The alarm rudely shakes me from my slumber: 2.30am. I groan and roll over, noticing the bed is empty. Andy's not only up, he's showered, dressed and sitting by the front door next to his suitcase. Someone's excited for our Amsterdam city break....
An hour later and we're on the road, hurtling towards Gatwick and a three-day break in the buzzing (in all senses of the word) city: it's time for a spot of Amsterdamage.
This weekend has been a no-brainer: Andy is a 'Dam virgin and having secured the August bank holiday Monday off work, a quick search of flights threw up returns with Easyjet for £200 each. Pricier than at other times, but not bad for a peak weekend in the height of summer, when the rugrats are off school and pushing the prices skywards. Next, over to my trusty Booking.com app to locate a top-rated hotel. When choosing a hotel I tend to go with customer reviews rather than star ratings necessarily, and it's always served me well. You don't need to go 5-star to get an amazing experience; often it's the less obvious places with lower stars but brilliant reviews that I like the best. Which is just as well seeing as I'm Sam Walsh, not P Diddy.
Volkshotel, in the East district of the city, looks interesting and is ticking lots of boxes : a cool lobby bar/cafe, classy rooftop restaurant and nightclub with panoramic views of the city, plus a secret basement cocktail bar and club. Chuck in a sauna and hot tubs on the roof and this little gem is sounding right up our Straat. A quick check with the hotel's own site tells me it's cheaper to book directly, so I do that and a few clicks later we're all set: 2 nights at £90 a night. So for under £300 each we've got ourselves a cheeky lil jaunt organised - sweet!
We jump off at Wilbautstraat and the hotel is directly opposite, so we check in, check out the hotel facilities and chill out for a bit before heading to the lobby bar. The sun is shining, the lobby is trendy and the Sauvignon is cold - what more can we ask?
We relax and take in our surroundings: there's an industrial, warehouse feel - all concrete walls, exposed pipes and quirky soft furnishings. The staff are all good-looking hipsters, and there are arty types lolling on sofas tapping away into Macs and generally being creative. The East of Amsterdam is the cool, creative district of the city - much like East London, I guess. The building itself used to be the headquarters of a newspaper and there are little touches that hark back to this: the hotel has it's own free newspaper, Volksnews, for example.
After our liquid refreshments, we jump the tube for the few short stops into the centre of town to explore the city - almost being mown down by the hundreds of cyclists whizzing past our noses in the process. We squint in the bright sunshine to check the coast is clear to cross, our nostrils twitching like Bisto Kids due to the fragrant aroma of cannabis being carried on the breeze.
The quaint cobbled streets are flanked by tall skinny townhouses which look a bit battered and wonky, as though they've been affected by the wacky baccy too. The reason for this design is that as the city is built mostly on water (the River Amstel), by having higher levels there is always a safe place to go in case of flooding: to the top of the building. They also purposely lean forwards; the narrow staircases make moving furniture in and out very tricky, so instead large items of furniture are winched in - by tilting the building forward during construction it ensures that said furniture doesn't collide with the front of the house. So there is method in the apparent madness.
It may only be an hour from London, but the atmosphere and laid-back culture of the city is a world away: coffee shops abound with plumes of blue smoke billowing from the entrance, prostitutes pose in the doorways of the Red Light District casually proffering their wares. I must say, the girls look a lot more buff than the last time I visited; this lot have been working out by the looks of it! The last time I was here most of the women looked a bit...dare I say....jaded. These hookers are no strangers to a spot of BodyPump and regular HIIT workouts judging by the muscle definition (not that I ever go to a gym myself, y'understand - I just follow fitness bloggers in the hope of getting in shape by proxy). Or perhaps it's a case of needs must - they look like they won't be taking any grief from lairy punters, that's for sure...
I roll Andy's tongue back up (which is currently lolling on the cobbles like a faulty roller blind) and we continue on to Dam Square, stopping occasionally for various refreshments. A typical Dutch platter of Bitterballen, various meats, cheeses, breads and pickles keeps us going on our rambles around town. We admire the multitude of flowers, rickety buildings, canals and houseboats, before topping up our sugar levels with tea and cake before heading back to the hotel to prepare for the evening's festivities...
We dress up for our Saturday night shenanigans and head up to Canvas bar on the 7th floor of our hotel for a cheeky cocktail before heading into the city centre. Its a balmy evening; the cocktails are delicious, the crowd is made up of model material locals and we sit out on the comfy terrace which is lit with string lights, has stunning 360 degree views of the city and is - in a word - stunning.
It's tempting to stay here as the hotel club will be kicking off in an hour or so, but we tear ourselves away and make tracks to Nieuwmarkt for a delicious Thai meal at Chao Phraya. We meander around the Red Light District again, stopping occasionally for a drink, before heading to Supper Club for the nightclub element of the establishment, Upper Club. Being one of the top haunts of the city, I wrongly assume it'll be playing house music (the website lists Tech House) but to our disappointment discover it's actually exclusively R&B, my least favourite genre. The club is jumping, but it's just not our scene, so we stay for a while (having paid €15 each to get in) before heading back to our hotel at 2am to check out Doka, the basement club. A colourful peacock of a drag queen toilet attendant shows us the secret entrance (hidden behind some vintage lockers) and we are delighted to discover a super-cool hidden gem of a club, the DJ spinning funky house and dirty disco beats to an achingly hip yet friendly crowd. Now that's more like it!
By 4.30am it's time for bed and we take the lift to our room to catch some zeds...Zzzzzzzz
The next day we decide to do the obligatory cultural stuff, after a traditional Dutch breakfast in Waterlooplein, alongside the flea markets. I don't know if it's partly due to the mild hangover I'm experiencing, but I find Anne Frank's house particularly traumatic today (my second visit) and am in bits by the time we get out of there. I feel so sad, reading excerpts of her diaries, her burning desire to be a journalist or author and being able to relate to that ambition, as well as angry that she died at such a young age (16) without being able to realise her dreams.
|The staircase hidden behind a bookcase which led to the secret annexe which concealed the family|
If only she knew that her diaries would be published in over 70 languages and her book is one of the most widely read of all time. The fact that she died in the concentration camps only a month before the end of the war and never got to see her book's subsequent success makes it all the harder to swallow. We watch a poignant video recorded by her father Otto (who was the only family member to survive the war and died aged 91 in 1980), who was handed the diaries after her death and had no idea she'd written them: "Parents never truly know their own children," he said. Needless to say, I'm a gibbering wreck by the time we leave her house...
To lighten the sombre mood, we have a spot of lunch by the canal with a nice glass of wine, and eat a brick-sized slab of carrot cake each (don't judge -we just love cake!) before exploring the city some more, followed by a chilled evening at the hotel, by which time I'm mentally and physically exhausted.
The next morning the sun is shining once again, so we have about a 6-course breakfast (the buffet mentality strikes again) at the hotel (they serve up a feast - really top drawer), before heading to the Van Gogh Museum, where Andy is almost lynched by security for taking photos (we got some good shots though!). Then as it's such a beautiful day we take a lovely long stroll around Vondelpark, before more cake (what can I say - there are delicious-looking bakeries at every turn), the flower market, and a final al fresco meal of Argentinian steak at La Vaca.
All too soon, it's time to go back to the hotel and collect our luggage, before catching the 9pm flight back to London. There are 29 ways to say goodbye in Dutch, but I think we'll settle for "tot de volgende keer" (till next time), as we'll definitely be back.....
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