A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

A Mouse Lived in a Windmill in Old Amsterdam

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:

Beer bikes

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!

Hemp lollipops

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A lollipop with herbal additives? It'll never catch on... will it?

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.)

(*) Okay, okay, I confess that I have experimented with Beecham’s Powders, but I did not inhale… Or was that Bill Clinton?

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:

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(Clicky to see a bigger picture.)

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:

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To quote Bill and Ted: "Iron Maiden? Excellent!" *Plays air guitar*

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.

Windmills

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:

windmill.jpg
Molen van Sloten, a 19th century mill used primarily for draining water.

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.

Pancakes

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:

pancake.jpg
What do you mean that's not a proper dinner? It's got cherries on it - that counts as one of my five-a-day fruit and veg, right?

So there you go: you can buy Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam. Amazing, huh?

Rock Planet

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 (**):

Pete-happy.jpg Pete-sad.jpg
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

from

Julie & Pete

Posted by Julie1972 12:10 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Confused in Copenhagen...

Disoriented in Denmark... Scatterbrained in Scandinavia... or all three at once!

I have to confess that for the past several days I have being feeling somewhat confused. I had no idea that Oslo and Copenhagen could have so many similarities. For example: their money has the same name (kroner); the languages overlap to a large degree; both cities are clean, modern and attractive; the weather is on the damp and chilly side; and, yeah, everything’s still expensive. Half the time I have no idea which country I’m in! I mean, I am the first to admit that I have no sense of direction and that only takes a corner or two before I am hopelessly lost, but I am usually able to point to my current location on a world map without having to stop and think about it. It might be better if we’d spent longer in each place, but, like Norway, we’re only making a brief pit stop in Denmark.

The reason I wanted to visit Copenhagen in the first place was because I saw the Hans Christian Andersen movie with Danny Kaye when I was a kid, and I really like his fairy stories, so I wanted to see Hans C.’s house and the Little Mermaid statue. Smart people would have done their homework, however, and discovered that Mr. A. was not actually born in Copenhagen but Odense, two hours outside the city. Smart people would also have factored in enough time to take a day trip to Odense in order to see said house and museum. I, sadly, was not a smart person, so the nearest I got to anything Hans-related was looking at a plaque on a wall next to a house he stayed in when he visited Copenhagen.

Bugger.

I did see the Little Mermaid, though, when I went on a canal boat ride. It was almost impossible to get a decent photo, though, ‘cos of all the people taking pictures on the shore. (Blooming tourists – they spoil everything!) Never mind, that’s why graphics editing programs were invented, right?

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The Little Mermaid after some serious crop-and-delete treatment!

I think the most unusual evening we spent in Copenhagen was at the famous Tivioli Gardens theme park. I’m not a huge fan of these places, as a rule – got no stomach for the gut-churning rides – but as our hotel was just round the corner we decided to give it a shot. We also chose to go at night so we could see all the pretty lights.

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Tivoli is the second oldest theme park in the world and is said to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disney World/Disney Land.

As I say, I don’t like fast rides much, and I’m not good with heights, so what possessed me to go on this thing I cannot say:

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This is the Star Flyer, the world’s tallest carousel. High, innit? Pete says I crushed his hand the entire time we were up there. I was pretty brave, though; I didn’t scream my head off, and I even opened my eyes at one point!

Pete, the big showoff, likes all those fast, head-spinning rides, and doesn’t even have the decency to feel ill afterwards like normal people. Here he is looking smug:

Pete_at_Tivoli.jpg Tivioli_ride.jpg
Pete went on the Golden Tower (right) and was dropped 63 meters. Me, I stayed on terra firma, watched and felt nauseous on his behalf.

Tivoli is more than an amusement park, though. It has extensive sculptured gardens, a variety of restaurants, and a concerts and theatrical performances throughout the day.

Julie_at_Tivoli.jpg
Me in the gardens, before I went on that scary Star Flyer ride, so I’m still looking calm and relaxed. (You should see the picture Pete took of me when I got off that ride. Talk about manic!)

We had a great time, and I would recommend it for both kids and adults. One thing I would say, though, is invest in the prepaid armbands that allow you to go on the rides as many times as you like. They may seem expensive, but it’s better value for money than buying tokens individually.

Before I go, I have some info for anyone who is considering visiting Denmark:

When it comes to eating out here, veggie options are thin on the ground! I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t like to eat meat every day of the week, and I’ve had a heck of a job trying to satisfy my non-carnivorous cravings. If you are lucky enough to find a menu that has a vegetarian section, it usually only has a few items, and one of those will be pizza. However, we accidentally stumbled upon a solution. We’d dropped into a pub called The Southern Cross (being honorary Kiwis, we had to with a name like that!) and got talking to the landlord. He recommended a nearby buffet restaurant which operated on an all-you-can-eat-in-an-hour policy. For a bit extra, you can add an all-you-can-drink option from the bar. This place was excellent! It had a humungous salad bar, a few hot meat-based options, plus pasta, so Pete and I were both able to (over)indulge.

So if you’re in Copenhagen, you might want to check ‘em out:

Ad Libitum at Rådhuspladsen 75, Copenhagen
The Southern Cross at Løngangstræde 37 Copenhagen (good if you like watching sport on TV!)

Posted by Julie1972 08:37 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

A Norwegian Question:

How long can we afford to stay in the fjords?

Norway: Land of Vikings, fir trees, fjords… and pickled herrings? Are they Norwegian? To be honest, I knew very little about the country before we landed; I just had this strange urge to go there. (I rarely ignore my urges - it might be dangerous or something.) The one thing I did know for sure is that Norway is a costly country to visit. CNBC lists Oslo as the fourteenth most expensive place to live in the world, so I was expecting our budget to take a bit of a bashing.

Turns out that ‘a bit’ was the understatement of the century.

Expense, I discovered, is relative. Britain is expensive; Norway, by comparison, is extortionate! The first day when we were wandering around looking for a place to eat lunch, I nearly died when I saw the prices on the menus. 90 kroner for a bowl of vegetable soup… that’s 9 UK pounds… 22 NZ dollars! For that money I’d expect my soup to arrive in a gold-plated tureen, sprinkled with truffle shavings and served with Roquefort and Almond sourdough bread or something.

This was a dilemma, of sorts: we obviously had to eat - Pete wouldn’t agree to crash diet for a few days - but it was really depressing when we realised how much even the most basic items were going to cost us. I mean, we’re not skinflints and we’re not expecting this trip to last forever, but every transaction lead to an “Ouch!” moment when we considered the dent it was making in our savings. (Such is the disadvantage of going travelling using a currency with weak international buying power.)

In the end we came to two conclusions:

1) We had to stop converting everything into NZ dollars, ‘cos the constant wincing was starting to spoil the mood.
2) We obviously couldn’t afford to spend much time in Norway!

We decided to see the highlights, pay whatever we had to without worrying about it, and go somewhere else very soon. This plan worked, and we managed to relax and have a good time, after all.

So, Oslo:

It’s a lovely, modern city, situated by an impressive fjord, with some stunning architecture. We liked it immediately.

oslo-landscape.jpg Oslo-street.jpg
The weather was exceedingly changeable, which why the colours look a bit washed out. For the first two days there was a heat wave. “Brilliant!” we said, donning shorts and t-shirts. “Oslo’s great, we could live here.” For the remainder of our stay we had rain and storms. “Ooh, we could never live here,” we grumbled, bundling ourselves up in jeans and sweaters. “It’s much too cold!” This, and the horribly high cost of living, effectively put paid to our idea of seeing more of the country. We simply couldn’t afford it, and we objected to freezing to death anyway.

As well as pretty buildings, Oslo has plenty of statuary. This is one example we encountered when strolling by a shopping mall. I had to include it here due to its hideousness.

KateMoss-statue.jpg
This is a statue of model Kate Moss in a yoga pose. Apparently it’s famous. Sculptor Marc Quinn is supposedly a huge fan of Ms. Moss; I'd hate to see what he'd do to her if he didn't like her!

Isn’t this one of the ugliest things you’ve ever seen? Before Pete took the photo he asked me, “Which do you think is its best side?” My reply: “It doesn’t have one!” I don’t know much about art, but I know I don’t like this!

Fortunately Oslo has several galleries full of decent art to make up for Mr. Quinn’s monstrosity. I pestered Pete to take me to the Munch Museum, ‘cos there were several works I wanted to see. “Pity his first name wasn’t Monster,” says Pete. (For those of you who have no idea what he’s on about click here. Wasn't worth it, was it? Sorry.)

Most of you are probably familiar with Munch’s most famous work, The Scream:

Munch-The_Scream.jpg
Arrrrrrrrgh!

According to the people who know these things, this piece is a representation of man’s existential angst. I have an alternative explanation: I reckon this was painted after Munch had taken a short break in Oslo and just seen his hotel bill. (Yes, I am still harping on about how expensive everything is here. I've gotta get it out of my system somehow, and blogging is cheaper than therapy!)

After all that screaming, something a little more sedate was called for. Oslo has about a million museums to choose from, and we decided that the Nobel Peace Centre should provide the requisite level of relaxation.

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The Nobel Peace Prize is the only one not awarded in Sweden. Mr. Nobel thought Norway was a nice peaceful country, and requested that the Peace Prize be handled here. Good job there aren't any Vikings around, eh?

This was worth seeing for the technology they’d used in their exhibits, if nothing else. They had an interactive ‘book’ which could be controlled using your hand in place of a computer mouse; a Wall Papers exhibit which displayed information about the Peace Prize winners in the form of a digital newspaper; and a fascinating fiber-optic garden that altered images on a series of computer screens as you walked past. It’s worth a visit if you like cool technology!

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The fiber-optic garden.

And so passed a couple of days in Oslo. We liked the city very much, but sadly I don't think we'll be coming back any time soon - not unless the New Zealand dollar suddenly inflates or we win the lottery or something. Neither of these options being likely, we have decided to head south in search of sunnier climes.

More from the road soon!

Posted by Julie1972 13:18 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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