Amsterdam for a short break & London on the cheap.

Here goes, two cities in one blog.

Right from the very beginning Amsterdam was on the ‘must visit’ list. Mike visited here numerous times when working for TNT, staying there for anything from a few days to three weeks and he LOVED it. Me? I visited in 1985 at the end of tour around Europe and I wasn’t so sure but I was open to changing my mind. So off to Amsterdam we went, and straight away it impressed me as a place with style. The airport was functional but stylishly so, the taxi from the airport was sleek and electric, the houses we passed on the way in were tall and handsome. (Ed – like her husband). It was a good start! It was an early morning flight from Rome so after dropping off our bags in the hotel we were off and the Dam Square was our goal. We walked via a park and some little lanes, then past canals and trams and there we were, in the Dam Square. Everything you would expect, a big open space, lots of eateries and lots of bikes. The lack of cars and the resulting quiet in the centre of Amsterdam gives a sense of calm and peace, even with lots of people. After a wander to get our bearings we went to the World Press Photography exhibition. This was held in the New Church right in Dam Square. A moving and very well laid out exhibition.We finished our day with canal cruise, a great way to see different aspects of Amsterdam.

The rest of our two day stay was taken up with activities that all involved lots of walking, around streets, parks and museums. The highlight was the Rijksmuseum. What a place! It was restored and renovated a few years ago and the building itself is beautiful. The items on display are incredible, an amazing collection of medieval art which I just love, plus all kinds of artifacts and paintings from ancient times to the very modern. This was incredible and worth coming to Amsterdam for. No real food highlights here, although we did find a very nice Dutch Apple Cake! Amsterdam is great place to visit for a short break, stylish, friendly and welcoming. I’d come back!

From Amsterdam it was off to London. We flew with Garuda Indonesia. I last flew them in 1985 on a direct flight from London to Sydney. It took 4 days due to breakdowns and it really was not a good flight, it was just a good price. Well, how things have changed. We thought we had landed seats in premium economy, but no, this was economy, and it had leg room and the ticket included food and drink. Sadly it was only a 40 minute flight, I wanted it to continue!

London. Firstly, the most expensive accomodation so far this year but just about the cheapest we could get and still be in central London, however, sadly it was one of the worst rooms we have had this year, although Ho Chi Min City comes close. We won’t bore you with the details, let’s just say everything about London is expensive especially when you are spending $NZ. So serious budgeting and London on the cheap was the what we needed.

Our first day was excellent, we meet up with Stephanie Burgess, an ex student of mine, and off we went to sung Matins at St Pauls Cathedral. What a beautiful and moving experience, well worth attending, from here it was a coffee and planning stop. Walking along the Embankment sounded like a good idea so off we went. We saw Big Ben, Parliament Buildings, New Scotland Yard and Westminister Cathedral (as opposed to Westminster Abbey). This looked amazing and we decided it would require another visit. By now it was time to head to Oxford Street to meet up with more kiwi friends Ann and Phil, we had a hilarious time in a cafe hearing each others travel stories.

The rest of our trip involved visiting places that cost little or nothing, which is surprisingly easy to do in London. We  returned to visit Westminister Cathedral and it was well worth the going, this is a newish church in comparison to some we have visited as it was built in the early 1900’s, the tower gives amazing views around London (this cost GBP6 each). We visited Buckingham Palace, Convent Garden, the V&A, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square and Borough Markets.

All of these were great to visit and I would recommend them if you come to London. These places were all free to enter and easy to access if you use local transport. We had a weekly transport ticket that cost us GBP37 each, again the most expensive transport deal we have had so far. Food wise, well Pret-a-Manger did well out of us, they produce healthy and reasonably priced sandwiches, salads and hot food. We could easily eat for less than GBP5 each per meal. Pubs and cafes would have cost us at least GBP15 each per meal. While our money is not running out (yet) it does have to last another 6 months and some places require more budgeting than others.

This will sound sacreligous to some of you but it turns out that London isn’t our favourite big city, we are glad we came but we won’t be rushing back. Other cities have beaten it hands down, Hanoi, KL, Barcelona, Rome….oh and Paris where we are right now, but more about that later.

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