An emotional journey

 

Wanting to mark her father’s 80th birthday in style, ALISON BELLwhisked him off to Amsterdam, where the serenity of canal-boat trips mixed with a moving visit to Anne Frank’s house

FOR MY FATHER’S 80th birthday I bought him a memory, which is why we found ourselves going for lunch – to Amsterdam.

He had no idea of our destination, other than it required an early start and for him to dress comfortably.

The first flight of the day from Dublin is at 6am, getting you into Schiphol – one of the easiest airports in the world to navigate, incidentally – by 8.40am local time.

Don’t even think about getting a taxi into the city: it’s a simple 20-minute train ride from the terminal (about €3.60 one way), taking you right into the heart of Amsterdam, five minutes from the canal boats that were our mode of transport for the day.

The choice of canal cruises is dizzying, so I booked what looked to be the simplest ticket, the Canal Bus Hop On Hop Off Day Pass, which is valid for 24 hours and starts at €18. For that you can glide your way past the old gabled buildings and narrow, bicycle-littered streets. As you pass the colourful houseboats moored along the way, it’s as if you’re getting private access to the heart of the city.

We were blessed with bone-warming sunshine and could have drifted along the canals all day. The tours are in English and completely unobtrusive – tune in and out as you wish – and there’s no need for guide books: just listen more closely when you pass somewhere important, such as the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh museum, and keep a sense of your bearings.

I’d also booked our one organised visit of the day, to the Anne Frank Museum, a drop-off stop (Prinsengracht) on the canal-boat trip. Our parents reared us on books, and my Diary of Anne Frank was well thumbed, her sad story of love found in hiding during her teenage years being one of my most treasured.

Booking entry to the house online costs an extra 50c (bringing entry to €8 per adult) but allows you to bypass the queues and enter by a private doorway (important when you have just hours to discover the city).

As we walked in the Frank family footsteps, exploring the secret annex and the entrance, concealed by a movable bookcase, my father grew quieter. By the time we’d reached the main exhibition area, with pictures of the Holocaust, tears were rolling down his face. Having grown up in the Curragh Camp, and with huge interest in the second World War, he was profoundly moved.

I thought of Anne’s father, Otto, and how he must have felt when he came back to the house in later years, having lost his wife and two daughters in the concentration camps.

Back out in the sunshine we continued on via the canals to Rembrandt Platz, where we paused for a long, typically Dutch lunch of heavy bread, solid meats and cheeses, washed down with ice-cold beer, before moving on to our last stop of the day, the red light district.

My dad’s always had a soft spot for blondes – think Agnetha from Abba – and was thrilled to be walking through Rosse Buurt, as it’s known locally (Dutch for red neighbourhood).

Many of the buildings date back to the 14th century, and the Gothic Oude Kerk (Old Church) stands like an incongruous welcoming lighthouse to the myriad sex shops and slightly sleazy cafes.

We strolled back to Central Station to take our train back to the airport with time to stock up on big boxes of multicoloured tulip bulbs, which Dad planted and which bloom each spring as a reminder of Amsterdam.

** Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus. com) flies to Amsterdam from Dublin, Cork and Belfast. For canal-boat passes, see www.amsterdamcitytours.com. For the Anne Frank Museum, see www.annefrank.org. For general tourist information, see www.amsterdam.info