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We made Amsterdam in good time, avoiding the chaos which was ensuing at Heathrow and Calais and arrived at the hotel in plenty of time for a sundowner or four. Entering the small lobby of our lodgings, we were greeted by two charming, smiley young women who handed us a glass of champagne and gave us the lie of the land and the tale of the tape: Help ourselves to what we wanted from the lobby bar and the room mini bar, and enjoy ourselves.
Although confident that we would, I turned to notice that some of our fellow guests had an unhealthy head start on us. Three couples in particular caught the eye, partly as they were blocking the view of the bar. All six of them were heavy-boned, and were busy helping themselves to the pleasures of the drinks cabinet. All were around fifty years old. Two were clearly Brits, as they were drinking pints. There was one guy in a blazer, chinos, blue chambray shirt and a baseball cap turned backwards on his balding head. Not sure where he came from. His wife was very loud: hmmm…still no real clue.
The final pairing came from California. I only found this out later as it was all the wife spoke about, along with her diet and the “fucking French”. All this while her red-faced husband devoured bottles of Argentinian Merlot and slid down the back of the chair, quietly grinning to himself.
Having been shown our room, had a quick swig and freshen up, we returned to the lobby, en route to seeking out a cool pint of Amstel in the many bars outside. The six juggernauts had hardly moved from their positions of earlier, though the females were now seated in lounge chairs, demolishing plates of food. We left.
A convivial stroll around the pretty town and it’s bars, following the long drive had left the pair of us a tad weary, so after two or three hours we shuffled our way back to the hotel for a nightcap. The six lobbyists had been joined by three or four other Americans, in the far corner of the room was a French couple, keeping themselves to themselves, him reading Le Monde, she watching him reading Le Monde. Finally at the concierge desk, a retired couple were demanding what the weather was going to be like tomorrow. I thought they were Dutch at first, but it turned out they were scousers. It’s the phlegm, I guess.
We took our seats in the middle of all this and, glasses charged, proceeded to people-watch and to listen in. The Yanks and the Limeys seated amongst them had been for varying lengths of time stranded in Amsterdam by the volcanic ash cloud. In between visits to the bar the Americans took turns in visiting the two pcs situated in the corner of the bar and looked for flights out of Schipol Airport, news from home or weather reports. The Brits, when it was their turn, looked at the BBC website and at railway timetables and ticket office sites. All had pretty much given up hope of leaving soon, and none were happy about it.
The chat was of insurance, California, Argentinian wine, politics, cheese, diets, then the fucking French. At that, the pleasant French couple left. They’d been chatting quietly (as far as my limited French would allow me to understand) about how much these people were drinking and eating. I have no idea what the Scousers were talking about.
The chatter continued: The hotel elevators were too slow for one woman, the bathrooms too tiny for the British glandular-case (I could clearly see why). “Oh honey” announced Mrs California, “the bathrooms are positively palatial compared to ours in fucking Paris”. Guessing that the chat wasn’t gonna improve any time soon, we retreated to our room.
The pattern repeated itself the following day. Our un-happy band of brothers and sisters were decamped in the lounge, devouring all before them, like a plague of fat, boring locusts. Morning, noon and night. The original big six were occasionally joined by other refugees of the airline ban, exchanging war-stories and escape plans. Cast your mind back to the lounge bar in The Killing Fields, with groups of various nationals marooned, awaiting the airlift, with nothing to do but wine and whine the days away. In one scene in the movie they try to fake a passport, attempting to fix the photo with urine, in lieu of proper photo-fixer. Fortunately no such drastic measures were needed here. And anyway, if there was a bottle of urine laying around, the fat Brits would have drunk it.
We spent our days visiting museums, bars, shops and restaurants, buying gifts for the kids, cheese for us and tulips for the garden. Each time we returned to the hotel, more refugees had arrived, the static six, who were now experts in everything Amsterdam and Airline-related were holding both court and enormous gins.
On Wednesday morning I went down to the lobby for breakfast and realised something was wrong. Either I’d gone deaf or the Californians had left. Sure enough, the ban had been lifted and they’d flown the coop. Somewhere over the Atlantic, some poor sod was being bored shitless by a man wearing a suit and baseball cap, accompanied by his fat, frightful wife. The Brits had apparently got tickets on the train to Calais, via Burger King, then onto London. I almost punched the air in gratitude.
Our last day was spent in peace and quiet, free to wander the streets and explore the drinkeries and eateries, yet content in the knowledge that we could return laden with yet more cheese and flower bulbs to our hotel which now looked like a hotel, not a 4-star refugee camp. We enjoyed an evening meal in town, a couple of drinks in a quiet bar and returned to the lobby for one last snifter before retiring to bed. All very pleasant indeed.
We left by car the following morning having spent the oddest few days in Amsterdam. We left the little boats putt-putting along the canals, our hotel staff re-stocking the lobby bar, and we left 45 quids-worth of cheese in the our room fridge.
Ok: Plan B.
Not since the planning of D-Day, when the Allies poured over maps of northern Europe has so much thought gone into and effort been spent on crossing the channel. Ike, Patton and Monty, housed in top-secret bunkers, argued over the merits of the Pas-de-Calais and the Normandy beaches and had to deal with a delay in launching the attack, having to wait for a window in the weather. Theirs was a massive aerial and seabourn invasion, relying on surprise, overwhelming forces and stirring, patriotic music.
66 years later, and from an undisclosed location in London (my house), the Incumbent and I had to choose between going by air, rail or sea to our planned destination of Amsterdam. Now the weather has made up our minds for us. Our force comprises of two people in one Toyota, relying on an alarm clock radio to wake us up, and a slow puncture on the car holding out, accompanied only by Status Quo OBE on the iPod. Unlike Monty, we can’t delay our crossing: there’s is no window in the weather system, but the hotel’s already booked. Fucking Volcano.
It became increasing clear that our BA tickets would be worthless. With all air traffic in Europe grounded due to the ash cloud, the train seemed the best option of getting to Europe. But Eurostar was reporting record passenger numbers and little hope of us getting on board. So on Thursday I secured our place on a boat from Dover. As no-one travels by boat any more, I managed to book easy enough online. The ferry departs at 0800hrs (ZULU) to take us onto Dunkirk, from where we intend to drive to Holland. The first problem will, of course, occur if there are so many people with the same idea the queue starts somewhere outside Dartford.
In 1944 Kent is said to have resembled a massive car park, as the invading armies and their vehicles queued up to board the ships which would take them to ‘have a crack at Gerry’. My fear is that the roads into Dover in the morning will be in a similar, gridlocked state, as we queue to board the boat which we hope will take us to have a crack at Dutch beer and waffles.
Once safely beached in continental Europe, we hang a left and drive like the wind for the Lowlands, in our own mini-version of Operation Market Garden. Like the tanks of Irish Guards in 1944 we will have to push, push, push northeast into Holland. They were trying to secure the bridges across the Meuse River, arriving before the defending German forces defeated the stranded allied paratroopers. We’ll be trying secure a place in a Park-n-Ride car park in Amsterdam, then to the hotel before they give our room away to stranded tourists.
By the way, Michael Caine led that column of tanks (in the film anyway). He was my hero. So what the FUCK was he doing flag-waving for the Tories at the rally last week ? Turncoat. I shall never watch Zulu again (or until and unless I’m very drunk).
Now where was I ? Ah yes, Amsterdam, for sure. I love Amsterdam. Keeping well clear of Muckystraat, which is easier to do than you might think, there’s lots of fun to be had. Good beer, proper pubs, many with proper, live music, the aforementioned waffles and of course cheese. All of which to be devoured with lashing of hot chips (yes, yes, yes, ok with mayonnaise, but you can avoid that if you are clever). If you survive that lot there’s all the museums, the Anne Frank House and, of course, the Flower Market. But I recommend lots of beer first.
On past trips (and there have been many) I have been guilty of over-indulging in all of the above, and after a particularly long and jolly evening a couple of years ago I took two hours finding my hotel after leaving a bar. I’d walked off in what I thought was the vague direction of the hotel and ended up circumnavigating the city. When I finally arrived in the lobby, how drunkly-smug with myself was I that I’d found the hotel without once having to ask for directions ? The next morning I discovered the bar was 200 yards away from my lodgings, and if I’d taken a left out of the bar, not a right I’d have been home in five minutes, wobbly legs allowing. I confess I said a rude word.
So this year, in an effort to keep me from straying too far, The Incumbent has booked a hotel which is not only a lot swisher and slicker than the hovels I’ve booked myself into in the past, but it’s also all-inclusive. For a goodly amount of Euros, the breakfast is inclusive. Drinks in the bar are included in the price. Even the mini bar in the room is all free, included in the price of the room ! It could be carnage. The chances of me wanting to leave and show the missus all the delights of Amsterdam on her first trip to the city are, at very best, minimal. A free bar and mini bar! Toblerone-me up!. If we get an upgrade to a suite we’ll have TWO to empty though, of course that may be a Fridge too Far.