Coupons in Amsterdam

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When we first met we were waiting in a vegetarian hostel for the clouds to lift and the rain to stop so that we could climb Vulcan Villarica in central Chile. The low, sad sky finally stopped shedding its heavy tears and lifted itself up to reveal a steep snow and ice-covered conical mountain. With smoke coming out of the top. Somehow, we all made it to the summit and back safely, and the whole terrifying yet exhilarating experience forged a bond between the four of us ‘travel girls’. So a few months later, we reconvened at Marieke’s cosy flat in Amsterdam.

It was raining this time too. Not the persistent deluge that had held back our climbing plans in Chile, but the fine grey drizzle so characteristic of much of northern Europe. Being in Holland, we boarded our borrowed bikes and made for the city centre, to embark on a flat-bottomed barge for a canal tour. In the ticket office, we were drawn like magpies to the glitter of a book of vouchers offering discounts at Amsterdam’s most popular attractions. We decided the coupons were an unmissable bargain, and here began our mission for the next few days.

The canal tour was relaxing and we chattered happily as we edged under gracefully arching bridges stacked with bikes and slid past the tall elegant buildings that teeter on the canal banks. We cruised past the previously unheard-of houseboat museum which apparently accepted our vouchers. We’d all been to the famous Ann Frank museum before, and the queues were intimidating so we hit a minor art gallery instead, before taking in a Spanish film with Dutch subtitles, intended to cater for all our linguistic needs but which ended up confusing most of us! The weekend floated by in true Dutch style, as we ate Indonesian food, sipped coffees at the canalside, and drank in bars with Van Gogh style sunflower displays.

The newly-opened Hermitage Museum was magnificent, and we were congratulating ourselves on our foresight in buying the vouchers, when suddenly the bargains ground to a halt. We didn’t have time for the queue at the wonderful Van Gogh museum and our alluring-sounding ‘queue jumper’ coupon wasn’t valid; we’d missed the tour at the Diamond Museum; and we couldn’t face the sheer scale of the Rijksmuseum. Instead we biked through the cobbled streets, watched the Skinny Bridge (Magere Brug) open and close above the Amstel between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, and pottered happily around the floating flower market. We headed out of town to the coast and ate a dinner fresh from the sea as dusk fell moodily around us.

Undeterred, Susanna and I crammed in a last-minute visit to Rembrandt’s house. We were driven by our urge to use our vouchers, which now possessed us like a persistent winter cold, but it was actually a fascinating visit. Admitting defeat on the discount front, I flew back to London, leaving a valiant Susanna with fistfuls of vouchers for the houseboat museum and an excursion to the tulip fields. Despite this, Marieke still has a tempting stack of leftover coupons in her flat. So if you’re ever in Amsterdam and are being seduced by a lip-lickingly tempting book of bargains, beware: coupon fever can strike at any time and is hard to shake!

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