Amsterdam - Antwerp - Rotterdam - Ferry - Home

Well, I've made and am back home after a really good night's sleep and an ecstatic welcome from two of the happiest cats I will ever meet.

On my way out of Amsterdam I broke my first rule of travelling - don't visit old Churches. For sure, the architecture is stunning and the sense of peace and quiet in a bustling city is always welcome, but to be honest there are only so many old graves and sweeping naves that I can take.

So, ignoring my heart I had read at length about the church in the heart of the Red Light District in Amsterdam and even ignoring my annoyance at having to cough up E5 to get in I went. I really should trust my instincts more as the church is currently being restored so half of it is fenced off to visitors and the other half is virtually empty of displays or anything else of interest. And it is no longer a church but instead used for exhibitions and to cap it off, standing in front of a newly replaced stained glass window (very nicely done, by the way) is a glasswasher of all things - the sort that I have at work and slave over after running event bars. This is why I don't visit old churches anymore.

Luckily the rest of Amsterdam is not so disappointing. I spent a good half day walking around and visited the Houseboat Museum which is really worth seeing. If you have wondered what it is like to live on the water, or indeed fancied it yourself, the museum in a former houseboat tries to answer a lot of the questions and is run by a really nice Dutch guy who can sell you a coffee, welcome you on board in at least 3 different languages and tell you about life on board.

Not too far away I found this former barge, now converted to be a houseboat. Apparently there are no longer any free berths in Amsterdam, just boats that are already berthed. The purchase price is typically about the same as a similarly sized house, with berthing fees, higher insurance, etc etc on top, and steel hulled vessels have to be pulled from the water every 3 years for rust proofing and hull inspections. Concrete hulled boats don't need this, but are much more square and to my mind ugly.

I think these buildings are halls of residence but as the rain was beginning to spatter I snapped the photo and moved on - I had a date with a beer.

A Citroen H Van - I think it belongs to a nearby record shop. There is something about these vans that I have long loved, although according to The UK HVan website costs of ownership can match those of an elderly Jaguar, so that sounds as though owning a Land Rover is relatively cheap in comparison. I never thought that would be true!

Just to prove I am not totally against churches, I did spot this tower peeking out from behind some houses.
This picture has not been photo-shopped - I saw a few of these driving around and they are single seated, or have two narrow seats, and look brilliant for negotiating crowded cities. The top speed is around 45kmh or 30mph.

So moving on from The 'Dam, I decided on a whim to go to Antwerp. I have visited once before, on a trip organised by Off Licence News, and I remember enjoying it immensely although that could be down to the huge quantities of sponsored beer we all took on board. There is also a working port and I quite fancied a trip out on the harbour if possible, and supposedly some other interesting sites.

Unfortunately I came away (after spending a night there) that while there is nothing wrong with Antwerp, and I'm sure it is a nice place to live, it is not somewhere I shall be revisiting for a while. To be fair, I did not go inside any of the six or so nice churches that are dotted about - see my comments above. The picture shows a nice Medieval alleyway "hidden" off the main street - hidden that is apart from the guided walk going through there which I followed.

But in the main the harbour tours don't start for another couple of days and the rest of the city seemed a bit quiet. I was also hacked off by the attitude of the waiter who (didn't) serve me in a reasonable restaurant in town - while I understand entirely that the pretty girls at the next table will always receive more attention from 2 waiters than the bloke on his own, they could have remembered my existence a little bit.

Finally on leaving the city I did enjoy the refurbishment of the Centraal Railway Station - cleverly the wonderful arches of the glazed roof have been kept and restored and the station has been expanded by adding extra layers.

You can see in the first picture that main station clock which just looks superb and then in the second the arrangement of trains on 3 levels, with shopping areas in between. I know that is is not unique - the Berlin Hbf and even St Pancras to name just two do something similar but I liked the old/new arrangement here very much.

From the top, there is a platform, then a layer of shops/coffee places, then another train (you can just see it), then I think another layer of people, then right in the depths are the platforms that handle the trains to France and The Netherlands. The same is repeated on the other side.

So, moving on I headed for Rotterdam. There is one comment I have to make about Belgian and Dutch trains: they are slooooow. I know both are small countries and therefore fast trains would fall off the edge, over the boarders, and I know that one can take the Thalys train which is essentially a TGV that runs from Brussels to Amsterdam stopping a couple of times en-route, but I wish the normal services could go a bit faster!

Rotterdam was my last stop, I arrived at around lunchtime and left early evening for the ferry. This was just enough time to walk into town from the station, have an excellent lunch, grab a tour of the harbour and walk back to the station.

I enjoyed Rotterdam. It seems a lively city and although I have no idea what else is going on there is a huge maritime museum in the old harbour which I would love to have a proper look round and there is a pleasantly wide street with fountains and small lakes that leads you into the city centre and looks really welcoming.

At the end of this however is a giant gnome holding what looks to me like a giant sex toy! Now, I know that the Dutch are relaxed about such matters but perhaps they intended this to depict an ice cream or something!

Given that I had missed out in Anrwerp I naturally headed for the water and a harbour tour. Unfortunately this was of the canned-commentary, entertain the coach loads variety and as such was rather dull, but I did spot my own ship pictured here (my initials are CGM).

Rotterdam is blessed with this stunning suspension bridge over the river and although I ran out of time to walk over it (next time) it really provides a centre piece to the city, with considerable redevelopment work both completed and ongoing around the bridge.

In the shadow of the bridge, at the "Water Restaurant" which is part of a sleek, modern hotel looking over the port area I enjoyed one of my best lunches of the trip - a spring salad with lovely fresh and crisp leaves, crumbled goats cheese, caramelised onion and finely chopped tomato with a nice dressing.

Served with a couple of freshly baked bread rolls it should have been lunch in itself, but I had not realised this and ordered the XXL Burger as a main dish! Of course the frites were superb - properly double-fried and served with lots of mayonnaise, and the burger was juice and tasty and with bacon and with cheese and with a lovely salsa it time for lunch yet?

Feeling like a balloon ready to pop I headed back to the station to catch the final (Interrail) train of my journey to Hoek Van Holland Haven - about half an hour away.

My arrival on board the Stena Britannica was notable only because I was the first foot passenger to board, and I soon found my way to cabin 9611. On overnight sailings cabins are compulsory, and I had opted to pay the extra £6 to have a window.

The berths are really comfortable and I slept like a log. I had pre-booked an (all you can eat) evening meal & and breakfast knowing that it would save money on board, but not knowing how filling my lunch would be. Still, I managed to force something down (having a choice of stir-fry ingredients that a chef will then cook for you was good) and it would have been a shame to waste the meal booking!

Breakfast was served at 0530 and it was nice to get outside a full English after eating the flacid ham and cheese with a roll that is available on the continent.

My journey home was relatively painless although buses were used on two portions of the journey from Harwich - amazing how I could complete my entire trip without a replacement bus in sight, but you get to England and they're everywhere. Still, I didn't have to wait any more than 15 minutes anywhere for a connecting train (or bus) and arrived in Salisbury to be met by a real train which was nice.

So, there we are. I will consolidate in the next post, but overall it is a great way to travel and really nice to look at a map and think "yes I can go there, via x, y and z", and just do it. Sure, I did a bit of booking ahead, the occasional hostel, sleeper train or trip, but everything else was done there and then.

For me, this is the sort of travel that suits me best - the thought of spending 2 weeks on a beach somewhere fills me with horror!

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