Day 107

We went about our usual morning routine, and arrived in Amsterdam a little before lunch. We found a reasonable place to stay for two nights on the northern side of town, connected by a free ferry – Amsterdam City Camp. There wasn’t much there, other than a gravel field, and a place to empty/fill water for the van. Though, it was cheaper than the options in other campsites in town.

It was a glorious day, and we were pretty eager to get exploring, so packed the camera bag, and headed to the free ferry into town. We didn’t expect to see this awesome industrial area that seems to have been converted into an art area. These giant factories were filled with small workshops and installations – most of it was cool, though, the Barbie Peepshow was a little underwhelming/confusing.

Outside, there were large areas covered in some fantastic street art/graffiti. The interesting buildings continued as we approached the ferry terminal, with what looked like a giant stack of Lego blocks (shipping containers) that were a makeshift apartment complex, or the old cruise ship that is now a floating Botel – there was even a reasonable sized submarine just sitting there, too.

It was a pleasant cruise into town, once again realising just how flat it is here in Netherlands. There were more interesting modern buildings to admire on the fifteen minute journey – we both loved this cave-like garden.

It was amazing how many bikes were here in town. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place before.

We put of hiring bikes, and instead went to explore on foot, following pretty canals deeper into the heart of the town. It was incredible to see how tilted some of these buildings were, leaning heavily on their neighbours. It was much prettier than the canals we admired yesterday in Leiden.

Amsterdam is pretty infamous for marijuana culture, and you couldn’t help smell it as we walked through the streets. It smelt like walking through South London on a weekend, but much, much stronger. I’d much prefer to smell this than cigarettes, which is how the streets of Central London smell.

It was such a curiosity to see these Coffee Shops, with customers inside openly smoking weed, with menus of weed like wine lists at a high-end restaurant.

There were also an untold number of shops selling seeds, and other weed paraphernalia – and that doesn’t include the terrible, tacky souvenirs!

I noticed that the town seemed to have XXX as an official logo. It was on official buildings, and advertisements. I knew that Amsterdam was infamous for the red light district, but didn’t think that it would take it so seriously, and adopting it as an official logo. Of course, it turned out that it was co-incidental, and that the town has used the crosses (St. Andrew’s Cross) for centuries – long before the adult industry adopted it. Interestingly, though off topic, searching to confirm that it was the St Andrew’s Cross came up with a whole heap of BDSM related images, bringing the story full circle.

We’d eaten fries in Antwerp from a shop called Frites Atelier of Amsterdam, and they were amazing. Foolishly, I assumed that they would have a shop here in Amsterdam – they don’t. Instead, we went to another hole-in-the-wall recommended by Lonely Planet. The sauce was a little much – though the garlic was delicious – but the fries were incredible. They were so crispy, yet still fresh inside. It reminded me a little of polenta, rather than fried potato.

We gave the flower market a quick fly-by, with thousands of tulip bulbs on sale, with colours that I couldn’t imagine were possible – I never knew you could get black tulips, though I’m quite out of touch with regards to tulips.

Next up, and killing two birds with one stone, we visited Blue 360, for amazing 360˚ views of Amsterdam, as well as some truly delicious coffee. We patiently waited, and eventually got some front-row seats to relax and enjoy the panorama.

As much as there is to do in Amsterdam, there wasn’t much I wanted to do here. I was interested in hiring a bike for a day, and cycling through some of the parks, and along the canals, but it was too late to do that today. Neither of us smoke weed, so the coffee shops didn’t hold much draw, still, we felt we needed to at least visit.

Risa found some that were recommended for atmosphere, so we went to the nearby Abraxas. They were quite strict inside, with a no photography, and even no phone call policy. It was also incredible seeing such a menu of cannabis on offer. I had any idea what all the strains were, but they all sounded interesting. We grabbed a seat by the window, and watched the smoke trickle out. Then, we learnt that the seats are for customers purchasing drinks, and not being in the mood for more coffee, we left.

We killed a little time, with Risa purchasing some sandals that she’s wanted for some time now, and relaxing in the sunshine in the park.

Eventually, the sun began to set, and we knew that we could make our way to wander through the Red Light District.

I’d read the warnings about photography in this area of town, but I made sure to be discrete and respectful, not photographing any of the women – or clients. On a purely aesthetic level, it was beautiful to walk around and see the red neon lights glowing on the canals. It still struck me as a little strange that it’s a tourist activity, to wander around and check out the prostitutes in their windows. There were tours taking large groups of older people around the district. I’m sure the girls are used to the stares by now, but some part of me felt it was disrespectful to them as humans.

It was surprising how young (and reasonably attractive) they were. Most of the women looked in their early 20s. Many of them also seemed to have breast implants, mixed with their young looks, giving them somewhat doll-like appearances.

We were quite curious what they charged, and not wanting to actually ask one of them what their rates are, we searched online. It seems that the going rate for most of the women is €50 for 15 minutes of their time. I know I’m quite ignorant of going rates for sex workers, but this struck me as being cheaper than I’d have expected. The damn mechanics in France charged about the same to replace our drive shaft…

It was late, and we were tired, so we caught the ferry back to the north side of the river. We’d been recommended to check out some of the bars in the region, and as it was on the walk home, we popped in for a look. I think we were too late though, as Pilek was essentially empty.

Day 108

Our day started much like it did yesterday, catching the free ferry back across the river into town. The sunshine and blue skies of yesterday had been replaced with a grey haze, making the sites look dull. An odd man tried to start conversation with Risa about some random racist things about Japan. We couldn’t help but laugh, which appeared to encourage him…

First stop was coffee. It wasn’t quite as good as yesterday, but it did the job and we were both ready for adventure. We grabbed two cheap rental bikes, and hit the streets bound for the parks surrounding town.

I’ve been cycling in London for nearly two years, and we also spent a few days cycling in Beijing – neither could prepare me for the hectic cycling over here. It was busy, and somewhat chaotic. And, much like Beijing (and unlike London), the chaos just seemed to work.

We made it as far as Westerpark, which believe it or not, was on the west side of town. The sun was starting to burn though the haze/clouds, and we had another fine and sunny day. I’m not sure if this sculpture is unique to this location, but we were pretty happy to have found it.

The park was lush and green, and we managed to feel like we got ourselves lost within the boundaries. We were amazed when we spotted some tiny cottages with amazing little gardens. They seemed to be a small commune on an island within this park, filled with these amazing little cottages. I couldn’t imagine anything more idyllic than living in this lush green space, right next to the centre of town. I also couldn’t believe that such a place could exist in the year 2017. It was a little confusing to navigate, with limited places to leave the island, and streets that zigzagged diagonally across the island.

We didn’t have much time with the bikes, as they were due back by 6PM. We stayed on the west side of town, and cycled to a large food hall. It was another modern gentrification of an existing industrial space – I liked it. We found signs for a pool, but this wasn’t quite what we were expecting! There were all sorts of trendy restaurants selling food, but somehow we ended up with burgers – my second in a week. I’m disappointed to say that my burger from The Butcher was rather average – too dry/over cooked. It was even more disappointing after seeing the great ingredients, and the fiery grill.

We’d spent more time than we should have in the food hall, and now had less than an hour left on our bike rentals. We rushed to Vondelpark on the south of town, where we’d relaxed a little yesterday afternoon. With the bikes today, we were able to explore a little further, racing past some gorgeous ponds and gazebos – and a huge number of locals that were out and enjoying the sunshine.

Risa mentioned something that I hadn’t really noticed. If this had been London, or Australia, everyone would be drinking alcohol. Here, there was barely a bottle to be seen. In its place, was the smell of people smoking weed.

We made it back with more than 10-minutes to spare before closing time, and were at a loss about what to do with the rest of the evening. We decided that we’d catch the ferry back to the north-side early, allowing us to check out some of the action in Pilek.

Pilek is like a giant space built from shipping containers, and felt totally different today. There seemed to be a variety of performances taking place inside these containers. We were curious what was going on, but too lazy to search or ask questions. Instead, we lazed back in a beach chair and listed to some live reggae music – until it got too cold, then we went home. Probably not the average visit to Amsterdam, but we were satisfied with what we saw. It’s a fun and lively city, and I totally get its appeal – even without getting high all day in a coffee shop.