When I was thinking about holidays the other day, I realised that for the past two Spring Bank Holidays in a row, we have been to Sweden! In 2015 we went to Gothenburg, while in 2016 we went to Stockholm. This year we have decided to break with what was becoming an accidental tradition, and visit a brand new country instead: the Netherlands
When Tim was looking for cheap flights for this weekend, there really didn't seem to be a lot of options. The best deal he could find were flights from Stansted to Eindhoven. Eindhoven wasn't a place we really knew anything about - and it certainly isn't a place I've ever heard anyone say they are going to on holiday - but when we looked it up on the map we saw that the journey between Eindhoven and Amsterdam looked manageable, and a weekend in Amsterdam sounded quite exciting
Our flight was at 08.35 this morning, which necessitated getting up at 03.30, but this and the journey to Stansted actually felt quite relaxing compared to our even longer and earlier trek to Gatwick for the previous Bank Holiday. Stansted was heaving with people, but not having any bags to check in meant that we missed the worst of the crowds and were soon on off on our way to the Netherlands.
Whenever I fly to Europe I tend to assume the flight will take two hours, irrespective of my destination, so the flight to Eindhoven was surprisingly short; it barely felt any longer than the flight we took to Edinburgh last week. By around 10.40 we had already landed and were emerging into the scorchingly hot sunshine outside. The centre of Eindhoven is just a short bus ride away from the airport, and so within half an hour or so we were there and ready to explore.
As we sat on the airport bus, my first impressions of the Netherlands were that the stereotypes are true; it really is completely flat and people really do seem to cycle everywhere. Every road we drove down seemed to have a special cycle lane by the side and when we ultimately got off the bus outside the main train station, the first sight which greeted us was this enormous mass of bike racks!
I quickly decided that a key skill for successfully surviving in the Netherlands would be to avoid walking in the bicycle lanes. Particularly as it seems that people use them not just for normal bicycles but for various types of motorised scooters as well!
We set off to explore Eindhoven. The guidebook hadn't been terribly complimentary about it, and neither had two Esperanto speakers from Amsterdam who we met last weekend. Eindhoven is actually one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands, but unfortunately it doesn't really have anything to show for it. This is firstly because it was a really tiny place until the late nineteenth century, when the electronics firm Philips was founded in Eindhoven and population growth exploded as a result. And secondly because most things which might have been of interest were destroyed during heavy bombing in the Second World War. The result is that Eindhoven is a very modern-looking city.
There were quite a few space-age looking buildings like the one above and also a number of buildings relating to Philips, even though the company no longer has its main headquarters here. Eindhoven does have a Philips museum which is apparently very educational if you are interested in engineering, but we aren't so we decided to give it a miss
We walked down one of the main shopping streets, enjoying the sunshine.
The towers which we caught sight of at the end of the street belong to what seems to be one of the only historical buildings remaining in Eindhoven: St Catherine's Church.
We were quite excited to find a building worth photographing
We continued down some side streets past the church, where we could see various restaurants which looked like they might be promising for lunch. We could see the spire of another church in the distance, so we decided to aim towards that. In the process, we accidentally left the centre of Eindhoven behind us.
Time to turn around and head back. We tried to take a slightly different route in case we'd missed any sights, and came across the Van Abbemuseum. This is a contemporary art museum, but we aren't much better with contemporary art than we are with engineering history, so we chose to enjoy it just from the outside.
It was officially lunchtime by this point, so we set off back towards the streets where we had seen restaurants earlier in the morning. We soon found a nice place where we were able to eat spaghetti bolognaise, followed by pancakes, sitting outside in the sun. Our plan was then to catch a 14.32 train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. The journey should take around 80 minutes, and so we would be arriving in Amsterdam in the mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to check into our hotel and do a bit of exploring.
Unfortunately, the rest of our afternoon was spent learning that the Dutch train system can be just as inefficient as the British one! Buying the tickets to Amsterdam was easy, and they cost just under €20 each which didn't seem too bad, but after 15 minutes or so of waiting on the platform, we realised that the train had been cancelled with no announcements. I don't think it was even the case that there was an announcement in Dutch that we didn't understand; there genuinely didn't seem to have been any announcements at all, and the first anybody knew about it was when the train details disappeared from the platform screen
We went back to the main concourse to try and find some more information, but there didn't seem to be any. Looking at the paper timetables on the wall, we figured out that there was another train to Amsterdam at 15.02, departing from the nearby platform 6. Off we went to platform 6 to wait for the train... the details of which soon disappeared from the electronic screen on that platform. Oh dear. Back to the main concourse. This time we found an electronic display wich said that the 15.02 was going to depart from platform 5. Off we went to platform 5... only to find that the electronic display on that platform was showing a 15.14 train as the next one incoming. This was chaos on a level which I have previously only experienced at Birmingham New Street
Eventually Tim decided the only option was to go back out of the ticket barriers and find an information desk. The lady there explained that the 15.02 would be coming on platform 5.... but not at 15.02 as it was running 20 minutes behind schedule. She advised that we could either wait for that train or take the (also quite delayed) 14.47 train to Utrecht and change there for Amsterdam.
I didn't have much faith in the elusive 15.02 actually arriving, so we decided to try the delayed Utrecht train and hope that once we got to Utrecht there would be more reliable connections to Amsterdam. This was a bit of a gamble, as I'm not sure either of us were completely sure where Utrecht was. But it turned out to be a beautifully air-conditioned train, with plenty of seats, that took us on an hour's journey through the very flat Dutch countryside in the vague general direction of Amsterdam. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos, but I was very excited on a couple of occasions when I caught sight of villages with windmills
We arrived in Utrecht shortly before 4pm and were relieved to see that there were indeed plenty of connections to Amsterdam. Unfortunately some of these also seemed to be subject to delays and cancellations at short notice and so it was more like 16.25 by the time we (and several hundred other people!) were trying squeeze on to the delayed 16.08 to Amsterdam. We both made it onto the train but I think it's safe to say that this was a much more crowded and unpleasant journey.
By 5pm we had made it as far as Amsterdam Centraal. We'd given up on the idea of exploring the city for now and instead just wanted to get into our hotel and check in as quickly as possible. When trying to book hotels for this weekend I'd had major problems trying to find anything affordable though, so we had ended up with a room in a hotel near Amsterdam's Sloterdijk station, which is some way outside the main city centre. We therefore needed to make one final train journey - thankfully only a short one - between the two Amsterdam stations.
When we stepped outside at Sloterdijk the first thing we saw was another sea of bicycles
The hotel was only supposed to be a 5 minute walk away, but somehow we managed to walk 10 minutes in the wrong direction, which protracted the process of actually finding it. We got there in the end though and confirmed that we had a nice comfortable room, although rather frustratingly it has a coffee machine and no coffee. A definite plus point of the hotel is that it has a pizza oven, so we decided to have a quiet evening in and recover from our early start and subsequent train woes. Tomorrow we are looking forward to actually seeing Amsterdam