This is a blog about our holiday to Europe in 2014. We started off our travels in Venice, where we began a cruise of the Adriatic and Aegean seas, ending in Rome. We then travelled from Rome to the Netherlands by rail, stopping in various places along the way. We are: Me - Gill, my husband - Grant, my daughter - Paula; my father - Neil and his partner - Astrid. We are South Africans, from the lovely province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Our friends Lisa and Trevor joined us from the UK for the cruise portion of our holiday.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Day 1 (Tuesday):

We arrived in Amsterdam at about 10:00 on Tuesday morning.

Dad and Astrid hopped straight on a train bound for The Hague, to go and visit with Astrid's family in Wateringen.

We caught a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Esthereadropped our luggage and then set off for Anne Frank's house.  

View from our hotel room

Our hotel provided bright pink umbrellas for the use of all residents, so it was fun to spot the bright pink umbrellas dotted around Amsterdam.  Paula is probably the most uncoordinated umbrella carrier I have ever come across and I honestly believe that if I didn't wear glasses I would probably be minus my eyes at this point.  As it is she painfully extracted a chunk of my scalp.  Bearing an umbrella, this is one armed and dangerous chick!

There was an extremely long queue to get in to the Anne Frank house (and when I say extremely long, I mean extremely long!)  One of the employees who was keeping an eye on the queue suggested that we come back this evening, as the queue would probably be shorter then.  So we left and made our way to the nearby Hop-on Hop-off canal boat stop.  The weather was pretty miserable, so the boat was quite full and unfortunately the windows were a bit steamed up.

We got off at the stop nearest the Heineken Experience.  We thoroughly enjoyed the Heineken Experience, it was absolutely brilliant.  So much detail, so much to do, very interactive - we enjoyed every minute.  In my opinion it's a must do if you are ever in Amsterdam.

Next, we took a walk to a nearby Irish pub and had a very good lunch.  After lunch we set off for the  Ice Bar.  Before you enter the actual "ice room" you sit in a bar area where you are given a cocktail of your choice.  Then you suit up in a strange fur-lined rubber cape and gloves and you make your way into the Ice Bar in a group.  The entire room is ice, the bar, the seats, even the glass you are given is made of ice.  The ticket price includes 2 vodkas.  I started with vodka orange and then had a vanilla vodka orange which was really delicious.  No surprises, it was freezing cold in there!  (You will notice that Paula isn't smiling much - she couldn't - her mouth was frozen in place, she doesn't have the padding that Grant and I have!) 

Having frozen our butts off, we took a slow stroll, through some lovely areas of Amsterdam, back to our hotel.  The hotel has a coffee/tea/hot chocolate machine which residents are free to use at any time, which I thought was really nice.  So when we returned we helped ourselves to some coffee, before making our way to our room to unpack and freshen up.

By about 7pm we were sorted and we headed back to Anne Frank's house.  The queue was still very long and by this point it was raining in earnest and quite cold, but we were determined to get into the house, so we braved the rain and cold and carried on regardless.   Paula managed to poke a very nice young gentleman in the back of his head with her vividly pink umbrella, fortunately he was very nice about it, but I notice he kept a significant distance between us after that and looked vaguely terrified every time Paula moved!  The little stall selling hot chocolate was doing a roaring trade and we added to it.  If this is how cold it gets in Summer I shudder to think what Winter is like!

Finally after about 1 1/2 hours in the queue we walked through the doors of the house.  We watched the "Anne Frank" movie a couple of weeks before our holiday and that definitely added to the experience of being in the house.  It was so moving to walk through the rooms where the Franks and their friends actually lived for all those years.  And to think that only Mr Frank made it out of the concentration camps alive.....  So sad. 

By the time we were finished at the house it was very late, so we found a cafe near our hotel where we had some soup.  I was literally falling asleep in my soup - first time I can ever recall dozing off while seated in a restaurant!  As soon as we were done we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 2 Wednesday:
We caught a taxi to the station bright and early and caught a train to Den Haag and then (for the first time ever!) we caught a tram to Wateringen, where Marty
n and Dad picked us up and took us to Martyn's and Heidine's home, where the rest of the family where gathered.  It was such fun to meet Astrid's family, her grand-daughters are just too precious for words.  We felt like we'd known everyone for years.  We all had lunch together in a local restaurant.  It was a lovely, relaxed day.  We tried to find a geocache nearby, but unfortunately couldn't find it.  

Once back in Amsterdam we took a slow wander to Dam Square, doing a geocache  and popping into a couple of shops along the way.  

We stopped for a take-away meal at a Thai restaurant and then wandered into the red-light district.  I have no idea why - I get how sad and sordid it all is, honest, I do - but Paula and I were deeply fascinated by the goings on and we made poor Grant wander around there for hours. Once we had seen our fill, we stopped for some delicious Nutella and strawberry pancakes, before heading back towards our hotel.

Tonight was the night of the World Cup semi-final between Holland and Argentina, so it was fun to see all the decor and how everyone was dressed up.  We sat outside a restaurant and watched for a while, before calling it a night.

I have LOVED Amsterdam.  It could well be my favourite city.  There is something so utterly charming about it.... the canals, the beautiful houses, the friendly people.  It really is wonderful, wish we had more time here.

Day 3 Thursday:
I woke up with a pounding headache - why today of all days?  I hate flying at the best of times, but flying with a fuzzy head from all the headache medication is just the pits.  

After breakfast at a cute little cafe near the hotel we wandered around for a short while, but I was in a foul state of mind and my head hurt, so I decided that the hotel was probably the best place for me at this point.  I finished packing and then lay on the bed, feeling sorry for myself and generally being a gigantic pimple on Grant's and Paula's butts.

Soon it was time for a taxi to the station, where we met Dad and Astrid for our train to Dusseldorf (we flew out of Dusseldorf as the connection time in Dubai was far better that way.)  Dusseldorf airport had some rather nice shops and I spent the last of my Euros very happily on tops for Rox and me at H&M.  (That improved my mood!)  We had supper at a surprisingly pleasant restaurant in the airport, before boarding our flight for the long flight home.

The flight between Dusseldorf and Dubai was horrendous.  We skirted a storm over Frankfurt and the turbulence was like nothing I had ever experienced.  They couldn't even serve hot drinks with dinner.   I didn't like it, not at all!

The layover in Dubai was a pain.  Grant was feeling grim - I think it was something he ate onboard as another woman off our flight was also visibly battling with nausea.  Thankfully it passed quite quickly.  We showered, had some breakfast, bought Rox some perfume at duty-free and then sat and patiently waited.  We sat next to the Afghanistan cricket team who were flying to Harare for a tour, which for some reason I found absolutely fascinating.   FYI there are some exceedingly nice-looking Afghan cricketers.

Eventually it was time to board our flight to Durban and between reading and napping, the time went quite quickly.

We landed in Durban and queued for what felt like hours at customs, before finally collecting our baggage, meeting our transfer and arriving home.

It was wonderful to see our little family again and to eat a home-cooked meal (My Rox and Junie are such stars!) before a bath and a good-night's sleep in our own beds!

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