Weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city I’ve been to a number of times, but if you want a truly different take on a place then you need to bring a friend and preferably one who is from the Caribbean.  There were 4 of us on our mini break, myself and my partner Stuart and another couple, Jo and Elon.  Jo has been my friend since we were at school together in the 1990s and Elon is her Bajan husband.  In the car ride on the way to the airport Elon was educating us in Bajan names.  Nobody calls anybody by their actual name in Barbados, instead they are given a descriptive nickname: tall man, short man, red man, fat man, fat-fat (there was already a fat man), ears, eyes, beardy etc.  Whatever striking feature you have and no matter how self conscious you are of this feature, it becomes your name.  Apparently this only applies to men, women are exempt from this slightly mean classification system and are instead referred to rather creepily as ‘my little friend’. Elon advised Stuart that they needed to come up with a nickname for Stuart in preparation for a future trip to the island together. This name could be approved by Stuart and implemented by Elon so that Stuart doesn’t end up with a name he doesn’t like. Nicknames last a lifetime. I remember when I was at school, a few brave souls joined our school in the 6th form. During the first A level French lesson we went around the room introducing ourselves. One of the new boys introduced himself with the French version of his name, Michael, which unfortunately for him sounds just like the girls name Michelle. We all erupted with laughter and proceeded to call him Michelle for the next 2 years. I’m nearly 40 and if I ever saw him now I’d probably still call him Michelle.

After check in the boys had the obligatory beer with breakfast.  Airports are one of the few places where it’s socially acceptable to be a bit tipsy at 9am.  Stuart is a seasoned pro at airport drinking whatever the hour, but Elon normally sticks to having a coffee with his breakfast.  Jo and I could see where this day was heading as we ordered our English Breakfast Tea.  A few beers and a rum and coke later we were heading for the plane, with about 3 toilet stops en route.  Once on the plane, and 2 toilet trips later, we buckled in and were on our way to Amsterdam.

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After landing in Amsterdam we headed for the train station.  Getting around Europe on a train is a breeze and certainly makes you more aware of the fact that we live on an island, albeit a big island.  Elon made friends with the lads sitting behind him who told him that they had been to St Lucia, to which Elon instantly dismissed immediately as not being a proper Caribbean island and told him to buy a proper ticket next time.

Our hotel, the NH Collection Amsterdam Barbizon Palace, was situated opposite the train station.  The rooms were fabulous and the view was great.  This was the view from my room:

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We were only allowed a 2 minute pitstop after check-in as the boys wanted to explore the city aka go to the nearest bar they could find.  Just around the corner we found this traditional looking bar called De Barderij which was playing 90s dance music at 3pm so this was the place for us.  Stuart had decided at the airport that he and Elon needed to wear something matching so picked up a couple of flowery and understated shirts from Next.  I think you’ll agree they both look lovely:

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We found a cosy corner with a lovely view over the canal and had a great time drinking and listening to the tunes. They even put a bit of reggae on for Elon to dance to. I have since Googled the bar and discovered that it is actually a gay bar, of which I had no inkling and the sign over the corner that we were sitting ‘kieteltuin’ means ‘tickling garden’. I would say that in our experience they welcome everybody regardless of age, colour, gender or sexual preference. Here’s Jo in the tickling garden:

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In the next place Elon got chatting to a bloke at the bar who then took us on a trek along the canal to find a cafe he was recommending.  We obediently followed him, not having a clue why or where we were going but being British we didn’t like to make a fuss.  We finally got there and then had to work out how to shake him off.  Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) all the excitement of the day completely caught up with Elon and he hit a wall.  Realising that the party might be over our new friend/tour guide decided to head off and find another group to latch on to.  We were then left with the fun task of trying to negotiate the now busy streets to get a near comatosed Elon back to the hotel.  Not having eaten since breakfast, Stuart, Jo and I were really hungry and tried to persuade Elon that he could just sit while the rest of us had dinner but even this was beyond him so we had to take him back to his room.  While Jo was tucking him in for the night Stuart and I tried to guess what Jo loved more – Elon or food.  Food was the winner so she left him to sleep and came our for dinner with us.

We wanted to sample the local cuisine as all good travellers do.  Then we walked past a nice looking Chinese restaurant so decided to eat there instead. China Sichuan Restaurant was full of Chinese diners which is always a good sign. It was delicious, although the amount of chillies nearly blew my head off.  When we got back to the hotel Elon was awake again and ready for round 2 so Jo and I sent the boys off to have fun with the threat of death if they woke us up when they returned but of course we knew that they would.

Day 2 and time for a bit of culture. And by culture I mean finding the Captain Morgan rum boat that we had spotted the day before. We found the correct bit of canal and piled on the boat.

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With great enthusiasm the boat driver asked us if we wanted the ‘adventure tour’ expecting a massive cheer. All he got were a few shoulder shrugs at best so he asked again. This time a few more people took pity and gave a little murmur. The captain took this as his cue to take us on the exciting sounding ‘adventure tour’ and off we set. What he actually meant was that we would cruise around some of the bigger canals before veering off little side canals to go under the lowest bridges he could fit under. The boat was like a great big wooden paddle boat so we all had to duck our head or suffer concussion. The people sitting on the front section had to lie down for the really low bridges. It was an interesting experienced, made even more fun with the continuously flowing rum.

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I had spotted a Lebanese restaurant called Dabka on the road just behind our hotel that I really wanted to go to for dinner. Having lived in the Middle East for nearly 3 years I have become a massive fan of the cuisine and used to order it a minimum of twice a week when I lived in the UAE. Now I live in Margate and although we have a lot of good local places, as well as great Thai and Indian restaurants, Lebanese cuisine hasn’t made it this far yet. This means that every time I go somewhere new I search out a Lebanese restaurant to get my tabouleh and falafel fix. Jo and Elon had never eaten Lebanese before so I had the green light to order a whole selection of dishes for everyone to try. We had a banquet of delicious dishes and I loved every mouthful.

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After dinner we decided to go for a wander. What an error that was. Somehow we’d  stumbled into the seedy underbelly of Amsterdam and Saturday night in the red light district in Amsterdam is not for the faint hearted. We tried to find a way out of the heaving streets filled with loud, drunk, stoned revellers (mostly men with the odd couple looking as out of place as us) and managed to turn into an even busier area. We finally escaped and went back to De Barderij. Our fabulous first bar that we had found on our first day and had become our local where we stopped on our way out or way back to the hotel. It was the perfect place to enjoy a final drink before heading home the next day.

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