A (not so) flying visit to Amsterdam
At the beginning of March I was invited to visit Amsterdam courtesy of Eurostar, whose service now extends there via Brussels. They asked me to review and photograph some more unusual visitor destinations while I was there, to be used on their ads in London tube stations – quite exciting!
With just one night in the city and about half a day each side, we had a tight itinerary of places to hit. After an early start in London and a long but relaxed train ride, we started off with lunch at Cafe Brecht which bills itself as a Berlin-style cafe-bar with the stylings of a grandmother’s living room.
It was a cute, cosy place with a piano, board games and a tasty menu of cakes, flatbreads and fresh lemonade. Perfectly recharged, we set out to explore.
Luckily the weather was pretty mild, so we spent the afternoon wandering around the 9 Straatjes – narrow streets full of great shops and cafes. Amsterdam is brilliant for little boutiques – bookstores, antiques, and vintage clothing aplenty.
Around 5, we decamped to Beer Temple. Despite the lame name it’s a treasure trove of rare American and world beers, and clearly an American ex-pat hangout judging by the clientele. Plus they serve freshly-popped popcorn go to with your delicious brew.
For dinner, we went to the restaurant recommended by Eurostar, Trouw in the south of the city. Housed in a huge old warehouse, it’s stylishly industrial with a wall of lush plants growing, and a lot of the produce for the restaurant is grown on site.
There were loads of veggie options on the small-plate sharing style menu. We over-ordered because everything sounded so good – baked goats’ cheese, ravioli, chard and fontina tart… mmmmmm. The food and wine was brilliant and the service friendly. Suitably stuffed, we rolled onto a train out to Zaandam where we were staying at the Inntel hotel.
Zaandam is a little suburban town about a 12-minute train ride north of Amsterdam. On first impressions from leaving the station, it looks like a fake toy-town with pristine colourful building stacked up like baby blocks and multiple levels of little waterways. The hotel’s interior was similarly-themed, with each room given a large wall mural of local products – we were in the Gourmet room. We arrived in Zaandam late Saturday night and everything was closed on Sunday morning (apart from the Delice de France where we had a horrible breakfast – sometimes hotel breakfast prices are worth it) so we didn’t see if the whole town was equally as nuts. But it was a fun place to stay, and good value since it’s a little out of town.
Happily we’d planned our trip to coincide with the monthly IJ-Hallen Flea Market, a huge once-a-month market held in the shipping docks just a short ferry ride from Centraal station.
It was one of the best fleas I’ve been to: huge, with a great selection of treasures, especially ceramics, tins and retro homewares. Unfortunately we arrived a little late due to infrequent Sunday ferries and had our train home to catch so we couldn’t stay long enough to see it all – it really was huge. I made off with just a couple of cute tins and an old Voigtlander camera, all under 5 euros each. We lunched glamorously on Burger King in the station before boarding a train for the long slog home.
There are both pros and cons to taking the Eurostar over flying. The most obvious con is that the journey itself takes quite a bit longer, but that is somewhat offset by going from St Pancras which is pretty near our home, and not having the usual 2-hour prior checkin of airports. It also feels a little more calming and civilised to take a train rolling through Europe than a cattle class budget flight. Finally the environmental impact is much reduced which is appealing. I wouldn’t rule out doing it again, but perhaps not for just an overnight trip.
Thanks to Eurostar for putting us up. Let me know if you spotted my photographs on the tube station ads – I think I totally missed them!