24.06.2009 - 29.06.2009
We knew we were in the Netherlands when..
.. all of a sudden, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of bicycles! Every station we passed, inumerable gleaming chrome handles of European bikes caught the eye, stacked up against one another. We were soon to find out first hand how integral the bike is to the Dutch way of life!
After a short interchange at Duivendrecht we hopped on a local train to Amsterdam RAI, where we were met by Kesavan Pari, in standard pose and bounding walk - in all his quirky glory.
After a great catch-up, a few evening beers at the local brown bar, a very welcome and incredibly tasty curry (first one in a loong time) and just a couple* more glasses of wine (suffice to say, it was a very good night) - we hit the earth with a thud (figuratively) early the next morning when we were introduced to our travel companions - yepp, bikes! It was a shaky start, especially for Sum who couldn't reach the ground with her feet when on her bike, and we weaved around, through and sometimes over the obstacles and other riders. Bike lanes are narrow and require good practice, but before long we had the hang of things, and we managed to get to Meera's gym in one piece - for a spin class!
The class was interesting, a great sweat, and we loved the multi-lingual class, especially energetic calls of "Lllllinks, rechts! Rechts, links!"
Despite Meera's instructions and carefully watching our route on the way, we got hopelessly lost when we tried to make it home on our own, and a 15 minute ride became 45 mins before miraculously, we ended up right in front of K7 and Meera's place.. bizarre.
Canals, Crowds, and Anne Frank Huis
We hit the roads with our bikes and headed into town, leaving our bikes at the Van Gogh Museum and walking and tramming it around. Our only really touristy attraction we saw was Anne Frank Huis - the terraced house along a central Amsterdam canal where Anne Frank, a 12 year old girl jewish girl, wrote her famous journal during the Nazi occupation of the city. The house has been largely preserved as it, devoid of furniture which was all moved out along with the family upon their capture.
The accompanying museum is also fascinating, in particular the exhibit at the end which throws up some interesting ethical questions, raising debate about the narrow line between respecting people's conflicting civil rights.
We hit the town in the evening and made our way to Rembrandt square - not too much classical about this place, but a wacky mix of classical buildings and fountains, and neon lit bars and nightclubs. A few drinks in a trendy bar, we then headed to the good ol' fashioned Aussie (and Kiwi and Saffer) pub with a sticky floor and a gigantic fan, where they played MJ all night and served lethal tequila shots (where are tequila shots not lethal? I wonder). Ended the night with an stop at a FEBO stand (vending machine serving hot croquettes and pastries) and a New York slice. Brilliant!
Den Haag, Scheveningen and Madurodam
On the weekend, the four of us headed off on a day trip to The Hague, famous for being the home of the international war crimes tribunal, but also where the Dutch parliament sits. Strangely though - Amsterdam is still by constitutional decree, the capital of the Netherlands. Hmm..
We arrived in Den Haag after a short train ride and made for the Escher Museum (or 'Escher in het Paleis'), a short stroll made difficult by the annual war veterans parade taking place through the city streets - there was much pomp and ceremony.
Escher was a famous Dutch artist who did his best work during and after the wars, and is best known for his weird and wonderful drawings that seem to defy logic, mess up your mind and captivate all at once! Difficult to describe, Escher's most interesting and famous works are 'Drawing Hands' - a drawing showing two hands both drawing the other - and the 'Waterfall' which shows water seemingly defying gravity and flowing upwards.
From Den Haag, we hopped on the tram and headed for the beachside enclave of Scheveningen. The weather took a slight turn for the worse as the clouds rolled in and the chilly cold breeze reminded us what weather was meant to be like around these parts. On the boardwalk, we took the opportunity to get in and taste one of the local delicacies - a raw herring fillet with pickles and onions on a soft white bread roll - Dutch sushi! The guy at the stall did warn us to eat it quickly, although I have a feeling the giant seagulls circling above our heads would have enjoyed it a little more than us! Sitting by the chilly beach, we devoured some tapas and watched some bizzare people in costumes on the beach, and others even crazier attempting to bungee jump off a platform over the rough seas. No thankyou!
Met some of Meera's work friends, had a great old chat. Tummies full of tapas, we hopped back on the tram and headed out to the Madurodam - a renowned garden which 'houses' miniature versions of Holland's most famous buildings, including the Dam, Schipol airport, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt Square, Ajax stadium some others I recognised but could not name, and a whole lot of others that just looked very cool. With only a half hour before the place closed for the day, we had the place almost to ourselves as we wandered around, and couldnt help but play King Kong and look to eat/destroy things. Soo many photo opportunities - there was much mirth.
The whole 'Dam experience
That evening, we made our obligatory 15 minute tour of the red light district, and all my dreams about great looking models strutting (or standing) in shop windows - well it all disappeared in a flash, and the seedy little district amongst the canals lost its novelty value as we hopped back on the tram within our strippenkarten time limit and headed home. Felt a bit peckish and knocked back a chocolate muffin.. tasted great, made for interesting conversation after!
All in all, our week in Amsterdam was a great chance to catch up with K7 and Meera and check out what they really are up to over in that funny continental country where everyone speaks immaculate English. A bit of touristy wandering, a bit of party party, some fitness (seeing K7 attempt Bikram yoga was hilarious - surely outdone in hilarity funnier only by my own attempts), some pancakes, and some sampling of Dutch delights - made for a memorable week in this unique (and incredibly efficient) town.