And we're back! And we're in Amsterdam!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I received the new computer yesterday, thanks mostly to the tireless efforts of Anne who I think is my second cousin once removed, but this week it would be more accurate to call her my personal assistant. Thanks Anne! Also thanks to LJO, my Amsterdam mailing address and hashing buddy. And now on to an actual post that I wrote yesterday:

I've come to this conclusion about long-term travel: you spend about 70% of your time feeling slightly uncomfortable - a bit warm, a bit chilly, a bit tired, a bit sweaty, a bit grubby, or usually a combination of the above. That leaves about 15% of the time for feeling perfectly content, and about 15% of the time for feeling perfectly wretched. Right now I'm in the 70% zone. Amsterdam is hot today - 32° and sunny - and as a consequence I'm sweaty and sticky and grubby and really wish I had a cool, private room to hide out in and relax.

Instead, I'm at the the pleasant and spacious Openbare Biliotheek Amsterdam - the library. There are scads of free internet terminals here, and I didn't even have to wait long to get one. A quick check of the TNT courier website indicates that my computer shipment was delivered in good condition to its destination in Amsterdam, so I'm just awaiting a call from my new best friend in the Netherlands to let me know I can come and pick it up. It will take me a while to get it tweaked to my liking, but I should be online right out-of-the-box, which will be a relief.

Tomorrow I move on to Utrecht for a few days of relaxation. I don't plan on doing much touristy stuff, and may not blog while I'm there either, so don't worry if I'm out of touch again.

As for Amsterdam, here are a few thoughts on the things I've done and seen:

Anne Frank House: I believe it's actually mandatory for every tourist to visit Anne Frank House, judging my the length of the queue. It's the highest-grossing tourist attraction in the Netherlands, so perhaps they tag you with some kind of invisible RFID chip to alert border guards if you attempt to leave the country without attending. I was foiled in my attempt to buy a ticket online so I had to wait in the queue, which was not nearly as long as the one for the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, but I was standing there for just under an hour. Once inside, though, I judged that it was worth the wait, despite the whole time inside the house being approximately equal to the time spent waiting in line.

The story is so universally known it's like it's a part of everyone's shared history. And you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by it, so it made the experience of going through the actual rooms quite moving. I'm not sure how much is original, and how much is a recreation, but the building itself and the rooms in it are the very rooms those 8 people hid in for more than 2 years. You can see the room Anne stayed in, and the pictures she cut out of magazines and pasted on the wall. And you can see the swinging bookcase that hid the entrance to the "secret annex", though it turns out the bookcase is a reconstruction. Still, it was all quite evocative.

Bike Tour: The Copenhagen bike tour was so fun that I was determined to do the same thing here, and in fact there was a Mike's Bikes tour company here too, though they don't seem to be affiliated with the Copenhagen operation. This bunch were decidedly on the bohemian side, but it is Amsterdam after all, and they were a lot of fun. The bikes in Amsterdam all come with two locks - the standard wheel lock encountered in Copenhagen, and a heavy chain lock too. The guy who set me up with the rental begged me to use the chain to secure the bike too something. Apparently it's a favourite trick of drunken partiers to throw bikes into the canals. About 25,000 per year are pulled out by barges that look like giant floating claw machines.

Thank you to Pete, our Mike's Bikes tour guide, who turned out to be from Ottawa! That was really nice since it meant I didn't have to explain where Winnipeg is when he asked where I was from (My standard reply to this question has become "It's in the big flat bit in the middle."). Two thumbs up for Mike's Bikes, because the tour was only €18, and I got €2 off because the tour I tried to take at first was canceled due to lack of interest, and I got 50% off the rental of a bike for doing the tour, so my bike rental for the whole 4 days in Amsterdam was only €18. Go to Mike's Bikes. And say hi to Pete for me.

Mike's Bikes 3808

And having a bike in Amsterdam has been even better than having one in Copenhagen - the city is just made for bikes - all the narrow streets that run along the canals are great for cycling. And there are a LOT of canals. Pete said there are more bridges in Amsterdam than in Venice. I'm prepared to believe there are also more bikes.

Bikes and water - about 98% of the contents of Amsterdam. (The other 2% are a mix of tourists and hotels.)

Albert Cupymarkt: I'm a bit museum-ed out at this point, so despite there being fantastic and famous museums here like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and Rembrandthuis and blah blah blah, I am just not in the mood, especially after the art-overload of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. So yesterday I got up and had a run and then biked over to the Albert Cuypmarkt, a long pedestrain street in De Pjip district, that was full of wild stalls selling everything from shampoo and CDs to lychee nuts and herring.

Fish stall

I had Steve's Weird Food for the Netherlands: broodje haring, which is a few fresh herring on a soft white bun topped with chopped onion and a spear of sweet pickle. It was... fishy but edible. I think I can die happy without having broodje haring again, but neither was I repulsed.

Broodje Haring, it looks sort of like a hot dog, but don't be fooled.

Hashing: I did not expect to be able to do a hash run while in the Netherlands because the schedule in Amsterdam didn't mesh with mine. What I neglected to remember is how close together the cities are here, so last night I got a ride with LJO, my Amsterdam hashing friend, and we went to hash in The Hague. We ended up getting there a bit late, so we had to find the start of the trail on our own. And it turns out that LJO is a much faster runner than I am, and I had done 9.4 km that morning, and it was warm and humid, so the run itself was a much greater effort than I was expecting, and much, much longer than any other hash I've done (Including anything hared by Greasy). Still, there was cold beer at the end, and even a BBQ at the home of the hare. And the trail marks were the cutest I have ever seen (even if they seemed to be missing for kilometres at a time...).

Little feet! Sooooo cute.

Canal Cruise: Also mandatory, though I managed to find one that wasn't the bog-standard canned-commentary giant corporation one (Thank you "Lonely Planet Amsterdam Encounter"). I went with the St. Nicholas Boat Club, a small club run by volunteers who maintain a tiny fleet of two small open boats that can go into the narrowest canals and under the lowest bridges. They run two tours daily and don't do a lot of commentary, but will answer questions if they know the answer and encourage you to bring anything on board that you might want to eat, drink or smoke. And I met a nice young American guy that I chatted with the whole time, which made the morning that much more pleasant. (Adam - I hope Haarlem was fun, send me an email and let me know!).

Our guide Ken at the tiller, with drawbridge in the background

And that was my time in Amsterdam. I'm definitely ready to move on tomorrow, especially since the hostel I'm staying at turned out to be right in the heart of the Red Light District. (I chose it because it was close to the train station. Maybe next time I'll do a bit more research). I can't believe I've got any sleep sharing a 10 bed room with giant windows that overlook Warmoestraat, thank God I have earplugs. It's certainly a colourful neighbourhood...

Bikes covered with leopard print fun fur, Warmoestraat


Gillian said...

Glad your back Pam - I knew you wouldn't stay down!!

Lisa said...

Super cute hash marks! I need to make some templates and do that here..but don't tell any of the Winnipeg Hashers...(Psssst.. WH3 you didn't read that!)

Glad you are back and no longer techo-challenged! ON ON !!!!

Kittie said...

The Van Gogh Musuem is really worth checking out. I really enjoyed that museum.

I'm jealous about the hering. I had read about hering there, but was unable to find the article in my guide book while I was in Amsterdam and failed to find a place that was selling the stuff.

And I'm sad to say I didn't get to see the Anne Frank house. As much as I would have loved to, I'm not really down with standing in line for an hour.

Unknown said...

Your travel percentages seem a little odd to me. From what you have been writing, I think the % for enjoying yourself is actually a lot higher. rh

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