the XXX city
(4.8) (17 Votes)
May 10, 2004
Amsterdam is a fairly small city (less than a million) with a big
atmosphere, very relaxed (possibly something to do with all those
drugs) and picturesque. We got off to a poor start at a hostel that
gave us the wrong beds and then refused to sort it out, but then
moved to the best hostel we've stayed at so far (flying pig palace).
The city is a mix of canals and streets walled by the amazing 17th
century skinny brick houses that Holland is famous for. To add to
the atmosphere everybody in Amsterdam rides the most ancient looking
bikes you have ever seen. There is even a strange kind of pride
to be had in having a bike that looks like it has been through both
the wars. Bike theft is so rife that the locks are worth more than
the bikes themselves. On our first night we were offered a fenced
bike for only 10 euro, a bargain if we'd been staying longer as
it costs around 7 euro to rent one for a day. One guy at the hostel
was financing his stay by renting out fenced bikes for 5 euros a
day to tourists.
On the second day we were there we thought we'd take advantage of
the free rollerblades provided by the hostel reasoning that Amsterdam
is so flat, we can blade everywhere. Big mistake, those cobbled
streets and frequent curved bridges are not so easy to skate over.
Particularly if you haven't quite figured out how to stop without
grabbing the closest thing/person. Just imagine 2 flailing kiwis
flying by, turning just before taking a dive into a canal and landing
in a heap.
Holland in springtime means tulips everywhere. Strangely enough,
in the market you can buy marijuana seeds alongside tulip bulbs.
I've heard that they are liberal here but that just seems wrong.
On the theme of liberal law making, we took a stroll on a couple
of nights through the infamous red-light district. Apart from the
seedy nature of it all it was very much like walking through a museum
with moving exhibits. For the most part the women looked very bored
and were chatting on cell phones (likely their supplemental income)
or having a cigarette. Occasionally one would feel inspired poke
her head out the window and try to entice a punter. There were actually
more tourists walking around than prospective customers.
On a completely different note, one of the most interesting solutions
that the Dutch have come up with for their housing problem is legalised
squatting. The idea is that anyone can find a building that hasn't
been occupied for 1 year, stay 1 night there, and then call the
police the next day to say that you are now squatting that building.
This has lead to 'anti-squatting' where properties that have been
vacated are then rented out extremely cheap so that squatters cannot
claim the building. Sounds strange but it works.
Apart from wandering around the canals, the only other thing we
did in Amsterdam was to see the van Gogh museum. This museum was
a nice change to the museums in France and Italy in that it was
well documented in English so we could actually follow what was
going on without paying for a guide. The displays were very good
for seeing the different phases of painting that van Gogh went through
in life, from early on when he only used brown, to his time in an
asylum where some of his most famous works were done.
From Amsterdam we left for the Hague, but thats a whole other entry...
In the Hague for R & R
After travelling hard and fast through Italy and France we were
in urgent need of some down time to recover. The Hague was the perfect
place for us to do this, as we were able to stay with Iet, Kev's
great aunt, and there were few tourist attractions to see, so no
pressure to wander the city all day. In the end we spent 4 nights
there, much longer than we had planned but once you're in a proper
bed (no bunks!) and not sharing a bathroom with 30 other people
its hard to leave again.
On our first day there we arranged to meet up with Yao & Marleike
(a cousin of Kevin, roughly) in Rotterdam (only 30 mins by train).
Rotterdam is a stark contrast to Amsterdam, not many old buildings
survived the war and the city is constantly renewing itself through
new buildings. The landscape is dotted with strange modern creations
of glass and mirrors and huge bridges straddle the river. With Yao
& Marleike as our guides for the day, we walked around their
favourite spots in the city, including cube houses that look more
like some architects twisted dream than something that people can
actually live in. The cubes are on an angle so there are no vertical
walls inside, everything has to fit around the angles of the cube.
As a result there is very little space inside, and it feels claustraphobic.
To finish our day off we had a lunch of Surinamese food (oily bread
with meat stuffing), and watched Kill Bill 2.
Another day was spent at the amazing Keukenhof gardens. The gardens
are only open for 3 months of the year but get over a million visitors
annually. Its easy to see why, there you can see every variety of
tulip thinkable, the arrangements of flowers are very nice, and
you can spend a day (particularly in nice weather) walking through
The rest of the time at Iet's we indulged in home cooked meals &
plenty of glasses of port. One night we all watched the live coverage
of the eurovision song quest (4 hours!)mostly because of the funny
English commentator who spent the whole time mocking the contest
and its obviously politically determined winners (eg. austria will
vote for germany, czech rep for slovak rep). It came down to who
had the most friends, and this time it was the Ukraines with a gyrating
Xena outfitted singer.