MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “July, 2019”

Fife Coastal Path

For 117 miles (188km), the Fife Coastal Path leads the way round the coastal edge of the Kingdom of Fife, from the Firth of Tay to the Firth of Forth. Despite being officially opened some time ago, I hadn’t really heard much about it, but when my brother suggested we do a section of it on my most recent trip back to Scotland in September last year, I was happy to take the suggestion. With both brothers living in the southern suburbs of Glasgow, we set off early, leaving the dark clouds of the west coast behind for the not quite 2hr drive across to the east coast. We planned on sticking to the Forth estuary side, walking west from Crail to Elie, and with a bus to catch, we were eager to get the distance behind us. We made it to Elie and found a park with a brief bit of time ahead of the bus that took us through the various villages before we got off at Crail.

 

A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I used to date a guy who had a pilot’s licence and his own plane. I remember flying over the patchwork of inland Fife and the coastal villages and it was a perspective of the coastline that most people won’t see with their own eyes. I was excited to see the coast from ground level and it had been so long since I’d explored Fife at all. Crail’s main street was compact with narrow side streets and the buildings had the village vibe going on with their brick look. Passing the distinctive Golf Hotel, we cut down Kirkwynd to find the coast and the starting point for our walk. The tide was out, displaying the sloping slabs and boulders of the coastline.

 

Just before the harbour, we cut up to the elevated path under the wall of the Watch House and this gave a great view onto Crail’s harbour, which would have looked prettier had the tide been in. As we entered the harbour proper, I was amused by a sign stating not to feed the gulls that had a big splat of bird poo on it, as if the gulls had taken vengeance. Cutting up to the road to skirt the back of the small beach, I spotted the Isle of May off the coast, an island which I’d visited many moons ago with my dad, and which is great for lovers of sea birds. The views over Crail were also spectacular as we cut round the corner and left the streets behind to rejoin the path.

 

The path remained low and gently undulating as we made progress along this long uninterrupted section. About halfway to the next village we found ourselves at Caiplie Caves, a tall red sandstone structure that had been shaped by the pounding waves after the retreat of the glaciers. More a series of inter-linking arches than true caves, they were fun to weave through and the colour of the red sandstone was divine. We’d pretty much been under a blue sky and warm sun up to now but as we continued west, the sky grew more hazy: the leading edge of the weather system that we’d left behind on the west coast that morning. Flat agricultural fields spread out to our right, and the gently lapping waves accompanied us to our left.

 

After this long rural section, we reached the relative sprawl of Cellardyke. After leaving the caravan park behind, the path became the road that lead down to the harbour and then through a maze of narrow streets lined by tightly knit brick buildings. At one point, in a gap between the buildings we spied a puffin sculpture that had been carved out of a tree stump. It’s not overly clear where Cellardyke ends and Anstruther begins, as the two appear to merge seamlessly into one another, but Anstruther is the hub of this coastline with the largest harbour of all that we would visit that day, and a tourist draw, making it a pretty busy place to be. After our solitude for the past few hours, it was a bit of a shock to be amongst the relative hustle and bustle of this harbour town.

 

Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips, being made with fresh catch of the day, and with the crowd, all of the eateries at the waterfront were busy. We were pretty hungry by this stage, but eventually settled for a sandwich out of a tiny little cafe at the far end of the harbour front. We ate them on the pier, staring out at the boats moored up and making the most of the warm day. On the opposite side of the pier was the view of the route ahead: the little beach framed by a small church and more quaint little buildings. I was enjoying walking through the village streets as much as I was the coastal views because the narrow streets felt historic and there were so many pretty and cute little cottages and inns, such as the Dreel Tavern on the way out of Anstruther.

 

We finally found ourselves back at another beach where the path resumed, taking us next to the local golf course. There were plenty of people on this part of the path as well as plenty of people out on the golf course next to us and I secretly wondered if anyone had ever been hit by a stray golf ball. At the far end of the golf course was the next fishing village, Pittenweem where we popped into a local shop for some local ice cream to fuel ourselves for the final few hours of the walk. The tide had remained quite a way out for our walk so far, which had made some sections look a little less picturesque, but past the main harbour, the lower water level had allowed for some pretty cool reflections of the nearby cottages in the water. The final section of Pittenweem took us past a row of pretty cottages which faced out to the sea, several of them with benches outside to enjoy the view from.

 

It was another long uninterrupted section that eventually brought us to a busier part of the walk by the St Monans windmill and salt works. Being a short distance from St Monans, there were a lot of locals out for a stroll here. We managed to get the windmill to ourselves for a bit before some of the other walkers arrived, but by this stage my eldest brother was getting a little antsy to be finished. The clouds had thickened up and the hours had ticked by and so we pushed on. Past yet another fishing harbour, and through more village streets we came face to face with the pretty and dominating Auld Kirk of St Monans. The first church on this spot dates from the 13th century and it commands the coastline with its little cemetery around it. Here there is a brief diversion with a high tide route and a low tide route, but we were able to stick to the lower route, skirting below the church and continuing onwards to a slightly more dramatic stretch of coastline.

 

With a few small cliffs along this next section, it was much more undulating, and a few historic ruins dotted the way. A round structure sits at a bend in the path and beyond here, the ruins of Newark Castle stand resolutely above a small cliff. Past the other side, the track cut down to sea level again meaning the ruins seemed to dominate the now grey skyline. Further along, the path cut through the middle of another ruin, this time the 15th century Ardross Castle, and past here we could finally see the structure that marked the end of our walk, Lady Janet Anstruther’s tower on a headland at the end of a long stretch of beach.

 

When we finally reached the end of the beach, the coastal path curved inland a little, and whilst I would have liked to have gone down to the tower, my brother was keen to get home and so I looked at it from afar before we cut across to Ruby Bay and then the large expanse of Elie harbour. It was the last chance to see the sea before the road cut up into the streets of the village and we found ourselves back at the church where we’d caught the bus, and back to our waiting car and the long drive home. Although the clouds had gradually moved in, the weather had remained overall pleasant and it had been a great chance to catch up with my brothers properly as well as a great introduction to this beautiful coastline. Goodness knows if I’ll ever get round to doing the other sections, but I’m sure they’ll be just as stunning.

Reunions

In 2011 I made the decision to move to the opposite side of the World. Although my official plan was to go for a year, deep down I knew this was likely to be much more long term than that, and so after selling as much of my belongings as I could, and boxing up the rest, I left my friends and family behind in December of that year for an unwritten future. I spent a month volunteering in the South Pacific before arriving in New Zealand and within the first couple of weeks of reaching Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, I knew this country was to be my new home. As I had a return ticket, I used the flight home to spend Christmas with my family in 2012, and then I didn’t see them again until 2016. The long gap in between had become increasingly difficult, and I vowed to do my best to get back every couple of years if I could. With a nephew to meet and friends continuing to move forward with their lives, I had returned to Scotland in September last year with 2 weeks and no plans, so that I could dedicate my time to reunions and family time.

After a last minute change of plans in Amsterdam meant I arrived in Glasgow a day earlier than expected, it was finally time to meet my nephew. He had been in NICU during my visit in 2016 and so this was our first official meeting at the age of 2. I’d travelled for days to get there and I was met with a look of uncertainty followed by a prolonged cautious stare before eventually he decided that I was acceptable to interact with. That was the first time that my entire family were all together with my nephew, and whilst it couldn’t be further from my normal style of holiday, this epitomised exactly what this trip was all about: family.

The next day, after having some culinary reunions with some of the foods I miss from home, several of us went with my nephew to the Sea Life Centre at Loch Lomond Shores. Having moved away from Glasgow in 2006 to seek work, this was a place I had never been to, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a bit of a drizzly day so we headed straight into the centre out of the rain. I’m not a massive fan of zoos and aquariums, preferring to see wildlife in the wild, but for my nephew he was fascinated, and there was certainly enough things to keep him interested. He watched the otters swimming around and we hung around for their feeding talk. I love otters, and was lucky enough to have an encounter with one on a beach in the Outer Hebrides in 2010, but as they are usually wary of humans in the wild, it is not easy to see them in their natural habitat.

Passing through a short tunnel with fish swimming past us, there were some smaller exhibits before we reached the ray pool. There were some swiftly swimming rays and a couple of giant eels in there too. Nearby were some clown fish which are always a popular find. After my nephew had had his fill and the grown-ups had gotten an appetite, we headed back outside where it was now dry but still overcast. Although tucked away towards the end of Loch Lomond, there was still a hint of the surrounding mountains and forests and the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch was moored up nearby. Even with the threat of more rain, it was a pretty prospect. We headed into a cafe nestled amongst the row of shops before heading home for some haggis, neeps and tatties.

 

My parent’s back garden is very wildlife friendly which meant breakfast was often accompanied by some visitors outside to watch. Later on that next day, we took a family trip to Calderglen Country Park in East Kilbride. The weather really wasn’t that great so we weren’t able to make use of the park itself or go for any walks. Instead we headed to the glasshouse which had some meerkats and small monkeys amidst the plants and fish tanks. The meerkats were very active, digging and foraging whilst one stood on guard and their constant activity kept my nephew engaged. There was an ant colony nearby that had a rope system rigged up for them above our heads so you could watch the ants walk above you as they performed their daily chores of bringing back vegetation to the colony. When finally there was a break in the rain, we headed outside to the aviaries where we were all caught off guard by an African Grey parrot demanding some chips in a Glaswegian accent. It fascinates me how well these parrots can perform mimicry, and hearing one talk with a Glaswegian accent was just hysterical.

 

After ending the day with a friend from school and her partner, the following day was a sibling day where my two brothers and I headed to the east coast for a day of walking. We had done a similar thing in 2016 when they had joined me for day two of the West Highland Way. It is a rare occurrence for the three of us to be in each other’s company for more than a few hours since I moved out of home. We’ve spent longer time together in two’s but it was great to have a catch up as the three of us. Walking a section of the Fife Coastal Path took a large chunk of the day and aside from never having walked it before, I hadn’t been to this part of Scotland for a long time which was an added bonus.

 

I headed back into Glasgow city centre the next day to catch up with a couple of friends. I lived and worked in Aberdeen for 5.5 years before emigrating to New Zealand, and two of the friends I made there were able to meet up in Glasgow. I was amused by a comical busker on Buchanan Street as I headed to Queen Street Station to meet my friend coming down from the Granite City. As she wasn’t familiar with Glasgow, I took her to the Duke of Wellington statue and up to the observation deck at the Lighthouse so she could get a bit of a skyline view. When our other friend arrived from down south we headed to Princes Square for lunch. Full of designer shops and posh eateries, this was never a place I frequented when I lived in Glasgow during my student days. It felt like a total novelty playing ‘ladies who lunch’. Glasgow is a city full of familiarity but yet it still feels foreign to me. After eventually seeing my friends off on their respective transports, I took the familiar route to Central Station to catch a train to the south side. There was a new statue outside and a few new shops inside since last time I’d been past, but otherwise it was the same station I remembered from my nights of socialising in the city.

 

The weather the next day really wasn’t great so I hung out with my nephew indoors at his house. That evening, my friend from uni picked me up and we headed for dinner in Blantyre. The gastropub that we went to is famous for its desserts and has a large cabinet full of giant cakes. After a delicious meal, it was rude not to get a cake, but after ordering a chocolate eclair, I was presented with a foot long eclair loaded with cream. As divine as it was, there was no way I was finishing it, so the remains came home with me for my family to help me finish.

One of the tourist things I hadn’t gotten round to doing on my trip in 2016 was visiting Glasgow’s Transport Museum. It is one of the vague memories I still retain from my childhood, and the museum was moved and revamped some years ago, now a distinctive building on the bank of the River Clyde known as the Riverside Museum. Although autumn, we were still in the season for the boat that crosses from Govan on the south shore, so whilst my brother, sister-in-law and nephew drove straight to the museum for parking, my parents, other brother and myself drove to Govan and caught the little ferry over. I recognised many of the exhibits on display from the original museum, and whilst a little jumbled and cramped together in places, it was interesting enough to keep the various generations engaged. My parents could reminisce about the Glasgow of their childhood, and my nephew was enthralled with the trains and trams.

Moored up immediately outside is the Tall Ship Glenlee, which can be boarded and explored. We’d got there later than planned so unfortunately didn’t have time to get on her before it closed, but the promenade outside meant I could get a view of the river and Glasgow skyline that I hadn’t seen for so long. Some much needed investment in the city ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games has really revitalised the river bank which I always remember as being such a dump when I used to live there. The distinctive outline of the SECC on the north shore, and the science centre with its infamous tower on the south shore framed the river Clyde. Eventually, as the museum was reaching closing time, we caught the ferry back across to Govan to head home. My brother and I later went out to see Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont talking about his cycling adventures around the World.

 

After a day spent hanging out with my school friend and her kids, my nephew was in hospital for a routine visit the next morning, so I wasn’t going to be able to see him till later on. I decided to go for a walk round the suburbs I grew up in, and knowing that my high school had been bulldozed and replaced, I walked first to there to see how it had changed and beyond there I couldn’t believe how much housing and development had occurred. When I was young, my parent’s house was about a 10-15 min walk to the edge of the city and after that was miles of countryside. Fast forward a few decades and it is now a 30min walk to reach the countryside, and the paddock with the horses is gone, and the farm where I used to milk the cows is now a housing estate. The southern suburbs of Glasgow have exploded so much that for the people who live there, there is really no reason to go into the city at all with entertainment and shopping complexes all within easy reach.

 

I found myself eventually at Rouken Glen Park, location of various school events. I found wood carvings, maintained gardens and round the edge, a wilderness area through a woodland. Hidden here was waterfalls and old stone structures, and despite being a weekday, there were many people making use of the trails that cut through. Towards the southern end, I found myself at one of the park’s more well known features: a multi-tiered waterfall that flows under a stone arched bridge. I was amused to discover that the railing on the bridge had become the local ‘love-locket’ site. Copying the more famous locations in Europe where loved ones are immortalised on an engraved lock that gets attached to a bridge, there were plenty of them here too, and I read some of the engravings with feigned interest before walking round the nearby pond and then heading home.

 

After an afternoon playing with my nephew, my mum and I caught up with my aunt and cousin for dinner at Intu Braehead. I hadn’t been here before so my cousin gave me a tour to show me the indoor ski slopes and ice climbing centre that she takes her kids to. Next to the climbing centre near the entrance, I’d been eyeing up the giant helter skelter whilst my mum and I had waited for them to arrive, so I didn’t need much encouragement to have a go on it, and my cousin joined me for a slide down before we went for dinner. I hadn’t seen my cousin since her wedding in 2010 so it was great to have a chinwag after all these years.

But all good things must come to an end unfortunately and all too soon it was the last day and we spent it as a family together. Every time I go home, I insist on a group photo and this was the first time to include my nephew. I had an early morning flight back to Amsterdam the next day, so as always it was a sad farewell, this time before even going to bed as it was too early for my parents to get up the next morning. My brother kindly offered to get up and drive me to the airport at stupid o’clock in the morning, and before I knew it I was leaving Scottish soil behind once more.

Return to Glasgow

With my last minute plans to leave Amsterdam a day early, I threw my family for a bit of a loop, but thankfully they were still able to pick me up from the airport when I flew into Glasgow in the late afternoon. It had been over 2 years since I’d last seen them, but it took no time at all to slip back into the usual family dynamics as my dad drove us home through the rush hour traffic. My visit home last September was over 12 years after I’d moved away from the city and although I will always think of Glasgow as my home town, it is almost as foreign to me now as any other city I visit. The Glasgow that I remember from my student days has continued to morph and grow in my absence, and as such I love to play tourist every time I return.

On my previous visit in 2016, I spent 6 weeks gallivanting around Scotland and Iceland and although I had a fantastic time, by the end of it I felt that I hadn’t spent enough time with my family. So this time round, with just 2 weeks in the country, I went with no plans at all in order to have quality time with them, and especially to get to know my nephew who had spent the entirety of my last visit in NICU, completely oblivious to my presence. Emigrating to the other side of the World has meant sacrificing being present in my family’s lives and I have often felt jealous hearing about their time spent together and especially missing out on my nephew growing up. But meeting my nephew properly for the first time would have to wait as my unexpected early arrival meant he had plans the day after I arrived.

In 2016, I had a cracking day in Glasgow walking the Mural Trail, and there had been some new additions to the route since then, so I headed into the city on my first full day at home to take a wander around. I wasn’t so lucky with the weather this time unfortunately, but it could have been worse, so I spent the day making use of my legs and walking everywhere. I headed first to George Square which is surrounded by some iconic buildings, and was busy with people taking breaks from their work day. The distinctive pink banners stating ‘People Make Glasgow’ adorned the many lampposts surrounding the square and nearby the entire facade of a building had been turned pink with the same statement emblazoned on it. East of here was the beautiful mural painted by artist Smug of St Mungo as a baby. It ties in with Smug’s other portrait of St Mungo which I’d seen on my last visit to the city.

 

From George Street onto Duke Street I found myself at the Tennent’s Brewery. I’m not really a lager fan, and was just here for some more mural spotting, but on a whim (partly because some rain was threatening) I decided to sign into a brewery tour. A small group of us got shown round the various parts of the site before being taken back to a bar for a tasting session. My pint of Tennent’s lager was presented with a much more acceptable head than the Heineken I’d received in Amsterdam a few days prior, and we also got to taste some specialty brews including some much stronger ales. Suffice to say I was a little tipsy by the time I headed back out on the streets, cutting down the east-end streets of Glasgow to reach Glasgow Green, a place I hadn’t been to for an incredibly long time.

 

I found myself at the large Doulton fountain which was framed by the People’s Palace, one of the city’s museums. The sun was trying desperately to break through the clouds again, and after circling round the fountain to look at the ornate depictions on its circumference, I headed into the People’s Palace to look around. I’m a bit of a museum snob: I’m easily disappointed by them, with only a handful rating highly in my mind, so I wasn’t really fussed spending much time looking at the displays. I circled through only glancing at them, heading to the conservatory to wander around the plants before stopping for a late lunch in the cafe. I was excited to find they served coronation chicken sandwiches, one of those things that despite loving, had forgotten even existed. I’ve never seen it anywhere other than Scotland, so was quick to order and shovel one down when it came.

 

I had meant to wander through Glasgow Green to see the monument that had been erected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games but forgot about it, so instead of cutting through the Green, I headed back up to the main road to head west back into the city. On route, I found a couple more murals that I hadn’t seen including 1 of 3 that depicts Billy Connolly, or the Big Yin, one of Scotland’s most famous comedians and personalities. This first one I didn’t actually like, and the paint that had been used was too reflective so it was actually difficult to photograph. The rain had arrived by now, so I didn’t linger long, continuing on to the Merchant City.

 

Whilst Edinburgh is often lauded over by many foreign visitors, Glasgow has so many beautiful buildings and is brimming with statues and monuments. At the start of the Merchant City is the turreted clock tower which is faced by a mix of old and new style buildings. Whilst the Trongate at eye level looks like a collection of pubs and shops, a simple raising of the eye to the top half of the buildings reveals some stunning architecture. Heading along the Trongate towards Argyle Street brought back many memories of shopping trips with my mum when I was a kid, as I used to get brought to this part of the city to get clothes for the new school year.

 

Nearby was another Billy Connolly mural, my favourite of the three, and past here I headed into the St Enoch Centre shopping mall which had been revamped since I’d last been there, which was when I used to still live in Glasgow. Out the other side was the final Billy Connolly mural, overlooking the beer garden of a nearby pub. Unfortunately the rain returned with a vengeance, and after taking some photographs, it was time to make a hasty retreat so I headed into some shops to wait out the rain. Eventually though, the sun returned and I found the last of the murals I’d wanted to see, down an alleyway of Argyle Street, before heading up Buchanan Street, one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares, and another street with some beautiful buildings if you look up.

 

When I’d played tourist back in 2016, I had gone to the Lighthouse and headed up to an indoor observation room. I’d discovered later that I had completely missed a higher outdoor observation deck, so this time I headed back to the museum again to suss it out. Unlike the indoor viewing area which can be reached via elevator, the outdoor area involves climbing a spiral staircase and the outer area is quite cramped. But boy is it worth it for the view overlooking the rooftops of the city. Again, I’m totally biased when it comes to my love for Glasgow architecture, and although there are some modern buildings juxtaposed against the old, there is so much history evident looking across the older buildings that disappear into the distance, with domes and turrets poking up at regular intervals. From this vantage point, the bright pink facade of the ‘People Make Glasgow’ building could be seen once more behind Strathclyde University.

 

Finally, back in the rain, I headed to my favourite statue in the city, the Duke of Wellington, which stands proudly outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street. Famous for its permanent attire of a traffic cone, this statue sums up Glaswegians for me as well as showing that people really do make Glasgow. Edinburgh is a great city, but I will always love Glasgow more and I always wander it struggling to hide the grin that the sound of a Glaswegian accent puts on my face. Sometimes I can feel quite sad about the fact I don’t have a Glaswegian accent. It’s gone in my favour whilst abroad as people can usually understand me very well, but when I hear the Weegie patter spilling out Weegie banter, my little heart swells with pride like it does to the sound of bagpipes, and secretly I wish I sounded like I belong there.

Exploring Amsterdam

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life transiting in airports, and some airports have stolen more of my life than others. As a former resident of Scotland, London Heathrow was my often unavoidable transit stop to reach a large portion of overseas destinations. After yet more arduously long layovers at LHR on my previous two return trips to my Homeland since emigrating to New Zealand, I vowed to do my damndest to avoid this soul-sucker of an airport. So when it came to my most recent visit back to Scotland in September of last year, I had done some searching of alternate routes and decided that Amsterdam would be a great alternative, given that I had never been there before and it had great connections to Glasgow, my final destination.

My style of travel differs from one holiday to another. I stay in hostels in some places, hotels in others; and I’ve done B&Bs and motels too. Some trips are planned to the hour, others are spent winging it and making it up as I go along. I might be on a budget on this trip, or able to splurge on that trip. But I will always ensure I know how to get myself from the airport to my first night’s accommodation, and it is often the ease of transit to said accommodation that determines where I will stay. The city of canals and rivers has plenty of options and locations to choose from. The city’s main sights are spread about the city and there is a multitude of transport options to get around, so after doing some research on how I would get from the airport and which parts of the city I wanted to avoid, I ended up booking in at the Clink Noord hostel in Amsterdam Noord, an area of the city across the IJ river from the main city sprawl.

After 2 flights and my customary transit in Singapore’s Changi airport, I arrived in Amsterdam tired and eager to dump my stuff and shower. The train took me straight into Amsterdam Centraal in no time at all and then I just had to trundle my bag out to the river side, jump on the free ferry across the river and trundle across the canal and round the corner to the hostel. It was too early to check into the hostel but a shower was at least an option, so once freshened up I got straight back outside again to explore. I had 1.5 days in the city before moving onward, so with this full day, it was all about walking the city. Taking the free ferry back to the city side, it was all about my two feet and I prepared to walk until they gave out.

Amsterdam is a very busy city. The pavements are crammed full of people and the roads are as filled with cyclists as they are with cars. It took a lot of concentration to make sure I wasn’t mowed down by somebody in control of wheels. The canals full of boats begins immediately past the main train station, and following a vague route, I wove my way towards the Jordaan district. I really could not recount the exact route I followed that day. I just wanted an overview of the city and its highlights and had a rough idea of where some of the city’s more distinctive buildings were. This was definitely one of those trips where I’d done a bit of research, but was effectively making up my plans as I went. I’d missed European architecture, and although the streets can at times be narrow and struggle to remain fit for purpose in a modern World, I was in love with the style of the place, quick to acquire that grin that covers my face when I go to a place for the first time that I’ve long read about or seen photographs of. As I followed first one canal and then another, I was accompanied intermittently by the noise of a passing canal boat. They came in all shapes and sizes.

 

As I approached Anne Frank Huis, the streets got busier and busier. By avoiding Centrum, I’d managed to escape the worst of the crowds so far, but now I was in touristville and everywhere was packed. I managed to find a vacant table across the canal from Anne Frank Huis and settled in to drink some terrible coffee and consume a tasty sandwich while watching the World go by. People watching is a favourite pastime of mine. The sun was vaguely trying to push through the clouds and it was nice to feel a bit of warmth having come from the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

Once satiated, I pressed on with my wanderings. At the bridge by Westerkerk, I turned deeper into Jordaan in search of interesting side streets and photogenic canals. I had no desire to go to Anne Frank Huis and as the crowds outside attested it needs to be booked ahead. I do like historical sites and some museums, but I’m not a museumophile and don’t feel the need to go to a museum just because it’s famous. I did however stop at the Anne Frank monument on my way past as I gradually headed into the melee of Centrum.

 

I eventually found myself at De Dam near the National Monument. There was a buskers show taking place and the performer seemed to be stirring up a bit of controversy as there was some tension between him and a local man who was heckling him. This place was surrounded by distinctive buildings, and despite the crowds, I hung around for a bit taking photographs and acknowledging the immense number of tourists. Heading north from here seemed to be one of the main shopping districts and tram lines which I was quick to leave behind.

 

Nearing Amsterdam Centraal, which is prettier from this side of it than the IJ side, I picked my way via the canal system to the Red Light District. It is probably a very different experience at night, but most of the windows were inactive during the daytime. Instead it was an interesting and curious region to explore and the aroma of marijuana hung thick in the air in places. This was another busy place, full of tourists and devoid of locals. I ogled at shop windows as I went and contemplated popping into the Condomerie for some novelty condoms before deciding to pass on it. I also now know where to go if I ever want cheap sex toys whilst in Europe.

 

There are some pretty buildings here too, including Oudekerk. I really loved the Dutch churches and took detours to see as many as were nearby. The tall narrow buildings that line the canals are generally very picturesque too and I spent a lot of time looking up as I wandered. Eventually I found myself at Amstel, the large canal to the south of Centrum which was broader than all the other canals I’d seen so far and was full of boats powering along in one direction or another. I’d previously spotted a boat tour that looked a little more low key compared to some of the larger commercial canal boats, and decided I’d head back to go for a canal trip. However, I’d wandered in such a maze of streets and canals, that I couldn’t quite find it again and after a large chunk of the day on my feet, I decided it was time to head back across IJ and take a break.

 

After checking into the hostel properly, I organised a ticket for the A’Dam Toren which was almost next door. After posing for some obligatory silly photos as part of the entrance fee, I headed up to the rooftop where there was a 360o view and a bar. It was a cracking view in all directions, from the expanse of IJ either side, to the city rooftops beyond Amsterdam Centraal, and elsewhere the more industrial and residential portions of the city. There was even a glass floor inside offering a view directly down to the pavement below. After taking my fill of the view, it seemed only right to order a Heineken at the bar, but I was a little shocked to be presented it with such a head on top, accounting for around 20% of the proffered drink. In the UK, the British Beer & Pub Association states that poured beer shouldn’t be served with a head exceeding 5%, so this was a strange concept to me. I didn’t complain as I was on holiday and didn’t care enough to be pernickety but on enquiring with a Dutch friend, it turned out that this larger head was normal in the Netherlands. Eventually hunger took me back across the river again, and I joined the large queue at one of the city’s recommended fast food joints to partake in some friets, the quintessential Dutch fries with sauce.

 

My original flights had me in Amsterdam for 2.5 days, but after arriving in the country, I was worried about a short connection time on my way home so opted to split my Amsterdam trip in two. So the next day I had only the morning ahead of an afternoon flight to Scotland. As I didn’t know whether I would ever return to the Netherlands or not, it made sense to seek out a molen, or windmill, one of the iconic Dutch landmarks. Being in Amsterdam Noord, I noticed on my map that there was a molen within walking distance. About 40 minutes following the Noordhollandsch kanaal brought me to Krijtmolen d’Admiraal which was built in 1792. I’ve seen windmills before in Denmark but that seemed so long ago and I was glad that I’d gone out my way to see this one.

 

My last exploration before heading to the airport was the NDSM Werf on the bank of the IJ river. With the aid of Google Maps I took as direct a route from the molen as I could and this meant wandering through residential and industrial parts of the city. Whilst I didn’t see anything of particular note, it was still interesting to see the real Amsterdam, away from the tourist hot spots and the crowds. I saw nothing but locals going about their daily business and it was a side of Amsterdam that most visitors won’t see. My reason for visiting NDSM Werf was because I’d read that it was a bit of a mecca for graffiti art which I am a fan of. There wasn’t a lot of activity when I got there, and the place was more industrial than the industrial chic that I was led to expect, but there was plenty of artwork on the walls and even a crane that had been converted into a hotel. I absorbed as much of the art as I could, including a stunning mural of Anne Frank by the incredible Brazilian artist Kobra, before working my way back to the hostel to grab my belongings. There was still plenty of things to see on my return, but my tired legs could attest to the amount of ground I’d covered on my time in the city so far. Now, there was just a few hours between me and seeing my family for the first time in 2 years.

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