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Amsterdam the XXX city
Rating: (4.8) (17 Votes)

Amsterdam, Netherlands
May 10, 2004

Pros: Tulips
Cons: None

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 it.

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.