When I asked Megan what she’d like to do for her birthday, she surprised me a little by asking if the two of us could go away for a weekend to celebrate. We looked at UK mini-breaks but simply couldn’t justify the expense. Megan was keen to visit Amsterdam so, after finding return flights for less than £40 each, I decided to give it another go!
Happily, my second experience in the Netherlands capital was a little more welcoming. I’d booked us a room at the Apple Inn Hotel which is where Adam and I stayed last time and we both loved the quaint garden (ideal for a G&T or five). Our flight took just 50 mins each way, which is less time to than it takes us to drive to Liverpool. How bizarre is that?!
The weather was the same as I remembered – freezing cold with frequent spells of torrential rain – but I was slightly better prepared for it and regardless of the downpours, we managed to do so much in a short space of time, making some brilliant memories together.
Here is a summary of what we got up to:
Stumbled Upon a Yoga Festival
After checking into our hotel, we went on the hunt for some food in the nearby area. We happened to stumbled upon the tail end of a yoga festival so grabbed some sweet potato fries from one of the food vans, sat on the grass and enjoyed the atmosphere.
We then found a supermarket, headed back to the hotel and indulged in a rather eclectic ‘Hotel Picnic’ on the balcony (hello Haribo, cream cakes, fresh pesto, hummus, crackers, smoothies and Pringles!).
Went to an Ice Bar
An ice-bar is not somewhere that would usually be on my agenda as I’m not really one for going ‘Out Out’ anymore, however, Megan insisted and, with her being the birthday girl, I could hardly say no, could I?
While the ‘Pirate’ theme and backstory were a little cheesy, it was actually fun! We were only allowed 20 mins in the ice bar as it was so cold (obviously). We donned a thick coat and gloves before entering and I got carried away with the shots.
If we hadn’t have been so tired from a day of touristy fun, wearing hoodies and carrying shopping bags, I’m convinced that we’ve have ended up in nightclub pretty soon afterward! On that note, is it weird to go clubbing with your own child? Asking for a friend…
Managed to Navigate the Transport System
Geography is not my strong point; neither is public transport. Megan, however, is a natural when it comes to navigating her way around new places so we had no issues. There was a tram stop a few minutes away from our hotel so we both bought a 36 hour pass for just €12 each and off we went!
Went on the Highest Swing in Europe
I first saw the famous A’dam Lookout swing on a Richard Ayoade travel documentary; it was also my idea of utter hell. Of course, Meg couldn’t wait to have a go so I didn’t really get much choice in the matter.
It was still raining and the wind was howling when we got to the top of the tower. I was wearing very impractical shoes too so had to go barefoot! As the swing lifted, I closed my eyes – and kept them closed for most of the entire ride! When I did open them, my stomach sank as it felt much, much higher than it had looked initially. Still, Meg thoroughly enjoyed it!
I’d also booked lunch at the Moon Restaurant as a surprise for Megan. The rotating building made for a unique dining experience and the food was superb. I’d read mixed reviews but we couldn’t fault it. Although it was a set menu, we’d requested no seafood.
Our server then offered us an ‘Oyster Pearl’ to start. We both scrunched our faces until she informed us that it was in fact, a drink (!). As we cautiously obliged, sure enough, a pop of citrus liquid hit my taste buds. It was certainly something different…
Meg had officially turned 18 years old that morning so she took great delight in ordering her first legal alcoholic beverage! We ate mango and papaya gyozas followed by Dorset lamb and got squiffy on wine as we admired the views for a few hours.
Encountered ‘Dutch Directness’
I debated about whether to add this section incase I offended anyone (ironic) but thought it was an interesting thing to note. If you Google ‘Dutch Directness’, you’ll see a common theme. The Dutch are very different to us cliched Brits, who generally hold manners and pleasantries in high regard, especially in the hospitality sectors.
The Dutch, however, see this type of behaviour as being weak and insincere. The first time I visited the Netherlands, I dismissed the locals as being downright rude. Whilst Megan and I encountered this blunt attitude regularly, this time at least we understood why and soon learned not to take it personally.
That said, when our server grunted: “What do you want?” as he threw a menu at us (we made a point of not tipping after that), the lady on the tram humiliated a fellow tourist for trying to use cash (it’s a card-only system) and the cashier in H&M literally eye-rolled when I queried an overcharge, it was difficult not to retaliate!
We also visited lots of museums:
Sex Museum – The Temple of Venus
Amsterdam is renown for its liberal attitude towards sex and drugs and, whilst I made a very deliberate point of dodging the coffee shops, the sex museum is always one for a giggle.
Again, possibly a slightly odd one to visit with your mum/daughter (“Happy 18th Birthday baby girl – here’s an 8ft penis! Welcome to adulthood…”), but nevertheless, we had amusing afternoon laughing at phallic artifacts alongside hundreds of other tourists.
The sex museum costs €5 to get in and is filled with all kinds of weird and wonderful things. Some of the rooms are particularly graphic, featuring depictions of hardcore pornography and specialist fetish images/equipment so it isn’t one for the fainthearted – you have been warned!
Red Light Secrets – Museum of Prostitution
I was surprised to find that this was, in fact, a very humbling place and the atmosphere was the polar opposite to that of the sex museum. The building is a former brothel and featured lots of real-life stories, including the one of Annie; a sex worker who was brutally murdered there in 1957.
The museum humanised the women who stand in the famous windows; the ones we tend to gawp at when wandering through the notorious Red Light District, whether that be out of curiously, desire or disapproval.
Some prostitutes were there out of choice and told tales of empowerment and earning a decent amount of money doing something that they genuinely loved. Others talked of violence, vulnerability, the degrading treatment they’ve endured and human trafficking (a blog for another day).
There is a memorial set up as a tribute to the many women who have lost their lives to punters – this was truly heartbreaking to see. There is also a wall of confessions, some light humour via the audio tour and a faux window to put you in the shoes of the women who work in the Red Light District day in, day out.
The museum is much more than a tourist attraction and has resonated with me ever since.
Despite being British, I’ve never actually seen a ‘Banksy’ in real life before. We’d gone out one evening in search of cocktails (which we never found) and spotted that Moco museum were having a Banksy exhibition.
Meg wasn’t particularly bothered about this one initially, however, I was rather insistent and it was a good place to dodge the rain for an hour or two. Whilst there were a lot of repeat prints throughout, it was worth it and made even more devastated that I missed the chance to visit Dismaland back in 2015.
I’ve been here before and wasn’t overly keen as the exhibits are rather gruesome and explicit to say the least! For those of you that don’t know, Dr. Gunther von Hagens – the guy behind the live autopsy that was aired on TV a few years ago – takes dissected, plasticised human bodies and displays them in various weird and wonderful ways.
Being a student nurse, Megan is made of much stronger stuff than I am and found the whole thing truly fascinating. She took a particular interest in a preserved brain which had been damaged by dementia; something that’s close to home with her work at the hospice.
The theme is all about how our bodies are affected by happiness and, as macabre as it sounds, I have to admit that there is something quite extraordinary about seeing the bodies up close, leaving me with a new-found respect for just how incredible our organs really are – and how much we take our health for granted.
So that’s a little bit about our recent Amsterdam adventures! Until next time…