Having Fun in Amsterdam

Those few days of work passed quickly and it was suddenly time for my next little trip. This time to the Netherlands.

I spent the first night in a little city called Utrecht. Unfortunately I didn’t plan my trip so well in that my planned day of Utrecht sightseeing fell on a Monday. Which is when everything touristy is usually closed. I spent a few hours trekking around the pretty city, admitted defeat, caught a train to Amsterdam, and checked into my next hostel. It was still Monday in Amsterdam but being a bigger city it still felt like there was plenty happening.

Utrecht Clock Tower

My hostel (The Flying Pig) was pretty neat. It’s a well known Europe party hostel and has it’s own smoking room. It’s really central with being only five minutes walk from the train station. The rooms even had some double-bed sized bunks which is the first I’d ever seen. I also really liked the fact that they had American Hustle on DVD (probably an illegal copy I think) which was a movie I’d been meaning to go watch.

Such big bunks!

Activities-wise I did the usual free walking tour, revisited Anne Frank’s house (still just as great the second time), got my art on at the Van Goth museum, people-watched at the iAmsterdam sign, got freaked out by the Sex museum, and made it my mission to eat lots of Dutch food. Interestingly I noticed hardly any sex workers in their red light windows this time. I guess prostitutes have a low season in winter when tourist numbers drop. Or maybe it’s too cold to hang out in skimpy underwear next to a chilly window.

From Top Left: Windows closed for business; Febo! I wasn’t brave enough to try any food from here; The Hash Museum in the Red Light District; and a plaque of a hand cupping a boob.

Impossible to get a photo all alone. And this was in winter! Hate to think what summer-time is like

Some ice-skating kids at the rink next to the Van Gogh Museum

Playing around with my camera and people-watching

See the guy doing a headstand?

Beautiful Amsterdam canals

So many bicycles

The last night I caught up with a Dutch friend and we went and watched a Dutch band play called the Joneses. She was friends with the band so it was easy to meet the band and get handshakes afterwards. It’s quite fun feeling like a groupie. Check this video. It’s sooooo good! And notice how surprisingly they sing in English and not Dutch. But apparently this is because Dutch singing sounds awful, but English also appeals to a wider audience.

The next morning after turning up for my bus over an hour early (thank you incorrect time zone again in iPhone calendar!). Although still better than turning up an hour late like I did in Barcelona another time. I rode the bus for ten hours back to London. I decided during this journey that no matter how cheap bus tickets are, anything over five hours is just way too long and I’ll treat myself to plane tickets instead. This wasn’t helped by the fact that it was rush hour time in London by the time my bus arrived, and with the huge masses of people trying to push onto the Brighton train, I couldn’t even fit into the first three trains. I was standing in the winter cold on the platform for over an hour getting grumpier and grumpier just trying to complete the final segment of my journey.

Eventually I did make it back to my cozy apartment that night and fell asleep despite grumpy London train thoughts. But all in all a fun trip if you don’t include the last day.

Some swans in the Red Light District. They look a little lost!

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iAmsterdam

[Warning Mum! This post does contain some sexual references]

Wednesday morning I was awake and excited at 5am. An hour later I was checking in for my Contiki tour and beginning to get to know the other forty-six people I would be travelling with for the next eighteen days.

A long bus drive began. Six hours later, including a ride on the ferry across the English Channel, I was in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is a Dutch city with a population of around 800 thousand. The main themes of the city seem to be cheese, clogs and sex sex sex.

The first night we ventured into the red light district. With our tour manager guiding us, we had a look at some of the ‘coffee shops’ and the ladies on display. Coffee shops are where tourists and the Dutch can go to buy weed. It comes in the form of ‘space cakes’ or the more traditional cone to smoke. I didn’t try any of the products but a few of the other group members did. I did learn what ‘greening out’ meant later that night.

The ladies on display are prostitutes which is a legal working profession in Holland. They display themselves in little rooms with a window to the street and a neon red light outside. Usually wearing lingerie that glows with the lights. Closed curtains means a customer is inside. Apparently the sex industry brings in approx $100 million US in revenue every year. It was really interesting to see how pretty and normal-looking most of the women were. And there were some that weren’t so nice.. There was an alleyway called Fat Lane within the district. I’m sure you can imagine the types of ladies on display down there. A lot of the women I saw that night could have been models, some were amazingly beautiful, but maybe the money is better in this line of work? But I personally don’t think it’s a job that I’ll try!

Based on the recommendation of the tour manager, our group went and saw a sex show for the full Amsterdam cultural experience. It was certainly a very eye-opening experience. It may have involved some people having sex on a stage as one of the acts. But that’s all I’m going to say about the show. You will just have to go to one yourself to find out what else happens. Cost €40.

On the whole, as dodgy as all the stuff I’ve just said about the red light district sounds, it was actually very interesting to see such a different side of life. And the atmosphere has a good vibe. I felt very safe walking around the district the whole time. Originally prostitution was introduced to the city as a way to lower the rates of rape by making sex so easily available. It certainly seems to be working judging by how happy and cheerful the Dutch people are ;) The rate of rape has apparently much improved. Photography of the girls is frowned upon but I did find this photo on google just to give you an idea.

Image courtesy of theworkzine.com
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The next morning, feeling a little bit bleary eyed, it was time to go see how cheese and clogs are made. This was actually a really neat experience. The staff at the Cheese Farm were really interactive. Especially the clog man. He was very creative and amusing as to his reasons why wooden clogs are amazing to wear. I felt almost persuaded to buy a pair. Lucky I didn’t as my backpack really cannot fit anymore items inside. The clogs are surprisingly comfortable to wear. And make a fantastic weapon or hammer should you need it. Dutch cheese tasting was part of the tour and very very delicious.

Don’t ya just love ’em!
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Then my favourite part of the morning was next – riding a granny bike along the canals in a small Dutch village called Edam.

Edam is stunningly beautiful. It really made me fall in love with Holland. Just look at these photos (which were difficult to get while riding a bike I have to say! Try it sometime).

If you think this is beautiful, in person it’s even more gorgeous
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A decked out granny bike
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As much as I loved Amsterdam city, I actually liked the smaller Dutch village more. Maybe I’m just not as much of a city girl since living in tiny Norseman in Western Australia for a few months, but I do appreciate my quiet little towns now.

Later on in the afternoon I went to another very famous Amsterdam attraction. The Anne Frank museum. Definitely worth a visit. It is a very moving experience seeing where Anne and her family actually lived while hiding from the Nazis for over two years. I haven’t read the book for a long time, but after seeing the museum and feeling incredibly affected by it, I am reading it again now. Just be aware the queue can be quite long and slow moving. Only a certain number of people are let into the museum at a time which is actually quite nice if you think about it. Overcrowded exhibitions (like Madam Tussards was) are definitely a kill-joy. Cost €9.

Image courtesy of annefrank.org
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The rest of the day was spent shopping, going on a cruise through the canals, eating delicious Chinese-style food at the Sea Palace restaurant, getting quite tiddly during all of this (each tour activity included a number of free house drinks which of course I couldn’t let go to waste), posing for classic touristy photos, before tumbling into bed.

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Unfortunately I didn’t get a great sleep that night as two of my roommates came back at 2am drunk and high from their night out. Sadly they did not know how to whisper (they were yelling), or that turning on all room lights is kinda rude when there are sleeping people in the room. That’s the first time I’ve come across that in all my hostel experiences. Most people are usually really considerate as it is basic etiquette among fellow backpackers sharing a dorm room. But personally I am thinking that I just won’t share a room with those particular two girls again on this tour.

That was my last night in Holland. But I certainly plan to return and see more. In Amsterdam alone there are over thirty-nine museums which I would like to meander through, let alone all the other attractions and beauty in the rest of the country. I also want to try more Dutch food like the vlaamse frites (chips with mayonnaise) and stroopwaffel (waffle biscuit things stuck together with toffee goodness) as I ran out of time to eat these local delicacies.

Final verdict on Amsterdam – Awesome!!!!!!