Monday, July 18, 2011

Amsterdam; Sex, Drugs and Canals

After a delightfully smooth flight (thankyou British Airways :D) arrived in Amsterdam early on Saturday and quickly found my hostel overlooking a canal (and as I later realised, right on the edge of the red light district). With the weather looking a little dicey for later in the I set out straight away to start exploring. Noticed 2 things right away; you can smell weed everywhere, even when nowhere near a coffee shop (I’m fairly certain there is by now more pot in the air than there is oxygen) and there were A LOT of groups of guys walking the streets in drag or costumes and wigs. That aside though, the city with all its canals and bridges and winding streets is really quite pretty.
My first stop as always was to find a free tour to get my bearings around the city. Took us through the red light district and past the old Jewish quarter and explained why all the buildings are leaning in different directions (really disorienting by the way, I thought I was going crazy til he explained it properly; basically, they lean forward to make hauling loads to the top floor warehouses easier and they were all built on logs driven into the ground which caused the buildings to lean left and right as they broke down over time). Also visited the home of the East India Trading Company, sampled some Dutch cheese and finished up at Wester Kerk, a beautiful old church in between the Anne Frank House and the Homomonument. By that time I was freezing (it rained through most of the tour) so grabbed a quick tea and headed back to the hostel to warm up.
Did my big museum day next, starting by heading back out through the red light district (pretty much everywhere you go you end up crossing it at some point and its actually not as bad as you would think as most of the area is normal businesses, coffee shops, restaurants and a few churches…just with a lot more hookers and porn stores than you get in your average neighbourhood) and across to the Anne Frank House. The line was huge, but not as bad as it was by the time I came out so pretty good timing really. The museum is really moving and going through the annex itself is quite eerie as it has been left unfurnished at the request of Otto Frank but still has all the pictures Anne stuck up on the walls of her room and its hard to imagine 8 people living together in such a small space all that time but definitely well worth the visit.
Followed that with a visit to the surprisingly interesting sex museum, documenting sex through the ages in art, media and culture (including one room just on erotic cakes :P).  Then headed to the fascinating Jewish Historical Museum, located in a complex of 4 synagogues where I learned all about the Jewish religion in general and the history of Jews in Holland up until the present. By the time I left there it had (surprise surprise) started raining again so headed indoors for a while to plan my next move.
By the time the rain had dried up I’d done some googling and armed with my free city map, headed out to find myself a windmill. Turned out to be a lot easier than I thought as De Otter, built in 1630 was located only 10 minutes past the Anne Frank House. Its an wood-sawing mill on the river once used for wood production but now blocked on both sides by apartment blocks so its future is looking pretty bleak I’d say but at least I saw one windmill while in the Netherlands. Wandered the canals a bit more and had a picnic dinner under the watchful eye of Rembrandt.
Was absolutely amazed to wake up in the morning and discover it was still raining (some summer vacation I’m having). Set out anyway and soon found the huge flower markets along the river which were full of tulip bulbs, though not a lot in the way of actual flowers (must be the wrong time of year?). Then headed up to the Van Gogh museum and spent a few hours admiring the amazing collection of pieces of Vincent and his contemporaries. Really an incredible artist.  Then since I’d found it accidentally, went for a stroll through the lovely Vondelpark which was nice as can’t remember the last time I saw grass in this city (well that wasn’t being smoked anyway :P)
On to Berlin tomorrow and from this point on its all trains until I head for home so now the challenge of deciphering the train system begins :s

sculpture in the red light district

wonky buildings

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