|I’ve discovered a whole new way to travel, and my life just became so much simpler!! After Paris I decided this is ridiculous and having a shoulder bag as luggage was a big problem and my big rucksack is just too big for the weekend. So I decided to go and buy a new rucksack that’s a good size for short trips, as I seem to be doing so many of those lately. Somehow I felt so much more freedom! Life just became that much more easy…
Nicole and I had a 2 o’clock flight to Amsterdam, and so Ian and Nic cooked up a delicious public-holiday breakfast and then we were off. We both managed to check our luggage as hand-luggage (did I tell you how great this new form of travelling is!?!) and so literally jumped on the plane and jumped off on the other end less than an hour later. It was like getting on and off a train rather than a plane – so easy! Amsterdam has the coolest double-decker trains that take you from the airport into the city and of course Nic and I sat on the top every time! Amsterdam just has this really great feeling to it, I can’t really explain it – it’s just the atmosphere, it’s so thick you almost feel as if you could reach out and touch it. Everybody’s friendly and they all speak excellent English, which makes life much easier, but at the same time was a bit disappointing because we didn’t really get to make much use of our Afrikaans!
We stayed at the Flying Pig Palace, which is just near Vondelpark (got a nice ring to it, huh!?!) and really close to the main party part of the city, Leidseplein. The whole area is just packed with bars, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops - yes, you know the ones… We somehow just did an incredible amount of walking. I wouldn’t say Amsterdam is full of sights, of course there are great sights, but a lot of what there is to see is just the city itself. The canals, obviously, and the funny tall, narrow and very squif houses, as well as the flowers, the bars, the red light district and the people. The red light district was indeed a sight to see, and Nic and I quite enjoyed exploring some of the shops, a bit like giggling schoolgirls, I’ll admit, but at the same time I have to say that it probably wasn’t as shocking as I thought it would be. It’s quite funny to see that it’s really just quite normal there, and almost exists as a tourist attraction more than anything else. But maybe that’s the way it’s intended?
We went out to Keukenhof one day, they’re these really spectacular flower gardens about an hour outside of Amsterdam (we got to ride the double-decker train again!!). It’s still really early in the season, so I don’t think all the flowers were out, but it was spectacular, none the less. Just imagine this huge space, with bright green grass, fountains, streams and bridges and bursts of bright colours everywhere – just spectacular, there’s no other word for it. Needless to say I took masses of photos, I just couldn’t help myself – each time I said to Nicole that I’d taken enough, I found a new, even more beautiful sight that I just had to take a picture of! Anyway, I promised myself that I would ruthlessly edit the pictures once I had them developed (and I have). We really did have great time! And then just more wandering, dinking in the streets, ice-cream and shopping. We also tried “frites” (Dutch word for chips) which were oh-so-yummy. They serve them with the most interesting sauces, and instead of going for good old tomato sauce I had a saté sauce. I would never have thought of putting a peanut sauce on chips, but it was surprisingly very good!! We also had pannekoek (as this is the birthplace of pannekoek!!) at one of the coffee shops, and they were like the UCT res-ones, a literal thick cake-like thing cooked in a pan. Not bad, but I think the ones at home are better (especially Snare’s ones!!).
We went to the Van Gogh & Gauguin exhibition, which was really awesome. It’s got most of the paintings that they did in the yellow house in the south of France – and it’s incredible how they fed off each other… I really enjoyed it – probably one of the best exhibitions that I’ve ever been to. We also decided that we’d have a bit of a splurge and have one really nice dinner out, and so while wandering the canals made sure to keep an eye out for an authentic looking restaurant, as so much of Amsterdam is international that you have to really look for food places that aren’t American. We did find a really nice-looking place that was a bit off the beaten track (and even more impressively managed to find it again without getting lost) called De Volstruisplek on Prinsenskragt (in case you’re ever in Amsterdam) and had a really awesome time. Interestingly, most of the restaurants seem to do just a fixed-price three-course menu, and so the items aren’t individually priced. Strange, huh? I had a great mozzarella salad starter, ostrich steak, which was fantastic, and a white chocolate mouse and mint desert. Fantastic! Plus, as an added bonus, we got to order off a Dutch menu (being an authentic local Dutch place) which was fun – although Nic did land up with an ostrich carparccio starter, which she probably wouldn’t normally have ordered (raw meat not being high on her list of favourite foods!) I had a taste too, and it was surprisingly tasteless, but with a texture a bit like smoked salmon. Hmm. I suppose that’s part of what travelling’s about, really - trying new things that can be good or bad. We also did a canal cruise, which was fun.
On our last day we thought that, having seen loads of Amsterdam, we’d go out to this little village where original windmills have been reconstructed about 10mins outside Amsterdam by train (called Zaanse Schans). It had come recommended, and so we thought it would be nice. We got there and immediately thought that it must be some kind of Dutch-joke, because it had that kind of surreal Mickey-mouse feeling, you know? A real tourist trap. Anyway, we made the best of it and got some really cheesy pictures, and I suppose it was a bit interesting ‘cos each windmill is set up to show how they used them for milling, in the production of coal etc. There was also a clog workshop, and we arrived just in time to see a demonstration of how they make clogs, which was not at all what I expected. They use a machine that works in a similar way to a key-cutter, where you insert a mould that’s a specific size on the one side of the machine and a block of wood on the other, and then it follows the mould and cuts the wood. Interesting to see, I have to say.
We went back to Amsterdam early (not being able to face any more of WindmillWorld) and walked around a bit more, and passing a quaint little bar saw through the window a very nice looking cheese-platter and decided it was time for lunch! I also had vanilla tea, which I haven’t had for ages and absolutely love, so that was a treat, too!. We then bought some tulips from the flower market to take home with us, 50 flowers for Є10, so we bought a bunch and split it. They’re bright pink, with a yellow edge and look lovely in my room – so cheerful!
So all in all I had a really awesome time. I loved Amsterdam and would definitely rate it as a great place to go.
Since then, just biding my time until I fly to Istanbul on Thursday (only one more day, yay!!!). The weather’s turned lovely in London, and although it’s still quite cold we’ve had beautiful blue skies for a whole week now! I went to the most awesome party on Saturday, and only landed up getting home at 3:30PM the next day!