Notes from the Netherlands
Note: This is going to be a somewhat reduced entry compared to the one I had planned (what d'you mean, "Hooray!"?) 'cos Peter has managed to total my computer. His is off in the UK having its screen fixed, so he commandeered mine... and as of yesterday, it no longer works! He's on his way into town to find someone who can fix it. So now I am sitting in an Internet cafe, seeing this blog on a full-sized screen for the first time in ages, and making lots of typos 'cos the keyboard layout is different. Anyhoo, if it seems like we've dropped off the planet recently, this is why. Computer sharing is bad enough; computer-less-ness is intolerable! I am hoping that Pete can get my machine sorted soon. (He is so banned from ever using it again, by the way!)
Never mind. On with the waffling...
Can I just say that after dashing through Oslo and Copenhagen I am now officially worn out, and am refusing to go anywhere else for the next seven days. If anyone so much as mentions aeroplanes, passports or internal cavity searches I am going to lock myself in my hotel room and board up the door! I really hope this won’t be necessary, however, ‘cos I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for many years and it would be a shame if I had to spend my entire time here sulking in the hotel.
Actually, this is a 12-year belated birthday present for me. Back in the Good Old Days, on my 25th birthday, Pete bought me my first backpack in preparation for a trip to Italy. Inside one of the pockets he put a note which said:
‘IOU one trip to Amsterdam’.
Bizarrely, despite living in the UK within easy flying distance of the Netherlands, we never made it. We tended to opt for laze-on-the-beach holidays rather than busy city breaks, so my IOU remained unclaimed until now.
Tell you what, though, it was well worth the wait. Amsterdam is a fascinating city! Here are a few bits and pieces that have grabbed my attention while we were out and about:
Imagine, if you will, a huge platform with pedals, comprising a table, seats for up to twenty people, and a bar. That is a beer bike, and I can honestly say I’d never seen anything like it in my life before. I didn’t think to take a picture, unfortunately, but happily Google will provide: for a photo and short commentary click here.
The one we saw was weaving around the city centre, operated by a bunch of drunken lads who did well not to fall into the path of an oncoming tram. I later discovered that they do a karaoke version as well; I’m sure I’m not the only one who was grateful that these boys preferred drinking to singing!
I am not a drug-taker beyond the occasional aspirin (*), but these lollipops with hemp extract made me laugh. They must be good: I haven’t even eaten mine yet and I’ve already got the giggles! (For the record, you can also buy hemp-enhanced biscuits, cocoa, tea, chocolate, jelly sweets and rock.)
Update: Hemp lollipops taste bloomin' 'orrible at first. It's like eating basil-flavoured candy, or something. You soon get used to it, though, and I quite enjoyed mine on the train to Belguim. I didn't see any singing mice in windmills or anything like that, though, so I suspect that hemp lollies are not the way to go if you are after a real high!
The Red Light District
This place is so notorious, I couldn't resist taking a stroll through the neighbourhood. (It mainly consists of lots of ladies standing around in windows in their underwear!) Of course, the tour operators have managed to find ways to make a buck or two out of it. If you are so inclined, you can go on a Red Light District Walking Tour; alternatively, if you are a girlie, you can have yourself a Lady of the Night experience:
Iron Maiden and other instruments of torture
And no, I’m not talking about the heavy metal band, thank you very much. I happen to like noisy head bangers and have fond memories of Maiden playing at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre back in my misspent youth. I’m not gonna dwell on this, however, ‘cos it’s making me feel old! No, I am referring to this Maiden, as seen at Amsterdam’s Medieval Torture Museum:
We’ve seen a lot of museums on our travels so far, and are now at the point where we are looking for something a bit different. This place fitted the bill perfectly, being a macabre collection of grizzly torture devices - a testament to medieval human cruelty (*).
The museum had a bonus purpose, too, providing research for the book I’m writing. (Seriously, I’ve been working on this thing for over ten years now; I might even finish it one day!) The other tourists were walking around saying, “Eww!”, “Gross!”, “Ow!” and words to that effect; I was taking notes and saying, “This is brilliant!” They probably thought I was a trainee psychopath or something.
(*) We still have torture today, of course, but these days it’s more subtle: Boy bands and reality TV immediately spring to mind.
We really didn’t think we could go to the Netherlands and not see a windmill. 150 years ago there used to be 10,000 windmills all over the country, but now there are less than a thousand. These remaining mills are popular tourist spots, and there are many tour operators who will drive you out for a trip to a windmill farm. Unfortunately these same tours inevitably take way too long and include way too many ‘shopping opportunities’ – usually at cheese factories and clog manufacturers – so Pete and I did our usual trick of avoiding these organised tours like the plague and heading out to a windmill on our own. This is the one we found:
We were given a walk-through by an extremely knowledgeable guide, with the added advantage of having only six of us in the group. Well worth doing, if only because you don't see many working windmills these days.
When I was a stoodint in London, a long, long time ago, I was introduced to the delights of enormous pancakes at My Old Dutch in High Holborn. However, twit that I am, I confess to being extremely surprised when I saw pancake houses in Amsterdam. (You'd think think that the name of the London restaurant would have given me a clue, eh? D'oh!) Anyway, stupidity aside, these things are to die for. Here's the one I had:
So there you go: you can buy Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam. Amazing, huh?
Oh boy, have you guys been saved a rant and a half due to the unfortunate demise of my netbook! As it is, I'll give you the condensed version:
Pete and I like a) drinking and b) heavy metal music, so on our travels we have been looking for establishments that will provide both of these things. Unfortunately such establishments seem to be thin on the ground (mainly Hard Rock Cafes that don't play much hard rock!), so imagine our delight when we discovered Rock Planet on our final night in the city.
The place certainly looks the part: lots of posters of bands and rock memorabilia adorn the walls. And from outside we can hear music... loud music. We just had to go inside. Unfortunately, while the beer was good, the music wasn't quite what we'd being hoping for. The video screen is showing a performance by some awful soft rock band we'd never heard of. Pete goes up to the bar and says, "I'd like two pints of lager and some better music, please." The barmaid is able to produce the beer, but regretfully informs us that she is unable to change the music - even though she agrees that it's rubbish - 'cos her manager won't let her. Mr. Manager, as it turns out, is a terrible DJ. He likes old 70's bands way too much, and pretty much ignores the more modern stuff. Pete harrassed the guy constantly, and we occasionally got him to play songs we actually wanted to listen to, but it all went downhill when Mr. Manager decided to put on the Jonas Brothers. The Jonas Brothers! Silly boy band pop music! In a rock bar! It shouldn't be allowed, I tell ya!
Anyway, to give you an idea of Pete's frame of mind, check out the two pictures below (**):
On the left is Pete when listening to Metallica, Guns and Roses or AC/DC; on the right is Pete when forced to endure the Jonas Brothers. He actually said to me, "If I sit here and look really, really sad, maybe the barmaid will feel sorry for me and make him turn this rubbish off!" (His plan didn't work, unfortunately, but it was worth a shot.)
My plea to the owners of Rock Planet is this:
People, scrap the Manager-as-DJ system and invest in a video jukebox. Pete and I would have spent as much money on music as we did on beer that night, and surely the point of a business is to keep the punters happy? We were the only ones sitting inside, so that manager dude didn't even have the excuse that he was catering to the other customers' tastes. He was indulging himself, plain and simple!
That being said, a fun, noisy and drunken night was had by all, and the pub is well worth visiting if you don't mind listening to old rock music (and the occasional boy band!)
(**) I know these pictures are too dark; I'll fix 'em when - if - Pete gets my computer up and running again.
More soon, hopefully before too long
Julie & Pete