Monday 20 March 5 am! Is this wise? Wearily into the shower, check small suitcase and lock up the house and set off to catch the 05:59 from Lee to London Bridge and thence to St Pancras. On arrival I’m just about to WhatsApp ‘I’m here’ when Frances appears beside me. We then move to the Eurostar check in line. This ridiculous hour is because they suggest you check in 90 minutes before the scheduled departure – in our case 08:16. The check in process is simple with the exception that I have to go through the scanner twice because it detected my house keys in my jeans pocket – but not my trusty Swiss Army knife! Security! Fortified with coffee and croissant we board the train and set off for a three day trip to hoover up culture in Amsterdam. This was in response to a random comment by me in the pub before the Reading game on 4 February along the lines of: ‘There’s this once in a lifetime exhibition of 28 of Vermeer’s known 37 paintings at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I‘m going. Anyone else?’ After several attempts to sort out mutually acceptable arrangements in transpired that just Fran and I (oh the joys of retirement) were able to make it. So off we go.
The journey was direct to Amsterdam – last time I had to change in Brussels. It takes just about four hours and we arrived in a rather damp Amsterdam Centraal Station a little after one o’clock. Time for a beer rather than taking the tram straight to the hotel. So we set off across the canal down a street towards Dam Square where I have previously found suitable quaffing locations.
Before long – rejecting all the chain places on the main streets we found the delightful Kadinsky (sic -not named after the painter) in Langebrugsteeg just around the corner from Dam Square and the Royal Palace. Affligem Blond was exactly to Fran’s taste and the regular suited me just fine. We accompanied the second with a very tasty ham and cheese toastie. Observing people coming and going from the shop opposite it became clear that this was a cannabis bar – we didn’t partake. Then finally with the rain abating a little we set off to take a tram to the hotel which was south west of the centre near Vondelpark one of the city’s several big open areas. Last time I was here in 2018 I’d seen people skating on one of the lakes in the park.
Like so many other cities, Amsterdam is a complete mess of diggers, holes in the road, muddy pavements and ‘tram stop not in operation’ signs. So we had a bit of a trek to find a stop for the number 17 to Surinamplein which deposited us a five minute walk from the hotel. Only later in the Stedelik Museum did the significance of Suriname become clear. The hotel was part of a Eurostar package but looked OK on the website. Being greeted at the main entrance by chaps carrying plasterboard to to their van wasn’t the best start.
A sign indicated their apologies that the foyer was being refurbished and that the ‘VIP’ entrance (Dutch sense of humour) was round the corner right and right. Easy enough and check in was conducted by a pleasant enough chap. The the challenge began. Take the lift to floor one in this Tower B go through the door and turn left along a safari route all the while admiring the Conscious Hotel Group’s green roof. They are also very eco conscious in every other aspect which was no bad thing. I could even scan a QR code to say ‘Don’t bother to clean my room’ with its promise of environmental benefits and that they would plant a tree. But that was after reaching the room – something still to be achieved. The walkway led to Tower A where another lift took us to the fifth floor and two similar and very clean, neat and pleasant rooms with huge comfortable beds.
We each took a few moments to unpack and sort ourselves out and then went to find an early evening beer as we were due to meet the agent who sends me occasional paid work from the Netherlands for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other for five or six years and Annemarie and her husband Alan were driving up from Utrecht to meet us at Cafe Moer – a vegan joint also owned by the Conscious Hotel. We were on a very long street called Overtoom where there were few open options. It seems a lot of places close for several hours after three o’clock and open again around five or six. Off the main road in a side street we did find a thriving local with a raucous group playing pool, a pair sharing the cares of the world with each other and good beer and free crisps. One elderly gent sitting in a window seat looked enviously at the bowl in front of us, but when we offered him our cheesy waffles they were not to his taste and he demanded – and got – proper crisps from the genial landlady. Just time for one and then back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at 6.30.
Annemarie is Dutch and married to Alan who is from Croydon and a Crystal Palace fan. But neither of us had a lot to say about football given this season for both clubs. We did talk a bit about the work of Watford’s chairty the Community Sports & Eductaion Trust and I promised to try to send them a copy of the book I wrote for the 25th Anniversary which would show them the scope of the charitable work. We had a very lively evening with acceptable if not gourmet, vegan dishes, good beers and a more than passable German red wine which can’t have been too bad as Fran and I did another bottle after Alan and Annemarie had left to get back home to relive her father of their 13-year-old. They were both great company and I refrained from talking too boringly about work! So a first day – rather a long one – came to an end and a good night’s, much needed, sleep ensued.