Until I was in my twenties I had never flown anywhere. I’d been on camping holidays with my family as a teenager, to France and even once a driving holiday to Switzerland, which seemed intrepid at the time.
After a couple of years of work, and having become established in a pleasant, shared flat in Putney, one of my flat-mates suggested we take a trip to Amsterdam during our Easter holiday. We’d still be doing it on the cheap, taking standard flights and staying in the youth hostel; but Easter is a fine time to visit The Netherlands and we’d be able to take a coach out to Keukenhof, where acres of bulbs are grown, a spectacular sight in the spring.
I was as excited about the flight as anything else. At this time [the mid 70s] air travel still held a hint of glamour, influenced by Freddie Laker’s entrepeneurial innovations, the TV ads full of inviting images. I am ancient enough to remember the Imperial Leather soap commercial, in which a couple are bathing in an aircraft. These days any sense of luxury or comfort on an aeroplane can only be accessed via flying business class and paying extortionate sums for tickets.
But Amsterdam is a short flight away and a trip we would never undertake by air now. My friend, Deirdre had come up with another cunning plan. Her ex-boyfriend was living in Amsterdam, having moved on to live with his latest squeeze, a Dutch girl in a flat near the centre. According to Deirdre, Dale was a confident, charming but egocentric womaniser who would love nothing more than to provide free tours and guidance during our stay. We never discovered what the Dutch girlfriend thought of it all…
Everything was straightforward with our travel and we got into the centre of Amsterdam with no trouble, but locating the youth hostel was another matter. There were, however various ‘hostels’ and we checked into one, assuming it was indeed the official, kosher, accredited real deal. It was certainly cheap. But in that time-honoured way of ‘getting what you pay for’, it was a dump, the shared washing facilities spartan, the dorms quite nasty.
We managed a night then rose and set off to meet Dale, who was delighted to see us and show us around, He also explained that our accommodation was not the Youth Hostel and took us to find the YHA property, which was located bang slap in the centre of the red light district [which, for anyone who would like to know, is near Amsterdam’s grand railway station].
We removed ourselves from the first place and went to the YHA, where we were allocated bunks in a dormitory, mine being the top one. There were strict rules, one being a denial of entry after 10.00pm, which seemed a little draconian. We’d also have to take our turn with clearing up breakfast etc. But it was clean and safe.
So during our week we walked all over Amsterdam, taking a canal boat ride, visiting the Rijksmuseum, all the major squares, the flower market and most memorable, a tour of Anne Frank’s house, when we were almost alone and in silence to look at the cramped attic where she hid with her family. I’ve returned to Amsterdam on a number of occasions but have never wanted to revisit the house, to queue up and shuffle around in a crowd of chattering tourists.
As twenty somethings, we threw ourselves with gusto into the city’s nightlife, but our 10pm curfew was a severe obstacle to fully enjoy the evenings. Most nights we rushed in with seconds to spare, to find the dorm dark and full of slumbering women, then I’d have to scramble up past two levels to reach my bunk, hoping not to insert my foot into someone’s face.
It was a packed week. The Netherlands’ capital is always a captivating trip to make, but you never forget your first sight of iconic places-and you never forget the first time you flew, either!