Catching an Easyjet flight is a bit like playing Russian roulette. I would have normally still been in bed, but instead I was on a plane full of mouthy drunk men who at the slightest bit of turbulence yelled, almost simultaneously, ‘Whoa f*cking hell, don’t like that much!’ as I sat, head pushed as far into the tatty inflight magazine as I could manage.
I stepped off the plane, bacon sandwich remnants covering my clothes (not mine, the man next to me really enjoyed his breakfast) and headed across Schiphol airport to meet Mara.
We got a car to Amsterdam, and once we’d met up with our travel gang, we drove 20 minutes to the north of the city to the peaceful and flat waterlands.
At Broek in Waterland we boarded an eco-friendly boat and took the water way to Theetuin Overleek tea gardens. It was something of a fairy tale. We stroked giant white rabbits and collected our picnic baskets. Blankets over laps, we sipped homemade lemonade as the ‘whisper boat’ broke gently through still waters, risen above the land along dykes and canals, passing wooden houses and tranquil meadows.
I saw a cat chase a duck into the water, many chickens, and a funeral.
Leaving the boat behind, we travelled North to the dairy farm of Jan Uitentuis in Beemster Polder, where the flat land lies low, 3.5 metres below sea level.
Welcomed to the family farm we set to work making cheese. Mara and I teamed up, cheese team, cheese dream team, and sorted the curds and whey. The waste whey goes to feed the calves, rennet from calves stomachs is used to make the cheese, I am not sure about this circle of life.
Outside I befriended the farm dog, a chunky boxer staff cross, and we went to meet the cows. I managed to chase some chickens and spotted a cat, before feeding bread to the most lovely Hampshire Down sheep. Interesting fact: you can’t fit a lamb in your pocket, even if it is stretchy fabric.
We sat down for dinner, the long table stretched the length of the room and raw crystal lights hung like stalactites from the ceiling. Plates of veal, quail, calves cheek, and more veal, fed us all with flavours of the region. The dessert was a delicious blueberry mousse with blackberry puree and ice cream. So nice I ate two, thanks Mel!
It was quite late when we got to Edam, to the beautiful L’Auberge Damhotel. We checked in to rooms, wandering along the hallways as keys were handed out. My room was in the roof. A huge chandelier hung from the low ceiling over the bed, bigger than the bed. I wondered if I’d survive the night.
On the way down, catching a glimpse of Jessica’s room, I commented, ‘Oh, your room is very nice, mine is much more plain.’
‘This is plain,’ she said.
‘No it’s not!’
‘Yes it is, it’s plain,’ she said adamantly, as I looked on at the gilt framed paintings and dark velvet furnishings.
‘But you’ve got a f*cking piano in there!’
The light was fading, but the air was warm, we wandered the streets, nosing through windows into perfect homes. It was like something you would dream up if you were trying to create the most idyllic Dutch town.
I slept well, waking to find myself wedged deep in the gap between the two single beds that were making a double. Reluctantly I prised myself from the bed nest and joined the others for breakfast before heading out into the sunshine for a tour of Edam.
Edam, a 14th and 15th century fortress town, was once one of the country’s most important commercial centres with thriving shipbuilding, timber and cheese trading industries. Wood and cheese, two of my favourite things.
We talked about cheese, we looked at cheese, walking down cobbled streets, along the canals of Edam. A lady was loading things into her car, in the back window fluttered a large moth. ‘House mother,’ she told us. I died slightly at the beauty of the words.
Through the perfect streets, passed the most incredible buildings, trying to take everything in – architectural details, beautiful colours, door knockers with painted eyes, windows with lives going on behind them – brunches, newspapers, coffees.
We turned the corner into Edam’s 15th Century shipyard, Scheepswerf Groot. It was dark, the air thick with the taste of old oil. Chains and pulleys, the bones of ancient boats, carcasses, stacked against the wall.
‘Where are we?’ asked Moran. ‘Edam.’ I said. ‘Yes, but what is this place?’ her big brown eyes wide and confused. On the radio came Starship’s ‘We built this city’, the mood lifted, we sang along until the radio was switched off.
Back across Holland, in no time at all, we were at Beach Club Tien for lunch. Zandvoort, also known as Amsterdam Beach (because it’s so close to the city, believe it or not), has all the things you could want – pale sands, blue skies, seagulls stealing lunches from children, and a race track.
We hired bikes and peddled over to Circuit Zandvoort. I wobbled along, holding on tightly, sure my front wheel was buckled and it was nothing to do with my lack of balance. It was a beautiful sunny day, there was a 24 hour cycling event going on, and we were allowed to join in for a lap, and… circuit director Edwin gave me a lift round in his car.
Busy wondering what it would be like to drive there myself (and take it out of first gear) I realised it was time for me to head off. I needed to get back to the airport, to get home, to drive my own car round Silverstone in the morning.
The flight back to London was full of women and smelt of perfume. What a difference a day makes!
With the greatest thanks to the wonderful people of iAmsterdam for inviting me to join them on such an excellent adventure.