How lovely is Amsterdam, where we’ve been spending the weekend doing the tourist thing of cruising around the canals, dodging high-speed cyclists and being titillated by the ready availability of soft drugs. Cue the “you should never do drugs” conversation with the kids, which presents its own particular hazards. Which is the lesser evil – the tawdry truth or dogged repetition of the party line? “What, you never even tried one tiny, little puff?”
On arrival, we find the hotel is delightfully luxe and the fact that we’ve got the rooms at a last minute, bargain bucket rate does nothing to detract from the pleasure of pretending that we’re taking all this indulgence absolutely for granted. After all, at home, one’s staff always turn down the duvet and place a foil-wrapped chocolate mint on the pillow to greet one as one slips between crisp, freshly laundered sheets. Jacuzzi, steam room, spa treatments? All part of the daily routine, naturally.
Then there’s the highlight of any weekend away – the hotel breakfast. We tell ourselves that if we eat a big breakfast, we won’t need lunch. Plus we’re going to need all the energy we can get if we’re to elbow our way through the teeming hordes of fellow sightseers, all united by the single aim of ticking the Rembrandts and Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum off their “been there, done that” list. And so we tuck in. Creamy homemade yoghurt with a good dollop of stewed fruit? Fill up the bowl. And why not follow it with several rashers of bacon, a couple of sausages, scrambled egg and half a dozen grilled tomatoes? Smoked salmon, pickled herrings, brie? Oh, go on then. And it really would be a shame to miss out on that crusty artisan bread, or the baby croissants, or those fluffy sugar and cinnamon-dipped buns that must surely be a local specialty. We can always diet when we get back home, right?
Armed with maps and cameras, we set off for the streets and squares of the old town. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Dutch take flowers seriously. Every bridge is adorned by an impressive display of geraniums, petunias and lobelia, which someone must water daily. Hollyhocks, jasmine and plumbago sprout enthusiastically from tiny strips of earth between apartment blocks and pavements. It occurs to me that September is the perfect time to stock up on tulip bulbs to brighten up our borders with splashes of orange, scarlet and mauve come next April. Off we trot in the direction of the flower market, the kids squabbling good-naturedly, the spouse getting distracted by bric a brac at the flea market. The perfect recipe for contentment.