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Archive for October, 2012

Autumn has well and truly set in. It’s been rather cold this month, though i’m still finding that temperatures i would be absolutely rugged up in back home are tolerable here – this bodes well for winter as i’m not wearing ALL the things yet. Haven’t even bought thermals yet!

I had four days off in a row and the lovely Sarah, who i met on the plane moving over here had some holiday so we booked a last minute trip to Amsterdam, a city neither of us had been to. As you all know, I’m quite happy travelling on my own, but it was wonderful to have a travelling companion!

We headed off on a saturday afternoon at a very reasonable hour, but it was still sort of dinner time by the time we got there, headed to the hostel, checked in etc. Amsterdam greeted us with rain… and more rain… but it was still deliciously pretty and full of trams and canals, both of which make me happy. We stopped in at the the Apple store which was pretty much round the corner from our hostel and asked a staff member (after chatting about working for the same company  – later discovered a friend of mine trained her at covent garden!) where she would recommend eating. she gave us the names of a few places, one, Cafe de Koe, was very close by and we headed there – it was a proper local place, not a tourist in sight. I had (belgian) cherry beer (not at all beery and totally delicious) and Venison and we had a great chat with the bartender and our waitress giggled at our attempts to translate the dutch menu (we got some of it right)

The hostel was a complete dive, but again, not such an issue when you’re with a travelling companion, but it’s really not worth discussing – except it was cheap and easy to get to, but i wouldn’t recommend it really.

The Sunday was our most accomplished day. We booked the free walking tour with new europe tours, who came recommended to me and i would HIGHLY recommend to others. They operate all over Europe and I fully intend to at least do the free tours in as many cities as i can! They work on tips so they make sure they are very informative and entertaining. Our guide Kendra was rocking and walk took us through the red light district, to the edge of the Jewish quarter, back through Dam Square, over the 4 main canals, to the Jordaan area where we finished up and had a delicious traditional lunch or mash with onion and carrots, a sausage (or meatball) and gravy and i had a mulled wine. Perfect comfort food after walking in the rain!

The Old Church, right in the heart of the Red Light District. Because sailors like sex. then they like to repent about the sex. When this was a catholic church it sold chits of forgiveness for the sin of adultery that sailors could buy BEFORE sampling the wares of the area. those business savvy Dutch!

The Royal Palace in Dam Square

The very phallic WWII monument in Dam Square

When telling us about the East India Trading Company (and the West India trading company and a whole bunch of interesting stories) Kendra gave us the choice of being out of the rain in a bicycle shed… we said yes, but it was also actually REALLY cool!

This guy was a bit of a Michael Moore of his time, exposing the 1% in a VERY boring book…

Narrowest house in Amsterdam. Crazy.

The best cheese shop in Amsterdam. I sampled the wares. I very much liked it! (bicycle not included)

Westerkirk (west church – the Dutch are CRAZY with how they name things)
This is right next to the Anne Frank House

We were so impressed with the tour that we decided to purchase tickets for one of the paid tours as well as tickets for a canal trip recommended by the company. The tour was at 7, so we took a good tip and headed to the Anne Frank House at 5,30ish to try and avoid queues. We didn’t completely manage to do that, but we were in pretty quickly. It was a remarkable experience. I cried. I don’t know how to explain here the effect being in that house had on me, except to say it made me incredibly sad and angry and heartbroken for mankind. I have never read Anne Frank’s Diary, but i will now, knowing just what a strong young lady she was.

The paid tour we went on was the Red Light District tour. It was INCREDIBLY fascinating! It was definitely titillating to walk past all the windows and see the women working them, but the information on the history of the area and the social and financial impact of the area and the business was really interesting, especially for someone like me who absolutely believes that prostitution should be legalised (at least in some form). Amsterdam proves a few of my beliefs about the benefits of legal prostitution. Namely, protecting the participants (both procurers and clients) and providing funds for the community through taxation.

The tour also talked about the generally accepting atmosphere of Amsterdam and we discussed the place of gay clubs, bdsm clubs/stores and other niche markets. Each sexual movement has its own flag and each has it’s place in Amsterdam. It’s remarkable how open this city is.

The canals in the Red Light District – complete with swans.

After the red light tour we took up another of Kendra’s recommendations by heading to a coffeeshop. Well we were in Amsterdam! 3.50 Euros later and Sarah and i had managed to smoke half a joint between us and were very happy. we then walked to the best burger place in Amsterdam (again, thanks to Kendra) and I DEVOURED an incredibly overpriced but terribly delicious burger and fries. We got into our hostel room at around 12 and crashed out!

On Sunday we got to a slow start having both slept VERY well, and walked along the Prinsengraacht to a highly recommended (by both Kendra and our Apple friend) pancake house. We were early so we wandered through some markets and took FAR too many photos of the canals (The sun was finally shining!!) before going back. Unfortunately I’m pretty sure the pancake i ate (knew i should have chosen sweet over savoury!), compounded with the boat ride we went on afterwards, did not agree with me and i began to feel quite nauseous. Other than that, the canal trip was gorgeous and we picked up even more info on Amsterdam and it’s secrets and history!

Prinsengraacht

canals, complete with trio of buskers

are you sick of canal photos yet? I’m not!

After we left the boat I was feeling quite queasy, so we took it pretty easy, but stopped into the Sex Museum up near Amsterdam Centraal. It was really interesting (and rather arousing!). It was a refreshing experience to be somewhere where curiosity about others’ sexual habits is a good thing and all those questions you would never dare ask are answered. Also? people have had dirty minds for a VERY VERY long time! I was particularly fascinated by how many pornographic items are from the Victorian era! And pornography is totally worldwide – there is not a single culture without its sexual expression! One thing i was surprised by though was the lack of sex toys… anyway! I didn’t like the gimmicky stuff in there though – i think the actual exhibited items speak for themselves.

We wandered around a little more – stopped into some shops, checked out the Magna Plaza (stunning building, couldn’lt believe it was a shopping centre!) before heading to the final restaurant recommended to us – Cafe de Klos

The Main street, leading from Dam Square to Amsterdam Centraal

Magna Plaza
Even commercialism is stunning in Amsterdam.

I needed to include this photo as they managed to erect an entire funfair, including ferris wheel, in Dam Square OVERNIGHT.

Despite managing to eat a rather decent dinner and getting to bed early, I was, unfortunately, sick as a dog all monday night. I greeted Tuesday completely exhausted and still nauseous. And of course we had to check out of our room at 10, with our flight home booked for 9! I was devastated and particularly concerned about ruining Sarah’s last day in Amsterdam. I was DETERMINED to get the most out of my time there so we dropped our stuff in the lockers at the train station and headed to the Rijksmuseum with the hope that being inside out of the rain and the cold and quietly taking in some culture might suit my sickly disposition. It did and it didn’t. It’s really hard to take in art while you’re trying not to throw up! The good new is i didn’t throw up again that day, the bad news is that by the time i saw the famous Night Watch by Rembrandt, I could barely take in anything around me so i don’t remember it particularly well! There are some things i do remember really liking, and the info on the history of the Dutch golden age was great. I have decided i really like Jan Steen and it was great to see what gave Rembrandt his reputation. His portraiture was indeed superb. I just wish i could have focussed. At least there were a lot of stools around! I almost fell asleep waiting for Sarah to enjoy the museum (I really didn’t want to rush her and i was sitting, so i was ok) but it was still only 1pm!! We found a cafe where i had a little lie down on a bench and some peppermint tea and some sparkling water and Sarah had lunch. I was a mess and we couldn’t find anywhere to leave me while Sarah explored, so we decided to chuck it in and head to the airport early.

Well, it was the best decision, because EasyJet came to the party for once and allowed us to switch to an earlier flight for no charge! so instead of flying out at 9, we left lovely Amsterdam at 5 and i was in bed by 8 – still queasy and completely and utterly exhausted. I still don’t know exactly what made me sick, but i felt rotten and it took me a good three days to get my appetite back properly.

Despite the disappointing ending to my trip, I absolutely loved Amsterdam. I would definitely go again. It is a strange city, but so beautiful. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, open and inviting and accepting, but private as well. It is completely fascinating and I really enjoyed (most of) my time there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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