Did you ever have a surprise birthday party? You know, that thing that never works out, because one of the guests inadvertently spoils the surprise, or the birthday girl/boy arrives earlier than expected, or notices that something odd was going on. Well, during our hike, José managed to arrange such a surprise for Moiken’s birthday and we had an amazing time!
But let’s see how it all developed during the four days between day 196 and day 199 of our trip – from Moiken’s perspective.
We left Katwijk by bus on the day before my birthday and I was expecting a romantic evening, at least one night in a fancy hotel, and a few easy days strolling through Amsterdam. I hadn’t quite figured out why José insisted to take a full four days of rest – there were still so many kilometers ahead of us, two days would have been enough – but in light of the possibility of spending some more time in this great city, I didn’t offer much resistance. We arrived at the hotel – and it was a real treat: Wonderful room with view over the city, relaxing spa area, and to top it all off, José had arranged for me to get a massage to loosen those sore muscles! We went out for dinner later (we felt a bit guilty about not hiking that day, so we walked about 3 km to get there) and, as the night was still young, took a bus into town for a late movie session. By chance, we discovered a newly opened culture center in an old tram depot, with shops, galleries, a huge quality food court, and a fantastic movie complex for alternative cinema.
My birthday started with a good brunch in the hotel and receiving a lot of birthday wishes. Then it was time for Cinderella to pack her bags and move into a more modest lodging for the next days. But, strangely enough, the place that José had booked for us would only let us check in at the end of the day. A bit inconvenient, but that’s what lockers are for, right? So we left our backpacks in a luggage storage next to the train station and set off to explore the city.
First, we enjoyed the view from above with a glass of champagne…
… then, we walked along the canals, admiring the beautiful facades with exceptionally great weather:
I wanted to use the opportunity of being in a big city to shop for some hiking equipment, so we went to our favorite commercial establishment – outdoor shops. José normally doesn’t get nervous when I take longer than him, but on that day, he was making some pressure for me to hurry up. We still had to go to a certain café to eat some fresh stroopwafels, and shouldn’t miss their opening time. Well, THAT was a convincing argument for me, and when we arrived at the café, there were stroopwafels and…
So, now I understood all the rush; José had invited my mother to come to Amsterdam, and she was waiting for us in the café.
The three of us went for a small walk through Amsterdam’s streets, now fully illuminated, and had dinner in a nice Indian place, followed by a couple of beers in some shady bar.
Again, I was a bit surprised; it was getting really late now, my mum must have been tired, I definitely was, and our backpacks still had to be picked up and taken to our new lodging. José suggested taking Regine to her hotel, and after 11 PM (!), we could call our landlord to see if we can already check in. We had a piece of birthday cake in her hotel room and started walking to our lodging, not far from the hotel. We arrived in a residential area, and had to enter a ground floor apartment through the back door. You first – said José, and literally pushed me through the door, where… Our friends were waiting for me, with cake, champagne, and dozens of balloons!!
I didn’t know what to say, it was so great seeing our friends and realizing we would be spending the weekend with them! So not only my mother had come all the way from Berlin; also Anne and Heidi had driven from Luxembourg and Daniele, Tati and Fernando had flown in from Zurich! Wonderful!
We all stayed in the apartment and tried to get enough sleep for the following day.
We started the day by adding one important participant to our happy travel group: Arthur, a dear colleague from my last job, is a real Amsterdamer and had offered to guide us in his city. He had been very cool about the whole surprise thing: While I was making plans with him for José and me, José was contacting him separately to tell the whole story and change the daily planning.
Now, we had the pleasure of walking with him through downtown Amsterdam, learning a lot about the city’s secrets.
Arthur picked a great place for us to have lunch, but when we decided about a venue for dinner (9 people on a Saturday evening, no reservation!), José’s and my discovery of two days before proved really helpful. In the food court of De Hallen, we could all gather around a table and each of us chose something nice to eat and drink, so we could have a try of almost everything.
We ended the day in the best bar in town: Our apartment!
If anybody has been counting: Until now, it has been three days of straight birthday celebration, and we were not finished yet.
We had a last breakfast together in the apartment, before beginning to break up. Regine took the train back to Berlin, and Anne and Heidi had to hit the road to Luxembourg. The remaining five of us still had a whole day to spend in town. As it happened, it was the day of the arrival of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam. Why in November? And why does he get to have hundreds of black-faced helpers? Better ask a Dutch friend to explain, or follow the link for some background information.
We just enjoyed the happy atmosphere in the city, to end this long weekend of celebrations on a high note.