or... Hey, Big man. Business?
30.05.2009 - 01.06.2009 27 °C
There's just no place like Amsterdam for a lost weekend. It has all the ingredients for an escape from routine for a couple of days.
Amsterdam is only a 45 minute flight from London. The moment we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew raced out the trolleys, threw us a ham roll and coffee, and then scurried away again because it was time to start preparing for landing.
We arrived at Schipol airport and jumped on a train to Centraal. A tram from there to Zuid and a short walk to the hotel. At least that's how it was meant to go. On the train into town we tried to retrieve the email detailing the name and address of our accommodation. No luck. We couldn't connect. I knew that it was one of the NH hotels and I had looked on Google maps before we left and worked out where we needed to go in relation to the hotel we stayed at last trip. We got to Zuid station and headed in the direction of the Hotel. We were confident we would find it. I mean, it's a hotel. It's big right? We saw an equally confused couple of guys about 50 metres ahead of us. They made every turn that we were going to take and so we figured that they must be looking for the same hotel. As we had neither a name or address for the hotel, we basically followed them for a while until we came to a little cafe and decided it would be handy to know where we were supposed to be going. We started searching the list of NH hotels in Amsterdam but none of the names were familiar. We decided upon the one closest to our current position and headed off... in the direction we had come from. After a very healthy walk we arrived and checked in. The room was really nice. We gave ourselves a 30 minute pit stop before heading to town.
NH Musica hotel room
We took a tram to centraal and looked for somewhere for coffee and coke. No folks... the drink!
It was a beautiful sunny day and we enjoyed the stroll around the streets and waterways of the city.
We ate lunch at the world's best burger joint before surrendering to fatigue (we had left home at 03.00 to catch 2 buses and a train to the airport). Back to the hotel and a nanna nap until the evening.
Saturday night we woke refreshed and ready for a big night out in the Dam. We headed into town and got ourselves some dinner. We spent the rest of the night between the red light district, the coffee shop and the waffle shop. It is always cheap entertainment after midnight in town. We sat with our legs dangling over the waterways just people watching.
Amsterdam at night
At about 02.00 am we hailed a taxi and headed for the hotel. After several minutes driving in, seemingly every direction the driver pulled over and said he wanted to check the address. He started asking us if it was near places we had never heard of. I told him we figured that he was a taxi driver so it may be reasonable to assume that he would have a better idea of the town than someone who had only arrived that morning. He reassured us he had worked it out and off we went again. We went back past several of the streets we had just travelled before stopping again. This time he wanted to check his map. Again we asked if he had any idea what he was doing. Again he assured us he had it sorted and off we went again. On the fourth occasion we politely explained that we would like to make it home before morning and left the vehicle. We walked up to the next major road and luckily another taxi eventually came past. This guy had no idea where we wanted to go, despite having the address. Happily, he called his controller and about 15 minutes later we were home. It seems that nobody from the Netherlands drives a taxi... only Egyptians! We now fully expect to find only Dutch taxi drivers in Egypt.
Sunday was another lovely day and we spent it wandering about, taking photos and eating. We shared a meal with a guy named Aaron who was over from New Zealand to compete in the Laser fleet racing. He was really nice and interesting to talk to. As you might imagine hauling your gear around the world is expensive and Aaron would benefit enormously from sponsorship, so if anyone has appropriate business connections in NZ send them the link please.
We took a walk, about 15 minutes south of Dam Square, to the flower market. The Amsterdam flower market is a long stretch of stalls beside a waterway where you can find beautiful fresh cut flowers, in a wide variety of rich colours, as well as plants and a huge number of bulbs. You can also buy your Grandma a canabis starter kit for Christmas (it helps with the arthritis).
We stopped for lunch and, as Jen and I are learning Spanish for our next trip, started testing each other with dialogue from our course. We did pretty well but too much time in the coffeeshop had taken the edge of our Spanish language skills... and our English language skills to be honest. Anyway, I was struggling to translate "The bag is not brown, it is black" because I had forgotten the Spanish word for 'Black'. "Don't tell me...Don't tell me... I'll get it" I told Jen. After several minutes of agony trying to remember it came to me "Ahhh... NEGRO" I shouted.
The black family just entering the establishment seemed happy that I was so excited to see them. Not my best moment. Jen looked at me in horror and we laughed ourselves to tears for the next half hour.
One of the most apparent differences between Amsterdam and many other cities in the world is the extent to which the general public use bicycles rather than cars. The Dutch seem to have succeeded in establishing a safe and effective network of bicycle paths and the default mode for getting sround appears to be bikes and public transport.
Multistory bike park
The rail system is efficient although we found that services ceased too early on weekends. We hasten to point out that, in Amsterdam, we found two things we can never find in London... public transport with personal space and SUNSHINE! Mmmmm, it makes me feel like a kip.
On our last day we had breakfast in town and then walked to Centraal station for our train to the airport. On the way I realised that a conversation I could hear in the background was actually a twitchy gentleman walking beside me saying "Hey... big man... business?" I told him we were fine thanks and were not interested. "You want some coke" he said "I have some great coke" I smiled and said "Thanks, but no thanks" he asked "Are you keeping your woman happy?" I assured him Jen was happy, he smiled broadly, laughed a bit, shook my hand and said "Stay strong big man, stay strong man". We laughed and headed to the station.
All in all, Amsterdam makes an ideal getaway for a few days. It is a well designed city with all the essential ingredients for the visitor. Uniquely Dutch offering like clogs, dykes and tons of tulips. Architecture, museums, galleries and other sights worth photographing. The stranger than fiction red light district, complete with touts outside sex clubs, working girls in shop windows, and dodgy gents around every corner asking if you want to do 'Business'. Not forgetting the famous coffeeshops for an Amsterdam style chill out. The people are relaxed and friendly and we found we could walk around at any time of the day or night without feeling the slightest nervousness. We loved it and give it our *Five Clog* rating.