We took the fast train from Paris as planned, arriving in Amsterdam exactly when the timetable said we would – which was a bit of a relief, as the notice board at Gare du Nord was telling us that major strike action in Brussels on various dates (including 1 December, the day of our journey) were disrupting Thalys’ services.
Once in Amsterdam – and having navigated a stubborn ticket vending machine and worked out which was our tram stop – we heaved our cases onto the Number 4 and, and 5 stops later, we were walking down a cobbled street to our flat. Very good location – we were no more than a 30 minute walk from almost everywhere in Amsterdam.
The old town is chocolate box pretty, with its (often very crooked) grachtenpanden (canal houses), and there’s so much to see and do. We spent time at the Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace), the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk museum, the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the Portugese Synagogue, the Scheepvaartmuseum – but mostly we just wondered around the streets of the canal belt, taking a gazillion photos.
The old town was all lit up for Christmas, with lights festooning the streets (that was one for you, BB) and enormous decorated fir trees in all the squares. They’d set up an ice skating rink outside the Rijksmuseum and a Christmas market at Rembrantplein, and every house had Christmas lights in ther windows – so there was a nice, festive atmosphere. The ‘water colours’ part of the annual Amsterdam light festival was on while we were there – adding to the after dark scene – and we managed to see many (though not quite all) of the exhibits. Some were really good.
We were there for Sinterklaas Eve (5 December), which is the traditional Dutch celebration where kids put out their shoes for presents from Sinterklaas and gifts are exchanged – usually along with a humorous poem about the recipient and the first letter of their first name in chocolate. More than St Nikolaas, images of the now controversial Zwarte Piets were everywhere.
We had a really spectacularly nice lunch that day at Michelin 2* restaurant, Bord’eau, on Sinterklaas Eve and there were a number of families there having their Sinterklaas celebrations (no Zwarte Piets in sight).
We’d intended to take advantage of their bargain, €38 fixed menu lunch – but as soon as Andrew saw the red mullet and I saw the Anjou pigeon on the main course menu, all was lost. Oh well.
Pleased to announce that we must have been good, as Sinterklaas left us a chocolate A and a chocolate C in our shoes!
It was pretty cold in Amsterdam, with maximum daily temperatures around 3C to 5C. Andrew had to break out his heavy Narrona jacket – but I managed just fine with my wool pea coat. (In fact, the walking goose down duvet that is my parka has been too warm to wear zipped/buttoned up so far, even at -18C!)
Amsterdam also got dark pretty early – sunset was just after 16:30 (though that seems late now we are in the land of the polar night). It was also almost always overcast – we didn’t get much rain, but we only had one really clear day in the week we were there. Given how short the days are, we understood how important the Christmas lights and decorations are – it could be quite dull and gloomy without them. I’d like to see Amsterdam in the spring – I’m sure it would be a different kind of beautiful with clear skies and in full bloom…
PS: Photos by Andrew. I haven’t even looked at my Amsterdam photos yet…