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We are just back from a mini break in The Netherlands, partly to meet up with relatives there and meet the new baby in the family.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city, one of my favourites. It is canals, wide streets, tall and often wonky buildings, museums, bridges, trams and bicycles. At this time of year, it is also Christmas decorations and festive lights.

It is an easy place to explore on foot, so we did a lot of walking and sightseeing from street level. A canal tour gave a different, lower level view and provided the history of the city and some of it’s inhabitants. Trams run along the centre of main streets, also an efficient way to get around.

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The sheer number of cyclists and parked bicycles is always a surprise. Even though I know in my head that in Europe they drive on the opposite side of the road to the UK, I had to be extra careful when crossing the road. It felt as though bikes were coming from all directions. There seem to be very few accidents though, with traffic giving way to cyclists at junctions and roundabouts, and separate cycle traffic lights, alongside pedestrian lights. And no-one wears a cycle helmet.

The architecture is enchanting. Tall narrow houses are packed together, but each one different. They all have gables with big hooks on them, with some specific designs, such as a stepped gable, or a bell gable. The houses lean out over the street but this is on purpose so that furniture lifted into the houses using the gable hooks, do not hit the walls of the lower floors. The windows do not line up from one house to it’s neighbour. The rows of houses seem to be askew, crooked but this is the norm in Amsterdam.

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Dutch “coffee shops” were noticeable by the queues outside, by the aroma. It is accepted in NL to sell cannabis for personal use and to smoke it inside, even though it is illegal to smoke tobacco indoors. However, there were very subtle bouncers checking ID of tourists, to ensure legal age. It is a controlled business. We could not miss the “red light” area either with girls sitting in windows, literally framed by red lights. The drinking age is more lenient in NL compared to UK, beer glasses are smaller, with more foam than here but this seems to result in moderation and drink awareness.

The Rijksmuseum is a grand building with a road running through it. The exhibitions are organised by date, with a mix of paintings, sculpture and art for each period. The interior is modern compared to the age of the building, to emphasise the art rather than the rooms themselves. There are paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, to name a few.

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There are numerous museums, churches, monuments, attractions, shopping streets, a wide variety of restaurants and bars. There are tourist shops, cheese shops and the flower market runs along Singel canal, with a multi-coloured array of tulips and bulbs for sale.

I love travelling and experiencing other countries, other cultures, other cuisine. I don’t speak any other languages, just a few words of school French, so I am always very grateful when locals speak English, as they do in The Netherlands. But there is one thing I need to start my day, wherever I am…..
“Tea please”….. oh
“English tea please”….. oh
“English tea with milk please”….. oh
“English tea with cold milk please”….. ok, almost there.
Do it yourself English tea!

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Amsterdam is a fascinating city in daylight and at night.

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