Days 3566-81, 23 Dec-7 Jan 2022, Amsterdam be’Damned
23 Dec - We were up awfully early today - laundry takes forever when there're multiple loads. The apartment resembled a commercial laundry by the time we departed, but at least it would have time to dry by the time our fab owner returns. Bed made, quick sweep, breakfast and out the door at 8 am in a military fashion… At which point we ordered an Uber and the wheels fell off. Apparently the spot where we were standing was awkward and no one was interested. We gave in at 8.15 am and walked 5 minutes down the road to the local Holiday Inn. This was the fallback plan. If covid has taught us anything it's 'always have at least 2 plans in the wings' for all situations. We figured it would be an easier spot for an Uber to get to and worst case, they could call us a taxi. Within a couple of minutes an Uber accepted the trip to the Gare du Nord with 2 passengers and 3 tonnes of luggage. Yippee!
Having been on Shank's Pony for weeks, it was quite entertaining to be in an actual vehicle with no effort required on our part. It was peak hour so a bit of traffic en route to the gorgeous Gare du Nord (train station). We never cease to be impressed by the stunning facade and the huge and efficient interior. Our train left on the dot of on-time and, what can I say, that's how Sydney to Melbourne should work. We saw the weather in Amsterdam for our arrival looked dire, freezing rain, hail, and possibly crap traffic and we weren't sure of the Uber situation at the station so, out of an abundance of caution, we booked a fixed rate taxi whilst on the train. Undoubtedly a bit of a rip-off price wise - but very nice to have the bloke there the minute we arrived - he was actually texting us as the train pulled into Amsterdam Centraal. We were at the hotel in a jiffy / 20 minutes and had a great get together with the manager - incredibly nice bloke originally from the Philippines - upgraded from basement room to more spacious room with garden views. Which is pretty lucky as it was a great room - but not massive by any stretch.
We settled in, whipped the big coats out of the bags and proceeded down the road to one of our fave Amsterdam spots (and one of the few open during lockdown) - Albert Cuyp Market. It was well past lunchtime and we had a rolling feast as we walked the length of the market and back - fresh spring rolls, chicken satay, Philippine food to have back in the room, cinnamon buns for afters. And that's just what we can remember. It felt Christmassy indeed - had we a) needed jumpers or b) been going anywhere for Christmas lunch, we could even have bought a couple of Christmas jumpers. But really (really) don't need any more clothes.
24 Dec / Christmas Eve - Due to Amsterdam's diet-lockdown caper, the breakfast buffet is off but is being delivered to rooms via a tick-list. Order a pancake - get a pancake and so on. Still, was a novelty to have breakfast in our room. The day dawned cold, but not bad, just wet. We visited Albert Cuyp again. We bought blueberries - because at 7 euro a kilo, why wouldn't we - a pineapple, a melon and 2 small roast chickens. We are essentially moving house, albeit on a small scale, on Christmas day and who knows what will be open. We also bought some stunning flowers - one of the best things about being in Amsterdam is the inexpensive flowers - in this case outstanding flame coloured roses. Tulips are not in season right now and are relatively expensive, but roses are just fine by us and €4 for 10 roses seems like daylight robbery (of the florist). We visited our new owner today for a chat and dropped off the flowers. Met the dog. Met the fish. They tested negative, the owners, not the fish, so no need for Plan B at this stage. The next hurdle will be their plane actually getting out of Dodge with all the covid-isolation-flight cancellations hitting the world. Confinement/Lockdown Dutch style is a bit like their regulation of sex and drugs - very light handed indeed. I think it must have been lost in translation.
25 Dec - Christmas Day. Truly, from one year to the next, we never know what Christmas Day will bring. We certainly couldn't have guessed it would be a lazy in room breakfast in Amsterdam followed by packing up at midday (luggage, groceries - tonnes!) and jumping in an Uber to our new gaff. We were a bit concerned if any Uber drivers would even be out and about, but it's not a big-deal day for everyone. There was blue sky today - but boy, did we pay for it. We got to the joint, up the stairs (sorry… ladders) and unloaded and it was bitterly, freezing cold. We went out for a walk, managed 17,000 steps in the hope it would get our blood flowing, but some of the hardest steps ever. The official temperature was minus 1 but 'feels like' minus 6. Eventually our feet 'felt like' blocks of ice. Still a few hardy tourists around and about but the city is the quietest we've ever seen it. Our roses from the market look superb and we had hot roast chicken, mash, veges and (of course) French bubbly for Christmas dinner. One of the few downsides of jumping from house to house is traditionally looking for a baking tray for instance - you know you've seen it - but where? Usually the last house. This time we really experienced the joys of a new kitchen. Seriously. Took 5 minutes and both of us searching high and low to find the knives, tucked around a far corner, out of sight on a magetic knifeboard on the side of a cupboard. Huge celebrations when we found them. We knew they had to have a knife or two - but sheesh! What if there was a home invader? What if you needed them to defend yourself or you know, chop veges?
26 Dec, Boxing Day - Today's target? The 9 Streets (9 stratjes). This is a section of (usually) bustling fashion, vintage, art and food shops between Prinsengracht and the Singel canals. Deadly quiet today. We flip a coin when we see people queued outside a shop that happens to be open - it's either coffee or chips. More rarely, a covid test lab. And that's about it. Nice Christmas lights though and easy strolling. We are re-gaining our bearings here in Amsterdam - it's been a few years - but made it all the way back home without looking at Google maps on the phone. So that's a win. We whipped up a mushroom/beans/brocolli and fresh pesto extravaganza to go with some ravioli we bought the other day. Yum. Watched 'Don't Look Up' on Netflix. Hilarious. Sad. Hilariously sad especially in these pandemic days.
27 Dec - Today's target? - Noordermarkt - about an hour distant on foot. It was foggy today - we're running the gamut of weather - but thankfully not as bitterly cold as it 'only' feels like '0' - win win! Actually made it into positive digits… like 5 or so - but tropical based on recent temps. Nice walk in - even quieter than it has been if that's possible. We made a point of visiting the tiny houses on Westerstraat markt. I can see why retailers are up in arms over the current lockdown. I get it - inside stores vs. outdoors markets, but it seems unfair that all these stalls flogging fabrics, clothes etc can be open, but shops must be shut. Of course the market is outside, however, the Dutch can't be bothered with masks or distancing and are right on top of each other, so I"m not sure how protective the great outdoors can actually be. Anyway - we're over worrying about it. We're Triple+ vaxxed. Healthy. Will be a pain if we test positive when we're about to go to Vienna - but c'est la covid-19. Officially a bit worn out with all these 16000 step days, and you know, wearing ugg boots (slippers) to keep feet warm enough to actually be out and about. We broke the seal on our 48 hour tram passes and trammed home in luxury from Central station. Bliss. Whilst bread from the supermarket has turned out to be tasteless crap, we have found a turkish joint that sells beautiful fluffy pillows of bready goodness - so all is right with the world. A restful afternoon. We had grand plans of trundling into town on the tram to see the chrissie lights… but were too lazy in the end.
28 Dec - Shopping Day. And it rained. We would not have shopped at all today, but we had actually run out of fruit and the cleaner was coming in the morning so we wanted to give him free rein. So we headed to Lidl and shopped up a storm, tramming home with the booty. Got wet. We were super happy with our clean apartment though bamboozled as to why they changed the bag in the rubbish bin and then left the full bag of rubbish for us to cart down. Seriously. They were heading down 4 flights of stairs anyway. Stage 2 of shopping involved walking down to Albert Cuyp Market for our fruit supplies. Got wet. The weather progressed from irritating drizzle to driving rain that almost soaked us both. Trammed home with the fruit. Job done. Finally. Had a lazy afternoon then took the tram to town, walked all over and took far too many photos of twinkly lights then took tram home again. Chucking money at tram passes is certainly taking the edge off the exhaustion factor.
29 Dec - Day started out well weather-wise then went to pot. It just got wetter and wetter as it progressed. We took the tram into the city and visited the flea markets around Waterlooplein. Quite possibly bought a couple of fleas. We 'splurged on two pairs of jeans at 2 euro a pop (perfect fit… so happy - turns out they are expensive brands world famous in the Netherlands. Someone at some point paid around 150 euro each). We bought a vintage silver ring for James for his birthday and a whizz bang new shearling 'hat with the flaps' which we hoped would be lighter and take up less space than his current HWTF in rabbit fur. We bought a couple of falafel wraps from a friendly Jordanian bloke with a food cart - bargain. It was lucky we had lunch whilst underway because then it got colder. And wetter. We wandered through the old town and China Town and popped out at central station - desperate to spend a penny. Whatever else the Dutch do well or efficiently, public toilets is not one of them. And it's now 70 cents to spend a penny at the train station (and no change - so mostly people were putting in a euro). There were staff… but apparently cleaning the loos frequently was beneath them - not entirely sure why they were even there - maybe emptying the coin machines at the turnstiles as it definitely wasn't to help people. We're not planning on flying KLM any time soon… based on Amsterdam's performance in the toilet statkes, it'd be 5 euro for a plain plane-pee and heaven knows how much for 'extras'.
30 Dec - A sheer and utter do-nothing day. Did laundry. Walked dog. Windy out there. Fretted about forthcoming trip to Vienna. Looked at new rules some more. Fretted more.
31 Dec - We solved the Vienna fretting issues by making decisions. Once made, they are officially the right decisions. To avoid the near certainty of testing positive at some point and having all our plans disrupted, we've pre-disrupted everything, and will take the train from Amsterdam to Paris, spend a week in Paris (what a hardship that will be), then fly directly from Paris to Zagreb and stay in one spot for 3 months. We are itching to be bored with one place, it will reset our Schengen clock and we'll be rip-roaring and ready to go for say Spain in mid-April. Aside from anything else, the Austrians are making non-EU residents very unwelcome and the advice as to whether or not we can enter depends on the website and the phase of the moon - in equal proportions. So. In a week we're going to blow this damned coop and return to Paris for a wonderful week of masked up yet open society. With the decision made, we felt much better and spent the late afternoon with a logistical to-do list from hell. Cancel day hotel in A'dam, cancel 2 x PCR test bookings, cancel night train Amsterdam to Vienna, cancel hotel Vienna, cancel train Vienna to Trieste, cancel hotel in Trieste, cancel 2 x tickets to Opera House in Vienna. Breathe. Book train Amsterdam to Paris, book AirBnB Paris, book flights Paris to Zagreb, book transfer from Paris to CDG Airport for said flight, book transfer Zagreb to hotel, book hotel for one night with Dinner, Bed & Breakfast, book transfer Zagreb to Labin. Breathe. Continue. We have found Air France to be wonderful to deal with through the ongoing fiasco of the covid travel era. We had flights with them from Dublin to Paris, found cheaper flights with Aer Lingus, put the originals into credit and thus had the vouchers to use for these flights and it all just worked. Which is huge.
We spent the evening (New Year's Eve) at home after all the rebooking excitement. I in particular have a strong aversion to loud noises and getting blown up. New Year's Eve in Amsterdam, with the Dutch propensity for blowing things (and themselves) up was therefore interesting. We used to laugh about the Vietnamese insistence on bright lights, loud noises and burning/blowing things up with a view to scaring away evil spirits. If that was the theory in the Netherlands, the sprits wouldn't just be scared away, they'd have been blown to smithereens, a huge crater created and the gates of hell barricaded shut over the bleeding corpses of the aforementioned evil spirits.
It's interesting being a dog-sitter on the fireworks night of the year - the howling, the shivering, the hiding under the bed - and that was just me. Thank god our very resilient Dutch dog Matilda was there to keep me company. The explosions seemed to shake the building at times, the flashes were so bright I had to hunt out an eye mask and my excellent ear plugs didn't actually block the noise - just took the edge off it. Given that the Dutch banned fireworks this year, I can only imagine how bad it must have been in the good old bad old days. If they ever need a new name for the city, Gaza-on-Canal should do it.
1 Jan 2022 - Well it's a New Year and no new variants for 2022 - yet. But obviously, the year is still young. We had a New Year's Day rest day. All good.
2 Jan - Wandered around town. Saw a bunch of concerned citizens/troublemakers marshalling for a protest. Avoided them. Enjoyed the scenery. And that's about the height of entertainment these days - took the tram home and stopped en route for a big bag of warm-from-the-oven Turkish bread to keep us going for the forthcoming week.
3 Jan - Exciting day today… grocery shopping! Restocked fruit, veges and food. And wine. In dire need of wine for nerve-calming medicinal purposes.
4 Jan - We ventured north today to Harlemmerstraat - a gorgeous street on the north side of Central station - All the shops were either shut or shut-ish where the owner is lurking in the backdrops ready to hand over packages ordered online. Was a fab walk and managed to snag a tram home just before the heavens opened. There you have it - Turkish bread and not getting wet are the highlights of our existence right now. Sad.
5 Jan - And the heavens have stayed open pretty much since yesterday. It was wet, windy and cold and we can't wait to leave. Nothing open, nothing to do, little to see and too bloody miserable outside to even try. Paris! Bring on Paris!
6 Jan - We knocked over the packing though happy it's train packing and not plane packing for sure. Finally it was a fine day - stunning blue sky and sunshine so we followed the No.12 tram all the way to the Museum Quarter and Millionaire's Street (AKA PC Hoofstraat). This was pretty impressive actually - you would need to be a multi-millionaire to really go to town here - they had every high end brand we could think of and quite a few extra besides. We walked through the bike lane that runs through the heart of the Rijksmuseum and strolled the boundaries of the gardens. So happy to return home to our finished packing.
7 Jan - Bit under the weather on our last full day and the weather was below par as well. Sat with our feet up and kept out of the cleaners' way. They whipped through the whole house in 90 minutes. If we could, we'd pack them and bring them with us on our travels.
8 Jan - After 2 of the longest, coldest, wettest and most boring weeks in our life, we're off! Far too early we whistled up an Uber and enjoyed the ultra-quiet streets of Amsterdam en route to Central Station. So happy to be on the move again.