If you’re in a new country you’ve really got to allow time to make at least one visit to the capital city. The Netherlands is blessed with two of these, by some accounts. There’s some debate over whether Amsterdam is the capital because it’s the biggest city, and the major commercial centre, or whether Den Haag is the capital because it’s the seat of government. Wikipedia says that it’s Amsterdam, so that’s where we decided to go.
As it’s about 80-90 miles from our gaff in Zeeland up to Amsterdam we got up fairly early and managed to get ourselves to the car for 9am. From here we had a reasonably quick and uneventful drive around Rotterdam and up to Amsterdam. The only missed opportunity was a new motorway running from the Beneluxtunnel at Schiedam directly to Den Haag. It wasn’t signposted, so we missed it, and had to drive a few miles west to the motorway by the airport, and then back across again. Not a big diversion, but somehow we failed to find it on the way back too.
When we reached Amsterdam I was expecting it to be rather fruity finding a way into the centre, but as it happened we found a direct route that lead up to an area with lots of car parks and fairly close to the Central Station. The station is a major tourist attraction in its own right, being built, as it is, on a series of wooden piles and other doo-dahs that stop it from sinking into the water. It is the most visited national heritage site in the Netherlands. I would hazard that many of those visitors visit it in about the same way we did though, i.e. they walk quickly through the building to/from a platform, possibly via a chain coffee shop and then do a runner (or a trainer) somewhere else. As a piece of architecture, though, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
Before visiting the station to buy something from a chain coffee shop we bought ourselves some tickets for a canal boat tour, which started in the little harbour shown on the big photo above. No need to be walking too far, is there ? We had an hour before our boat ride and it had been a while since breakfast, so it seemed like a good time for a coffee, a cake and some bicycle rotation.
On the way out we availed ourselves of a simple geocache stuck under an armco on the station forecourt. Not the best cache ever, but a good location and it seemed a shame to walk past and not sign it. Ami got to it first.
Our boat trip lasted an hour, and involved a waterborne highlights tour of the harbour and some of the inner loops of canals. The driver (or pilot, or captain, possibly) was doing his best to keep us entertained and there was an informative if slightly out of time commentary provided in several different languages. It was an hour spent doing what you might describe a “lazy” tourism, but it is one of those cheesy things that you just have to do on a day in Amsterdam. There are very many companies offering very many similar tours.
When we’d finished the boat trip we went for a bit of a mooch around the streets where we’d just been sailing, but without any particular purpose. There was a mighty fine geocache involved at one point, and then Kas had the bright idea that we should stop for lunch. We found a cafe with outdoor seating on the street actually over the top of a canal, and aside from a fairly noisy and arrogant sounding group of young urban professional (and British) males the location was very nice. The food wasn’t bad either. And nor was the weather.
Which left us with the tricky matter of deciding what to do with the rest of our day. We set off at a gentle stroll in the general direction of Dam Square and while we were doing this the girls first raised the twin requests of finding a tat shop to buy some badges and souvenirs, and finding a hair braider (because they always get hair braids done when we’re on holiday).
The tat shop was quite easy – they’re everywhere. We stopped at one on the corner of Dam Square. No hair braiders around here though, apparently. So we walked on a bit more in the general direction of the station again, looking for hair braiders but also attempting to steer clear of Amsterdam’s more famous tourist attractions (if you can call it that). You know, the one that involves all the ladies sitting in windows. Not sure I was particularly attracted. I’d been there before and wasn’t particularly attracted that time either. I did get offered some herbal tobacco at one point. But back in the here and now we still couldn’t find a hair braider. So in the depths of our despair and apparent failure, little lights appeared simultaneously over mine and Kas’s heads as a thought made itself known. “Why don’t we go to a beach resort instead?” I said. “It’s not very far to Zandvoort or Scheveningen and it isn’t really far off the route home at all” “Let’s go to Scheveningen” said Kas, “it’s not so far out of the way” – Sounds like a plan then.
So we legged it back to the car and discovered quite why it was so easy to find a car park in the middle of a major city in the middle of the day. 35 Euro for under 5 hours ? Your havin’ a giraffe, Jan, surely. But Jan wasn’t havin’ a laugh. Well, he probably was once we’d paid up and left the place.
The drive out of town was more entertaining than the drive in. Firstly we got lost. We completely lost all road signs, and eventually we decided to head in a straight line until we found the loop motorway and figure it out from there. Secondly, we started to encounter a phenomenon which is normal in Europe and is getting more popular in the UK too. A tram up the chuff. Followed by another tram up the chuff. The problem with trams is that they can’t change lanes. The problem with Amsterdam trams is that they don’t know whether they have the road to themselves or whether they have to share. It can alternate within a few hundred metres along the same stretch. And as a driver you have to resist the temptation to follow a tram when you get behind one. They have a nasty habit of shooting off up a bit with no tarmac (just rails and hardcore). There is nothing worse than a chuff tram at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
When we eventually did reach the loop motorway we were on a road that had no junction with it, so we had to quite a lot of looping around ourselves to try to find the escape route.
Once we did get out though it was a pretty easy drive down to Scheveningen, a drive which skirts the edge of the Netherlands’ other capital – the one that isn’t really one even though the government is there. Scheveningen itself is a remarkably popular seaside resort given it’s location (both it’s latitude and it’s proximity to major population centres). It’s not exactly scenic or pretty. It just happens to be by the sea, and for many people that is sufficient to warrant a day out.
It was easy to find parking, and somewhat cheaper, but it did involve a bit of a hike. It wasn’t too bad though, and we ended up on the seafront promenade at the north end and started looking for hair braiders. It must have taken us all of, oooh, five minutes at a slow amble to find one. Job done. The other job done was that she seemed to be doing herself out of a lot of money by charging a ridiculously low price. The ones in Weymouth last year cost at least twice as much for a shorter braid. As I write this post in mid-October both girls have their braids in still. Let’s see how good value they really were.
The braiding took a while and Kas suggested that I go look for a cache or three while I was waiting, but Scheveningen seems to be one of the few places in Holland that doesn’t have many. The closest was right next to where we parked, nearly a kilometre away. So I didn’t bother until we walked back to the car.
We didn’t walk straight back though. It was late (gone 7) and we hadn’t had dinner and we were going to be late enough that the kids would need bed straight away when we got back, so we fed them up with some wonderful chips from a stall on the prom, which were smothered in far too much ketchup, and we picked our way back up the hill to the car, leaving a trail of red splodges as we went.
The cache on the hill right next to the car was an easy find for me and Ami while Kas and Izzy stood by the car finishing chips and watching the rapidly descending sun.
The drive home was bathed in very bright sunlight directly in through the windscreen for most of the trip, making seeing other cars a bit tricky, and we eventually got home at about 9:30pm. The kids did their usual trick of falling asleep in the car about 10 minutes before we got home.
And when we got back they went to bed, and we sat in the lounge picking at a quiet beer and playing on the interweb.
My thoughts about Amsterdam remain the same, I think. I didn’t like it a huge amount the first couple of times I went and this trip didn’t change that view much. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, I just personally don’t find any of it especially impressive. But now at least all four of us have been and can make up our own minds. It was a good day overall but Amsterdam itself sort of fizzled out once we’d had lunch. Maybe we were just too tired. And having looked at both Zandvoort and Scheveningen on Google street view I’m glad we went to the latter.