The whack of the work for a kid-free weekend goes in to the prep: make sure you consciously dither about buying tickets until they are at least 300% more expensive than when you first checked. Bicker about this. Sets the mood.
Spend lots of time on trip advisor and iamsterdam.com. Everyone loves a neurotically over-planned schedule.
Other ground work includes finding like-minded, kid-free friends. We met our chosen ones on a bike tour of Berlin and if that’s not a sign from the friendship gods, what is?
The WigWearer and I were flying from Norwich airport which is like Heathrow but completely different.
As you’ll most likely be flying from here too-either directly or on a stop over from any number of the eleven destinations Norwich AP flies from- here are my tips because it can be overwhelming.
When you first burst through the doors (automatic-new for Norfolk so watch your step), you may be confused and think you’ve stepped back in to the stationery cupboard you once cried in on a temp job. Rest assured, you haven’t.
You’ll be searching the screens to find which desk you should go to. It’ll just be a picture of a gurning Norwich FM presenter. You’ll stare at it for a full three minutes before you realise it’s an advert. And there’s only one desk.
Sit back, relax and enjoy.
We were flying KLM and all 23 of us were shuffled out on to the tarmac (I had time to reach over the fence and get my book out of the car) and on to our flight but the best thing was we got a free biscuit on the flight! It’s a 30 minute flight! I’ve flown to Australia on nothing but a Jacobs cracker somewhere over Hong Kong! God love the Dutch hospitality.
Anyway, I’m going to be here forever if I carry on like this so let’s skip to the bit where we hop off the airport bus and stumble in to the centre of Amsterdam.
Because I’m a tightarse and a misery, I don’t like paying for checked luggage so AO and I had a spare pair of pants and a rain coat in our backpacks meaning we could head straight out to explore. Look how happy I am!
I had bought a map beforehand and expertly navigated us to a museum I wanted to go to which we couldn’t find because it had moved/fallen in to the canal. Not to worry! On to De Pijp.
De Pijp, pronounced dee pipe, is an area full of cafes and bars and boutique shops (Finger.Pulse), and it’s quite hard to find when you’re lugging a bag about and eaten nothing but a KLM stroopwaffle since 6am. I recommend buying and scoffing Dutch crisps. Why are foreign crisps so much nicer?
Suitably refuelled we trudged on to our hotel via the De Pijp market which is worth a mooch if you like tshirts, tat and magnets with hash leaves on.
A bag of Lay’s, 38471 checks of the map and four miles of beautiful canals and suburbia later, we gave up trying to find our hotel. We stocked up on beer, rose and fried snacks at Jack Dish and soaked up the sun shooting the breeze together.
Hold on, what’s that? No, not the hirsuit Dutchman but that thing in the back ground? It’s only our bloody hotel according to the waitress!
And look! Our friends have arrived too! And we are all called Oliver!
Does anyone else get mad excited when they’re about to check in to a hotel? I love the moment when you’ve finally got the pissing swipecardlockthing to work and the door clicks open and it’s all white towels and free soap. Heaven.
The hotel our friend Oli had found us was Hotel Twenty Eight opposite the Olympic Stadium. It’d been open for two weeks and it was like heaven on earth. The staff were beautiful and made Andrew swoon in lust and me wish I looked that good in a jumpsuit. And they gave us wine. Free wine. Before we had even seen our room. My kinda place.
Right nice, innit? And there wasn’t a Hot Wheels or Cheerio in sight. Score!
To supper! I have always wanted to be one of those people who stumble upon a steamy restaurant hidden in an unknown corner of the city where the food is hot and buttery and the wine is cheap and tasty and it’s full of locals and they lock the door behind a thick velvet curtain at midnight and you can stay until the small hours laughing and chatting.
And that is what we found at Cucina Casa Linga
After a good night’s sleep and a lie in (glorious lie ins!), we were up and out and hiring bikes. Seeing as the average bike hire shop assistant is about 16 and clearly recovering from a heavy night of tits and tattooing, the whole process took about half a day. Annoying when there’s a schedule to keep.
We spent most of the morning wending about the Jordaan and nine straat area until Laura honed in on this little beauty where there was strong beer and more deep fried cheese.
Feeling gassy and happy, we toddled back on to our bikes to shop up the Rokin. AO and I soon realised we didn’t have room in our hand luggage for any purchases so we went mooching and found this gorgeous little square of beauty hidden down a small staircase in amongst the H&Ms and JD Sports:
And back to our bikes and on to Vondelpark where I had the oddly enjoyable feeling of cycling through that park in Mary Poppins. What an incredible place. And I didn’t have to sit on a crusty bench watching my sons kamikaze off seesaws. I just glided along perched atop my prim bicycle thinking about house prices in Amsterdam.
After a nap and some more wine back at the hotel we were ready to tram in to the centre for the obligatory beer in the red light district. We all remembered it from previous visits and thought of it fondly as quaint and faintly risqué but actually it was seedy and embarrassing and stank of piss and I saw more than one sign that said ‘Please don’t piss, shit or puke in this doorway. We live here’ and it made me feel sad and grubby. I had to go and eat a very large schnitzel to recover. (‘Eating a schnitzel’ isn’t a euphemism, btw. I know the Dutch are filthy, but I’m not).
So to bed only to rise and bike early.
We cycled from our hotel to Waterlooplein flea market on the Monday morning. Our friends were tramming but the WigWearer and I zipped up our rain macs and joined the slip stream of the day’s commuters.
The rain had just stopped and it smelt of wet blossom and early mornings. Our tyres hissed and spat and bells rang out politely as we shushed our way through the outskirts of the city.
We beat our friends to the market (#TeamOliver) and settled in for a coffee and a brownie (normal kind thankyouverymuch). The cafe we had found was full of people plugged in to laptops humourlessly tapping away at their screenplays. Everyone knows great writers type on their phones while in bed with a towel on their head *cough*.
I think, while we are on reality vs fantasy, it’s time for a photo. You have to remember I had spent 36 hours around tall, healthy Dutch women all of whom look excellent on bicycles. I felt at one with them. I had convinced myself that I was a 20 something, media something with an apartment in De Pijp and a wholesome attitude to sex and work/life balance.
I’m wearing a cagoule over my fake Mulberry, my hair is beyond beyond and I’m wearing 17 pints of beer on my arse. And I’m as happy as tulip.
We waved goodbye to our friends who had an early flight home and hopped back on our bikes to track down a museum. Now you know I love a museum but I wasn’t blown away by Amsterdam Museum. It was ok but about a third of it centred around Schiphol airport and I don’t really care about that. (When you’ve flown from Norwich, all else pales).
The last moments of a holiday are always sad: AO and I had ‘one last beer’ and ‘just one more slab of apple pie’ and meandered our way up to the train station stopping only for meatballs on white bread and a final last beer at a beautifully dingy and atmospheric bar near Dam Square.
And home. Home to our two boys who’d barely blinked us goodbye and certainly didn’t look up to welcome us home. Home to lesson planning and trial prep. Home to play the best/worst post-holiday game ‘This Time Yesterday’-this time yesterday I was cycling along a canal and now I’m on bus duty.
I think I prefer my new game ‘Next Time’. Next time we could go to Copenhagen…
Other outs and abouts are Olivers in the Cotswolds and Olivers in London and this Oliver would like a book deal and a job writing about holidays so share these posts far and wide please, you lovely lot of readers.