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What’s the best way to end your mini break?  An impromptu overnight drive from Amsterdam to Buckingham followed by a cheery morning scrubbing shit off your tent sleeping compartment.

We left the stinking, warm, moist, dead worms behind on the stinking, warm, moist grass of Gaasperplas but the orange smears followed us all the way home.   2,000 gallons of water, one bottle of disinfectant, a pan scrubber, one pair of non-disposable rubber gloves, that were disposed of, and one towel later the tent was clean.  That and the way the tents all nuzzled up to one another with tangled strings, the high prison camp metal security fence with its razor top to keep the locals out and the traffic roar from the adjacent motorway has ensured we will return to a different campsite next time.

Camping in Amsterdam - view from the tent

Camping in Amsterdam – view from the tent

What’s the best way to start your mini break?  A seven hour drive and ferry ride from Buckingham to Amsterdam? Queuing for an hour and a half to enter your chosen hell hole while the sun rapidly sinks beneath the horizon? Watching endless camper vans being ushered through the security gate before you?  Hoping the light won’t fade before the tent’s up? Finding out, once you’ve got the tent up, you can’t go back through the security gate into the community without a 30 euro security pass key and that the campsite reception that sells them won’t open until 8.30 the next morning? Finding out that the local tower blocks and urban hell we have driven through to get here is so socially deprived that campers are advised not to leave the campsite on foot after dark? Realising that I am locked into the worst campsite I’ve ever been to in my life with one tin of beans, bran flakes and 0.5 litres of UHT milk and three hungry children aged 13, 15 and three and that the three year old has slept soundly all day feeling a little lively and very chatty?  That the campsite air is thick with the smell of weed and my children are breathing it?

At least when we were bedding down we had yet to learn that there was less than a millimeter of ground sheet between us and plenty of soft, skiddy, orange excrement.

Welcome to Amsterdam – Welkom op Amsterdam

The rest of Amsterdam was fantastic.  I was hoping the bike hire place would run out of child seats before we arrived so I wouldn’t have to cycle in traffic with my three year old on the back. It hadn’t so once we found a bike short enough for my short legs we were off.  The Dutch have mastered child seats.  No. 5 was rammed up against my back shrieking at the top of her voice, “Mummy’s lost her balance” but I didn’t even wobble.

I learned if you don’t want to inflict head injuries on your kids you shouldn’t buy a bike that can only accommodate child seats so far away from your body that slight baby movements are magnified into something akin to an elephant sitting on the end of a very long seesaw.  I could have avoided some nasty falls with the two younger boys had I been a bit more in touch with Archimedes and levers.

Anyway, we cycled for hours and hours up and down beautiful canals, got completely lost in side streets, visited scores of the fantastic playgrounds and parks that are dotted everywhere, saw markets, ate at street stalls – pancakes spread with Nuttella, ice-cream and burgers (boys) and saw no museums.  We did ride past a three hour queue for Anne Frank’s house and went down and up in the cylindrical glass lift to the main foyer to the Rijkmuseum where we read posters about not connecting with or understanding great art.  Maybe we over identified with them or maybe a hyperactive three year old put us off – it was nearly closing time.

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We did what can only be done in Amsterdam, cycled around the cycling paths absorbing Amsterdam.  We glimpsed real live prostitutes standing in pink lit doorways,  They seemed to be wearing more than the average beach user but the boys seemed very pleased with our brief encounter.  We encountered a group of drunk men dressed in matching t shirts on a stag do – they were English.  We saw tacky clog and windmill souvenirs, flowers and very few cars considering we were in the middle of a city.

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Our mini break ended with a mini tour of the illuminated centre of Brugges at 2.00 am.  It was a bit creepy.  Like being in a computer game golden stone toy town maze with no other humans and lots of dead ends and window displays of chocolate.

We got back to find son no. 1 (almost 20) and his girlfriend had returned to the family home and were packing to go to another festival – Boomtown? I can’t remember which one.  For some inexplicable reason they had a little Red Riding Hood style wicker basket of eggs.  While I was de-shitting the tent, ALL ON MY OWN, daughter no. 5 had a marvellous time recreationally cracking eggs on herself, the floor and the kitchen chairs.  Son no. 2 (18 yrs) was expecting us back a day later and has a once a week approach to washing up.  We could see he’d eaten well and been entertaining.  It wasn’t as bad as some of our other returns from a weekend away.  More of that to come.

The best part of out break was spending time with two happy, companionable, communicative teenagers who got on with each other and with me and were very good at looking out for their little sister.

Back to processing photos of Victorian chemises and bloomers.

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Catherine xx

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