If you’re trying to think of somewhere to take a recently-bereaved dad for an uplifting long weekend away, Amsterdam is surely a great choice.
Beautiful architecture, art galleries, atmospheric canals, bars and more history than you can shake a tulip at. Well, it’s all true. My dad loved Amsterdam when we went on a father-and-daughter trip to get away from it all and share our memories of my late mum.
There’s just one thing I did wrong (or not, depending on how you look at it). I didn’t check a ‘What’s on in Amsterdam’ list before choosing a date to go, and managed to book our visit to coincide with Queen’s Day. Oops!
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Queen’s Day – The world’s largest street party
Yes, I managed to choose the weekend of Queen’s Day – and the world’s biggest street party. Not that I knew it, at least at first.
I’d decided that this long weekend would be a treat, so I’d booked us a couple of superior rooms at the gorgeous Grand Hotel* – an incredibly beautiful and luxurious place to stay.
We got our first inkling of the forthcoming events when we left our hotel for a morning stroll, and saw people setting up boom boxes all around the canals. Tables offering ‘high tea’ were being arranged (and I’m not talking cucumber sandwiches and fairy cakes here). The streets were already filling up with excited people wearing lots of orange.
As the day wore on, the crowds grew, until it became almost impossible to move. Eventually we sought refuge back in our hotel for lunch.
Dinner – but not as we know it
For dinner that night, as a treat for Dad, I had booked us on a canal cruise which served a 4-course meal on board while a historian talked us through what we could see in the various neighbourhoods around us. The cruise departed from a wharf near the Centraal Station. On any normal day this would have been a 20 minute walk from our hotel. But this was Queen’s Day, and the main thoroughfares were jam packed!
There was nothing for it but to attempt another route, which took us right through the notorious red light district and all its infamous window displays. By now the party was in full swing, with blaring music, stoned or drunk (or both) individuals having the time of their lives, and the canals full of boats of all shapes and sizes. We had never seen anything quite like it!
I’ve since joked to friends that I managed to confront my 76 year-old dad with sex, drugs and rock n roll all in one day.
Needless to say I felt dreadful about it and fretted all the way to the wharf. Dad, who worked in factories as a toolmaker all his adult life and was certainly no wallflower, took it all in remarkably good humour. “Ah well, that’s just life isn’t it” he grinned, as we finally made our way down to the cruise boat – in the nick of time.
The morning after
Next day was, as you can imagine, deadly quiet! The big clean-up started at lunchtime, and by the day after, the city had largely returned to sedate normality. We resumed our planned itinerary, making a poignant visit to Anne Frank’s house – highly recommended.
Otherwise, we just strolled around enjoying the city and its riverside bars. We particularly enjoyed our afternoon tea on the terrace of the beautiful Amstel Hotel*.
Dad also loved our relaxing harbour cruise, which gave us a real sense of Amsterdam’s importance as a port throughout history. There were ships and boats of all sizes, from small pleasure boats to commercial tankers and cruise ships.
Anne Frank’s House
Teenager Anne Frank spent 2 years in hiding with her family, from 1942-44, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Their house, located alongside the picturesque Prinsengracht canal, is now a museum. Diary of a young girl, the published version of Anne’s notes and journal from that time, has been published in more than 70 languages.
Visiting the house in which Anne and 7 other people were concealed for such a long time was a very moving experience for Dad and me. We were able to enter Anne’s actual room and see her original diary, on which the published book was based. Dad was a young man during the war years, with many memories of his own, so this visit made a deep impression.
A trip to the bulbfields
Although the city had calmed down considerably after the mega party, we felt like a change of scene. So we joined an organised tour of the bulbfields at Keukenhof. Dad had been surrounded by beautiful gardens when he grew up, as his own father was a gardener. So I knew he’d enjoy this tour. The vast fields of colourful tulips were certainly a stunning sight, and there were some scenic woodland waterside areas to stroll around too.
Looking back, although I definitely would not have planned to book our holiday on such a busy weekend, in a strange way, perhaps it was a good thing. No matter how we were feeling, there was no doubt that the giant party going on around us shook us up and brought us out of ourselves. There was little choice! It was a bit like shock treatment.
After that, the weekend was a lovely mix of discovery, enjoyment, relaxation and reflection. There was plenty of time to talk, to remember, and to share our thoughts about the new life we were becoming accustomed to without my mother. We also realised that we shared what was, for my Dad, a new joy – travelling. We would do more of that in the coming years, and these were precious times. (See my post Where to take your Dad on holiday for more on this subject).
Meanwhile, the party went on
Since our visit, Queen’s Day has become King’s Day, following the abdication of Queen Beatrice in 2013. The authorities have clamped down on some aspects of the event in order to manage it better, such as controlling the number of boats on the canals.
But the party goes on, in April every year (unless there’s a pandemic, of course). So make sure you keep it in mind when planning your trip to Amsterdam. And don’t (or do) take your elderly parent, depending on whether they like to party!
Dad and I really benefitted from our long weekend away together. If you feel like you need cheering up, as we did, then you might be interested in my post six reasons why travel is good for you.
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