Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the Netherlands. When I learnt about it in school I couldn’t fathom the idea of a country being below sea level.
I used to think by myself: “How did they keep the water out?”
My curiosity have been piqued and I knew that one day I will see this tiny patch of land that is surrounded by crashing waves, desperate to make its way across.
What makes the Netherlands even more appealing to me, is the fact that my forefathers are most likely Dutch settlers. Everybody wants to know where they are from – everyone deserves to know where they are from and I wanted to know. I wanted to see the country that sent Jan van Riebeeck on a voyage in 1652 that would change the lives of many. I wanted to know what my mother tongue used to sound like 400 years ago. I just needed to know.
When I came to the UK, The Netherlands was the second country I travelled to. As a South African I needed a Schengen Visa to set foot in most places in Europe and I was over the moon to be granted a 6-month visa on my very first application! Now that I am British, I am free from the chains that a visa holds (well, for now at least!).
It has been 9 years since my first visit to Amsterdam and I wanted to show my hubby why I’m so fascinated by the city and why I am always talking about my first visit with great fondness. So I booked us a last minute deal with British Airways Holidays to Amsterdam.
We arrived at Schipol Airport around 10pm. It wasn’t the world’s longest flight, but still, we were tired from all the excitement and we were absolutely starving! Our first obstacle started when we couldn’t find the shuttle that was supposed to take us to the hotel. It turned out the the last shuttle drove off just as we landed, so we quickly had to think of a different means of transportation. As we were trying desperately to figure out how to get the ticketing machine to display in English, two Dutch women behind us in the queue came to our rescue. Swiftly they booked our tickets for the next train out and even gave us directions from the station to the hotel!
Exhausted, we arrived just after 11pm at the Hampshire Hotel in Rembrandt Square just to be told that there was a major mix-up and they were fully booked! But, before you get anxious, they offered us alternative accommodation at their sister-hotel (The Manor) in Linnaeusstraat – about a fifteen minute drive from there. Before we know it, our baggage has been loaded in a complimentary hotel-taxi and, for the inconvenience, we’ve been upgraded to a garden-view suite. I love mistakes!
It was already passed 1am as we sunk our tired heads into the soft, fluffy pillows for a well-deserved rest. Still starving, but too exhausted to eat.
Goedemorgen, Amsterdam! Whenever I travel, I like to feel like a local. And what better way to feel like a local than to do what locals does best?! Amsterdam is not only known for its beautiful canals and rich history, but also for its cyclists. This city’s transport links are second to none and the first time I stepped out onto the curb I was both confused and amazed at the same time; the road was split into four sections: pedestrians, cyclists, cars and trams in the middle. Now, if you think, this system goes into both directions and, wait for it, there are individual sets of traffic lights to regulate all of this swiftly and efficiently! We decided to take the plunge and act like a local: we hired some pushbikes…
This was both one of the most exhilarating and the most terrifying experiences I’ve had in a long time. You think: ‘there is a cycle lane, you’ll be safe…’ Not until you find out that the people of Amsterdam are fearless when it comes to cycling. We’ve experienced cyclists going at some head-spinning speeds whilst both sipping on a takeaway coffee and texting at the same time! We’ve seen a teacher taking her class on an outing by transporting them on a ‘bakfiets‘. Even though she was pedalling around with about 6 four-year olds, she was still faster than us… Then we realised that that tiny little lane accommodates not only push-bikes, but motorcycles too. Hearing a motorcycle’s horn still sends shivers down my spine and makes my stomach churn as I’m thinking how I rather got off the bike and pushed it on the pavement than risked a motorcycle trying to overtake me in the narrow passage. I don’t think I would’ve survived unscathed.
We’ve seen the ugly side too: people stealing the bikes like there is no tomorrow. They came with a massive bunch of keys trying them one by one until they could unlock the padlock. Nonchalantly they would walk off with the bike without a single ounce of remorse. Scary how easily it was done.
As we were whizzing past the beautiful canals, I felt a sense of freedom. Once we were out of the main city streets we felt more at ease to take in the sensational scenery. We came across a part of Amsterdam that nearly reduced me to tears. It made me feel proud and humble at the same time. There, in the middle of Amsterdam, was Afrikanerplein. An entire area dedicated to South Africans. The street names was those of our fallen heroes and I couldn’t help but thinking that us, as South Africans, are not forgotten by our forefathers. I instantly felt a sense of belonging. Now I know.