10th August 2013
So here I am, sat in Café Luxembourg, Spui, Amsterdam. The local time is 10.30am. I’ve been awake since 3am UK time, this morning.
The flight was quite straightforward; just like catching an aero-nautical bus, which I suppose it is in a lot of ways. I’m eating breakfast of a rather well done croissant, Guernsey butter and delicious blackcurrant jam; my favourite! It’s accompanied by a small cappuccino, although “technically” it’s my second meal of the day, the first being 2 slices of wholemeal toast, peanut butter and raspberry jam and a strong tea at 4am this morning.
My taxi journey to the airport was mildly interesting; my rather rotund, dishevelled taxi driver, who looked as though he wouldn’t say “boo!” to a goose, asked me about my destination. “I’ve never been there” he said, and then proceeded to tell me all about the red light district, prostitutes and sex shows on offer in the Dam. He was incredibly knowledge on the subjects in hand, despite the fact “he’d never been there”!
When I arrived in this city, a place I’ve visited some 3 times previously but not for 9 years, I didn’t walk my usual route from Centraal, namely along Damrak, Rokin, past the flower market etc, but instead chose to walk along an adjacent street, off the tourist track instead. It conveniently took me directly to the centrally located Spui and later, onward to Prisengracht where my hotel is located alongside one of the city’s main picturesque canals and adjacent to Prisenstraat, one of the main through-fares, leading from Dam Square to Leidsplein.
A few moments ago I sent a text to my friends, who I’m meeting here, and who all arrived the day before. There are 15 of us in total all here to celebrate Jon’s 50th birthday. He replied to say “it’s the middle of the night”. He exaggerates. It’s 11am by this time. Paul texted to say they were eating breakfast (“they” being Paul, Jim and John-John) and would catch up with me later after shopping. No reply from anyone else.
My current plans are to enjoy my solitary breakfast, people watch, take in the sights of the city from this street-side café spot, then, locate my hotel and dump my small trolley case (carried as “hand luggage” to avoid costs and waiting time of checking it into the hold). The sky is blue, but grey clouds are passing over from the harbour area of the city. I am not wearing a coat and actually don’t need one. Travelling light has been a tad of a challenge for me, despite only being here overnight, several outfits have been thoughtfully packed and I’m hoping that I chose well. Time will tell.
I eat the mini Stroopwaffel which accompanies my coffee, relishing the crispiness of the biscuit coupled with the cinnamon-tinged flavour and caramel soft centre. All of my favourite things wrapped up in one delicious bite. If only life were so similarly and conveniently packaged.
The English chap sat behind me is requesting “gin and gin” instead of a gin and tonic. For some reason he finds this hilarious. I inwardly cringe at his crass-ness.
I glance skywards; the clouds passing over now look as though they contain rain, so I locate my mini umbrella from my trolley bag, ‘just in case’, and place it in my handbag. Sunny weather was promised by both my friend who is resident in Amsterdam, and the iPhone weather App. I trust the former but not the latter, especially now those black clouds are looming, and looking perilously dark.
The air is heavy with the scent of tobacco. I’ve already walked past enough “brown cafes” and the sickly sweet scent of “brown” pervades the atmosphere. Smoking is popular here, in its many forms, as it is in most European cities; it’s what sets it apart from the UK and its smoking ban inside various establishments.
Another tram rumbles by, bound for Centraal station. Despite its extensive network, I have never partaken of the excellent and well-connected tram system in the Dam. Note to self: I must rectify that situation this weekend.
Bikes are the most popular mode of transport here; they’re everywhere. All lined up haphazardly when parked, like a row of well-placed dominoes ready to topple over at the first sturdy gust of wind. They defiantly never do of course. Howeve I’m convinced that many bikes wind up in Amsterdam’s world-famous canals on a daily basis.
I order a second cappuccino and a minute later, every efficiently, it arrives with another mini Stroopwaffle delight. I think “it’s a good job I’m only here for the weekend, else I’d be the size of a house.” I can resist anything but temptation.
The grey clouds have dissipated, and the blue although not cloudless skies, have returned. I think how foolish and ready I was to retrieve my umbrella earlier. Sometimes (most times) I’m SO British! Old habits and all that, I suppose!
Sat next to me on my street side location, at the other end of the long table I’m occupying, is a woman and her dog. She is similarly aged to me, at a guess, but with dark hair which is rather inexpertly tied on the back of her head in a rough, messy top knot. She is drinking a latte, looking intently at her iPhone whilst her small white dog is sniffing around the feet of the people on the table behind her. They are completely oblivious to their canine companion. The woman’s brown canvas and sequinned bag sits wide open, and is precariously balanced on the seat which divides us. From its casual manner I conclude that she must be a local.
I devour the Stroopwaffle and take a virgin sip of my coffee, thus displacing the perfect milk swirl patten on its surface.
More bikes pass by, and another tram. Two people on their Vespa’s whizz by and are notably not wearing helmets. I lament inwardly about British health and safety laws and wonder which country has got it right; Holland, with its carefree attitude, or Britain, with its rigid rules and regulations. I sigh.
I finish my coffee in a couple of gulps, pay for what I have consumed, and leave the comfort of my café to find my hotel.
A large group of pot-bellied, bald, middle aged men wearing various “witty” slogan t-shirts wander aimlessly by. I immediately conclude that they are a British stag party. Sure enough, one of them is wearing “I’m The Stag” on his top. Their Geordie accent concludes my suspicions.
I walk off the main street, into a side street which leads me to the heart of the canal district. I love how Amsterdam can do that; instantly transport you to another world.
(to be continued/…)