Happy birthday to me! To celebrate getting old (painfully close to thirty) and achieving not much since this time last year, I decided to visit Utrecht and Amsterdam.
Today I had to pay for travel, but €38 got me unlimited use of public transport across the country for the day, not bad. The trains are great, they’re regular, clean and some have wifi, plus the main cities are well-connect and relatively close, so it’s easy get between them. The route to Utrecht (and everywhere I went for that matter) is beautiful, the train track seems to consistently run in parallel with waterways, bordered by fields that are separated by streams. There’s so much water everywhere, water and bikes – plus lots of cows and the odd windmill. I’m definitely in love with the Netherlands.
Utretch train station has a strange vending machine, I think it sold warm croquettes. Timişoara, at a farmer’s market, had a vending machine dispensing eggs and in Germany, it was burgers next to take out places. I’ve firmly decided to seek out and photograph these #randomvendingmachines when travelling. They must say something about their respective countries and culture, but what, I’m not quite sure yet – I’ll give it some thought.
Despite being the former capital, so I was informed by the women at the visitor information point at the train station, Utrecht is very quaint. There are, again, so many bikes – more than you could imagine – chaotically piled, crammed and squeezed along the racks that are pervasively planted across the city. I only made a quick visit, going to a few churches and squares, and briefly meandered along parts of the canals. There’s a calm vibe, a slow pace and very few people.
Returning to the station, I wandered back past the croquettes dispenser to get the next train to Amsterdam.
The current capital is so busy and has a completely different feel to Utrecht, or maybe it was just something in the air affecting my senses. With only half a day to explore, I walked so much. Firstly, around De Negen Straatjes (a series of picturesque canals that radiate out from the west of the centre, lined with trees and quirky little shops and boutiques), past the Anne Frank museum – the queue was too busy to join, down to the museum quarter.
The weather was glorious, so hot, and after sitting for a bit next to a statue of an ear, dipping my feet in the pool outside the van Gough museum, I made my way to the De Pijp district. Apparently, it’s a trendy, bohemian area – too cool for me, but I agree with all the reviews I read, not as polished as the more central canal districts – but beautiful and vibrant. I visited the Albert Cuypmarkt, which is a feast for the eyes with exotic fruits, cheese stalls and, most importantly, FRESH stroopwafel. It was amazing, no need to sit waiting for your waffle to warm atop of your coffee, it’s direct from the griddle and freshly slathered with syrup.
Walking back to the centre, I had my first experience of seeing ladies in red curtained windows. Definitely not my thing, but interesting to observe their different sales techniques. I decided to get the tram to Dam (a square in the centre of town where the Koninklijk Palace can also be found), and then wandered around the red light district proper. Again, I found it uninspiring and anti-climatic, a small warren of little windows, with aging velvet curtains outlining clinical, tiled cells. Maybe because it was only early evening and I’m not their target market, but most of the women I saw (and there didn’t appear to be many) were just sitting on stools, looking bored, staring at their phones.
On my way back to the train station, I decided that I was hungry when I saw a long line of people queuing up for chips – so decided to do the same. They were served in a blue paper cone and had an excellent sauce to chip ratio, if only I could remember the name of the place…
It didn’t really feel like a birthday, whatever that actually means, but it was a truly lovely day out.