Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Amsterdam....where the forbidden is flaunted (Aug 5-8)

We arrived at our campsite early in the afternoon and saw that the queue at reception was coming out the door with people wanting to secure their spot for the night. As we approached the end of the line, we instantly hit a wall of marijuana smoke. We wandered around the campsite and wondered if we would actually get high, simply from the second hand smoking! The campground was packed, with hundreds of tents bunched together, some with less than a meter in between. Thankfully, we did manage to get a little more space than that, although only enough for our two small deck chairs and table. We were pretty impressed with the facilities, particularly the free wifi and very cool bar/café. We set up camp and made our way via tram into the city…
The sea of tents

We managed to pick up a very cheap, yet delicious dinner. We saw what seemed to be quite a popular Falafel place (Maoz) on the street corner and knowing Amsterdam was famous for the best falafel outside of Turkey, we ventured in. WOW!! We honestly didn’t know falafel could taste this good…and for the price of 5 Euros including as much salad as you like, even better!

We wandered around the city to just get a feel for the place and stumbled onto New Market which was a bustling square with bars and coffee shops lining the perimeter. We noticed one bar was serving a particular Belgian beer called La Chouffe which was recommended to us by Nathan and Barbara when we were in Brussels. We went in to discover what they were raving about and yes it did live up to our expectations, and then some! It was quite a sweet beer, but not too sweet….it suited our taste buds just right. A couple of glasses and a few amusing happy snaps later, we noticed an outdoor cinema screen which started showing what looked like a short film. Thinking this was quite a nice touch to the evening whilst enjoying a beer, we were a little bit shocked to see that the opening of the film was a lesbian sex scene! Hmmmm….obviously this was an extremely liberal place if these type of images were being shown in the middle of a major square in the centre of town!

Of course we did what every other curious tourist does when they are in Amsterdam…we had a stroll around the Red light District, where prostitutes parade themselves in shop windows awaiting their next customer. While the average person probably finds this touristic activity amusing, I wasn’t feeling so great about it. Without starting a moral debate, lets just say I wasn’t so keen on seeing these women on exhibit, half naked, like animals at a zoo. Despite prostitution being a legitimate profession in Amsterdam, what we saw seemed undignifying….especially when so many of the women looked really sad. On the contrary, I’m sure Tim wasn’t so opposed to seeing the exhibits before us! Haha!

One thing to do in Amsterdam on the top of our list was a visit to the Heineken Brewery. We initially thought the 15 Euro per person for a self guided tour was quite pricey, but our minds were very quickly changed as we saw how much effort, creativity and money was put into making the experience interactive and informative. The tour gave some history of the brewery, an opportunity to learn about how the beer is made as well as to participate in actually brewing some beer and tasting the product at different stages. The brewery even has a simulator called the ‘brew you ride’ which takes you through the ‘beer making’ journey as if you are the raw product. A little bit corny, but well done nonetheless. By the time you get to taste the beer at the end of the tour, it seemed like even if the beer tasted bad, we wouldn’t notice because the work of psychology and marketing had been done so well. For us, the beer uses slightly too much hops which makes it quite bitter, but we did enjoy it, simply because it was a part of the whole experience.

Brewer Tim

Our tasting

On our last full day in Amsterdam, it seemed the heavy rain was not going to let up….normally we would brave the weather, if it wasn’t so severe, but we were not in the mood for venturing out. Instead, we decided to hang out at the campsite café and catch up on some online ‘maintenance’. We ended up chatting to a German couple (Sandra & Hamoud) who were staying in a tent not far from us and having a few good laughs about Aussie and German stereotypes. Thankfully, the rain did ease into the evening, so we decided to head into town and met Sandra & Hamoud for drinks.

Amsterdam itself is a very beautiful city, especially because of the many canals that flow through it. Although we had planned to take a romantic ride along one of these canals, unfortunately the forces of nature made it not so appealing. Looks like we will have to wait until our Venice gondola ride.

Two of the many beautiful canals

Commuting via Bicycle in Amsterdam is cultural and we were impressed by the number of people of all ages riding them. It was pretty obvious that bikes have right of way over cars and even pedestrians, but we did see some sticky situations where these rules did not work so well. Especially with some confusion over which is the walking path and which is the bike path. Needless to say, I almost got cleaned up a few times! We were planning on hiring bikes at least for one day, simply because we were in Amsterdam and we wanted to experience what the locals do. After seeing how the locals ride however, we thought it would be safer to stay on the walking path! And…the cheaper option was surprisingly public transport.

So you may be wondering about the ‘coffee shops’……there were many more of them than we expected. Did we go into one? The answer to that is ‘YES’. Did we sample any of their offerings? That one will remain a mystery. Thankfully, it’s not assumed that when walking into a coffee shop, you automatically want to buy the main item on the menu. What was funny though, was the coffee shop cat who seemed to be completely stoned….or maybe just exhibiting normal cat behaviour and tired of all the tourists, who knows. We did meet a guy here who casually smoked a joint at the bar. We had a good chat and he recommended an Italian restaurant off the tourist trail which turned out to have the best Italian tapas we have ever eaten. When you see this photo, you’ll wish you got to try it too!

The 'stoned' cat

Mmmm, Italian tapas

In drawing to a close, our time in Amsterdam was a mixed experience. The city has a strange atmosphere, where some usually ‘forbidden’ activities are not only allowed, but seem to be flaunted. There’s a feeling of ‘darkness’ about the place, but a sense of beauty at the same time and probably a lot more treasure lying below the tourist drawcards. We would have liked to stay a little bit longer to discover more of these gems, but once again, time is of the essence and we must move on. We are settling into camping mode very nicely and thoroughly enjoying being out in the elements, even if they are not always ideal. It is a nice feeling to retreat to a campsite in a beautiful setting after being in the hustle and bustle of a city. Hopefully we can keep maintain this attitude with the potentially 80+ days of camping ahead of us.


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