When we heard the news of the wedding of Ramesh’s colleague’s daughter, we wondered if we should go. A trip to Europe is not something you take every year- it needed a lot of planning.. When the invite arrived a few weeks later, our minds were made up. Even if it meant that we will be able to take only a few days off, we decided to make that trip! We decided to spend two days in Amsterdam and thereafter attend the wedding at Antwerp.
I knew that it was going to be cold when we arrived at Schipol. I had been tracking the weather for a week before my trip. I had absolutely no winter clothes to beat any form of cold, let alone bone chilling cold of less than 4 degrees. Having lived in tropical weather all my life, I have never experienced harsh winters and Ramesh was excited for me that I would finally get to experience the cold that I have only heard from his travels. This meant that I had to go on a quick shopping spree for winter wear which finally saw me owning heat technology tee shirts, a proper woolen coat, cashmere pullover and muffler.
The flight by KLM was very comfortable if you ignored the fact that they goofed up on our food choice. Thankfully they gave us alternate non meat food, even though I would never opt for apple strudel as breakfast food in any life. I watched Kahani, a movie that people had been raving about in the past year. I finally got uninterrupted time to watch and get done with it. It was a long haul flight, most of which I spent sleeping. It turned out to be a good idea since we arrived in The Netherlands in the wee hours of the morning the next day and I was feeling fresh after the rest.
Of Canal Cruises and Wax models at Amsterdam
We landed at Schipol the next morning, after flying nonstop for 13 hours. Thankfully the seats that turned into restful inclined beds in the flight helped set the mood of the morning, despite the wind chill I felt. We quickly grabbed our favorite Cappuccino from Starbucks to warm our insides and tickets to Amsterdam Central which is where our hotel bookings were confirmed. The train ride which began right from the inside of the airport was barely ten minutes to our destination. That seemed to be the preferred way of transport by most people arriving in the country. I could say that for sure since I saw many people with huge suitcases and luggage getting into the train ahead of us. The train was a double deck but we stayed on at first level since we knew that we did not have long to travel.
The Ibis hotel was close to the central station. We chose a location that was convenient for our sightseeing plans for the next two days. We wheeled our luggage and walked up to the hotel that was barely any distance from the station. Around me I saw people wrapped up in woollies, marching briskly to keep themselves warm, smoking through their noses and mouths like dragons.
The room at the Ibis met our needs. We needed a place to keep our stuff, to shower and rest for the night. The hotel had dining facilities for breakfast alone. We did not plan on being in the hotel during the day since we intended to spend most of our time outdoors. We washed, changed and stepped out with a map and a brochure that the helpful front office assistant had given us. She suggested that we do the canal cruise and Ramesh agreed that would be a good place to start our tour.
The cruise on the canal was an hour long. The audio tour during the cruise dished out information on what we were seeing around us. The audio tour was in three languages. Dutch, French and last in English. If you understood only English, then the chances are that you missed the detail that you had to see since the boat had already crossed the place of interest! However, we were alert and glanced in the general direction of where everyone was looking when the audio was in Dutch and French.
The beautiful houses lining the canal were just like those miniatures that we have been collecting since 1995, when Ramesh was a frequent flier with the KLM. Except these were larger and colourful. There were boats anchored along the canal. I learnt that there were over 3000 house boats with modern facilities like water and electricity and families actually lived in them. Imagine having a cool address of a house boat – 35, The big blue houseboat, Swaying close to the 375thbridge, The Prince’s canal, Amsterdam. The audio tour pointed to a floating Pagoda style Chinese restaurant, the cycle parking at Fietsflat near Central Station, the different canals along which the princely houses were built many centuries back and some monumental buildings.
Our next stop was at the wax museum, Madam Tussauds. It was my first ever visit and I have some very special memories in pictures! I saw life size models of historical greats, musical geniuses and Hollywood celebrities. There was even one of the actual size Fiona from the Shrek movies! What was incredible was the height of some of the celebrity wax figures. To someone who has always been considered taller than average, I felt dwarfed standing next to a few celebrities!
There was Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, Lady Diana, Mahatma Gandhi, The Dalai Lama, The Pope and more.
There was an employee at the museum who demonstrated how these models were cast in wax and how many hours of hard work goes into getting each of these models ready. I heard him say that most of the hair needed for these statues came from some states in India! According to him, Indian hair withstands the chemical treatments that the hair is exposed to, to change its colour and texture needed for the models.
Next, we walked about with a printed walking map of a historical tour that I had Googled online. We managed to complete it half way, after losing our way a bit. The weather was chilly, the day was short and it was getting dark soon. My hands were feeling numb from the exposure to the weather. We decided to track back our path and stopped at a kiosk to buy French fries and chatted up the friendly Dutchman who was selling them. He recognized our Nationality and asked us if we were from Kerala! I found out later that he was a student of martial arts and he dreamt of going to Kerala to experience the Kalaripayattu! I was nearly 9000 kms from home (India) and there were already two references to the Country within a span of a few hours!
As we walked back to the hotel, we spotted some horse carts. We hired one to take us around central Amsterdam late in the evening before we called it a night over a pizza and wine.
Day two at Amsterdam to follow!