Donegal at last….

Donegal and Sligo had been on my list of places to visit for many years. I’ve visited Ireland at least 7 times and never ventured further than Galway and the Aran Islands on the west side so this holiday I was determined that we would visit Donegal. We by passed Dublin altogether

My sister wanted to visit her uncle in law, Billy, in Belfast again so that fitted in easily to our little touch of Ireland trip. We could fly across from Paris, spend a couple of days in Donegal and surrounding areas, then drive on to Belfast for a couple of days and that was the plan. However, Darelle wanted to go to Waterford to purchase Waterford Crystal from the factory shop…..I suggested that our retailers, Myers and David Jones sold Waterford Crystal at home but her reply was “No, I want to purchase the figurines from the factory shop in Waterford”. “Why?” I asked “So the recipients of the gifts know I went to Waterford and purchased them”. “Ok, I’ll look at that option” I said.

The plan was now to go from Paris to Donegal via Waterford. We flew from Charles De Gaulle to Cork, picked up a hire car and drove to Waterford where we stayed overnight. The factory store opened at 9am but not wanting to look desperate we arrived at the store about 9.30am. We spent an hour in the store…the array of crystal items was amazing and many items were 1000 euros plus…so don’t pick up the items and look very carefully and don’t swing that handbag around too quickly. Many of the pieces were very extravagant and the champagne and wine glass offerings were beautiful. I was tempted but resisted due to price mainly. Darelle found the necessary figurines and, unfortunately, I also found an item I rather liked….a crystal vase shaped a little different to others and perfect for holding my roses….. Did I say ‘a’ vase? Well, I couldn’t buy just one, could I? I had to have a matching pair – well, what if I had enough roses in my garden to fill 2 vases? Ty also fell in love with a figurine of a teddy bear so I threw that in as well. God knows where we’ll put it…but I’m sure we’ll find a place! So several hundred dollars later and the goods organised to be shipped by Waterford we left the store.

Amazingly the amount spent doesn’t seem too bad when you walk out without the goods in your possession…easy to forget you’ve spent any money at all!!!

It was 10.30 and time to leave Waterford for the 5 hour drive to Donegal. We were literally crossing Ireland in a diagonal from east to west and hoping the weather would improve as we drove further west. We weren’t being at all realistic because everyone knows the West Coast of Ireland can be extremely wild and mostly has every season within a day. The weather in this part of Ireland shows no regard for the seasons, actually the weather in most of Ireland shows no regard for the seasons.

Our rental car for this part of the journey was an Audi A4 – we had been given an upgrade as Hertz couldn’t find the rental car we had booked. Unfortunately, although they appeared to be quite generous they did find it necessary to place a hold of 2,500 euros in case we damaged the car. Given we have already paid an insurance that covered an excess of $2,800 this extra hold charge was unexpected and, in all the years of hiring cars in Europe, has never happened before. Anyway, not much we could do about it…the rental for the week was 406 euros. Moving on!!

Ty was enjoying driving the car so much so that on the road between Enniskillen and Donegal he thought he was in a rally! We stopped at a small town for a quick lunch and continued on our way.

The weather, well, what can I say – rain, sun, drizzle, sun, rain, sun, overcast, rain, sun, drizzle, torrential rain, sun and so on. The temperature was about the same as the weather, temperature up, temperature down by 3 degrees, temperature up by 2 degrees, then down again and this continued for the whole trip. Ah, I forgot to mention the wind and the mist which also rolled in when we crossed a mountain and disappeared as we drove down the other side.

At this time of year the flowers in the gardens and hanging baskets are quite beautiful, multiple colours are used to make spectacular displays. Some houses had flower gardens and baskets to match the colour of the trim around windows and doors. So much thought and care goes into these displays and it isn’t just one house but practically every house in every town. The towns also have their displays in the parks, hanging from lamp posts and in large pots in the main squares around town. I would love to have those displays in my garden in spring and summer but the heat and my forgetfulness to water the blooms would be the downfall. So I tend to take hundreds of photos of the floral spectaculars that I see on our journey and dream about being able to have our home looking this good.

 

 

When I booked our accommodation in Donegal several preferred hotels were booked out, in fact most of the places in Donegal town were booked out. I didn’t want to place us too far out of town because we prefer to park the car at our accommodation and wander around the town, walk to dinner or different pubs for a drink. You can’t explore a place if you need to drive everywhere! So, back to the accommodation, the only choices we had was for a B&B or a couple of hostels. I am not a hostel person even in my younger years hostels were not for me even if they promised en suite rooms. The lodges and B&B’s were an ‘eny, meny miney mo’ exercise……..a few review reads and working out distance to town I settled on the Railway Lodge. It looked ok on the web page and reviews said it was a short walk to the centre of town so I booked it.

Driving into town was a little slow, there was a slight traffic jam – nothing compared to our traffic jams of course.  Donegal is a very old town and Donegal Castle is in a very central position in the town. Donegal Castle on one side of the road, a Church of Ireland on the other side with the Old Castle Pub sitting strategically in front of  the church.  A pretty town with a central square…….all the shops and pubs border the square on 3 sides.

We drove along one side of the central square continuing on past the castle and the church across the bridge and started to head out of town.  We rounded a slight corner and saw the railway station ahead as it came into view we saw the sign for the Railway Lodge on our left.  As we drove into the parking area I thought it a little less impressive than the website photos but isn’t that often the case?  At this moment, as I took in the 3 storey residence, a horrible feeling came over me.  “What’s the bet we’ll be on the top floor with no lift” I thought to myself not game to mention my thoughts out loud at this point.

Ty turned the ignition off and we sat there for what seemed like minutes but was only a second or two then he said “So you’ve booked us into an attic room with no lift have you?” I looked over at him and at the house and said “I hope not, I didn’t have much choice of accommodation in town”.  “Hopefully we’re not in the roof” I added.

“We’ll, you had better go to check in and see where our rooms are whilst I unload the bags” Ty replied.

Darelle and I went in and, the lady of the house, Sheila, met us as we stepped into the hallway.  Sheila welcomed us warmly and then said, apologetically, your rooms are on the very top floor.  “Really” I said trying to sound jovial even though I was not happy.  Sheila apologised again probably my face showed my disappointment or because Sheila realised we weren’t young people here for the championship regatta being held in Donegal.  We had no idea what was on just that the town and surrounding area was fully booked. Sheila asked if we had much luggage…”we’re on a 5 week holiday we have lots of luggage” I replied with a smile (I hope).

I went outside to give Ty the good news and help with the luggage.  My poor husband was not happy as he knew he was the one to carry all the bags up all the flights of stairs.  Each of our bigger bags weighed over 20 kilos each and we also had hand luggage! There were 3 sets of stairs each containing 8 steps there was also 2 landings.  Ty had to navigate these stairs 6 times (3 up 3 down).  At least he’d reach his 10,000 steps easily today so there was a positive.

As he stepped inside with the last piece of luggage the lady of the house apologised again that we had rooms up in the roof cavity. I guess with B&B’s it doesn’t matter when you book as to what rooms you are given but when you arrive.  We were the last to arrive that day so we were relegated…lol.  Oh well, we’d enjoyed 3 weeks of 4 and 5 star it was time we came back down to earth I suppose….

Ty eventually got all the luggage up to the rooms…he wouldn’t let us help..that was his job he said. Well once we got the bags in the rooms there was not much room for anything else.  Darelle had a single room and it was indeed a single room….very small and cramped.  Ours was a little better but the double bed was up against one wall so one of us would have to climb in and out….that someone was Ty ….it was his side of the bed.

We all had a very sleepless night and the next morning, before we went down for breakfast, we told Darelle we were going to find somewhere else to stay tonight as we couldn’t stay in this room and she couldn’t be squashed in her room again either.  She agreed.  At breakfast Sheila asked how we’d slept … I said not very well as the rooms were a little uncomfortable….I also mentioned the fact Darelle could hardly get into the shower in her room because the cubicle and the shower screen door opening was so small. We did laugh mainly because the vision of my sister (who is not a big person) trying to squeeze herself sideways into the small shower cubicle with great difficulty was amusing.  I did not mention to Sheila that Ty had trouble crawling down and out of bed in the middle of the night for a loo break.  My husband is not the most agile person so this exercise took some time for him to manoeuvre his frame to the end of the bed.  All the while he would have been trying not to disturb me…such a thoughtful man.

We did laugh at our plight when speaking with Sheila – we made it a lighthearted conversation but we also had to be honest.  Sheila went back to the kitchen and when she returned a couple of minutes later she offered us other rooms on the floor below.  People were leaving today and she was happy to move us to a bigger more pleasant room.  I asked if Darelle could be moved to our room because that room, although not good for 2, would be ideal size for a single.  Sheila said she would move Darelle downstairs as well next to us later in the day. We thought that a fair and reasonable offer so we agreed.

Before heading out for the day we went up to our room to complete packing our bags so we would be ready for the move.

Today we’re taking a drive to Sligo, Bundoran and Slieve League along the Wild Atlantic Way…..

Too Young for River Cruising or …… so I Thought!=

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Avalon Felicity

My perception of river cruising through Europe was that this form of holiday best suited the much older traveller or for people who had low activity levels so when my sister mentioned she’d like to take a river cruise down the Rhine River my immediate response was “We’re not old enough yet” and “I’ll be bored sitting in my room or the bar whilst floating slowly down a river for 8 days”. We continued to discuss the pros and cons of a river cruise…even though we’d never known anyone who had taken a river cruise ….eventually I said ‘Ok, we’ll go with you”. I’m sure I had been sipping on a glass of wine when I uttered those words but the conversation very quickly moved to dates. Before I knew it we were all going on a river cruise in July 2017…all I had to do was find the cruise that fitted Darelle’s annual leave dates.

I spent quite some time researching various river cruise options, weighing up value for money, inclusions and what was really important to have and what wasn’t – I chose an Avalon Waterways 7 day Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel. Avalon also fitted in with the dates perfectly. A couple of other friends decided to join us as well….the more the merrier!!

Excursions and alcohol, at mealtimes, was included and outsized of mealtimes we had to pay for our drinks but that wasn’t an issue for us as we weren’t big drinkers so a couple of drinks in the lounge of an evening wasn’t going to break the bank. Ty and I also don’t take holidays then worry about every extra item we might have to pay for … that would make for a miserable holiday if we did. I also didn’t think paying a thousand dollars extra with a different cruise company to have unlimited alcohol was a sensible option. Granted the higher priced river cruise ship could possibly have larger staterooms, a 24 hour butler service and more dining options but your stateroom is for sleeping so you’re very rarely in it. Avalon also had waived the single supplement and when you have several single people in the party that is a very big saving. If we like this type of holiday I’m sure, at some stage, we’ll try a different brand for comparison. I read reviews on various companies, some friends knew people who had toured with Avalon previously – some customers were happy some weren’t. I read reviews and listened to the relayed experience of others then weighed up the pros and cons to make my own decision. My only concern was the water levels…a friend had travelled several years prior and the water levels were extremely low so they spent more time being bused from one town to the next and spent very little time on the ship. Water levels were not something that could be controlled…we had to hope that this would be a good year for the rivers.

The day of embarkation arrived and cruise check in was at the Movenpick Hotel. We weren’t sure where the Movenpick was in relation to our hotel so we booked a taxi to take us and our luggage from our hotel. The cost from the Hilton to the Movenpick was around €12 so the distance between both hotels was not great. Cruise ship embarkation time was 4pm so we had an hour to wait before the coach would pick us up to deliver us to our river cruise ship. Beer, soft drinks, tea and coffee was on offer in the large meeting room during the wait.

The bus duly arrived and we were driven to the pier…..it was an extremely short ride. The pier was just over a small bridge from the Movenpick. Not even a 10 minute bus ride….it took longer to get in the bus than it did to reach the pier. After boarding the ship and being given our cabin keys Ty and I decided to walk back to Central Station to a pharmacy, it was then we discovered if we had walked under the rail bridge, less than 100 metres from the Hilton, at any time during our stay we’d have realised the Pier was just a 10 minute walk away. We could’ve easily wandered down with our bags however Lesley has a damaged knee so walking can be difficult for her. She would not have managed the walk pulling her luggage along. Taxi was right thing to do. We still laughed when we saw how close we were.

We’d already been in Amsterdam for 3 days but we get an extra day and night in Amsterdam as the ship does not sail until Monday night. We knew our river cruise itinerary included a canal cruise so we didn’t worry about about taking one during our 3 days. Seemed a waste of time to do the same cruise twice.

Our ship was the Felicity and we had a panorama cabin on deck 3 one cabin down from a suite. Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and there were no balconies – we had a sliding door. Perhaps the later models have the balcony with chairs. Nonetheless it wasn’t a deal breaker just a little disappointing. It was also a rarity to be able to leave the door or curtains open overnight due to other ships docking right up close and personal – window to window at each town. So if you jumped out of bed in the morning to see where you where and check out the view the only view you saw was another ship’s cabin window. If the people in that cabin had their curtains open and were looking out at the same time they’d get a very nasty shock to see a naked man or woman looking back at them! Not a very pretty sight at all and we’re not in Amsterdam where people choose to go to see and visit the special windows so best to keep those curtains firmly closed overnight and don’t open them till you’re fully clothed.

 

  • Food was excellent and well presented
  • More intimate with only 130 guests on board
  • Staff were very welcoming
  • Personal service
  • Cleanliness of staterooms and common areas was excellent
  • Dining staff who always enjoyed a joke and had a smile
  • Number of excursions included in the price
  • Ship was in good condition overall

Dislikes:

  • Morning excursions commenced at 8.30am….we didn’t have to take them and could’ve rested but, you know how it is, we didn’t want to miss out on anything…lol
  • Weather….it was chilly bordering on cold some days and rainy…yes, I hear you saying “suck it up princess” but it is the European summer!
  • Cabins were smaller than we thought from the brochures and no balcony. Photos shown were of newer ships in the fleet.
  • Pace of excursions were frustrating when less mobile people joined the active group instead of their group.

Would we take another river cruise……we’re already talking about it!! Only problem is there are so many to choose from…should we cruise Portugal, the French waterways or Russia and the Black Sea area? I’ve already cruised the Russian waterways, Ty hasn’t, but I’d do it again……….

Planning our next European vacation 2017

The Beginning:

About 18 months ago we were sitting around the dining table with one of my sisters and the talk turned to travel….as it invariably does when I’m around…..and where we’d like to visit next in Europe. We started with Romania and Poland then somehow the conversation moved to the Black Forest and parts of Germany. My sister, Darelle, fancied a river cruise through Germany taking in the Black Forest. ‘Hmm, not so sure I’m old enough for a river cruise’ I said and Ty chipped in ‘and if she isn’t old enough I’m certainly not river cruise material!’ I’d been to a number of the towns the cruise visited previously but perhaps relaxing on a river cruise would be good for us. Darelle had never been to Paris either so we agreed that for the year of her ‘big’ birthday we’d take a river cruise, spend some time in Paris, revisit Belfast as well as catch up with family and friends in the Midlands UK. I also had an idea for a small group tour I wanted to trial.

The Planning:

The planning stage had began the minute we agreed on the river cruise and my mind went into overdrive, some people take drugs or alcohol to excess, gamble or have a mania for exercise to get the adrenalin flowing….for me I just need to plan a trip!! Unfortunately for Ty it’s a little more stressful as my trip planning affects our household budget and he can be prone to the odd panic attack. At those times I reassure him that I’m not overspending, we’re fine and, to make him feel more at ease, I keep the costing spreadsheet firmly hidden.

As well as wanting to ensure Darelle sees the places on her dream list it was only fair to include some of the places on my bucket list not just revisit places. There are a couple of towns on the Rhine river I’ve not visited yet, Colmar is one such town, and there are others. There are also a couple I’ve visited twice previously but I’m good to visit again. It’s easy to miss some little quirky item or piece of information when we’re touring on our own so a guided tour often gives up some secrets. On the other end there is Donegal and Sligo in Ireland….on my list every visit to Ireland I’ve done over the past 40 years…..finally I’ll make it.

Once we decided on the river cruise that suited us I then looked at the other places and put them into the spreadsheet. Placing these ideas into chronological order could have been challenging luckily, however, the cruise companies advertise the dates of the European river cruises 12 to 18 months ahead so I used that as my starting point. The spreadsheet quickly took shape and after a little more juggling the plan was in place.

For me planning where to go is the easiest part of any holiday….accommodation can be more difficult with so many hotel choices, reviewing websites, pricing and our expectations. This is often the longest stage of organising any trip.

The Base Itinerary

As you can imagine, with 5 travellers, our itineraries are varied….. we’ve commenced the journey together but as the tour progresses several will branch off to other areas.

  1. Day one arrive Amsterdam for 3 days
  2. Embark Avalon Felicity for a 7 night river cruise to Basel Switzerland.
  3. Paris 2 nights
  4. 7 night Chateau and Champagne tour returning to Paris for a further 3 nights
  5. Ireland, Northern Ireland and U.K. will be the final 2 weeks of our

The Duration:

I know what you’re thinking, ‘how strange to place the duration or length of the trip this far down in the organisation cycle’. All I can tell you is that I’m a little different to most people organising a holiday. The ‘where I’m going’ is most important and I do have a timeframe in my mind but it’s not listed on the spreadsheet and it’s not agreed to at the beginning. I let the places and distances help me work that out. When it goes over the time that I know to be reasonable
“How do I know what’s reasonable” you’re thinking….WELL when Ty asks how long this holiday will be and he goes into meltdown when I give him my calculations I know I need to look at condensing!!

We’re away from home for 38 days in total…just over 5 weeks. I don’t think 38 days sounds as long as 5 weeks…what do you think?

Who has joined us and who hasn’t:

In the beginning we were 4 travellers, Ty, myself, Darelle and Troy (aka Lord Lunchalot in previous blogs). Several months later we became. A party of 6 with Lesley and Jacinta joining the trip. However, Lord Lunchalot felt he couldn’t make the trip due to work commitments and dropped out so we became 5. We were a little disappointed when Lord Lunchalot dropped out but I have no doubt we’ll cope.

As mentioned above we start this European holiday in Amsterdam via Guangzhou flying with China Southern. We’ve flown with this airline to Europe previously. Darelle is not keen on flying at all but is improving. Four of us are flying business class with China Southern with our 5th companion flying Qantas with an upgrade request in place ….. at the time we left there was no word on her upgrade. We have our fingers crossed for her. Flying on different carriers also means we arrive early morning and Jacinta arrives at the hotel late afternoon.

We’re doing this one in style, although, as you know, dear reader, I try to do all my trips in some sort of style! The limousine picked us up from our home for the 2 hour drive to the airport hotel….no early morning rush for us just a nice leisurely evening before a very short walk to the international terminal.

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The Flight

Departing passengers no longer need to complete the departure card and electronic gates have replaced customs officers in booths which makes things a little easier. It also helped that we received express path cards from the check in desk. Three of us passed through baggage and body screening with relative ease however Lesley was stopped for a body search as she has had a knee reconstruction and the scanner picks up the metal. Lesley did tell the officer about this, however the woman continued to pat down her legs and when Lesley complained of her hurting the leg another officer told a her to place Lesley in the body scanner but the officer ignored him, he tried again several times to tell her to place the traveller in the scanner but she continued to carry on her frisk search. Eventually she let Lesley through and we carried on to the Skyteam Lounge for breakfast.

The flight was uneventful and on time. However, Guangzhou airport is a little disjointed as many international flights arrive and then taxi to an area away from the main terminal. Passengers are bused from this outside area to the terminal building with business class passengers being transferred in a mini bus. This was not the most comfortable ride …. we had to place our handbag and hand luggage on our laps. The airport is very big and very spread out but given they’re now a hub for passengers transferring to/from Europe the airport should be upgraded to allow more planes access to an aero bridge making a better customer experience.

Transferring to your next flight is not that much fun either. Our flight left from terminal 4 but it didn’t actually taxi out from terminal 4. Terminal 4 is down a set of escalators that didn’t actually work so we walked down the non moving escalators carrying our cabin baggage. Didn’t bother us as we didn’t have a lot but some passengers had several bags. There was a lift which was extremely slow because of the number of bags many people had which didn’t allow for large numbers to ride the lift at any one time. This area is more like a basement and certainly does not have enough seating for the number of flights leaving from this transit lounge. China still needs to work on this area to have all international flights able to connect to an aerobridge. I know busing your customers back and forth to planes sitting out in various holding areas creates lots of employment but it certainly doesn’t add to the customer experience at all. When our flight number was called we were taken to buses for the ride out to the plane.

We had a 5 hour layover which was mostly spent in the VIP lounge where we had the time to shower and change into more comfortable clothing for the overnight leg. I booked in a time for my shower as had a number of other people. The attendant on her way to collect the next people in line when a man, who had just walked into the lounge, stopped her and said he wanted to take a shower now. He was quite angry when told there were others waiting before him and he raised his voice at the young lady. Everyone in the lounge was looking at him…

Darelle and Lesley both had a meal at 1am after leaving Guangzhou for AMS. Lesley all 5 courses, Darelle just the main. We opted out and went to sleep – we couldn’t eat another thing… When I went to see them after breakfast Darelle is munching on chocolates – the snack and drinks bar was in their little section and ‘it’s lunchtime at home’ was her excuse!! Glad we didn’t have a snack bar in our section Ty would have wanted the seat opposite.

I had prearranged a transfer to our hotel in Amsterdam so when we arrived we were expecting to see as person holding a sign with our name on it….no, no sign to be seen. I looked at the voucher and read that we needed to be at a meeting point, a red and white square, we could see signs to meeting point and headed that way as Ty wandered off in the other direction to find the driver. He was much more successful than us and came back weigh him just as Darelle and Lesley decided to go in the opposite direction to find the meeting point. A little like a group of sheep being herded. The driver then had to find the rest of the herd whilst telling us to stay exactly we here we were…’we could go and find them as we know what they look like’ I said. ‘No, tell me what they’re wearing I will find them’ and he did! That sorted we headed to the car.

We arrived at our hotel, checked in and straight to our rooms. Time for a shower, unpack a little and head to the executive lounge for morning tea. Well, morning tea for Ty and I but I suspect Darelle and Lesley will opt for a second breakfast.

Let the holiday begin…………..

Amsterdam

Amsterdam DamrakA little bit of history to start…..

Amsterdam was founded in 1250 when a dam was built beside the River Amstel. The population is around 800,000

We’re staying at the Doubletree by Hilton near Central Station a 10 minute stroll to Damrak and the centre of the city. I’d booked us into executive rooms with access to the executive lounge. Of course an exec room in Amsterdam is not going to be the same as an executive room in Sydney. I liken the executive room here to a deluxe room in a Sydney Hilton but with a small bathroom. As with most hotels in Europe the rooms are smallish. Given we don’t spend our days in the room I can cope…just!

The weather in Amsterdam certainly wasn’t being too kind to us. It obviously didn’t appreciate the distance we had travelled to see this city! We were in the lift after our morning tea, or in Darelle and Lesley’s case, second breakfast, returning to our rooms to gather our rain gear Darelle suddenly burped very loudly. Surprising even herself by the volume….we looked around in amazement then broke into laughter as she was clearly embarrassed by this….er….mishap. Thank goodness we were the only 4 in the lift at the time.

It was raining, windy and 13 degrees when we left the hotel heading for Damrak street. Rain coats and jackets firmly in place we fought the wind, the cyclists, the crowded station square and the intermittent downpours to make it to the shopping district. It is summer holidays so schools and universities are closed and people across Europe are on holiday. I think most of them have come to Amsterdam especially the students. Amsterdam is an especially popular place for people from the UK and Ireland to have their bucks and hens nights/weekends.

Oh, before I continue I must tell you that if reading the whole blog is a little daunting or you just like my lists you’ll find ‘like/didn’t like’ lists below for you to skim through….

One very noticeable change since my previous visit was the cruise docking area on Damrak. Of course there were many new glass buildings dotted around as well. The charm, for me, is old Amsterdam and it’s history. If a building in Amsterdam is crumbling and needs to be repaired or rebuilt it has to look the same as the original including any lean it may have had. I know modern buildings are a necessity especially for hotels (I don’t like hauling luggage up tiny spiral staircases to my room in the attic) but I do think keeping to the original is a great way to hold onto the history and streetscape even if it’s just the old facade that has been kept. Hmm better not let Ty read this paragraph…he would say ‘you don’t haul your luggage up numerous flights of tiny stairs your husband does that for you’. Yes, he’s correct, however I have done that in a previous life. These days I do my best not to book us into ancient buildings where there is the probability of no lifts……given we’re only into the first week of the holiday I better not say too much more on this subject……….just in case!!

Our wandering took us away from one shopping district into a different type of shopping district….the red light district with it’s offerings of ladies, all shapes, sizes, nationalities on display, if not every window then every second window, gift shops selling erotica, dope smoking equipment, all sorts of foods and sweets containing Marijuana, sex museums, prostitution museums, peep shows ….. you name it it’s there. There’s also the many pubs, cafes and restaurants and the churches. The canals are very pretty here with the huge baskets of brightly coloured flowers handing from either side of the bridges that cross the canals. The combination of canals, bridges, many bikes and the flower baskets make for some great photography….CA you would love it.

We didn’t spend too much time here because I had booked us on a Red Light district tour tonight so we’d hear plenty of information about the history of the area then and Jacinta was also arriving this afternoon. We started the stroll back to our hotel. We stopped along the way to take some photos and it was at one of these locations I lost my little travelling companions, Ted and Dog. Ted had travelled with me for 10 years and dog joined us about 8 years ago. Ty gave the little Teddie to me to ‘look after me’ when I was travelling without him and Dog was a Valentines’ gift a couple of years later. I had taken them out to take their photo and then placed them back in my bag…..they were sharing a section of the bag with my camera and at some point I’ve lifted the camera out again and I think they’ve fallen out ….. We walked back to the hotel and it wasn’t till I was in our room that I realised they were missing….we made a mad dash back to the the place I last had them and retraced our steps from there…..they were nowhere to be found. Needless to say I was devastated because they hold great sentimental value, they weren’t valuable in the sense of price but valuable because they were gifts from my husband. Ty tried to console me by saying someone has probably picked them up and given them to a little child who’ll love them. That they don’t need to look after me for him now ‘cos we’re always together. I know some would say I’m a little strange being upset because I lost a couple of fluffy toys and that’s fine – we all have our little idiosyncrasies and mine is to be sentimental whether it be over a person, place or an object someone dear to me gives me.

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Last photo of my travelling companions

Jacinta arrived around 3.00pm we gave her time to freshen up, unpack a little then we headed back out to find a place for dinner. Later we would meet our tour guide at the designated spot Damrak 26. There were quite a few people on our tour so it could be hard to get to see everything up close….not that we needed to get too close to some of the objects in the windows!

There are less ladies in windows today than were there 10 years ago. The industry is more controlled including the number of windows available. The weird and wonderful objects available for purchase have increased as well…I’m sure. More S&M than I remember seeing in windows on previous visits or perhaps I was just too embarrassed to take a good look in my younger years!!! Maybe it was just that our tour guide, on this occasion, was stopping by more of these shops, getting us to move in closer for a better look, as he described what the items were used for. There are some very strange fetishes out there….each to their own I suppose …… still it can’t be denied there are some strange puppies sitting behind closed doors. Difference is what makes the world go round so they say so ‘viva la difference’!

We passed a number of bars with rowdy patrons singing, swearing, shouting or just hanging out the doors and windows but all with glasses or bottles of alcohol in hand. There were large numbers of girls stumbling along the pavements in various costumes and under the influence of alcohol. As the tour ended we noticed a commotion going on at the side of the canal, several ambulances were parked in the narrow street, girls were shouting…..English girls on a hen’s night. How did I know it was a hen’s night? The dress and the Bride to be was dressed in her finest little pink dress with veil and all manner of sex toys and other objects swinging from her neck. She was shouting and crying as the paramedics removed her from the main scene of the chaos. We could see a girl shouting and trying to put her leg over the barrier that protected people from falling into the canal. She had obviously taken something that made her want to commit suicide or perhaps she, give the benefit of doubt, just decided take a late night plunge into the canal. Whatever the reason the paramedics were not having any of this on their watch and suddenly they lunged at her, threw her to the ground, handcuffed the screaming girl and placed her in the ambulance. All the while the bride to be was screaming and crying and continued to do so as the ambulance drove off with her friend in it.

Our hotel, as well as having several restaurants, had a Starbucks. As we know Starbucks is not the best coffee however it’s consistent. Consistently good or bad – up to the individual – I’m just saying there was a Starbucks and we dropped in a couple of times. There are two guys, working very long hours, who just spend the day having a laugh and a good time. The first time I ordered coffees the happy young man with the dark curly hair taking my order started talking about the weather. “Lovely day” he said. “Wind and rain is not a good day to me” I replied with a smile “I want sunshine”. He very quickly replied with ” I’m confident the sun will shine so I’ve got my bikini on under my clothes ‘cos I thought I’d go to the beach after work”. Then a song comes on and they both start singing and dancing as they make the coffees and take orders. They were the same every day we called in and we thought it was great and obviously so did all the other customers…the place was very busy.

We’re all getting in lots of walking, 3 of us are wearing items that measure our steps…..not saying the brands as I try not to endorse any products……consequently there is a bit of competition happening. It makes for interesting outings especially if someone is falling behind the others in the step count.

 

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Perfect bicycle for Ty and I

List of places visited, tours taken and other random items:

  • Put rain gear on before leaving the hotel
  • Walked main pedestrian malls, venturing in and out of many shops along the way.
  • Took our rain gear off
  • Stood around in Dam Square viewing the scene, people watching, taking photos whilst ensuring people don’t photobomb our photos.
  • Put the rain gear back on again
  • Found a cafe for coffee….yes, coffee, no cookies or odd looking cigarettes were had on this walk – I know we’re very boring. We did venture into the shops selling all kinds of interesting bits.
  • Tried not to breathe too deeply in some of the streets whilst we wandered from one canal area to the next canal. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana and if we stood around inhaling long enough we’d probably just sit on a step in a haze going nowhere. Yeah man……
  • Take the rain gear off again
  • Gasson diamond buyers and jewellers of Amsterdam and the world

Things I liked

  • The view of the river and parts of the city from our room
  • Red light district walking tour – definitely worth it.
  • When the rain stopped and the sun came out…….on our 4th day in the city
  • All the diamonds available at Gassons
  • The two guys in Starbucks at the Hilton…whatever they were on should be given to all the grumpy, unhappy people out there in retail world!

Things I didn’t like

  • The intermittent downpours of rain and the icy wind…this is the Northern summer!
  • Losing my little travel companions of 10 and 8 years….devastated.
  • Bitter coffee
  • The crowds….so many visitors in this great city.
  • The ringing of bicycle bells which told me I was walking on a bike lane and in danger of being run over by an angry cyclist.