“I’ve always promised the wife I’d tek her on a cruise,” said the man with the cheeky grin as Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground glided gracefully past the back of his head.
Old Trafford is indeed a shrine to millions of football fans, but as anyone familiar with it knows, it’s not in exactly the world’s most exotic location.
The man above was being interviewed on our BBC local news programme, North-West Tonight, during a feature on Manchester Ship Canal cruises. Yes, that’s a cruise along the inland waterway built between the industrial hub of Manchester and the port city of Liverpool about a century ago.
The Ship Canal may have been one of the main arteries that fed the phenomenal growth of the North West in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, but glamorous it ain’t. And the man above’s comment is even funnier if you imagine it said with our flat Northern vowels.
Still, he had fulfilled his promise and taken “the wife” on a cruise, even if it was a cruise of sorts.
(If you think I’m dissing Manchester Ship Canal cruises, I’m not, in any way – my mum and dad went on one and loved it.)
Anyway, the above is a roundabout way of saying that I, too, have just been on a cruise-of-sorts: a Mini-Cruise to Amsterdam.
Departing the Port of Tyne on the ferry to Amsterdam.
My parents (see above) are on the mailing list for travel company David Urquhart, and it was because of that that I spotted that they were offering a Mini-Cruise to Amsterdam for “from £59 per person”. That included return coach travel from the North West to the ferry terminal near Newcastle, and a coach transfer from the terminal at IJmuiden to Amsterdam. It seemed like too good a bargain to miss. The only downer was that you get only a handful of hours, at most, in Amsterdam. But then what could be more jet-set than nipping abroad for lunch?
So, after paying a single supplement of £16 (because there was just me, booo!) I was booked on-board.
I had been to Amsterdam before, but many years ago, when I was a student, and my uni room-mate and I stayed in a hostel and spent several days ambling around looking for things that looked interesting.
This time I was more organised. Thanks to Professor DuckDuckGo I learned that Amsterdam now boasts a branch of the Hermitage, as in the world-famous museum in St Petersburg, Russia. That would be my number one target, I decided, and anything else I managed to see or do would be a bonus.
I know that, technically, all David Urquhart had to do was get me to the terminal and back (in the UK) and from the terminal and back (in Holland) and book me a cabin on the ferry, but they really did that job faultlessly.
The coach was clean and comfortable, and the driver, Craig, was entertaining, friendly and efficient.
The ferry itself is operated by DFDS Seaways (you can book tickets independently, but, well it would have cost 59 quid just to get to Newcastle on the train – if the trains were running, that is – so why not go for a bargain when you see one?).
There’s a load of stuff on the DFDS website about facilities on board, and it’s a fair reflection of the reality. On the one hand, it’s not The-Ritz-on-Sea: this is a working ferry after all, not a purpose-built cruise ship, but on the other, it is pretty fancy for a ferry. It has a nightclub, for goodness’ sake! And the restaurants and bars are nicely decorated and serve food and drink on proper crockery and with proper (metal) cutlery.
My cabin, which could accommodate two people in bunk-beds, was small but not unbearably so, although it might have been a bit cramped if there had been two of us. But then the cabin is only supposed to be a place to sleep, it’s not like you’re living in it or anything, and it is for just two nights.
In addition to the bunk beds, there was a little sofa big enough for two people, and a desk/dressing table, with chair, and one (continental plug) electric socket. And it had a bedside table and bedside light, and coat hooks and even a couple of coat-hangers.
The cabin and the ensuite bathroom were spotlessly clean, as was the bedlinen, and the bed was really comfortable too.
What with the restaurant, bistro, coffee bar, nightclub and children’s play area, there was lots to keep the passengers entertained, even right through the night, something that some people seemed to take full advantage of!
It took ages to get through customs/immigration, so we had less time in Amsterdam than we should have had.
If you’re hoping to ‘do’ Amsterdam in one Sunday in November, this was probably the best, and worst, one to choose, as it was the day that Sinterklaas arrived in town (https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/festivals/overview-childrens-festivals/arrival-of-sinterklaas)
It was the worst because it meant that between me and my target, the Hermitage, was a network of barricaded, already busy, streets awaiting Sinterklaas and his procession.
(I made it, of course, and even spotted en route, an exhibition of colour photographs before 1918, at the University of Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum. I’ve been fascinated by this type of photograph, autochrome, for years, ever since a BBC series on Albert Kahn – whose work features in the exhibition. I just wish I’d not had to tear through it at breakneck speed.)
However, like I said, what made this probably the best Sunday in November to be in Amsterdam was also what compensated for the brevity of my visit: the arrival of Sinterklaas. Not because I was expecting Sinterklaas to be laden down with lovely gifts for me (I’m a bit old for that!) but because of the children who were, many of whom were in dresssed as Sinterklaas’s assistants, “Pieten”, in brightly-coloured, gold-trimmed breeches, boleros and caps, but all of whom were beside themselves with excitement.
I was just really sad that I had to leave before Sinterklaas arrived.
Note: If you want to know more about Sinterklaas, the official tourism website, iamsterdam.com, has loads of information, about him, the controversy over his assistant “Black Piet” and this thoroughly entertaining explanation of the differences between “Sint”erklaas and “Sant”(a Claus)