A city of Bikes, Culture, Sex and the Holey Smoke
14.02.2008 - 17.02.2008
If anyone tries to convince you that the Earth is flat they’re probably Dutch.
Amsterdam is so flat that peddle-power is measured in minimum pedal rotations per 10 kilometres, making it the most bike-populated city in the world. So flat that anyone can ride well over retirement age and enjoy the right-of-way that all must give to those on two wheels, for if an ignorant tourist meanders along their dedicated red brick trail there is hell and bells to pay.
Amsterdam is so flat that if you drop a 2-euro coin, it doesn’t roll away, but settles conveniently at your feet. But do hesitate before stooping to pick it up and check dog poo and human spit wads that often spoil the polished cobblestones. Something not expected in this pristine city though in winter on a freezing day, the cold does tend to loosen the sinus into over-production.
Yes, bikes are everywhere and a great way to get around, but if you don’t care for riding around looking for a parking spot, then hopefully securing your vehicle with a lock and heavy chain and hope that when you return it’s not missing one wheel and the rest is dangling over the canal, then walking is far better and if your feet do get tired, juts hop onto a tram, pay the conductor 1.60 euro for a 2-section trip and enjoy the smoothest ride ever.
My preference is walking with only a vague idea of where I’m going and a street map tucked away to only consult when absolutely needed. For to wander is to find gems of sites, sounds and people that you could miss if taking the direct route. Amsterdam is easy to do this and easy to get back to the right direction, though with so much to see, every direction is the right way.
Rather than give a detailed, wordy, step-by-step diatribe of my visit to this beautiful city, I’m letting some selected photos tell the story, with the odd comment along the way. This may seem a bit of a cop-out, and well sorry, but it is, for I’m still travelling and getting behind with my blog, so I’m taking the easy way out and giving you a slide show to catch-up. But I promise to add more detail later when I’m not paying for hotel WIFI @ 6 euro an hour!
The Hoppe Bar on Spui Square is one of the oldest and biggest sellers of beer in the city. Very quaint with sand still spread on the wooden floor and a great range of some of the best beers you will ever taste.
On the culturual side of things, nothing beats the offering of art museums. Both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are totally absorbing in their depth of exhibits. Both cost 10 euro to get in.
Secluded from the street life of the busy Spui Square is the enclosed ‘hofjes’ (little courtyard) Begijnhof. Free entry but you are asked to remain quiet and respect the residents who live there. Originally a convent, this hofjes dates back to the early 14th century.
Within Begijnhof is the Engelse Kerk (English Church) with its heavy wooden door, ornate organ pipes and simple but peaceful interior. Opposite is the Begijnhof Kapel where the Beguines would secretly worship after the loss of their Gothic church.
Red Light district
Wander down the Red Light district canal at sunset and watch the activity grow both within the red-it rooms and the gathering crowd of onlookers and ingoers. Visit the Erotic Museum for 5 euro for 4 floors of some fascinating and some rather tardy exhibits. The higher you go the raunchier it gets, but by Dutch standards, all good clean fun.
Along with the ladies crooking their finger invitingly at you, there are heavier dens of activity with live sex of all sorts and if you’re up to it, audience participation. These places start at about 30 euro. Then there's the peep shows with private booths from 2 euro a minute. It’s advised that you don’t photograph the ladies in their windows as some heavy hand from behind could make this very clear (hence my shaken pic that was rushed so as not to be noticed).
A statue of a street brat stands in Spui Square called the Lieverdje (Little Darling). Given to the city by a cigarette company, it became a meeting place for the Provo’s in the mid 60’s.
This little statue seems to represent the ongoing worship of the weed, both tobacco and marijuana. Everywhere you go people are smoking. In bars it's common to see the bar staff smoking more than the clients and serve you your beer with a fag hanging out of their mouth adding to the dense cloud overhead. Smoking dope is condoned but be careful as customs will be strict if you try to take any away with you. You can drop into the Hash & Marijuana Museum and sample some and breathe a little sweet smell into the street.