I did this trip with friends in mid-January 2019 for my traditional “beat the post-Christmas blues” European holiday. No new train journeys or destinations were involved so I’ll include links to previous trips.
After a night in London, I met my friend not long after 7am at St. Pancras to get the direct Eurostar to Amsterdam at 8.16am. I’d used some Eurostar Loyalty Points to upgrade to Standard Premier, so we were treated to a pleasant breakfast, and shortly before Rotterdam we got some beers and nibbles. These were much appreciated as due to engineering work we were diverted onto the “classic” line between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, via The Hague and Haarlem, which added about an hour onto our journey. This was especially galling for my friend who was staying with his sister in Haarlem and had to watch as our train crawled through the station without stopping.
I took my friend to a couple of my favourite haunts near Nieuwmarkt before he headed back to Haarlem, and I walked along the canals to Rembrandtplein, where I was staying at the NH Schiller hotel. TOP TIP – It’s a four star hotel that I got pretty cheaply by booking via lastminute.com’s “secret hotels”, which gives you an idea of what area your hotel might be in, but not the hotel name. However if you copy the brief description of the hotel into google, you can work out with about 99% certainty which hotel it is before booking.
I spend the evening aimlessly meandering and bar-hopping in the vicinity, before finishing the evening at one of the more lively bars on the square, where the music was loud and the cheese-factor turned up high. A good time was had by all, but my jacket was an early casualty of the trip – discarded on a chair while I danced and missing on my return. I popped my delicate head into the bar the next morning but the staff couldn’t find it then either. Bugger.
Two other friends were flying into Schiphol about that time, and after meeting them near Centraal station I was delighted that one of my buddies had brought a spare fleece which I gratefully put on, as the weather was – not to put too fine a point on it – f*cking freezing.
I’d like to say that the day was spent in a whirl of culture and enlightening conversation, but I’d be telling an outright lie. We’ve all visited Amsterdam plenty of times and seen all the sights, so the day was spent in a whirl of Heineken and gibberish. There were lots of laughs before the end of the night and we retired to our accommodation for the night – Hotel Sharm, a budget hotel (very budget) a few minutes walkfrom Dam Square. Featuring outdated furniture and decoration, ludicrously steep stairs (no lift) and a triple room that was definitely compact, but not bijou. We nicknamed it Hotel Shame.
The next morning it was off to Ghent, by way of Thalys train to Antwerp (and a spot of lunch at the excellent Bier Central next to the station) and Belgian Intercity train to Ghent Dampoort station. We were staying in the IBIS hotel next to the cathedral in the centre of town, and on our walk there we stopped at the Gentse Gruut brewery and tasting room (I’d been here with my sister and brother-in-law last Summer) – excellent beer of course but I wasn’t as brave as my friend whose beer was called Inferno, and was suitably potent.
The IBIS was also bargain at about £60 for a twin room – which bearing in mind it was a Saturday night and right in the centre of this beautiful city, seemed amazing. It gave us more spending money to sample a few of the bewildering number of beers available at the historic pubs. It wasn’t a particularly late night as our night in Amsterdam had lasted into the early hours, and we are no longer youthful enough to burn the candle at both ends without consequences.
It did mean that we are up and about early on the Sunday morning, enjoying the winter sunshine and marvelling at the stunning historic buildings all around us. We meanderedthrough the streets to the castle, past the belfry and into the cathedral, before collecting our bags from the hotel and strolling the hour or so through deserted streets and squares to Ghent St. Pieters station, for our train to Brussels.
From there two of my friends headed to the airport for their flight to Birmingham, and my other friend (who started the journey with me at St Pancras) and I made our journey in reverse back to London, after another great weekend of laughter, superb beer and beautiful buildings.