Obvs our holidays started with a proper full on cluster f**k. Not much beats going to check in online and finding the five year old’s passport has expired. **cue much weeping, emotional pooing and desperate clawing back of deposits**
We were meant to be going with my parents to Poland for two weeks of beach, lakes, cheap beer and sunshine.
Not any more.
Here’s what this disaster has taught me:
1) My husband is extremely understanding and kind and good-humoured in the face of my vast and far-reaching incompetence.
2) My parents are incredibly kind, adaptable and damn good in a crisis
3) People are immensely kind and generous: a family friend lent us his holiday home in Cornwall because he thought the balls up was such a hoot.
4) I am not the only one. Thank you to the awesome Sisterhood of the internet who have been in touch to tell me of their near-misses, holiday disasters and to reassure me it’s either raining where they’re on holiday/far too hot. You rock.
5) My kids couldn’t give two shits where they holiday.
This last one is the absolute best lesson. Our kids were vaguely aware that we might’ve been going on a plane (‘Will we get ill when we fly over GERMany Mummy?’) but didn’t bat an eyelid when we hauled ass down to Cornwall. William still thinks he’s abroad and swears the food ‘tastes funny in this country’ and that once again validates my decision to raise children in Norfolk where anything south of Thetford is foreign.
Our two are as happy as clams to be digging holes in the sand, eating two ice creams a day and tootling around museums. We were discussing time machines earlier and William said, if he could relive any day of his life, he’d go back to Monday when we all went to a castle. In the pissing rain.
And so now I know:
-My husband is bloody lovely.
-My parents must really love me.
-My kids don’t care where they holiday, as long as we’re all together.
Yeah, maybe these life lessons left me out of pocket but, without being too naff, I’m seriously considering not renewing that passport…
The whack of the work for a kid-free weekend goes in to the prep: make sure you consciously dither about buying tickets until they are at least 300% more expensive than when you first checked. Bicker about this. Sets the mood.
Spend lots of time on trip advisor and iamsterdam.com. Everyone loves a neurotically over-planned schedule.
Other ground work includes finding like-minded, kid-free friends. We met our chosen ones on a bike tour of Berlin and if that’s not a sign from the friendship gods, what is?
The WigWearer and I were flying from Norwich airport which is like Heathrow but completely different.
As you’ll most likely be flying from here too-either directly or on a stop over from any number of the eleven destinations Norwich AP flies from- here are my tips because it can be overwhelming.
It’s a little intimidating but, with a map and a compass, you should be able to find the right terminal. If you’re lost, keep the bike shed to your left and go straight.
When you first burst through the doors (automatic-new for Norfolk so watch your step), you may be confused and think you’ve stepped back in to the stationery cupboard you once cried in on a temp job. Rest assured, you haven’t.
You’ll be searching the screens to find which desk you should go to. It’ll just be a picture of a gurning Norwich FM presenter. You’ll stare at it for a full three minutes before you realise it’s an advert. And there’s only one desk.
Sit back, relax and enjoy.
We were flying KLM and all 23 of us were shuffled out on to the tarmac (I had time to reach over the fence and get my book out of the car) and on to our flight but the best thing was we got a free biscuit on the flight! It’s a 30 minute flight! I’ve flown to Australia on nothing but a Jacobs cracker somewhere over Hong Kong! God love the Dutch hospitality.
Anyway, I’m going to be here forever if I carry on like this so let’s skip to the bit where we hop off the airport bus and stumble in to the centre of Amsterdam.
Because I’m a tightarse and a misery, I don’t like paying for checked luggage so AO and I had a spare pair of pants and a rain coat in our backpacks meaning we could head straight out to explore. Look how happy I am!
I had bought a map beforehand and expertly navigated us to a museum I wanted to go to which we couldn’t find because it had moved/fallen in to the canal. Not to worry! On to De Pijp.
De Pijp, pronounced dee pipe, is an area full of cafes and bars and boutique shops (Finger.Pulse), and it’s quite hard to find when you’re lugging a bag about and eaten nothing but a KLM stroopwaffle since 6am. I recommend buying and scoffing Dutch crisps. Why are foreign crisps so much nicer?
De Pijp was nice. The bars were plentiful and full of face hair and tight jeans. And there was beer. I think the first drink of beer on a holiday is my favourite drink of them all.
Suitably refuelled we trudged on to our hotel via the De Pijp market which is worth a mooch if you like tshirts, tat and magnets with hash leaves on.
A bag of Lay’s, 38471 checks of the map and four miles of beautiful canals and suburbia later, we gave up trying to find our hotel. We stocked up on beer, rose and fried snacks at Jack Dish and soaked up the sun shooting the breeze together.
Hold on, what’s that? No, not the hirsuit Dutchman but that thing in the back ground? It’s only our bloody hotel according to the waitress!
And look! Our friends have arrived too! And we are all called Oliver!
Does anyone else get mad excited when they’re about to check in to a hotel? I love the moment when you’ve finally got the pissing swipecardlockthing to work and the door clicks open and it’s all white towels and free soap. Heaven.
The hotel our friend Oli had found us was Hotel Twenty Eight opposite the Olympic Stadium. It’d been open for two weeks and it was like heaven on earth. The staff were beautiful and made Andrew swoon in lust and me wish I looked that good in a jumpsuit. And they gave us wine. Free wine. Before we had even seen our room. My kinda place.
And check out our room.
Right nice, innit? And there wasn’t a Hot Wheels or Cheerio in sight. Score!
To supper! I have always wanted to be one of those people who stumble upon a steamy restaurant hidden in an unknown corner of the city where the food is hot and buttery and the wine is cheap and tasty and it’s full of locals and they lock the door behind a thick velvet curtain at midnight and you can stay until the small hours laughing and chatting.
I don’t think I’ve ever posted photos of my food online before but, my word, look at this:
After a good night’s sleep and a lie in (glorious lie ins!), we were up and out and hiring bikes. Seeing as the average bike hire shop assistant is about 16 and clearly recovering from a heavy night of tits and tattooing, the whole process took about half a day. Annoying when there’s a schedule to keep.
Onwards to find Foodhallen -the only market open on a Sunday. This also seemed to have fallen in to a canal but we did find Winkel43 and Dutch food of the gods, appeltaart and slagroom.
We spent most of the morning wending about the Jordaan and nine straat area until Laura honed in on this little beauty where there was strong beer and more deep fried cheese.
Feeling gassy and happy, we toddled back on to our bikes to shop up the Rokin. AO and I soon realised we didn’t have room in our hand luggage for any purchases so we went mooching and found this gorgeous little square of beauty hidden down a small staircase in amongst the H&Ms and JD Sports:
And back to our bikes and on to Vondelpark where I had the oddly enjoyable feeling of cycling through that park in Mary Poppins. What an incredible place. And I didn’t have to sit on a crusty bench watching my sons kamikaze off seesaws. I just glided along perched atop my prim bicycle thinking about house prices in Amsterdam.
After a nap and some more wine back at the hotel we were ready to tram in to the centre for the obligatory beer in the red light district. We all remembered it from previous visits and thought of it fondly as quaint and faintly risqué but actually it was seedy and embarrassing and stank of piss and I saw more than one sign that said ‘Please don’t piss, shit or puke in this doorway. We live here’ and it made me feel sad and grubby. I had to go and eat a very large schnitzel to recover. (‘Eating a schnitzel’ isn’t a euphemism, btw. I know the Dutch are filthy, but I’m not).
So to bed only to rise and bike early.
We cycled from our hotel to Waterlooplein flea market on the Monday morning. Our friends were tramming but the WigWearer and I zipped up our rain macs and joined the slip stream of the day’s commuters.
The rain had just stopped and it smelt of wet blossom and early mornings. Our tyres hissed and spat and bells rang out politely as we shushed our way through the outskirts of the city.
We beat our friends to the market (#TeamOliver) and settled in for a coffee and a brownie (normal kind thankyouverymuch). The cafe we had found was full of people plugged in to laptops humourlessly tapping away at their screenplays. Everyone knows great writers type on their phones while in bed with a towel on their head *cough*.
I think, while we are on reality vs fantasy, it’s time for a photo. You have to remember I had spent 36 hours around tall, healthy Dutch women all of whom look excellent on bicycles. I felt at one with them. I had convinced myself that I was a 20 something, media something with an apartment in De Pijp and a wholesome attitude to sex and work/life balance.
Here’s a picture of me actually.
I’m wearing a cagoule over my fake Mulberry, my hair is beyond beyond and I’m wearing 17 pints of beer on my arse. And I’m as happy as tulip.
We waved goodbye to our friends who had an early flight home and hopped back on our bikes to track down a museum. Now you know I love a museum but I wasn’t blown away by Amsterdam Museum. It was ok but about a third of it centred around Schiphol airport and I don’t really care about that. (When you’ve flown from Norwich, all else pales).
The last moments of a holiday are always sad: AO and I had ‘one last beer’ and ‘just one more slab of apple pie’ and meandered our way up to the train station stopping only for meatballs on white bread and a final last beer at a beautifully dingy and atmospheric bar near Dam Square.
And home. Home to our two boys who’d barely blinked us goodbye and certainly didn’t look up to welcome us home. Home to lesson planning and trial prep. Home to play the best/worst post-holiday game ‘This Time Yesterday’-this time yesterday I was cycling along a canal and now I’m on bus duty.
I think I prefer my new game ‘Next Time’. Next time we could go to Copenhagen…
Planning a kid-free weekend break? Here is one about Prague and here is one about Berlin.
Other outs and abouts are Olivers in the Cotswolds and Olivers in London and this Oliver would like a book deal and a job writing about holidays so share these posts far and wide please, you lovely lot of readers.
No school runs! No work! You can turn off your alarm clock! It’s the holllllliiidaaaaays!
‘Why don’t the buggering children SLEEP IN?!’
How do they not realise it’s the holidays and they don’t need to be up at five fucking AM? They went to bed at ten last night so WHY are they up at this hour? Don’t they realise mum and dad went to bed at 11.30 after too many gins, giddy on the thought of there being no work in the morning?
‘How am I going to survive two weeks of this?’
It’s 10AM on the first Monday and the darling kids are already eating each other. Peppa Pig is on her fifth hour and even she is flagging. You could drag them all out to the coast but the youngest gets car sick. Ugh.
‘How have I spent this.much.money?’
You’ve cried twice trying to get the kids the out of the house, but you’ve hit up the joint account and bought a handful of tickets to the Dino Park. You may well have spent over £3000 and that’s not factoring in the ice creams you’ve bought to avoid shit fits. You’ve also bribe-promised a cinema trip and a zoo day. Pay day feels a long long way away…When was the last time you did any work, anyway?
‘Do I really need to go back to work?’
The kids are finally asleep and you’re mooning at photos on your phone of them hugging each other on the beach or sharing their ice creams and there’s even a photo of you and the children smiling at each other. Do you really have to work? Maybe you could home school them instead? You could live like this all the time: life would be one long holiday of pub lunches and laughter.
And then your bank statement arrives.
Back to work it is.
Until the summer holiday.
Oh god-how are you going to survive six weeks of this?!
For 16 years this city has been home. It’s my longest relationship and one of my deepest loves.
I free-wheeled home from the pub the other night, squiffy on cocktails and friendship, and the streets were empty and the fog was fizzing in the lamplight and each street and landmark held a memory. House shares, parties, and first dates from my university years. House viewings, play dates and dinner parties from my adulthood.
This city is a map of my life and it guided me from teenager to mother of two. It’s the funkiest nerdy place I’ve ever known and the cosiest city imaginable. I feel this place in my bones and being and I’m going to miss being part of its gang. Us Olivers are on the move, but I’m leaving a bit of my heart behind.