Friday, August 28th 2015
There are several ways to travel from London to Amsterdam but the way we prefer is to take the train. Our journey was in two stages.
We started from St Pancras International Station, just down the road from us. We had bought our tickets and reserved our hotel online and had collected the train tickets from the machine the evening before, to avoid any last-minute rush. This morning we had leisure enough to have breakfast before catching the 8:55 Eurostar to Brussels.
The worst part of the journey is right at the beginning where you have to submit to the baggage and person search. For short trips like this, we limit our luggage to ‘cabin bags’ – bags of the permitted dimensions to be taken aboard the aircraft with you when you fly – and I stuff my camera and handbag into this before dumping it on the conveyor belt. I have to remember to remove my rings and take my belt off or the metal buckle will trigger the alarm. My coat and hat also have to go through the X-ray machine (who knows what wickedness might be hidden in my fedora?). Happily, this tedious process has to be done only once even though we cross several national frontiers on our journey1.
The Eurostar has three classes: Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. Despite the extra expense, we usually choose Standard Premier because there is more room for our long legs and a meal is served en route.
The Eurostar deposited us at Brussels Midi Station. Here we had 47 minutes to transfer to our next train. This is perfectly feasible because there are no passport or baggage checks, thanks to Schengen. We had time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee and to make a purchase at the station shop.
Books in French are apt to be expensive in the UK so I often buy one or more on our way through France or Belgium, especially at station shops where they are cheaper than in bookshops. I bought this book more or less at random and partly because I liked the author’s name (it is pronounced like ‘Wellbeck’).
For the next stage of the journey we departed from Brussels at 12:52 aboard the Thalys Paris to Amsterdam train. The Thalys has two classes, called Comfort 1 and Comfort 2. We chose Comfort 1 for the extra leg room. As on the Eurostar, a meal is provided in Comfort 1.
Our train journey ended in the heart of Amsterdam at Amsterdam Centraal Station. The station itself is very busy and so is the area in front of it which serves as a bus and tram station. Our first task was to find our hotel which we knew was somewhat away from the centre.
Faint hearts would have taken a cab but Tigger is made of sterner stuff. We made our way to the public transport ticket office and bought a 72-hour pass each. This provides unlimited travel on buses and trams for the number of hours indicated. It becomes valid from the minute you first use it and as it was now Friday afternoon, we would be able to use it right up to our departure on Monday morning.
Linguistic Note 1
The language spoken in the Netherlands is, of course, Dutch. The Dutch, however, are a pragmatic race and recognize the increasing importance of English both on its own terms and as a world lingua franca. All the Dutch and Flemish people we have met have spoken English to a very high standard. If you want to live and work in the Netherlands, you will absolutely have to learn to speak Dutch but the visitor can rely on using English everywhere.
Our hotel is called Amsterdam Teleport Hotel and is on Heathrowstraat near the Sloterdijk railway station. Tigger, with her usual aplomb, soon discovered which bus we needed to take to get there. Our nearest stop was beside the station. We had a little trouble finding the hotel, partly because it was still being built!
We eventually recognized it by the various national flags being flown on the roof but the next problem was finding the way in! The entrance was quite understated but we found it at last.
The hotel was fine and the staff polite and helpful. Being away from the centre was a slight disadvantage but we soon got used to catching the bus which quickly whisked us to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I would be happy to stay here again.
We returned to the area near Centraal station, partly because that was where the bus took us but also because there was something here that we wanted to visit.
There is, of course, a lot of water in the Netherlands. Apart from the surrounding sea there are rivers and canals and docks. It’s quite hard sometimes to decide what a particular stretch of water is. The waterway that passes in front of Amsterdam Centraal Station is a river and it is called the Ij. This is pronounced ‘ay’ as in the word ‘say’.
Linguistic Note 2
The letter combination ‘ij’ is a characteristic of the Dutch language. For example, in Dutch, the capital of France is Parijs. But how do you pronounce it? It seems that even native speakers find this a matter for discussion. I think the answer is that the pronunciation of ‘ij’ varies between ‘ay’ and ‘eye’, depending on the speaker. I have seen it suggested that it partakes of both sounds. Nice trick if you can do it.
The scenery just begs for panorama shots, of course. Taking an ordinary photo feels like looking at the view through a keyhole. You need to capture the sweep of the water, the craft on it and the buildings lining it.
The Church of Saint Nicholas overlooks the river.
I mentioned above that there was something we wanted to visit. It’s visible in the above photo. Can you spot what it is?
The Dutch may have a reputation for creating land where there was water before but they also build things on the water. On two other trips to the Netherlands for example, we stayed in floating hotels. We had visited this floating Chinese restaurant, the Sea Palace, on a previous occasion and wanted to see it again.
I get the impression that the Dutch have a passion for Chinese cuisine. There are very many Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands, more per square mile, I think, than in the UK. Whether or not that is true, this is an impressive example of its kind.
You can’t run about a restaurant taking photos without annoying people and getting in the way so I contented myself with this (stitched) panorama from my seat.
By the time we emerged from the restaurant, the daylight was fading and the moon was bright in the sky. We went for a little stroll before catching the bus back to the hotel.
The glow of the sky was reflected in the water turning everything else into silhouettes.
I think the contrast of light and dark gives the pictures characteristics similar to Chinese ink drawings but that may be the influence of our Chinese meal!
1Under the Schengen Agreement, persons entering the EU show their passports and have their baggage checked only at the point of entry and do not need to be checked when crossing ‘internal frontiers’ between EU states. Britain opted out of the Agreement and this is why you still have to be checked when travelling between Britain and other EU countries. The recent ‘immigrant crisis’, caused by large numbers of refugees trying to enter the EU, has strained the Schengen Agreement to near breaking point as several countries have erected controls where there were none before.