SAY ‘no’ to spending 90% of your holiday on a tour bus.
Say ‘no’ to your tour guiding leading the way with a dorky umbrella.
Say ‘no’ to using giant maps that just scream ‘I am a tourist’.
Over the Easter long weekend I packed my bag and headed to meet my Topdeck Travel Amsterdam tour group in central London, hoping to find a company which shared my tour group philosophy. Luckily, it started by sharing my packing philosophy – with the lack of baggage charges for the coach we’d be taking resulting in a slightly bigger suitcase than usual.
It was a bright and early start, and after a warm and friendly introduction and briefing from our guide we all caught up on some forty winks as we drove down to Dover where we were to board our ferry across the English Channel to mainland Europe.
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere in the world
Aboard the ferry as the clock struck midday it was time for our first of many ciders – the perfect way to break the ice and start to get to know our fellow travellers. One ferry ride, two ciders and three new friends later we were in France. However, there was no time for cheese and baguettes as it was time to board our coach and head towards the city of the damned – via Belgium. Yes, that’s right, four countries in one day.
As we powered down the highway on our Topdeck coach our delightful and passionate guide told us some fun facts about Amsterdam, also giving us an overview of our very flexible schedule. She highlighted optional activities we could be involved in, from bike rides to visiting the red light district – customising everyone’s trip to suit their individual desires.
My time in Amsterdam was going to be all about relaxing, partying, exploring the town, going to see the blooming tulips and sampling Amsterdam’s most famous delights. Waffles, that is – what were you thinking?
Sampling the nightlife
Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at our very comfortable and centrally located hostel. Once we got settled we headed off on a walking tour of the local area to get us ‘down with the 411’ of where we were – the closest ATM, how to stumble home after a big night out and what the difference between a ‘coffee shop’ and a ‘cafe’ is in Amsterdam. With a thirst starting to develop it was time to hit the pub crawl. What better way to spend your first night out with new people in a new city than sampling the local nightlife. With drink specials and a huge variety of pubs and clubs visited I am sure you can guess how the night went. Luckily, staying in one location meant no early start the next morning.
Exploring the city
I decided to spend my first day with my new friends exploring the city and visiting a few cafes. Following recommendations from our guide we visited the canals, the floating flower market and the red light district. After a very leisurely late lunch we walked back to our hostel to freshen up for the big night we had planned with the ‘not so faint hearted’ of the tour group – a trip to see some ‘local theatre’. Being in a group and having someone pick the show and organise the tickets made for an easy and stress free night out. It also ensured that we all got to experience one of Amsterdam’s leading attractions in a relaxed way – read: we didn’t have to pluck up the courage to ask the doorman: “How much for a ticket to the banana show.”
Taking in the tulips
Our final full day in Amsterdam featured a free tour to the Keukenhof tulip fields. With spring in the air and with the flowers just starting to bloom we managed to snap plenty of pictures of the beautiful tulips worthy of computer screen saver status.
Just as we were getting into the holiday swing of things and starting to stop and smell the tulips, it was time to head back to London. On the way back to the ferry terminal our guide told us she had one more surprise for us.
The coach pulled up at a small farm house in the middle of the countryside which you would never go to unless you knew the local area. We were greeted by an extremely eccentric man akin to Willy Wonka who took us on a tour of his factory – one of clogs and cheese, not chocolate. We nibbled on homemade cheese as he made a clog using traditional machinery. We then ate more cheese and bought cheese to eat on the way home. With everyone in a bit of a cheese coma, we travelled through Belgium and France and boarded the ferry back to England.
As the White Cliffs of Dover came in full view we all knew it was time to face reality again. Although we were all sad the trip was over we knew we were leaving with great new friends, a personalised travel experience that we will never forget and enough money left in our banks to hurry home and book our next adventure.