Amsterdam

This is our third trip to Amsterdam. We loved the city when we first visited and so have explored a different part of it every time we’ve been back. This was a three day trip (including travel so more like 2 days in the city itself) and we were based in Amsterdam’s De Pijp district very close to the Museumplein.

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We decided to stay at a hotel the night before our flight – we’ve done this on previous trips and, with a toddler in tow, it works quite well.

The hotel stay was great, it was just a Holiday Inn but the service was fantastic; the room clean and spacious; they provided a travel cot and they do room service – something that we weren’t expecting but made the bed time (baby) and eating (us) logistics much easier.

The only issue with the hotels at Luton are that you still need a taxi to get to the terminal if you’re laden with luggage or child paraphernalia and the system of ordering a taxi and identifying it as yours isn’t that easy. A two or three minute taxi ride shouldn’t have been a problem but it ended up being stressful and expensive. In short the hotel call taxis and give your room number to identify you, however, the taxis arrive seemingly unsure who they’re collecting.

Depending on how assertive/pushy/rude you are can impact yourself and everybody else that’s also waiting for a taxi. There were 5 people leaving at around the same time and utter chaos ensued when the taxi, we were all waiting for, arrived and somebody in a desperate hurry claimed the taxi as their own. The driver sorted a potential argument by saying he’d take us all. Calmed, we all bundled in only to be told the trip would cost us £10 each! That’s a very profitable fare for him, an expensive trip for us…..

I’ve noticed that in recent months my tolerance of other people’s rudeness and/or arrogance is very low so it took my wife to tell me to forget it, not let it bother me and move on. I did, but the fact I’m writing about it now suggests it still bugs me and I know I’ll ensure I book a taxi myself, or plan to walk to the terminal, in the future!

From then on the travel got considerably easier! The flight from Luton to Amsterdam Schiphol airport was only 45 minutes; trains run from the airport to the city centre very frequently and only take around 15 minutes. From Centraal Station we hopped on a tram (Amsterdam has a great Tram network which is easy to navigate and pretty reasonable when you buy a day pass or more) and were outside our hotel about 10 minutes later.

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We were staying at the Sir Albert Hotel (http://www.sirhotels.com/albert) which is a 4 star hotel, cool rooms and has a good restaurant attached where breakfast is also served. They were really accommodating to us as a couple with a toddler and even provided a little gift bag for him in his cot.

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As soon as we were checked in and organised we headed off to find somewhere for lunch. The hotel is only a 5-10 minute walk to the Museumplein so there are plenty of cafes and restaurants around there, however, we fancied something a bit less commercial and so wandered away from the museums and stumbled across a great little placed called Café Gruter (www.cafegruter.com). These sort of places – pared down, simple but tasty food and good beer – are one of the many things that I love about Amsterdam.

After lunch we wandered through Vondelpark, a huge park where walkers, cyclists, joggers and tourists mingle happily together. It reminds me of Hyde Park in its look and feel and it was lovely to spend some time just wandering and appreciating the surroundings rather than rush between museums or attractions.

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The rest of the afternoon was just spent wandering. Amsterdam is a beautiful city to walk around -the architecture is stunning; there are plenty of green spaces; it’s really easy to navigate because the canals provide a grid like system; there are cafes and bars everywhere and so always somewhere to take a break and it’s got distinct areas so, I suspect, almost everybody could find a part of Amsterdam they liked without much effort.

It still surprises me that when you mention Amsterdam some people immediately think stag do’s, the red light district and drugs – if you want those things you can find them but you can just as easily steer well clear.

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After a nap for the boy (and us!) we headed back out onto the streets to find somewhere to eat. I often find it difficult to find restaurants, specifically in the evening, that meet the needs of both children and adults. We need them to serve early enough so that we’re not stretching our son’s (loose) routine too much, but I also want to eat there and would like them to have some atmosphere too – I really don’t like being the first into the restaurant or be there so early that it feels like they are still setting up.

We found Burgerbar (https://www.burgerbar.nl/) a five minute walk from the hotel on Helststraat. It does what the name suggests – burgers – and does them really well. The surroundings feel a little bit cooler than a basic burger bar and the atmosphere is provided by the staff who make the burger in front of you – not just assembling the burger, literally making it – taking the minced beef (or whatever other meat you’ve chosen) and weighing out the correct amount before making it into a patty. They also had highchairs and a good beer range so everybody’s needs were met!

 

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We started the next day with breakfast at the hotel – we’d planned to go and find local places for breakfast but, for ease, decided to eat before we left the hotel. I’m glad we did and I’d definitely recommend it. It was the normal hotel offering of cooked and continental but was exceptionally good quality and the range was good.

After setting ourselves up for the day we walked to the Moco (Modern Contemporary) Museum, at one side of the Museumplein, where we had tickets for the Banksy and Lichtenstein exhibitions. The Moco is a small gallery in an old house and so feels very different to the large modern galleries surrounding it. As the museum is an old villa it isn’t particularly accessible for the disabled or those with pushchairs but the staff are incredibly accommodating and allowed loads of stuff to be kept in the cloakroom to make wandering around the exhibitions easier.

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We decided to venture West from the Museumplein and head to an area we’d never explored before. We were being led by our stomachs and so headed to Foodhallen (foodhallen.nl/). Foodhallen is housed in an old tram depot; a huge space with high ceilings, exposed brick, ironwork and glass. The main body of the building has a large bar in the centre and is surrounded by tables and chairs where you can enjoy a drink from the bar or get food from one of the many stalls which line each wall. The choice is vast – meze, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, fish, BBQ and charcuterie to name a few options, plus sweet dishes too and the quality is superb.

Outside the ‘food hall’, in both the main building and in other old depot buildings, there are a number of independent shops so you can happily spend a good few hours here, eating, drinking and browsing/shopping.

Later we walked back towards the Museumplein, once again cutting through Vondelpark, and stopped at one of the cafes in the park. We stopped at the Blauwe Theehuis (Blue Teahouse) which, from it’s website, sounded like quite a happening place. The reality, on a Tuesday afternoon in January, was a rather dated, slightly run down, café. To be fair, I suspect it would look and feel very different on a spring or summer afternoon/evening with a throng of people enjoying a drink. It served it’s purpose and, after a quick drink, we continued on our way.

As we’d done quite a bit of walking we still had an appetite and so headed to a place we’d spotted the day before for another early dinner. Café Loetje (https://loetje.nl/) is a little like a cross between Cote Brasserie and Café Rouge – not necessarily exciting but good at what they do. The fact that they serve all day also meant that we could eat soon after 5pm, with a toddler, and yet it still felt like an evening meal rather than a child’s tea – perfect!

An early flight the following morning meant an early night so we headed back to the hotel for another good nights sleep. The breakfast had been so good the previous day we didn’t venture beyond the hotel the following morning either. Then we retraced our steps to the airport via tram and train before heading home.

We’d only really spent 48 hours in Amsterdam but had felt like we’d had a real break as we had the luxury of having done a lot of the tourist attractions and sites before. I love finding hidden gems, of which there are many, in this beautiful city and am sure we’ll we back again soon to find more.

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Other places I’d recommend from previous trips to Amsterdam would include:

  • De Biertuin – great meat and beer. https://debiertuin.nl/
  • Café de Prins – traditional Amsterdam bar. http://deprins.nl/?lang=en
  • Café Pollux – gritty bar near the station. The selling point is the jukebox. https://cafepollux.com/en/
  • Café Kalkhoven – old bar on the canal ring. http://cafekalkhoven.nl/English/english.html
  • Café ‘t Smalle – beautiful bar on the canal ring. http://www.t-smalle.nl/

Fuerteventura

After a pretty draining year we decided a week in the sun would be a good idea. With an 18 month old in tow we didn’t really fancy contending with major time differences or a long haul flight, especially when we were only going for a week. So, if we wanted sun, The Canary Islands were the obvious choice. I should confess at this point that I’ve never been a huge fan of the Canaries…. I thought I knew what they were like because of stereotypes I’d seen or heard, which put me off.  However, the reality was, a four hour flight, no time difference and some sun meant Fuerteventura was a sensible choice.

Due to the early flight we decided to stay at Gatwick the night before – we picked Sofitel Gatwick as it was connected to the North Terminal and we could simply walk from the hotel to check in within minutes.

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The hotel was lovely – we ate room service on the floor, from the light of the bathroom (the joys of sharing a hotel room with a sleeping toddler) but the restaurants and bars we saw from the main atrium of the hotel looked great – I was only a little jealous……

Anyway, the alarm got us up at 5am and we were able to lift the sleeping toddler (well done wife for thinking about the travel GroBag), nip along the covered walkway from the hotel and get checked in before he woke. A little research had told us about the family lanes at Gatwick, which made going through security so much easier. Before we knew it we’d had breakfast in Starbucks and were heading to the boarding gate.

We’d been told about Barceló Castillo Beach Resort by friends and it seemed to tick a lot of boxes – a short drive from the airport, branded drinks, a number of restaurants and bars to choose from and, if you chose Royal Level, a gated pool area so nice and safe with a toddler. We weren’t disappointed. We went straight to a separate check in area (very handy with a restless toddler), and were taken to the block we would be staying in.

Somehow the Barceló Castillo have managed to make a huge hotel and apartment complex feel like a small town. It’s located at the end of a peninsula so there’s not much traffic and the hotel complex is cleverly split up into areas, punctuated with bars, cafes, ice cream bars, main dining area, pool area, kids play ground on the beach, theatre, hotel reception and small shop. As a result, wandering around feels like you’re walking around an area of the island rather than a hotel complex. The grounds are stunning and the whole area spotlessly clean. My perceptions were beginning to change….

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The Royal Level has a beach side area and a gated pool area. We had requested the pool area and got a great room (ground floor – easy with the pushchair) which looked over the pool and the sea beyond. There’s two pools, loads of loungers, a bar and the staff would come around offering fruit kebabs and drinks on a regular basis.

 

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Our days generally followed the same pattern: breakfast; walk; lunch for the boy (beer for the adults); walk to get the boy to sleep; lunch for us; pool in the afternoon; shower and change; tea for the boy; dinner for us. With little to think about other than food, drinks and strolls around the harbour it was pretty easy to relax.

 

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Now, I should give full disclosure here, if you wander out of the hotel complex, there are elements of the local town that are a little ‘Brits abroad’…. fine if you like or want that, one to be aware of if you don’t. On our morning walks we’d head up to the local town and the first things that you see are an Irish bar and a string of English cafes and restaurants. There’s also a small supermarket and a kids play area which are very handy so you can’t knock it too much!

 

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We somehow managed to spend a whole week eating, drinking and wandering around. It was a very relaxing holiday and so easy with a toddler. I’d definitely recommend for a quick break whether that’s with kids or as a couple. My views of the Canaries are definitely changing and I’d definitely look to the Barceló chain again if I was heading that way again.

 

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