‘Angels of Amsterdam – the warm welcome and the sad farewell – part 4’


It has taken my a long time to get around to writing this. The reason will become obvious I hope.

Hub had already had his go on the train so I requested a taxi ride back to Schipol on the morning of our departure. As befitted the early hour, our taxi driver was not a chatty chap. He knew where departures were however and that was what we needed.

I don’t like lilies.

Well, they don’t like me. Their smell makes me sneeze and on the rare occasions when I’ve got close to them, their pollen brings me out in a rash.

The huge round beds of orange lilies outside Schipol Airport are a sight for sore eyes however (and free publicity for Easyjet).

We hurried past them however and made for the assistance desk.

Another member of staff with impeccable English took my details, thanked us for arriving early and showed us where to sit and wait till our assistant arrive.

I didn’t really appreciate how vast Schipol Airport was when we arrived, but in the daylight now, full of people at 0745.

And what people! Families with multicoloured suitcases ranging in size from the tiny ride-on animals belonging to the children, to the huge Samsonite beasts that almost overwhelmed the luggage trolleys.

Impeccably dressed stewardesses and pilots with their cabin-size suitcases pulled effortlessly behind them.

Couples bringing their elderly mothers to the assistance desk in order to be transported by buggy or wheelchair like me.

Who knows where they were all going; on holiday, business trips, or coming home like us.

Our assistant Bilde, was young, very elegant and extremely competent.  She whisked us through security and into the golf buggy with breathtaking efficiency and told us that this was her last week in the airport because she was going off to learn how to be a train driver – her ambition since a child.

We also discovered that her family originated from England, from the same city as Bezzie Mate.  In fact her auntie lived in the same area as BM and her nana lived a few miles away.

Whilst we waited to be taken down to the plane, Hub amused himself by spotting the planes out on the tarmac, among them a Malaysian Airlines 777.

We got on our plane at 0915.  Hub had to sit behind me this time but like the soppy things we are, we held hands at take off and landing – which also took place at 0915.


It was a beautiful day. Our jolly assistant sped us through Liverpool customs and finally, at passport control I heard the words that I had been longing to hear ever since I’d been horribly depressed by my new passport.

The official looked at my passport, looked at me, looked at my passport again. I took off my glasses. He shook his head and said, “You look much better than your picture.”


A slow hoppy limpy walk down to the car, and driving home in the sunshine.

Loved Amsterdam. Loved the Dutch  people and warm, welcoming attitude. We both decided that we’d be going back there soon

An uproarious welcome from the Scoob; a slightly more restrained greeting from the Gap Boy one he had discovered that all we’d brought home was some smelly cheese, chilli liquorice and a windmill fridge magnet.

“I told you not to cover the new fridge with magnets!”

Order ignored.

We unpacked slowly, put washing in the machine, made lunch, hugged the dog and life gradually returned to normal.

It was mid afternoon when we heard the news.

Malaysian Airlines MH17.

Shot down over the Ukraine.

298 on board.

The sun went in and with each bulletin the news brought more tragedy. So many families on board, young couples, experts heading for an AIDS conference, two football fans having the trip of a lifetime to watch their team.

193 lovely Dutch people.

Nobody on that plane had anything to do with the issues in Ukraine or Russia.

Neither the Ukrainians or the Russians will accept responsibility for what happened.

Was the plane shot down deliberately or was it some trigger happy moron?


Within hours the orange lilies at Schipol were surrounded by flowers for those who were lost in the crash.  People from ten different countries were on that plane but it was those from the  Netherlands that suffered the greatest loss.

Did we see any of the passengers on MH17 when we were laughing and joking with Bilde on our way to the plane?

Were some of the elderly parents we sat with at the assistance desk on board?

It’s been nearly a month now and the hostilities between the Ukraine and Russia have made it difficult for the crash scene to be fully investigated and all the human remains repatriated.

So my avatar remains as a tribute to them.

Bring them home.


‘Angels of Amsterdam – gracious tables and falling from grace – part 3’


I managed to do some Tai Chi in the confines of the hotel bedroom when I woke up.

Hub was still asleep so I did my version of a silent disco – earphones in and Tai Chi music playing on my Blackberry – I can hear it but no one else can.

The Pore Ole Leg was still complaining after having to sit still during the canal cruise  the night before, but gentle exercise frees it up a bit and Hub wanted me to see the big square that he had discovered in his ramblings.

When we were talking about going to Amsterdam, we received two stock pieces of advice; ‘you must go to the red light district‘ and ‘you must try one of those cafes – you know – the ones that sell (hushed voice) drugs‘.

You can’t walk around Old Amsterdam without smelling the whiff of cannabis in the air.  The seed cafes are prolific and if we had wanted to – we could have – but Hub didn’t want to and despite reassurance from several sources that a bit of cannabis might do the POL the world of good, my liver was already working overtime trying to cope with my legitimate drug regime – so we sniffed (and occasionally inhaled) but we did not partake.

When we were checking in on the first night, our receptionist gave us a map and circled the places of interest.

One of these was the red light district.

She advised us to go in the daytime and not to take pictures because many of the girls sitting – or standing – behind the plate glass, were students earning money to supplement their grants, and their parents were not aware of what they were doing.

Another receptionist said that many of the girls were Eastern Europeans, lured by the promise of legitimate jobs, who found themselves penniless, with no jobs and nowhere to go. A hard choice – not really a choice at all.

We decided therefore to walk/limp to the big square and into the red light district (and out again).

It was very hot and I didn’t bring a hat.

By the time we got to our destination – now known as Dam Platz – I was melting.

I fully understood what Hub meant by it being the best place to people watch however.

Surrounded by hotels and cafes with outside seating, gift shops,  a huge Madame Tussauds, various monuments and structures, and densely populated by tourists, workers and people dressed as Death; it was busy and bustling and mind-boggling.

Hub hustled me into a gift shop and I bought the least ostentatious baseball cap I could find – black denim with ‘Amsterdam’ in fairly small and discrete lettering.

With my head cooled, we sat on a block of marble and watched the world whizzing past.  I rather liked the girl who was making giant bubbles that floated lazily across the platz.  I also liked the poor soul dressed as a soldier in multicoloured chain mail but both of the Deaths were far behaving in far too flippant and un-Deathlike a manner to be acceptable.

Avoiding almost certain death (and I’m not being flippant this time) under the wheels of mad moped riders, we managed to get onto the correct side of the road to enter the – deh deh dehhhhhh – red light district.  The transition was fairly gradual; fast food shops gave way to sex shops and as we moved into the heart (?) of the district, we began to see full length plate-glass windows with hot pink tinsel streamers.

Neither of us really looked that closely.

We were both thinking of starving students and homeless immigrants.

We saw nothing to titillate or excite, just sadness and exploitation.

Weak and wobbly, we found a cafe by a canal.

Most of the people sitting at the tables outside were elderly and obvious long-time residents who viewed the curious tourists like ourselves with an air of resignation.

The cafe served the world’s best non-alcoholic pina colada smoothie though.

This is the photo we took of the red light district.


When we were on the canal cruise, we were told that the reason for these very tall, thin houses was because people were taxed on the width of their property.  So the canny people of Amsterdam built very narrow houses, often with only one room on each floor.  To compensate they went upwards and the elegant arched windows at the top were often just a facade to make the house owner look as if they had more money.

We liked the thin houses.

Drinks finished with, we made our way back into the bustle of Dam Platz and headed back to the hotel for a mega flop – and – courtesy of the hotel broadcasting Beeb 1 and 2 (as well as Chicken Noodle News) – ‘Flog It’ and ‘Pointless’.

I felt a pang of homesickness when ‘Pointless’ ended.  Scooby knows that the theme music means dinnertime.  I knew that Gap Boy wouldn’t forget to feed him but at that moment I missed Scoob’s doggy grin, over enthusiastic tail and drooling issues SO much.

It may have been the heat, it may have been the walking, it may have been the sadness of the red light district and missing Scoobs, but we both felt the need to stay indoors for dinner that night and be cossetted by the hotel staff.

We were well looked after at breakfast, and when we popped in for happy hour, but that was nothing compared to the gracious behaviour of the staff who waited on us during dinner.

Nothing was too much trouble. In more than impeccable English, the food was described by our waiter so enticingly, that making a choice was very difficult – we went with his recommendations and were not disappointed. The trio of sorbets I had for pudding was an absolute delight.

Amsterdam and the lovely inhabitants had already hooked us, now we were truly wrapped up in bliss  – from the food, the courtesy, the kindness and the attitude of people who made us feel very special.

We were leaving early in the morning and I had decided that although I liked the double-decker trains, a taxi to Schipol would be better.  The concierge booked the taxi and I paid the bill the night before so that we would have less to worry about in the morning – yes, yes – OCD. I don’t deny it.

Back in the room we packed all but the essentials, and full of good food and wine (Hub – not me), the day set on our last full day in Amsterdam.

I had come to the conclusion that it would be churlish to reject the kind assistance offered at the airport and was almost looking forward to being shepherded around the airport in a wheelchair – so was the POL..

‘Angels of Amsterdam – part 1’


My lovely Hub was presented with some vouchers to be used towards travel from his airport – a nice tribute for having been there for more than twenty years. We ummed and erred and decided on a short break in Amsterdam because Hub had visited Schipol Airport for work purposes and wanted to see more, and because it was somewhere I’d always wanted to go.

He bought the flights and I booked the hotel – we got good deals because we booked so far in advance.

This had its disadvantages too.

Ever since the attack of the kidney stones, my back has been causing me grief.  Lack of exercise has also made the arthritis in my knee swell up and become very tender.

I am hopping and limping with my stick in addition to seeing my wonderful osteopath, but the pain stops me from getting more than two hours sleep at a time, I should take out shares in Ibuprofen and my motivation is sadly sapped by the sleep deprivation.

Our romantic break in Whitby was severely hampered by the pore ole leg (POL), and as the trip to Amsterdam came closer, I wondered if I would be able to manage.

Hub booked seats on the plane with extra leg room for me – we were side by side on the way out and he sat behind me and held my hand over the top of the seat on the way back.  He also requested special assistance as the POL makes me go very slowly and it gets tired if I make it walk too far.

At my last physio treatment before Amsterdam, my osteopath expressed concerns about the lack of progress in freeing up my back and easing the pain in my POL.  He suggested going to see a doctor – they don’t normally do that .

I called the surgery on the way home and was amazed to find that there was a cancellation at twenty to eight that night – with the GP that I have been boycotting for the past eighteen and a half years because he was mean to me once.

Pain and panic forced my hand.  Hub came with me and promised to referee or hand me tissues depending on the GP’s attitude.

Perhaps both of us have mellowed over the years.  He was actually very kind.  Impressed by the fact that I can touch my toes (I shouldn’t be able to), stick my POL up in the air whilst lying on my back (I shouldn’t be able to) and do Tai Chi every morning (I shouldn’t be able to do that either).

He told me not to worry too much about my raised blood pressure – that could be due to the Ibuprofen,  to get as much exercise as possible, to go to Amsterdam and have a lovely time, and to come back afterwards and have a cortisone injection in my knee. Hmmmmm.

He also prescribed some amitryptiline  and explained that although it was an anti-depressant, it was used in small doses to overcome nerve pain.

I used to work for a neurologist before Uni Boy was born and I can vaguely remember this being one of his treatments too.  So Hub and I took my prescription off to the very nice pharmacist in Tesco – who was sympathetic about the POL because he had one too, and advised that one tablet would be enough and to make sure that I took it around seven pm or I’d turn into a zombie – better than a gremlin anyway.

The standard dose for adults is 75mg per day and I was on 10mg per day so I didn’t think the side effects would be too bad. Hmmmmmm. I took two tablets the first night and the second. Not a good idea.

Sleep deprivation has enhanced my dormouse-like abilities to nod off whenever the action stops – if only for a few moments. The addition of the amitriptyline turned me into the walking dead – no more playing ‘Bejewelled Blitz’ on my laptop in the early hours – my eyes wouldn’t stay open. I also got impressive dizzy spells – which go under the heading of ‘acceptable side effects’. (Acceptable to who?)

Bezzie Mate came to stay for the weekend before we went away.  I managed to limp around Tesco with him without falling over, and once Hub had woken from his post night shift slumbers, we went off to what was left of an air day at a local airfield.

How can people leave when the planes are still in the air and performing so courageously?

Love the sound of them, love the sight of them wheeling and crossing trails in the sky, even love the smell – from a distance though because close to makes me wheezy. Hub and BM had a wonderful time taking pictures and talking about planes.  I sat in my director’s chair and lapped up the sights, sounds and the evident enjoyment of my two favourite plane spotters.

BM went back Home that night and the next day was spent packing and getting ready for our seven pm flight.

We just had cabin luggage; I had been awfully efficient and researched what we were allowed to take with us.  Finding the right size resealable plastic bags was a trial – being summertime the shops were sold out and the OCD in me did not want to wait till we got to the airport to get them.  I had to leave my face cream at home because the economy size pot was too big.

My Kindles, the electric toothbrush and our cameras were put at the top of the cases but in fact Security were only interested in the Kindles.  The guard wanted to know where I got the case for my Paperwhite from.

To backtrack slightly; we called at the special assistance desk when we arrived at the airport, and I very foolishly turned down the offer of a helper and a wheelchair. We were told to go through the wheelchair section of security anyway.  It was much quicker but very painful when the guard patted down my POL and I nearly shot through the roof.

We sat at the gate and waited for assistance to arrive as promised.  Our seats were in the front row of the plane and we thought that meant we would be boarded first and exit last – so as not to hold anyone else up.

Our special assistance helper turned out to be a very small girl in an over large high vis jacket. I was glad that I hadn’t said yes to the wheelchair – so embarrassing if it had been too heavy to push.

She was very sweet and led us down to the apron via the lift.

The other passengers were already boarding and I had visions of having to wait for them all before I could make my slow and stately progress up the stairs.

Not so; this tiny girl marched forward and stopped the passengers with great authority.  She followed us up the stairs and waited until the hosties took over.  I was impressed.

I love flying.  I love the moment when the plane leaves the ground and never fail to marvel at the fact that this great lump of steel is flying gracefully through the air. With Hub beside me and room to stretch out the POL, my stress levels subsided.

Only an hour in the air and we arrived at the same time we left – technically.

If I felt well looked after at Liverpool, then Schipol assistance staff made me feel like royalty.  Declining the wheelchair again (oh foolish pride!) we were escorted to a minibus and driven (for miles it seemed) into the airport.  They handed us over to the most charming of young men who, though slightly disappointed in my wheelchair refusal, lashed said chair to a buggy and whizzed us through to passport control.

On finding that we were getting the train into Amsterdam, he then escorted us to the ticket office, told us what tickets to get and then took us down to the correct platform.  His English was impeccable and his courteous manner even better. We were sad to see him go. We had no idea however that he was only the first of our Amsterdam Angels. Curious coincidence 1 – his sister lives in London and works for King – the company responsible for Bejewelled Blitz.

The train was a revelation – it was a double-decker! We sat on the emergency seats on the mezzanine so that I didn’t have to do stairs.  It was still light and Hub, a lover of trains as well as planes, was happy as a pig in muck as he gazed out of the windows.

We knew that our hotel was near to the station so we decided to walk.  Hub had the two cases on wheels; I had me, the POL and a stick.  We stopped on a bridge over the canal and took the picture at the top of this blog. I felt relieved that we were nearly there.

I am not good at crossing big roads.

When I was ten years old I was knocked over by a green station wagon whilst crossing the road in the middle of town.  I came off quite well – a cut to my ankle and a grazed knee. Unfortunately they banged my head on the roof of the ambulance when putting me in and I had to stay in hospital overnight because of the concussion.

It left me with a fear of big roads though.

I managed to control the fear over the years until the day when, after dropping the boys off at school I tripped over crossing the big road that stood between me and the bus stop for work. Falling into the path of the fast lane, I managed to throw myself forward and land closer to the kerb.

I got up.

I didn’t cry.

I caught the bus to work although my knees ached, my hands were grazed and I wanted someone to pick me up and take me somewhere safe (preferably not bumping my head on the roof at the same time).

At my last but one workplace, there was a big road to cross in order to get to the bus stop.  I got palpitations every time I crossed it. A friend in the next office found out about my fear and made a point of calling in as he was leaving to see if I wanted to cross the road with him.

Of course I did.

Hub is aware of my fear – as is BM – and they are both very solicitous about getting me across the big roads. They both have very reassuring arms.

We had been warned about the bicycles  and scooters in Amsterdam.  I knew there were trams – and cars – and even at ten thirty at night – lots of people and noise.

The green man crossings were a welcome and familiar sight but the combination of POL, big road panic, lack of Hub’s ever protective arm, a dizzy spell, tiredness and a protruding tram line and I was down.

Like a sack of spuds.

Hub left the cases and was by my side – I was still on the tram line with a big white and blue monster bearing down on me.

From nowhere it seemed, an angel in long dark pigtails who spoke beautiful English was there at my other side.

“We must get your wife off the tram line.  It is very dangerous here. I will help you.”

And she did.  The kind words, her firm but safe hands, Hub’s arm and the good old stick got me up off the floor and to the safety of the island.

The temptation to blub and shake was very strong but it vanished as the angel admired my newly polished purple glittering nails (thank you Sarah) and then imparted the following information:

  • Think bicycle/scooter first – then tram – and always use the crossings with the green man because the trams won’t move until you are clear and the red man lights up
  • Be careful in the very touristy areas because pickpockets are rife
  • Don’t buy a one hour tram ticket – you can’t get anywhere in that time and a twenty-four hour ticket is much better value
  • Visit Smits Koffiehuis by the station. the food is good, they speak English and it is next door to the Tourist Information Bureau – the VVV.

She showed us the way to our hotel. shook hands, wished us luck and was gone – back into the night.

Our hotel was just around the corner. The receptionist was very sympathetic about my fall, also spoke excellent English, and within a few moments we were in the lift and in our peaceful air con room courtesy of another angel.

POL was sore.  Other leg took the brunt of the fall and has some very impressive bruises.

But we had arrived.  We were safe.

And Amsterdam was proving to be a place of kind angels.