We arrived at Schiphol around eleven in the morning and caught a taxi to our hotel. Banks Mansion is a boutique hotel on the edge of the Herrengracht in central Amsterdam. The usual check in time for hotels is 2pm, which is always a pain when you’ve just been en route for well over a day. The reception staff were great – friendly and welcoming. Yes, the room was ready. If we’d like to come this way?
As you might have guessed, the building used to be a bank converted into a bed and breakfast hotel. The room was comfortable, furnished in a style to suit the building, with an added en suite bathroom. And then there were the extras. There were decanters of liquor in the room and a mini-bar, all included with the tariff.
Breakfast was also included, of course. But what a breakfast. Each morning we went down into the cellar which was set up as a dining room. The Dutch tend to eat bread, cold meat, and cheese for breakfast, and they were there in abundance, taking me straight back to my childhood, remembering small goods I hadn’t tasted for years. Cereals, porridge, fruit toast, juices and the like were all on offer, laid out like a country kitchen. And there was also a chef, Portugese or Chilean if I remember right. He would cook bacon and eggs how you like them, and omelettes to your taste.
Every evening the hotel had a ‘happy hour’ in the lounge room opposite the reception desk. Guests could imbibe wine, beer, or spirits and nibble on a selection of finger food, all part of the deal. But guests had to venture elsewhere for lunch and dinner. Pete and I didn’t venture far on our first evening. It happened to be Liberation Day, when the Dutch commemorate the arrival of Canadian troops into Amsterdam on 5th May, 1945. It’s a festive day with celebrations throughout the city. Although we heard sounds from outside, we were too tired and jet-lagged to even go and look. We found a nearby Italian restaurant, ate early and went back to the hotel to bed.
Amsterdam is one the world’s most picturesque cities. The water in the arch of canals provide light and reflections on even the dullest day. The seventeenth century buildings, the water, and trees create a play of light and reflections that is a photographer’s dream.
The Dutch love their water. You’ll see them everywhere, taking advantage of any glimpse of sun to go out boating on the canals. The rest ride their bikes, finger ready on the bell to warn off errant tourists. Bikes have right of way and you’d better not forget it.
Years ago, the first time Pete had been to Amsterdam, we were met at sparrowfart at the airport by a colleague from KLM. He took us for a walk around the canals. Pete gazed around, wide-eyed, as Gerton explained it was all fresh water, and the canals were ‘flushed’ every day into the Amstel River, which flows to the sea. There used to be hundreds of breweries in Amsterdam, all drawing water from the canals.
Pete asked, “How deep are the canals?”
“Three metres,” Gerton answered. “One metre of mud, one metre of bikes, and the rest water.”
And it’s true that bikes end up in the canals. And the occasional car. And in the past, horses. In Australia, the powers-that-be would have insisted on fencing, but the best you’ll see is nudge bars to stop your car rolling into the water. As well as ending up in the canals, bikes are often abandoned, and also stolen. People grab a bike from the many bike parks, such as the one at Central Station, ride it somewhere and leave it. Nobody wears a helmet, but they do carry bike locks.
There’s nothing better than taking a tour on one of the many tourist boats that take visitors around the waterways, but we’d done that a couple of times before, so we strolled along beside the Herrengracht and had a look around. The Rembrandtsplein was not far away. It’s a garden square with a statue of Rembrandt and a group of bronze statues crafted from the figures in the famous painting, The Night Watch. We’d taken photos there before. This time, though, the rhododendrons were gone, as were the Night Watch statues. The square looked like a wasteland. So disappointing. It has been renovated since then, I’m glad to say, but back then, it wasn’t a pretty sight.
In the afternoon we met a distant relative of mine. I’ll cover that next time.