Obviously a lot can change in 20 years. Last time I was in Amsterdam, lurching out of the Bulldog Café and pinballing through the Red Light District, a lunatic twentysomething with her radar set to good times, I didn’t really notice what a jaw droppingly beautiful city this is, wonderful architecture set around the canals and pretty enough to give Venice and Paris a run for their money.
Time travel forwards quarter a century and I’m here again with my family hiring bikes and shopping for Gouda in the supermarket. I’m sure we’re not the only parents who decided to hijack their teens for a half term mini break, on the premise that away from friends and laptops we might actually get to spend time with them. We were right.
We laughed our way through an all too short three days, taking our lives in our hands as we rode around the city in the survival of the fittest bikes lanes, visiting museums, vintage shops, a park, the zoo, endless coffee shops.
‘Don’t say coffee shops when you mean café,’ advised my 16 year old, like I’d been born in the 1900s.
He had a point though. The other kind of coffee shops were everywhere and they looked a bit rank, ours were bright white spaces with home-roasted coffee and a full rainbow of macaroons.
Everything was picture perfect, in fact, until we found ourselves straying into the Red Light District.
Girls in underwear in the windows, that wasn’t great, and the shops either side of them selling all manner of aids, that wasn’t great either. In situations like these the four of us tend to act as one, say nothing, don’t draw attention to it and hopefully the 8 year old won’t notice. We walked eyes cast downwards until we were out the other side and no one said a word.
I was pretty sure we’d got away with it (explaining prostitution not being high up on the half term agenda, we’ve had enough issues with the authenticity of God) until the train ride home.
‘Favourite part of the holiday?’ I asked him as we whiled away a couple of hours on the Euro Star.
‘Hard to choose. Such a beautiful city,’ he sighed, sounding like a world weary octogenarian. ‘Although I did think those ladies in the windows were a bit inappropriate.’