Breakfast at The Belgrove was, like the room, basic but quite nice. The dining room was sunny and bright, in the old servants quarters of the old Victorian townhouse. We were below street level with quaint white wrought iron steps and a tiny little garden outside the french doors.
After breakfast, we headed back to the station and located the correct platform for the Eurostar train. It was absolute chaos. People were queueing for security and passport control, a train was holding for some of the passengers who were still in the queue, people were panicking and staff were frustrated. My anxiety hit a level where I nearly had a panic attack.
Fortunately, I was able to go to the assistance desk and ask for help. The response could not have been more different to what Cardiff and Paddington had to offer. A beautiful lady in a smart uniform, immediately reassured me that she would take care of everything, then radioed for someone to take us through the fast-track. An uncommunicative (I think he was French and didn’t understand our Wenglish too well) but extremely efficient young man, directed us through security, then sailed past the crowds to show our passports and before we knew it we were through and in the departure lounge. He settled us, showed us where to go when our train was called and checked we were fine and didn’t need anything else before leaving us with instructions to text our assistance number if we were worried about anything.
Absolutely nothing went wrong and we were able to locate our carriage and seats with no problems at all. I was feeling quite smug as we settled into our seats. Being completely honest here, as two large people, with me in the outside seat, there was some hangover, and I had to have the armrest up. I was making some last minute adjustments just as the guard/driver walked past. Sad to report but his balls were given an intimate, and quite unexpected, introduction to my elbow. He was very nice about it, but it had to hurt.
I can’t honestly say it was the most comfortable journey I’ve ever taken, but that was hardly Eurostar’s problem. Two extremely large people, on a terribly hot day, with outbreaks of social anxiety and a claustrophobe trying to cope with 75,000 feet of earth and a whole load of water over her head, make for interesting travelling at the best of times. At least I didn’t try to castrate anyone else.
As we drew closer to Brussels my anxiety ramped up. This was the part that made me most nervous. Changing trains in a completely different country in just under an hour. Sure, an hour seems like a lot of time, but when you walk like I do it’s not much when there’s a lot of ground to cover. I had tried to arrange assistance, but there were problems with the online application forms, and I’m not able to telephone.
When it came down to it, however, it couldn’t have been easier. The announcer on the train, who could either have been a woman or the man I’d emotionally and physically scarred, (adding another octave to his voice range) told us which platform the ongoing train would be leaving from, as well as the number of the train. We got off the train, followed everyone down an escalator into a sparkling white concourse, then easily located the signs for the platform. A short lift journey had us on the correct platform in plenty of time.
In fact, there was so much time to spare that, feeling brave, we went back down into the concourse and had great fun buying bottled water from a vending machine that took debit cards. (I might not have had quite so much fun if I’d realized that every time I used my credit card I was charged a transaction fee. Something to note for future European trips)
It was just as easy to find our carriage and seat, which were slightly larger than those on the Eurostar train (This one was Thalys) so were even more comfortable. As we were settling, a gentleman in uniform came up to us and asked our names. Rather startled, I told him and he apologised that he had not been able to locate us sooner and show us to our seats. Apparently, the application for assistance had gone through after all. After more apologizing for something that was definitely not his fault, or anyone’s really, he left promising more assistance in Amsterdam.
The journey was pleasant, and I dozed until I woke myself snoring, then didn’t dare to do it anymore. I learned my lesson the Christmas I dozed off after lunch and had my own flesh and blood post a video on social media.
When we arrived in Amsterdam Central Station, two ladies were waiting for us when we got off the train. The gentleman from before must have radioed our description, because they came right to us and helped me off the train, which was lovely because I was stiff from all the traveling (We got on the train in Paddington at 9 and got off the train in Amsterdam at about 3).
They asked us where we wanted to go then took us straight to the taxi rank. After checking out our destination (which I’d written out on the itinerary, they gave instructions to the taxi driver, then shook our hands before we got in. They’d smiled the whole time. They were so lovely and friendly and approachable. Well done Amsterdam Central. The award for the best assistance goes to you with stars on.
The taxi took us straight to the apartment where we would be staying and offered to help with our cases, but I volunteered Efan, because he’s a big, strong boy and could do with the exercise. I might not have been so quick to rope him in if I’d known about the two flights of stairs that were so narrow I almost touched the sides. Somehow, however, we both made it in once piece.
We were renting a room through Airbnb. Our hosts Chiara and Mendel were absolutely charming. I can’t express how lovely they are. They’re young, sweet, in love, and have a beautiful home and amazing ginger cat called Flash. Flash and Efan instantly fell in love with each other and Efan had a constant companion when we were at home.
Our room was light and airy, with a balcony we could walk out onto, and a rail that was more than big enough to hang all our clothes. There were very few rules, but tons of helpful tips, hints, and recommendations. The flat was beautiful. It had hardwood floors throughout, a massive, curved balcony in the main room, and a very calming ambience. I have to wonder though by what magic they managed to get the solid furniture up the stairs.
We soon discovered they have their ways. On our first venture into town we saw police and ambulance cordoning off part of a road. At first, we thought there’d been an accident, but finally worked out that someone was moving into an apartment on the third floor, taking the furniture up by winch, onto to the balcony and through the window.
After introductions with Chaira, Mendel and Flash, we went out in search of food, and conversion plugs in order to charge our electronics. We’d have been properly in the shi…er…in some difficulty if we hadn’t found one. Yeah, there were some ways, more of which you will discover later, where my meticulous preparations were pathetically incomplete.
We had intended to wander a little way to find somewhere to eat. However, I cannot express enough how hot it was. It was so hot my nose melted. Well, maybe not melted but burned enough to shine and peel like crazy. Not far from the apartment, we found a small square with the kind of fountain that has no bowl, just little jets of water shooting out of the pavement. The fountain was skirted, on one side, by some large trees shading wooden benches. We decided to find something to take away, then sit under a tree, watching children have fun in the water.
Fortunately, as I was melting at every step, we found both a phone shop that sold conversion plugs, and a pizza place with the most am-a-zing takeaway pizza within a very short distance. I also had my first taste of ice-cold Lipton’s Iced Tea, which was beyond amazing given what a damn hot day it was.
We took our pizza and drinks back to the square and sat under a tree. That was when I discovered my melting nose and that the top of my head was also beginning to burn. We therefore decided not to stick around for long. I’d promised Efan an icecream from a little kiosk in the square, so I went to raise some euros because I only had twenties. I thought if I rose fifty I’d get a ten, because who pays for ice cream with a twenty? Not even that was easy because the cashpoint gave me fifty. What bloody cashpoint does that? The ones in Amsterdam apparently. As it turned out, the whole exercise was wasted in any event, because the kiosk sold seafood, not ice cream. Not even seafood ice cream.
After we’d eaten, it was about half-past four. We had a boat trip booked for seven, so we decided to take a taxi to dock, then have a stroll along the canal until it was time to board. When we got there, however, it was too hot to stroll anywhere, so we sat on a bench for two hours, stressing about whether we were in the right page, and whether we should go across the bridge to get something to eat from one of the restaurants on the other side.
In the end, we procrastinated for so long it was too late and it was time to board the boat.
We’d originally booked for a pizza dinner cruise but I’d received an email while on the train that morning, that the boat had overbooked, so we booked a different one that didn’t include dinner but had a historical narration. In the end, I’m glad we picked this one because it was fascinating.
It is very tempting to go into some of Amsterdam’s fascinating history, but this is going to be a long post as it is. Maybe I’ll do a separate post later. In the meantime, here are the photographs.
It was a great trip and we finally managed to relax after all the tension and anxiety of the trip. It helped that I got a free glass of wine.
After getting off the boat, we decided to check out the restaurants. Efan was immediately drawn by the sushi restaurant, so we headed over. A glance at the menu had me shaking in my shoes. A light lunch was 25 euros and a five-course meal was 58 euros. I figured that would sit a modest dinner with drinks at around the 35 – 40 euros each, and I just didn’t have 80 euros to spend on dinner the first night. I hated to disappoint Efan, but that wasn’t happening.
We looked around half heartedly, but everything was so busy. In the end, we decided to walk back toward the apartment and see what was going on. Bad move. Walking is not something I do. Pain is not the word to describe what I was feeling after five minutes.
Efan spotted a Japanese restaurant, but we couldn’t cross the road. I know it sounds simple, but when you factor in trams, busses and bicycle lanes it’s a dangerous endeavour without a designated crossing. Actually, even walking along a pavement can be dangerous, as I demonstrated aptly by almost killing at least two people by knocking them off their bikes. One of them, a small but wiry Japanese lady was definitely not impressed. Trust me, if I could have I would have run.
In the end, we found our way to a little cafe. I had no idea what food it served, but it was close and there was space inside, so we went in. It turned out to be a Turkish restaurant, and I can’t say enough good things about it.
It’s called Fifty Cafe in Overtoom 85, Amsterdam.
We took away some chocolate Moofins (which I thought were some kind of special Turkish cake, but turned out to be muffins with a really cute accent). I confused the poor waitress constantly. I mean, fair play, not only did she have to cope with me speaking English, but it was actually Wenglish, warn it butt?
After a fabulous experience in Fifty, we took a taxi home and collapsed into bed. Day 1 was pretty eventful, for sure.