Friday, 26 August 2011

Days 21-22: Amsterdam

I'm back home as I write these now, with a stable internet connection and a decent laptop. I'll hopefully burn through the rest of the trip entries in the next couple of days.

Amsterdam is a city I've technically been to a few times before. I say "technically" because I've generally flown to Schiphol Airport and then instantly gotten the train somewhere else, and I've yet to actually see any of the city.

Our hostel was a fair way out from the city centre itself, near the Amsterdam Muiderpoort station. This wasn't so much of an issue because trains were pretty frequent, and our interrail passes covered the five-minute journey.

For the most part, we just wandered around Amsterdam and took the place in. This would have been a far more enjoyable experience than it actually was if the streets weren't an absolute clusterfuck of pedestrians, bikes and cars. There are cyclists absolutely everywhere, and there is no clear indication whatsoever of where bikes should be and where pedestrians should be, which basically leads to a crazy free-for-all where as a pedestrian you have to spend your whole sodding time looking over your shoulder to make sure you're not about to be mown down by a cyclist. Or a car. Pavements are a good invention.

The other issue I had with Amsterdam is that a huge amount of the city looks identical. To make a really old nerdy reference that very few people will get, there were times I felt like I was in the Wind Fish egg in LoZ: Link's Awakening. You walk to the next block and come to a place that looks exactly the same to where you just were. Venice has a similar effect, but its network of narrow streets, bridges and canals are very random, and while the whole place looks pretty much the same, the individual locations are distinct. On the other hand, Amsterdam's road and canal layout is very structured and regular, and as a result places really do just look exactly the same, and it's really fricking easy to lose your sense of distance inside the city and get lost. I'd know roughly what direction the station was in, but I'd have no idea how far away I was.

We looked around, ate, and had a drink at a bar. Another point of note is that continental Europe is really pricey for beer and alcohol in general. Once you get over to Eastern Europe things cheapen up a bit, but in general the Eurozone will set you back around €5 per pint of beer. The UK has its cheap alcohol for binge drinking and hugely expensive cigarettes, and mainland Europe seems to prefer cheap cancer-sticks and instead charges fucktons for beer.

Anyway, at this bar we got approached by a street magician. It's not something that will particularly translate well into the written word, so I will simply go with the statement that he was absolutely fantastic. Proper mouth opening "how the hell did he do that?" street magic. Generally I'm fairly stingy with money for these sorts of things, and I especially hate people who approach you for money or basically grab you to give you something and want money in return, but I was totally happy to give this guy money. We all were. He was that good.

From there we wandered around the Red Light District, which I have to say is a bit surreal. It's so strange that something like that is a tourist attraction. Obviously there are groups of lads like ourselves wandering around for jokes, but you see middle-aged couples wandering around as well as tourists (or maybe they do actually purchase something?) and it just feels a bit weird.


We initially had plans for the second day to see various museums and galleries, but this got hugely cut back when we discovered that these places were €14 each, which just felt totally extortionate. We did go to one place, the FOAM gallery, which was considerably cheaper and was a really interesting photographic gallery. There was a particularly good exhibition by Anton Corbijn, including a photo of Lance Armstrong I particularly liked.

From there, we wandered to the museum quarter, a really nice open space with the various expensive-as-hell museums surrounding it.



Just south of there is a promenade with various sculptures from some pretty well known artists (including Dalí and Míro) which we had a wander around. It's a reasonably pleasant walk, and some of the sculptures are really interesting. And because I had limited camera battery there are no pictures, so apologies for that.

We chilled out in the Vondelpark for most of the afternoon, before we headed back to the hostel and met up with John and Ingeborg, who are both in the year above me and Nick at Downing (and who Nick knows pretty well through frisbee).

We did a fair amount of drinking in the hostel bar, because it was cheap, before getting the last train into Amsterdam Centraal for a night out that basically ended up with us all pretty much instantly crashing at Inge's place in the city centre. John had missed his last train home to Den Haag, and Nick was too drunk to make it back to the hostel, so they slept there. I'd had less to drink, and was adamant that I wanted to have a shower and breakfast at the hostel the next morning without having to get up early for a train, so I walked back.

I'm actually somewhat amazed I managed to get back as easily as I could. I had a map, but I was also drunk and on my own at 2am in a city I'd never been to before. The two mile walk went pretty much completely without a hitch and I got back to the hostel and to bed without any troubles.

I did have an interesting encounter on my walk back though. At one point some guy started circling in front of me on a bike making slightly weird noises.

"You want a bike?" he said.
"I'm fine, thanks"

This was actually a lie. I was tired and had a good mile and a half left to go. I would have totally killed for a bike at that point in time. But I figured that it was probably stolen and I doubted I had enough euros on me for it anyway.

"You sure you don't want a bike?"
"Nah, I'm OK"

This seemed to content him, and he cycled away a bit, before coming back after a few seconds.

"...you want some crack?"

This wasn't the first time I've been offered drugs, but it was definitely not what I was expecting. I mean, I'd at least expect him to go with something a bit softer and build up to the crack. To my knowledge, bicycles aren't some sort of banned substance in Amsterdam (if they are, the police are certainly shit at keeping it under control). I'd expect there to at least be a bit of a progression instead of leaping straight from offering me a bike to offering me cocaine.

Anyway, I politely told him again that I was OK as I was, and declined his offer (again, not sure I'd have had the money on me anyway) and made it back to the hostel and went to sleep. We got up the next morning, taking advantage of our free breakfast at the hostel before getting a fairly early train to Brugge.

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