TAILS OF A TRAVELLING CAT
Greetings, humans! Day 1 and here I am in Amsterdam. Let me relate to you how I got here and what happened once I arrived in this eclectic city.
Very, very early this morning (5am), I was woken from my bed of comfortable dreams to begin my Benelux journey, starting with a plane to Amsterdam. Thanks to the wonders of online check in and travelling only with hand luggage, we stormed through the airport, only slowed down by security.
After a surprisingly good breakfast of WH Smith’s sandwiches, we were (eventually) in the air and off on our adventure. We spent longer than I would have liked flying over the sea, but fortunately it was quite cloudy and so we couldn’t see too much of the wet stuff.
I had been told two things about this trip: 1. It was due to rain all weekend and 2. It was Koningsdag today in Amsterdam. One is a very bad thing, the other is very good. I can only presume Koningsdag, or King’s Day for those not fluent in Dutch, is a day to celebrate me, I am rather royal and surely important enough to justify my own day. I am expecting Amsterdam to be bedecked in pink when we arrive.
I was relieved to discover on landing at Schiphol Airport that it wasn’t raining (yet, anyway). We soon boarded a train and were on our way to Amsterdam Centraal Station, Koningsdag hadn’t been cancelled, but unfortunately it wasn’t celebrating me. Oh well, let me be informative and tell you all about what Koningsdag actually is. The festival is held annually on the king’s birthday (27th April, or today, in case you hadn’t worked that out) to celebrate the monarch and being Dutch in general as far as one can tell. This celebration began as Prinsessedag as a celebration of the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina in 1885, becoming Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) in 1890 on accession to the throne. In 2013, Queen Beatrix abdicated, in 2014 the first ever Koningsdag was held for King Willem-Alexander. It is a public holiday, many places are closed and Amsterdam (at least) holds a massive city-wide street party where much Heineken is consumed, lots of boats are sailed on, kids run street stalls and many drunk people urinate in the canals. It is traditional to wear orange (not pink unfortunately), although how much is discretionary, from a head scarf to a Lycra onesie.
Now that you are fully informed through my exceptionally accurate modern history lesson, let’s get back to talking about me and what adventures I had in Amsterdam. On emerging from the station, it was clear the city was full of orange and people, specifically orange people. We headed in search of a street seller vending the colour orange and CANAL!!! Oh no, no, no! Turn around, back on the train, let’s go somewhere else! Alas no, the humans decided to remain in the city despite it being full of water. These foolish people then bought an orange flower garland from a vendor on a bridge – over a canal! And then horror! They wanted me to pose sitting on said bridge wearing this orange thing. Ooh, it is bright, it is orange, it is flowery. I like it. Argh! I forgot about the water.
Anyway, soon I was released from the scary bridge and we began exploring. Ok, I can relax now, we are leaving the water and heading along streets lined with beautiful old buildings, but oh these foolish humans, we’d entered the Western Canal Ring, which housed (surprisingly) Amsterdam’s three main canals (Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht) and a whole hoard of smaller canals connecting these three.
Each canal was full of boats crammed full of partying Heineken drinkers, loaded to the point where we had to ask, were they floating or sinking? As far as we were aware no one fell in the canals and no boats sank, but it could have happened very easily. For a short time, we explored along the canals and then set out to find the Anne Frank House. I won’t go into too much detail as I’m sure most people know the story of Anne Franke, but this was the house where the Jewish Frank and Van Pels families hid from the Nazis in World War II. Unlike many other places, the house was open today, but on arrival we discovered booking could only be done online and all the day’s tickets had been booked. Disappointed, we continued walking (this being Koningsdag the free walking tours which normally take place were cancelled and we had to do it ourselves) along the canals. I am not a fan of this. Although we did encounter a very flat house built on a triangular street corner, outdoor karaoke and Westerkerk (a rather fancy church).
We then visited the Homomonument, a monument to the gay people who died during World War II and continue to be persecuted today. Despite some confusion as to what/ where the monument actually was, we had photos with the sign and headed off for lunch. We found Natur. which was serving tempeh and veg kebabs with rice and peanut sauce. This was eaten sitting on the edge of the canal, dangerously close to the water. The food and endless stream of boats was enjoyed by the humans but not me who spent half an hour in fear of my life in case I drowned.
Many, many boats sailed passed us, with no signs of stopping. How can there be this many boats in all of the world, let alone Amsterdam? Or for that matter, this many drunk people. At least they all seem to be happy drunks.
After lunch, we went on to visit De Poezenboot (The Catboat, my linguistically challenged friends). We knew it would be closed for Koningsdag, but we took the opportunity to have a look from the outside. If we had been able to go inside, I might have forgiven the fact that it was on water, but as I had to look from the other side of the canal, I remained unimpressed with my water obsessed humans.
Eventually the humans decided that was enough walking for one day and they would make use of the public transport. It would also make it less likely they’d be run down by a bike (motor or pedal) that shared the same road space as the pedestrians, for a little cat like me, this was a particularly terrifying experience. Although it didn’t quite rival the scary water. The humans now had the chance to make use of their travel cards (16€ for a day’s travel on the city’s public transport). I, naturally, travel everywhere I please for free anyway. This seemed like a good opportunity to get away from the water but no, we were crammed into a ferry with other people’s bikes and weed (yes, I forgot to mention it was everywhere and I may have got slightly high, regular readers of my Tails will recall a similar incident in Berlin last year). Anyway the ferry crossed the River IJ (from a now obsolete Dutch word for ‘water’ – imaginative I know) to dry land.
Oh no, my mistake, North Amsterdam is also drowning, we walked a circuit between two bodies of water (river or canal, we couldn’t be sure) then took the ferry back. In North Amsterdam, the pace of life was slower, few party goers had made it this far and the streets were of suburban tranquillity and green-ness. Not that the city itself is lacking in green.
Back in the city centre, I was relieved to board the Metro in search of Vondelpark. Originally, we were confused as Koningsdag meant the trams in the city centre weren’t running, but the Metro took us to Weesperplein and from there we took the tram to Leidseplein where we walked to Vondelpark. This tram trip provided a chance for a close up view of one of the city’s outdoor urinals, a plastic block with four open-backed cubicles. These things were everywhere, although whether they were an everyday occurrence or had been brought in especially for the party remained unclear. By the end of the day they had also become used as a bin for Heineken cans, soon we couldn’t tell if they were leaking beer or urine.
Moving on, I thought Vondelpark would be a nice adventure, what with its music and trees. But, no. After a questionable Port-A-Loo experience (no toilet roll or hand washing facilities), the humans selected a pond of all places to sit by. Charlie and I did get a chance to climb a tree though, which I must count as my most positive experience in the park. After a short time sitting and relaxing, it was time to check into the AirBnb. Ok, I certainly wasn’t relaxing that close to the water, and the humans don’t often sit still long enough to relax. Anyway, we took the tram back to Weesperplein and then a Metro to Reigersbos.
Although we got lost on leaving the station (Google Maps breaking) and then couldn’t find the building (humans not looking properly), we managed to enter the shared corridor, but only after a quick phone call to the host to tell us where the keys were. Once in the hall, the humans couldn’t get into the flat (humans don’t understand doors apparently) but finally we were in. I could, of course, have offered advice, but I decided it was their problem, I, after all, was perfectly happy cat-napping in Charlie’s bag. Our room was investigated, we relaxed for all of a few minutes (these humans haven’t really understood the concept of relaxing, as I’ve already pointed out. They should follow my example a bit more often), and then headed back across the city for dinner.
This involved a Metro to Lelylaan and a tram to Ten Katenstraat (it had the word cat in it, I was happy).
Dinner was a stupendous affair in the Dutch Weed Burger Joint. For those of you with a sensitive pre-disposition, let me make clear this was seaweed and not marijuana or hemp. No weed was intentionally smoked or eaten by the humans or myself, as far as I know. I think I’m tangent-ing. Right, back to dinner, not made of the kind of weed I was expecting. Both humans tucked into a Dutch Weed burger a piece (soya bean burger with salad, gherkins and weed sauce and a seaweed bun – the pictures do not fully illustrate the green-ness of the seaweed bun). They also enjoyed chocolate fudge and strawberry milkshakes and pudding of strawberry cheesecake and chocolate brownie. The Joint had sold out of tompouce, a traditional Dutch pastry delight, filled with cream and coated in pink icing. The name reputedly came from the stage name of a performing dwarf, Tom Pouce, which is a little odd, but I’m sure has no effect on the taste.
The useless humans forgot to photograph the puddings they actually did eat, I was rather unimpressed with them. The tram and Metro were then taken back to Amsterdam Centraal Station and, after getting slightly lost, we made a brief visitation to the Red Light District. My experience? Too many canals.
It was then a final Metro back to the AirBnb (we didn’t get lost this time), the party which had been going on all day was finally winding down, the rain had held off and the humans were exhausted. This was a truly packed day, very tiring for the humans with all that walking. Well, time to sleep! Until tomorrow, folks. Chesh.