a friend as a passenger sat behind them. I should really cycle more, I want to cycle, my bike has gears and currently a flat tyre but once that is sorted I will get my bike out when I get home. The ‘natives’ were friendly and I felt a sense of shame that I could only speak one language. My new thing would be to stop more often and have downtime between 3pm and 5pm with tea and cake. To Lϋneburg!


Sarah Downes