Friday 21 May 2004

next part | previous part | Amsterdam and London trip
© 2004 Giles Orr

I think I slept two or maybe even three hours on the flight. About an hour before we landed I actually started to get really excited about going to Amsterdam. An odd time to do it!

I saw one guy who looked like a full-on pot-head, headed straight to the coffeehouses. 25 years old, massive sideburns, dopey look. I'd love to know if I was right. Oh well. Stephanie said some friends of hers spent a week in Amsterdam stoned the entire time.

Marcel and his father picked me up at the airport. Nice guy. His father drove us in the tiny Toyota Starlet. His father speaks almost no English. They took me to the Singel Hotel where I left my big bag (it was 0900, the room wasn't ready).

Marcel's dad took off after delivering us to the hotel. Marcel and I wandered all over central Amsterdam (the hotel is right downtown, five blocks from Centraal Station). There are bicycles everywhere. Every railing in the entire town is buried in bikes, sometimes two or even three deep. Marcel says most of them are three, four, or five speed bikes. He's has had three bikes stolen and two of them were worthless. It's a major business here. He says that most people have bikes with derailleurs, but you'll never see them attached to railings - they get kept inside.

The buildings are crooked.

Lots of coffeeshops, and the accompanying smell of pot.

Incredibly numbers of people are clearly tourists (guidebooks, cameras, backpacks, foreign spoken language). Mind you, I've been in dominantly tourist areas. In the Begijnhof, Marcel's e-mailed comment/joke about American tourists was brought vividly to life: there were six or seven of them talking at a volume that might have been appropriate in a windstorm.

The Red Light District is creepy. Women behind glass doors, tapping for your attention, wanting to sell you their wares. Ugh.

After Marcel and I walked all over downtown, we ate croquette/kroket since I saw a picture on his site. He says McDonalds has them but Febo (where we went) is better. You get them out of tiny coin-op windows, and the place we were at had no seats. The outside of a kroket is a deep-fried batter (reddish, a bit different than American deep-fried) and inside the one I had (they vary) was veal. That one is Marcel's favourite. I also had a "Bami," also deep fried, larger, full of Indonesian flavoured veg. Mostly cabbage, I think. Each was €1.

Marcel dropped me off at the docks near Centraal station, where I got a boat tour of the canals for €5.50. I thought it would be good to sit down, but I nearly passed out from exhaustion. Still, it was very pretty. Didn't take pictures, not through the glass.

From there I went to the Oude Kerk. As it turned out, they're showing the World Press Photo 04 exhibit. A lot of people are killing each other all over the world. But there were some beautiful photos too. Photographs may be taken of the church, but not of the photographs ...

I ate at Sie Joe (guidebook-recommended cheap Indonesian). Sie Joe is incredibly fast, and pretty good. Cheap for Amsterdam, under €10 for the meal. Mind you, Marcel has already shown me a couple cheaper ways to eat. But I wanted to come here. I had Gado Gado - mostly cabbage, but enough other stuff to make it quite good.

Another one for the "Essence of Amsterdam:" lifting hooks at the top front of many houses. The boat tour operator says it's because the stairs are too narrow, things have to be lifted in the windows. But Marcel says it's because they all used to be warehouses for the East India company and ships were unloaded into them. Many are on roads that used to be canals, but Marcel had no explanation for the hooks on the always-landlocked Begijnhof houses. Another major component is that for centuries houses in Amsterdam were taxed purely on frontage, so it was cheaper to have a narrower house. Warehouses needed the lifting hooks: they were practical with narrow houses with narrow stairs, and it's a convention that's around to this day.

Essence: "I can't pronounce the 'G' sound - and neither can you." It's rolled and gutteral. I'm still trying but there is no English equivalent.

I went to sleep at about 1900 and didn't get up for 12 hours.

next part | previous part | Amsterdam and London trip 
by giles