The instructions of Gijs, Annie’s second cousin, were good and after landing at Schiphol airport we caught the train to Bussum, 20 minutes East of Amsterdam, where Gijs & Florence Lamsvelt live.
They visited us in Sydney two years ago, just before Gijs retired as a judge on his 70th birthday. He has since missed the bench and is now doing pro bono work for victims of crime, sparring with his ex-colleagues in court. Florence is still involved with volunteering and has received the Queen’s medal for her work.
On our first day, Gijs took us to his yacht club, The Royal Dutch Sailing and Rowing Club, founded in 1847, a 100 years before I was born.
Gijs recently sold his yacht Cordelia with which he has sailed the North Sea and crossed the English Channel many times. He and Florence also did a canal trip with Cordelia, from Holland to the South of France for 3 months in 2012. With the mast down, they travelled 2,200km and went through 524 locks on the canals!
After the visit to his club, he showed us through Muiden, the old town next to the club and a suburb not far from Bussum. These parts used to get flooded before the Afsluitdijk (Cut off dyke) was built in the 1930’s. It is amazing to think that half of the Netherlands is reclaimed land (Polders), below sea level. For example, Schiphol airport, built on a reclaimed lake, is 4 metres below sea level.
Monday was a relaxing day with Gijs showing us Naarden Vesting, (a fort built to protect Amsterdam) with a quaint town built inside the fort, after the military moved out. This is a beautiful town, where evidently, wealthy divorcees tend to buy their boutique townhouses.
The following two days were devoted to exploring Amsterdam. There is so much to see in this city, so we walked a lot, to visit the Rijksmuseum where the Dutch masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer and others are on display. The red light district near the centre of Amsterdam offered some amazing scenery, not least the ladies on show in windows, next to a church!
The highlight for us, was the Van Gogh Museum. I was overcome by similar emotions in Liverpool when I visited the Cavern Club. Vincent has been my favourite artist, since high school. We spent the whole morning to explore this vast museum of Van Gogh’s work, before visiting the “Concertgebouw” Amsterdam Concert Building.
A walk to Rembrandt’s house brought us to the Ship’s museum on the harbour. There were many other sights, but enough of that.
On our second last day Gijs and Florence drove us across the Oostvaardersdijk (dyke) to Lelystad for lunch and across the Houtribdijk (dyke) to Enkhuizen to visit the Zuiderzee Museum. It is very interesting to drive across a dyke with the sea on one side, about 3 metres higher that the cattle grazing on the polders, (reclaimed land) on the other side. We finished the day on a liquid note at a lovely “Brown café” in Naarden Vesting.
We got word that Michelle our daughter, arrived in Amsterdam with some friends for a music concert. We met with her for breakfast at a café in Amsterdam Central station with Gijs, who hadn’t seen her in 26 years. Then we took the train to Schiphol for our flight to London on Easyjet and our connecting flight to Singapore.
Michelle warned us to book a flight to Heathrow, but no, us cheapskates had to fly to Luton. This meant catching a bus to Heathrow with about three hours to spare. Problem was, the bus from Cambridge was about an hour late because of Friday afternoon traffic. We arrived at Heathrow terminal 5, an hour before our scheduled departure on British Airways flight BA11 to Singapore. The flight was overbooked, but Annie with her usual charm and a very helpful BA staff member, saw us upgraded from departure lounge/runway, to cattle class.
Full marks to BA, who showered us with wine all the way to Singapore, to drown out the 3 wailing babies in bassinets, 6 rows in front of us. No complaints, we remember those days, travelling with babies!
Next instalment: Getting to know Changi airport – Again!