Amsterdam: City Break for Three Please
It’s been a while since we dusted off our passports, and we could seriously do with a change of scenery. So once Brodie got home from his work trip, we set off to Amsterdam for a few carefree days. In search of a break from teething pain, fevers, coughs and runny noses. From bitter, stormy weather and endless rain. From the ordinary everyday of a chilly Spring in Ireland. It’s a nice quiet midweek flight that only takes an hour and 20 minutes, and is quite manageable with a toddler. After racing about the terminal in random directions for half an hour (as you do) beforehand, the Rascal was more than sleepy by the time we boarded. We spotted planes and cars and people out the window until takeoff, at which point he was practically begging for his nap. A quick feed sent him off to slumberland for the entire flight. My first opportunity in at least a month to open my kindle and read a few pages of a book I can barely remember starting.
Although it’s a complete cliche, I’d have to say that the overwhelming impression of Amsterdam from the air was total and absolute flatness. As far as the eye could see. Not even a hint of a bump or hill in the distance. Canals glittered in the weak sunshine and groups of white windmills gaily whirled as we flew overhead. It was looking promising for getting that brighter and drier weather I’d been craving. And for once, travelling from the airport to our accommodation was fairly easy. I know we haven’t got more proficient at navigating around strange cities and countries, but our phone apps are definitely improving. We were relying on TripIt for giving a hint as to our current location, and an offline TripAdvisor city guide for suggestions on where to go and what to do. We used TripAdvisor recommendations for eating out in Mexico with a lot of success, and it worked out well for Amsterdam too. You just have to filter out the places that only tourists go to. If there are good reviews from the locals, then you’re on to something good. If only we’d had similar gadgets when we were (repeatedly) lost in Japan. On that trip though, gadgets were not quite what they are now. Back then we bought the pinnacle of apple technology – an ITouch, and Brodie gazed longingly at window displays for the new PSP. Technology has moved on quite a bit since then and those once shiny toys seem horribly clunky and slow now beside our smartphones.
A reasonably pleasant stroll from the central train station took us to our accommodation in the Eden hotel overlooking the Amstel. Nothing too fancy, but we were hoping to spend most of our time out and about. And as soon as we’d dropped off our bags, we were straight off in search of lunch. We almost missed it, as in walked right past it without noticing, but our first culinary stop was Lombardo’s, which comes highly recommended in TripAdvisor. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a very small establishment, like most places in Amsterdam. You can forget about dragging a buggy in to them, so our sling was definitely going to get plenty of use. We perched on high stools and tried to stop the Rascal from sweeping napkins and cutlery onto the floor. Unfortunately they were waiting on more chicken to come out of the oven, so we didn’t get our original choices from the menu. The guy behind the counter kindly offered a big piece of bread for the Rascal while we waited. Lovely fresh bread that I may have helped him polish off. We enjoyed a meaty burger and goats cheese sandwich along with fresh juices. The Rascal enthusiastically sampled pieces and decided that ALL chunks of burger should be destined for his mouth. The freshly made juices were lovely. ‘The Cure’, and ‘Sweet Root’ were unusual combinations that were surprisingly muted in taste. Neither bitter nor sweet, just pleasant. We would all have happily eaten more of everything. Definitely worth a visit.
It might just have been the sunshine and the milder than Dublin temperature, but first impressions of Amsterdam were good. The canals were pretty, the buildings old and interesting. Less picturesque and colourful than Venice, but also far more clean and modern. The sprawling city gave you the option of veering easily away from the tourist traps. Even off the beaten track, every other shop was a coffee shop with a display of goodies to die for. We stopped off in Pompadour for coffee and hot chocolate. It’s a nice modern cafe that was really quiet, but had gorgeous looking cakes and chocolates. The Rascal was well overdue a nap, so we headed back to the hotel with a few small detours to see a bit more of the neighbourhood. We all took a nap together, crammed into the bed. A travel cot was provided, but we knew better than to bother using it as anything other than a playpen. The Rascal has a sixth sense about using them. It’s virtually impossible to delicately lower him in without him waking up mad as hell. The last time we had a weekend away I ended up sharing a mattress on the floor with him to get some sleep. Three is a crowd though, especially when one of them is a toddler, so sleep was going to remain scarce until we got home. Despite a good power nap, the Rascal woke up still tired and in foul humour. Hunger pangs were encouraging us to find some food, and he hadn’t eaten much during the day, so we ventured back out once more. Whoever designed the hotel’s elevator needs a lesson in algorithm design. The stupid thing kept stopping on our floor, ready to go down, then would change its mind and go to the top floor. It stopped on almost every floor again on the way down. Elevator hell. The Rascal was roaring by the time we got out of an overcrowded lift. Stairs for us from then on.
We found our way to Thai Phutakun, knowing that Thai red curry was a surefire bet for the Rascal to eat, even if he hadn’t been eating well recently with his cold. I was a little apprehensive about bringing a 15 month old into a quiet restaurant at 8pm in a strange city, but it was all good. We were immediately offered a table beside the kitchen, out of the cold for the Rascal. The ladies in the kitchen were eyeing him up maternally, so we felt relaxed and stopped worrying he might embarrass us with a tired toddler meltdown. The restaurants here aren’t baby friendly in that there are usually no high chairs to be seen anywhere. But they don’t have a problem with you bringing a baby in, even one that likes to make a big mess. No one looked twice at us for bringing him anywhere. They may have looked three times though when he started eating! Baby led weaning must not be too common here? Service was speedy (also important when handling a cranky toddler). The staff were lovely and set out a plate of rice for him. But there was massive excitement in the kitchen when I added curry to the plate. He, of course, dove in with both hands and shovelled it in with determination. Apparently they’re from one of those places where they don’t give babies curry although it’s a staple part of their adult diet. They were totally amazed that he not only eats spicy food, he loves it! They actually started taking photos of him eating. Unfazed, he continued to inhale it as fast as I could put more on his plate. First time I’ve seen strangers more proud of his eating than us. He happily mmmmm’d and smeared rice and sauce all over his face as the camera flashes went off. In fairness, the food WAS delicious. We were mmm’ing along in our heads. Big thumbs up all round for this establishment.
We stopped off for a coffee and hot chocolate near our hotel. This was a very touristy place, so not the best choice in hindsight. But we were limited in choices considering it was past 10pm local time by then. One of the staff produced a red balloon for the Rascal. He sat on my knee alternately pinching or trying to bite it (he likes to live dangerously). He had that exceptionally smug and satisfied smile of a toddler that can’t believe his luck. Especially if he suspects he’s been given something he shouldn’t normally play with. Behind us a group of Turkish men debated the benefits of polygamy. In front of us customers queued for crepes and cakes and drinks. The Rascal ignored everything but the red balloon as he grew more and more tired.
Bedtime in a strange place was a bit of a struggle. He settled in the bed between us eventually. Despite my hopes of a bit more space than usual, he stayed glued to me for most of the night. Randomly headbutting me and generally rolling about like a hippo wallowing in mud. Waking up, screaming, looking for feeds as soon as I actually got to sleep. Eventually he rolled far enough away to find the second warm body. He taught Daddy about how comfortable it is to sleep sideways with your head rammed into someone else’s stomach for a little while. Pleasant dreams all round…