Friday, 2 December 2022

Testing the waters in Amsterdam at Hannekes Boom

It was an interesting voyage to the Netherlands from Southampton, and I was wondering exactly how we would reach the Dutch capital, seeing as Amsterdam faces east, onto the Ijsselmeer, and we would be approaching from the east. An announcement from the captain, in one of his few daily updates, revealed all, as he explained the ship would be entering the North Sea Canal, via two large sea-locks, which would then take us directly into the city centre, from the west.

The locks are large enough to accommodate ocean-going liners, such as Queen Victoria, and after a short transit time we leisurely traversed this flat and rather tranquil areas of the Netherlands. The sun was shining, and the surrounding countryside was looking both pleasant and serene, and by the time our vessel sailed into the Port of Amsterdam, Mrs PBT’s and I were sitting in the restaurant, enjoying a spot of lunch. We weren’t in a great hurry to leave the ship, as we knew it would take time to berth, moor up and then wait for the land-bridge to be moved into place.

We returned to our cabin, put on our coats and walking shoes, made sure we’d got our passports, plus ship’s boarding passes, and headed down to the disembarkation deck. After swiping out, we traipsed along the covered walkway leading to the exit from the Amsterdam Cruise terminal. Despite having our passports with us, as instructed, there were no immigration officials present, and no one asked to see our papers.

This was all very different from our previous cruise when, after docking at Hamburg, our passports were examined, and stamped. Perhaps the Dutch are rather more laid back than their German counterparts, said I but, as Mrs PBT’s pointed out, details such as our passport numbers and photos were all held on the Victoria’s manifest and would be made available to the Dutch authorities, if required.

It was about a twenty-minute walk into the city, which is marked by the imposing Amsterdam Central Station. Unlike me, Mrs PBT’s has never been one for walking far, and even though her hospitalisation and spell in ICU, was nearly five years ago, still suffers from mobility issues. So, sensing that she was struggling, I suggested we pop into the nearest bar, and grab a drink, and rethink our strategy from there.

Looking back, we should perhaps have taken a cab – there were several waiting outside the cruise terminal, but I’ve never been a taxi person, preferring to walk if possible, or make use of public transport. Eileen, on the other hand, has always championed taxis as a means of getting around. Talking to a number of fellow passengers, later that evening, we learned that several of them had taken cabs into the city centre, as they considered the walk to be too long.

We were roughly hallway towards the station when I suggested the nearby bar as a compromise, and Eileen agreed that it seemed the best option. I’d already noticed signs for a bar called “Delirium”, as we walked towards a bridge over one of the canals. The bar was directly below us and, as the signs pointed out, overlooked the water. Eileen wondered what sort of bar Delirium was, but I’d recognised that the logo and the signage were identical to those I’d seen several years ago in Brussels. I therefore knew exactly what to expect – a bar offering a wide selection of around 500 different beers.

Convinced I was telling the truth, and that it wasn’t one of Amsterdam’s “alternative” hashish caf├ęs, Eileen agreed to give Delirium a try, so we walked down the steps to the water front, and found the bar nestling under the bridge, overlooking the water. The only trouble was that with few lights on inside, it didn’t look very open. Not being someone who takes “no” for an answer, I tried the door. It opened, so I stepped inside, and this is where a member of staff appeared and told us the bar didn’t open until 4pm. He asked whether we had a reservation – a remark I thought rather strange given the substantial size of the place.

We hadn’t, of course, until Eileen reminded me that it was Saturday, and Amsterdam was a favourite destination for stag and hen nights. The staff member seemed quite apologetic, so I asked if he could recommend a bar nearby, and true to form he directed us to a place called Hannekes Boom, just a few minutes’ walk away on the other side of the underpass. We thanked him for his recommendation and headed off beneath the wide concrete bridge carrying the road and rail lines into the centre of Amsterdam.

Hannekes Boom was quite well hidden, but Mrs PBT’s saw the entrance tucked away, in a corner, almost obscured by some bushes. It was a two-storey, rambling building, with an adjoining single floor section overlooking the river. With its canvas roof, and no side walls, this part of the bar was partially open to the elements, and seemed more of a fair-weather, overspill area than anything else, but there were quite a few hardy souls taking advantage of the relatively mild conditions.

Fortunately, we managed to find a table inside, and once seated the friendly young waitress brought us over a beer menu. After a quick flick through I ordered a bottled IPA from local Amsterdam brewery ‘TJI, whilst Eileen went for a Diet Coke. Looking around we were almost certainly the oldest people present, not that it mattered, as I liked the place, and by degrees Mrs PBT’s slowly warmed to it as well. Slowly, but surely, the crowd in the bar began to drift away, although after chatting to one of the waiters, we learned that many would be back, come the evening.

I decided another beer was in order, and this time I went for one of the draft offerings – a La Chouffe Blonde. La Chouffe use a picture of a little dwarf to advertise their beers, and whilst I have enjoyed this beer in bottled form, several times in the UK, this was the first time I had sampled it on tap. The waiter, who brought the beer over, told us that he’d spent time living in Norfolk, although he didn’t say where, but reinforced what he’d said earlier about Hannekes Boom expecting a busy Saturday evening.

We were fortunate to have experienced the bar during a quiet period, and going on what we’d witnessed earlier, it did seem a proper community pub. Given its situation, right on the waterfront, we could understand its popularity, but given its tucked away location we wouldn’t have found it without the guidance from the barman at Delirium.

After paying our tab, we took a slow wander back to the cruise terminal. Mrs PBT’s hadn’t exactly seen the sights of Amsterdam, but she had experienced a little of the friendly and easy-going attitude of its inhabitants.  However, knowing that I wanted to refresh myself further with Amsterdam, she suggested I took a trip into the city the following day, a suggestion I was more than happy to follow up on. Next time read about what I got up in the city centre, how I found quite a few pubs closed, and how I tracked down what is certainly one of the best beer shops in the Netherlands, and probably further afield as well.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

Sailing into calmer waters

It’s the end of November and Mrs PBT’s and I have stopped for an overnight stay at a Southampton hotel in readiness to board our cruise ship, Queen Victoria, the following afternoon. Situated just five miles away from the docks, it’s a Doubletree by Hilton, and after an overnight stay, we shall be setting off for the cruise terminal shortly before midday tomorrow.

We enjoyed a good dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, with both of us opting for the pie option. They were steak and ale pies, from local butcher and pie maker, Upton’s of Bassett, and we both agreed that they were excellent. They had a filling of tender and succulent beef, encased in hot water crust pastry which, according to Mrs PBT’s, who knows about these things, is a rigid type of pastry, similar to the cold-water crust used for pork pies. It is designed to hold its shape, without becoming soggy, unlike the normal short-crust variety. She’s obviously been paying attention to the Great British Bake-Off! The following morning, with a touch of serendipity, our taxi drove us past Upton’s shop, on the way down to the cruise terminal– proof, if it was needed, that you can’t get much more local than that!

Beer-wise, I went for a bottle of Leffe Blonde, the best of a bad choice of exclusively bottled beers. It’s an age since I last drank a Leffe Blonde, as given the choice I would normally go for the darker Bruin, but it was pleasant enough, and was certainly a better choice than the bland international lagers that made up the rest of the range. Still, what else should one expect from a large, multi-national hotel chain?

This was my first experience of a Doubletree hotel, in the UK, although I have stayed at one in the United States – the chain’s home country. The brand isn’t that dissimilar to other hotel chains and having experienced quite a few different ones over the years, there’s really not much to choose between any of them. One thing I didn’t like, was the non-discretionary 10% service charge, added to the bill, especially as this did not appear to be passed on to the staff.

There was also a mix-up with the taxi transfer, booked the following morning, to take us to the cruise terminal. The receptionist had to chase the taxi company, who claimed they hadn’t received the email booking, and to make matters worse, the driver charged us for the journey, even though it was supposed to have been included as part of the booking. It wasn’t the cabbies fault, and he gave me a receipt, so I can take the matter up with Holiday Extras, when we get back, but it wasn’t the best of starts.

Fortunately, the embarkation experience was fairly straight forward this time around, although cruise ships have adopted the same security-screening procedures that make travel by air, such a pain in the proverbial. Fortunately, there was no need for us to take off our shoes, although removing one’s belt is a real nuisance. I suppose it makes sense in the general run of things, as the last thing anyone needs is a crazed lunatic, armed to the teeth, roaming around the vessel.

After attending at our muster station, and having our ship’s cards swiped, we were free to unpack, go for a stroll around the ship, and grab something to eat. Rather than heading up to the buffet, we slipped into the Golden Lion – the ship’s pub. Food is available there at lunchtime, although not in the evening, but meals in the Golden Lion are included as part of the cruise package. Drinks are not – no surprises there, but after managing to grab a table for two, we ordered food and drink for two.

The food offering, amongst others, was a rather nice chicken tikka, which also came with naan bread, as well as saffron rice, and drink wise, I of course went for the excellent Cunard Black, a “breakfast stout,” brewed for the cruise line by Dark Revelation. I’ve enjoyed quite a few glasses of this excellent rich, dark beer on previous cruises, and looking around at some of the other tables, I was no means the only person drinking it. Mrs PBT’s went for a dessert after the main course, but I opted out, having enjoyed a cooked breakfast at the hotel, earlier that morning. We were lucky to have arrived when we did, as the Golden Lion started to get very busy – apparently there is some sort of football tournament going on in a small middle eastern country, and the game between the host nation, and an African team, whose name escapes me, was attracting a lot of attention.

Our boat slipped its moorings, shortly before 5pm, and after turning around, we sailed off down the Solent, and out into the open waters of the English Channel. Sitting in the buffet bar, up on Deck 9, enjoying a spot of dinner, we could feel some slight movement from the ship. Eileen noticed it more than I did, even after clambering into bed, although I was dead to the world, and I slept like the proverbial log. The following morning, we were surprised to see how calm the sea was, with the swell of the previous evening having died right down.

There was some confusion as to what time it was when we woke up, as the ships’ clocks were due to be advanced by one hour, to bring us in line with Central European Time. My phone normally performs this change automatically, as does my Smart Watch, but with no phone signal in the middle of the North Sea, this was unlikely to happen. I worked on the assumption that as our phones and watches weren’t showing any change, it was best to get up, although next time I shall bring an analogue watch along, to make certain.

Soon after, there was a knock on the door, and the room service breakfast that Mrs PBT’s had ordered for us, the night before, was delivered to our room. I normally prefer a walk up to the buffet, or perhaps head for the restaurant, but I do know that the room service breakfast option on Cunard is very good, so on this occasion I enjoyed scrambled eggs, streaky bacon – American style, Cumberland sausage, a couple of hash browns and some toast. In short, the full Monty!

I took a walk afterwards, leaving Eileen to get herself ready, getting several circuits of the promenade deck under my belt. With all the food available on board, it’s important not to let things slip on the exercise front. It was quite bracing up on deck, although the south facing starboard side was quite sheltered. It was also quite sunny, and surprisingly warm, especially for the time of year.

A couple of days before we set sail, I’d received an email from Cunard, with the heading “Important Announcement about Your Upcoming Voyage.” My first thoughts were along the lines of “Oh no, what now?” So, thinking there had been a change of plan, or the voyage had even been cancelled, I was more than a little relieved to discover that whilst there had been an alteration in the travel arrangements, but it was a change to the good. Now, instead of spending one night in Amsterdam as originally advised, we would be staying for two. There would be no change regarding the disembarkation arrangements, meaning we would still be leaving the ship on Tuesday morning, as advised. This was good news as we would now have more time to enjoy the Dutch capital.


Wednesday, 30 November 2022

The sailors - home from the sea

It's been a bit quiet on the blog recently, the reason being Mrs PBT’s and I have been away on a short cruise across the North Sea to the Netherlands. Our destination was the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, and the short two-night stay represented my third visit to this friendly and easy-going city.

We arrived back in the UK yesterday morning and after disembarking from the ship had the joy of calling and waiting for a taxi to take us to the hotel where we had left our car. This was after dropping it off last Thursday evening. Unfortunately, I seem to have picked up a cold whilst on board ship, my first since before Covid, and I’m wondering whether the lack of mask wearing – voluntary, or otherwise, might be to blame. Once consequence of what Mrs PBT’s describes as “man flu” was not sleeping particularly well on Monday consequently, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to be driving home, and certainly not on the motorway. So, apart from a stretch along the M3 from Southampton, until north of Basingstoke, the rest of the journey home was by "A" roads.

With the unpacking finished, and the suitcases just waiting to be placed back in the loft, I finally got some spare time to catch up with the blog, although not before completing an outstanding task. This related to the new monitor for my desktop PC that I treated myself to in the Black Friday sales. As this was just a few days before we departed for Southampton, I left the installation for our return. This was a good move, given that it's almost twice the size of my previous monitor - coming in at 24”, compared to just 15”, and given the extended footprint of a much larger screen, I had to de-clutter my desk before installation (“plug & play”) could commence.

The night before we went away, news broke of the death of Bob Dockerty, the founder, former Head Brewer and driving force behind Larkin's Brewery. Out of respect to Bob’s family and close friends I didn't post anything at the time, but now that the sad news has become official, I am mentioning it here. I will leave it until the dust has settled some more, before posting an appropriate tribute to Bob. Suffice to say it will be sorely missed. he was quite a character and well known locally, particularly in the part of West Kent where I work.

I'm not returning to work until Monday 5th and so, once I've shaken this cold off, I shall be catching up on jobs both indoors and outdoors. This bout of enthusiasm is unconnected to the major seasonal holiday event looming on the horizon, and although Mrs PBT’s and I have never really gone overboard on Christmas, we were impressed by the efforts made for the crew of the Queen Victoria, to give the ship a real festive look.

Going away at this time of year represents the return of something of a tradition within the Bailey household, namely taking pre-Christmas breaks at the end of November - beginning of December. Between 2013 and 2016, we visited places such as Prague, Salzburg, and Barcelona, during the run-up to Christmas, and the reason for taking holiday at this time was because son Matthew is employed in retail. This meant he was unable to take holiday for the whole of December and for the early part of January as well.

Somewhat ironically, Matthew didn't come with us this time, due to some potentially exciting and rewarding (for him) developments at work. We have promised to take him away with us on a short cruise in the spring, as we are sure he will enjoy it. I do miss the short city breaks we were taking with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair, although given Mrs PBT’s current mobility issues, travelling by sea does seem a lot easier, and a lot less hassle than flying.

Back to the cruise, where we were really lucky with the weather, given the unpredictability of sailing at this time of year, and whilst there was a bit of a swell in the English Channel, on both the outward and return voyages, the North Sea itself, particularly close to the Dutch coast was calm and serene.  I mentioned Queen Victoria earlier, which of course was the name of the cruise ship, we sailed on. This now completes, for us, voyages on all three of Cunard’s queen ships, (Elizabeth, Mary, and Victoria). These gracious vessel's will be joined next year by a 4th queen - the Queen Anne.

This particular cruise seemed almost exclusively made up of UK residents, unlike last June’s voyage to the Norwegian fjords, where there was a large contingent of passengers from both North America and from Germany. This may have been reflected by the culinary offerings on board Victoria, where roast meats, casserole's, grills, and other British staples figured prominently on the menu, in contrast to the more international cuisine of previous cruises.

To sum up, we had an extended two-night stay in Amsterdam and being berthed within easy walking distance of the city centre gave us the perfect excuse to get off the ship and explore this friendly bustling and easy-going city. I shall be revealing more of my thoughts and observation about the Dutch capital in a later article, so for now it's back to the re-modelling and tiding of my office area.