Cruising my way to Amsterdam

My mantra has always been ‘Carpe Diem’ (Latin for ‘Seize the day’) because life’s too short to miss out on the good things in life such as travel, food, films & love! And I live by it! My latest trip is a testimony to this mantra.

The first time I went to Amsterdam was 16 years ago at a work conference. I did not have enough time to absorb its vibe in full then. Nevertheless, I fell in love with the city almost instantly. It is quirky and crazy enough to appeal to my wild side but also beautiful and watery. I love all cities that grow on water and overlook the sea. It has been compared to the Venice of the North but, being Italian and having been in Venezia at least 100 times, I have to disagree. The only similarity between the two cities is the canal system. Everything else is unique to them. 

Thanks to a well-organised press trip by the lovely P&O cruises team, I hopped aboard the gorgeous Azura ship in Southampton and ‘sailed’ away to Amsterdam with one of my besties for a four-day mummy retreat in which we made sure we enjoyed our childless well-deserved time-off.

Mums need a break from the school routine-driven life and spend time with girlfriends (apparently this is supposed to extend your life), getting pampered, eating good food, laughing at silliness, uninterrupted chit-chats and sleep.

Cruising is an excellent way to appreciate the travelling itself as people used to do in the past – think Victorian age folks, for example.

Spending quality leisure time while reaching the destination is something we seem to have lost as soon as flying has become the most popular means of transportation.

Our cabin was very spacious. I promise you I did not sleep with the floating gear on! Ha ha

Up to this point, cruising was never my thing. I never thought I would travel on a ship because the idea of being in a confined space did not appeal to me. How wrong could I be! Not only I loved the fact that I could always look outside and see endless water around but I enjoyed falling asleep with the sound of the waves. I even loved the choppy waters of the North Sea on the way back – others seemed scared, but it was clearly safe so I immersed myself in an imaginary Titanic experience. How fascinating.

The cruising experience proved to be great for digital detoxing too, because the Internet connection was not great once the ship went further away from the coast. Azura is a huge cruise ship and to move from my forward balcony cabin to the Manhattan disco at the back I had to walk at least 2000 steps each way.

There were three live bands playing twice a day, lots of restaurants to choose from, a gorgeous spa, warm swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.

This is the Life!!

I made sure I did not miss any of these activities including excellent cha-cha-cha lessons every day.

 

Shuffleboard is apparently a typical Victorian cruise game

My friend Maria and I were already excited when we boarded the train to Southampton from Clapham Junction, believe it or not! The coast is reachable in just over an hour by train, relaxing time to get you into the groove of things. My press trips are work-related but I always get into holiday mood just to make sure I soak the goodies while it lasts.

Boarding a cruise is much less stressful than boarding a flight. The luggage is being taken care for you early on so it’s smooth and relaxing. Our lovely cabin had a balcony on the forward side of the ship and felt proper luxury. The beauty products in the room were supplied by The White Company London, which is luxury for a hotel on water! Just saying that the whole experience felt really lush.

I always imagined very tiny cabins but this one had twin beds and was quite spacious for a ship accommodation. Maria and I made the most of everything available starting from the photo shoot in navy outfits as soon as we boarded to exclusive Oriental-themed dinners, spa treatments and disco nights.

I had very relaxing one-hour long facial and an acupuncture session that seriously helped me rebalance my whole body after a Winter in which I suffered colds and cough.

After one day at sea, we finally reached Amsterdam. We almost did not want to leave the ship. It felt comfy there with so much entertainment. But we had an off-the-beaten-track tour planned with Urban Adventures so we took advantage of that.   

Amsterdam in March can still be a bit cold but we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine most of the time.

You can tailor your trip as you wish because Amsterdam is eclectic and has it all: It can be super romantic if you are there with a love partner, crazy if you are on a wild weekend seeking sex, drugs and rock & roll and extremely cultural if you look for art exhibitions. And – boy! – we had a mix of all these things in just the one trip.

On the first day our charming American guide Sean took us on a three-hour walking tour and on the second day on a five-hour bike riding trip. I might not remember all streets’ names or all historical facts that he told us, but I got a great feel for the city vibe which is the one thing I only look for when visiting a new place.

The touristic stuff is easily trackable on Google but feeling part of a town is something you experience by just being there. I simply love wandering aimlessly down the streets – what the Germans call ‘bummeln’, never looking at the watch, browsing around with no one to meet up or no events to attend. This is what a proper holiday should be about to make you feel refreshed and relaxed at the end of it.  

Warning alert! Biking in Amsterdam is probably the best way to experience its vibe, however it’s important to remember that there are lots of bicycles there – which is environmentally-friendly and all – but local cyclists don’t pay much attention to tourists who wander aimlessly – they are probably fed up as the city is flooded with them. 

During both our endless walks (think 25,000 steps in 3 hours, just to give you an idea) and bike rides, we enjoyed the little stories of quirky buildings that don’t look straight. For a second, I thought I was leaning all my way through the labyrinth of streets and canals. Old houses are mixed with new buildings so the old constructions kind of lean a bit. Ha ha.

The open Dutch culture is something that truly appeals to me. Many houses have like a shop window display in front of their door to showcase their personalities – I love this so much I’d be tempted to start this trend in London. My neighbours might end up calling me crazy. But the one initiative that I will start is having an open plastic glass cabinet next to my gate where I leave books and objects I want to give away or share with people. Let’s see how it goes. After all, sharing is caring!

The city centre is small enough to be explored on foot even without a map but you obviously need comfortable shoes. The vibe is rather cool, not elegant. We passed the famous ‘Cotton Club’ filled with live jazz music and art deco. On another trip, I will definitely spend some time in there. All the famous jazz musicians in the world have done that!

During the bike tour, we rode through the Pijp, a buzzy area of the city, crossed lots of bridges, canals, and heard lots of funny stories about living on boats.

One final off-the-beaten track stop had to be the red-light district, the ‘coffe shops’ (where you can taste drugs legally) and some sex shops along the way. You cannot leave Amsterdam without paying a visit there and do some shopping. Ha Ha… don’t ask me what we bought, though! That is content for a completely different story. I won’t easily spill the beans …

We also made a stop at one of the smallest and most unique places in Amsterdam: the Museum Photo where artist and photographer Britt welcomed us in her cosy photo-studio to portray our group in hand-made costumes – replicas of famous Dutch masters.

I chose to wear the Flora costume, although I was tempted to pose as the Girl with the Pear Earring. My Mediterranean complexion and my dark hair would have made me look a bit too pale with the yellow and blue costume. Check out if you like the final result. 

Everything seems so petite in Amsterdam even the gin distillery we visited and where we spent a couple of hours of gin tasting. I cannot recollect whether we had 7 or 8 sips of gin. My mind seemed a bit clouded after the fourth. 

Each sip came with lots of history and anecdotes. One in particular stuck in my nebulous mind, the one named ‘The boy in the basement’, the kind used to celebrate the pregnancy of a woman during a dinner. The mother-to-be was the first to drink it, of course! Jolly good times.

Amsterdam by night! The city of crazy Lovers…

On that high note (literally!) we finished our visit to the Dutch capital and headed back to our Azura heaven, where we spent a full day at sea, being pampered in the Spa, getting a facial, a foot massage, acupuncture, and chi-chatting in the sauna and Jacuzzi. Walking around the ship and watching movies outdoor on the top deck was also one of my special highlights. I love the sea so much and being just there was wonderful. Being able to simply watch the ocean and hearing the sound of the waves was a pleasure in its own right.

I’m planning to go back to Amsterdam soon! 

This trip was made possible by P&O cruises’ sponsorship.

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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