Guest post by David Haynes
Every year myself and my wife Laura have a trip away before Christmas to do some shopping and eat lots of food. I also try and leave her there, but she keeps finding her way back. Last year was Amsterdam by sea.
First off we (Laura) opted to go with P&O, and then chose to go with the hotel that Maisie at SuperBreak HQ had packaged with it, as she does have impeccable taste and as it turned out she chose rather well; but more on this later. I’d never been on a cruise before, other than to get from one side of a lake to the other so I didn’t entirely know what to expect, however I really enjoyed it and it’s far less hassle than flying.
After packing our bags and checking we had our passports (far more times than was necessary), we dropped the guinea pigs off at their holiday home (they’re not that keen on us so it was a genuine short break for them too) and then made our way over to Hull docks which was remarkably easy to find given that neither of us had been to Hull before. Once we’d dropped the car off, checked in and passed through security, which took a maximum of 30 minutes (eat that airports!) we boarded, bought our evening meal vouchers and then found our cabin. Said cabin was cosy and most importantly warm, so we set up our bunks (Laura wanted top, I wanted bottom, and harmony reigned) and then made straight for the bar feeling rather smug.
A couple of beers later and we’d reached optimum hunger so it was time to grace the evening restaurant buffet. Now it’s worth noting that one of the monikers my in-laws have bestowed upon me is ‘King of the Buffet’, however that night I realised that in Laura I had truly found my Queen. Three full plates later (curry, roast dinner, curry again), ice-cream and cheese & crackers and she was done; I sat in awe. I put in a pretty decent shift myself, but Laura was nothing short of a force of nature, beautiful and destructive. Suffice to say the food was very good, and now too full to drink any more we retired to our cabins to pass out with the carb sleeps.
After a fitful night’s sleep dreaming I was pregnant (can’t possibly think why) we arrived in Rotterdam around 8am, got ready and then boarded our transfer to Amsterdam around 9am, arriving sometime just after 10. Upon leaving the coach we were treated to a chap declaring to his family “I think the Anne Frank museum is that way”. He had no map, and no way of accessing Google maps that I could see, but he said it so confidently no-one thought to argue with him. I’ve done the same myself and it’s ended in tears, so I was sceptical, but I did think ‘best of luck to you mate’; that sort of confidence deserves a reward. Anyway after that classic scene, we went to the tourist hut to see where the Christmas markets are, and then purchased our tram tickets.
One of my favourite things about Amsterdam is that it’s an incredibly logical city in terms of its transport and layout (I’d say the favourite, but that’s quite sad) so it was very easy to get my bearings and I’m comparing this to say Barcelona and Dublin. In order to get to our hotel, the tram stopped at Dam Square, Rembrantplein and all the other pleins where all the cool stuff is = really handy. The hotel was really nice too, plus they let us in early and there was free coffee in the foyer.
We still had the best part of the day left, so we went for a general wander round the streets and canals to orientate ourselves and take some arty photos. We then had a look at the Christmas markets in Rembrantplein where I bought a Venetian mask for the SuperBreak Christmas party. I also scoped out a lot of cheese shops consuming many samples on the way; when in Rome… .As you can imagine this is pretty thirsty work and I’d had some strong recommendations for the Heineken experience so it was the logical next stop on our break and it didn’t disappoint. The year before we’d been to the Guinness experience and I think they’re on a par in terms of enjoyment, but for different reasons. I think I learnt more at the Guinness experience, but the Heineken ‘ride’, the cinema room where they show the adverts and the freebies are brilliant.
Top tip #1: Buy your tickets from the Sightseeing tour bus people to save a couple of Euros.
We then then went back to the hotel, got ready and went out for a pizza at a place around the corner from where we were staying. It was pretty new and had a growing reputation (thanks TripAdvisor!) and we could see why, so check out de Pizzabakkers I heartily recommend. The night was still young, so we headed back to Rebrandtplein as this is where some of the best bars are located to try some of their wares. There are some fabulous wheat and fruit beers to be had around here, so it’s definitely worth checking out in the evening. We wrapped up proceedings with a mulled wine (laced with Amaretto – fabulous idea) in one of the huts and an oliebol, which is best described as a Dutch donut without a hole, very nice!
The following day was an early start on the City Sightseeing tour bus, but it was so bitterly cold we had to head back to the hotel and put on pretty much every item of clothing we’d brought with us. Handily there’s a stop for the zoo that’s really close by. Now suitably attired we took some pictures of a windmill (par-for-the-course) and had a look around the daily market close by whilst eating some of the greatest double-fried chips and mayonnaise ever (another local speciality). We then ventured down to the museum district for more pictures and went for a traditional lunch of ham and pea soup and bitterballen (fried stuff) with a local wheat beer at De Blauwe Hollander. This place was intimate, the chap serving us was really friendly and the food was fantastic, so it’s my top recommendation for eating in Amsterdam.
Our last scheduled bit of tourism for the day was the Anne Frank museum. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t already been said, but it was powerful, emotional and every bit as important as you think so I implore anyone going to Amsterdam to pay it a visit.
Top tip #2: Book your tickets before you go as the queue can get pretty big.
A brief trip back to our hotel to change into what clothes we weren’t already wearing followed and then we headed off to the Ice Bar. This place is very cool (pun intended) whereby upon entry we were given giant blue ponchos and mittens which made us look a bit like East 17 (please Google if unsure of this reference) and then stepped into a -15C freezer. Inside everything was made of ice, including our mugs and it came complete with the odd fake Arctic animal for decoration. It was good fun and took around 20 minutes for my fingers to start hurting, at which point we went through to the bar at the entrance which was considerably warmer. Here I challenged Laura to some strange game where you hit a nail into a log. This again confirmed why I do the DIY. By now the hunger had set in again and it was only so long we could fight the urge for a curry (it had been 48hrs after all), so that’s what went down. It certainly hit the spot and provided an excellent platform for more beers and anther mulled wine (creatures of habit).
Top tip #3: Also buy your tickets for the Ice Bar through the Sightseeing tour bus. It’s 1E more expensive, but this gets you an additional cocktail worth around 7E.
Our last day was relaxed as we’d pretty much seen everything that we’d planned to. We did still have our Christmas shopping to do though so after buying a giant cheese from the place that I’d eaten the most free samples from, along with a windmill tree decoration our mission was complete. Our pick up was 5pm, so we had a late lunch and bought a final treat for the boat back in the form of the richest, densest cake I’ve ever had, excellent. We were back on the boat in good time, which was a somewhat more sedate affair (for everyone!) than the trip over. We did check out the Sky lounge for a bit of a change though before retiring to our cabins for some much needed shut-eye.
We arrived back in Hull early, and made it back home for before 11am still leaving us most of the day, so overall I was really glad we went by ferry. In case you’re wondering we did use some of this time to pick up the guinea pigs; they were non-plussed as expected and took the opportunity to have a bit of ruck in the box on the way back. Normal service had resumed.
Amsterdam has definitely become the favourite of our pre-Christmas short breaks and I definitely recommend going at this time of year as there’s such a wonderful atmosphere and it looks fantastic. Wrap up warm though, because there’s a reason the Dutch are such good ice skaters!
Hampshire Hotel review
We loved this place as it was clean, cozy and easy to get to whilst being far enough away from the main city centre for it to be really quiet. It’s also near some great restaurants and cafés, and because it’s near the zoo it’s very close to a City Sightseeing bus stop which is handy. There’s even free coffee in the lounge so I’d definitely stay here again!