Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Often the journey to a destination is worthy of a mention but this time I shall skip by the early rise, the drive through to Ingliston in the dark and the entirely perfunctory flight. They just happened before my brain was awake enough of take notice of anything. I would however like to thank Clairwil's dad for driving us through at such an ungodly hour. I'm sure the bus journey's involved wouldn't have done us any harm, but it was great to get under way with only our check in to contend with. Flying isn't really my bag, though I do like the take off/landing. All that bumping about at thirty odd thousand feet you can keep though......

We took off in murky conditions and landed in the same. We then proceeded to get the wrong train from Schipol. A rather kind conductor let us know before we found ourselves in Vladivostok and pointed us in the right direction. She even marked our tickets in Dutch lest we encounter a more pedantic ticket puncher on the train back and incur a fine (thirty Euros being the going rate)

The Ibis was our first port of call in Amsterdam and to the relief of my not yet aching shoulders the hotel was mere yards away. Anyway, all booked in and having examined our digs, Clairwil and I set about a bit of mild exploring.......

The first thing you notice about Amsterdam is the traffic. Five lanes of it. Bicycles, then cars, then trams, then cars and bikes again. I was almost mown down by cyclists on a number of occasions and at least once unwittingly played chicken with a tram. We get very casual about our traffic signals in Britain but a tourist in a major Dutch city can very easily end up as roadkill by not adjusting themselves to the new environment and using the crossings. Part of the fun I reckon......

A wander through the side streets took us to the rather huge and impressive Dam Square. Cue the statue 'artists' (go on, punch them in the nuts for me!) and an old lad playing what looked like a Glockenspiel. I liked him, he seemed to be battling the odds and the elements with a determination I rarely see from any Glasgow buskers (punch them in the nuts too if you want) We soon found ourselves in a busy little bar and got some much needed food and drink. The seats we'd landed in were in a small conservatory in front of the main bar and afforded us an excellent view of the Amsterdam rush hour. Trams, cars, bikes and pedestrians gliding around each other like chaotic clockwork in the dimming light. I'll admit I've never been one for watching the world go by but I'd have happily stayed for the rest of the evening.

A pleasant Indian meal was followed by a jaunt around some local bars. We eventually stumbled across a small pub across from the hotel, the name of which evades me at this moment in time. It was run by a portly and slightly offhand gent who nonetheless patiently put up with my inept pronunciation with regard to the local beers. Clairwil directed my attention to the floor and asked if it was really sawdust on the floor. It looked to be. Failing that the cleaner hadn't turned up for a good week or so. That said, it was probably the best pub we were in throughout the whole week.

Day two in Amsterdam should have been one tackled with vigour and enthusiasm. It wasn't. Certainly not on my part. I awoke with sore legs and arms and a throat that felt like it had been scoured with a brillo pad. Theoretically I should have called off on it but since it was to be our only full day in the city, I think I made the right decision. A hearty breakfast across the road from the hotel and we were off. Our aim was the Museumplein and possibly Vondelpark. We wandered for a while in the general direction of our destination before becoming a smidge lost. We soon regained our bearings and found what we were looking for. At first we marvelled at the wonderful outdoor skating rink. Every so often a tractor would appear to smooth the ice and of course the local kids used this as a way to drag themselves around the rink for no extra effort on their part. In Glasgow the tractor would have been driven by an officious, red faced wee man shouting at the kids to "get away from the vehicle". The bloke on the tractor in this instance seemed unperturbed by the tomfoolery and just got on with it. He obviously realised the young 'uns knew their arses from their elbows and were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

An hour or so was spent wandering about looking for somewhere to put our feet up and have a few drinks. We somehow ended up in a completely dry part of the city. Nothing but expensive clothes shops and well heeled types in Chelsea Tractors. After a quick coffee in a posh hotel bar (very good it was too) I headed off to the Van Gogh museum whilst Clairwil retired to a nearby pub we had belatedly spotted. She had been to the museum twice before and saw little point in accompanying my man-flu ridden carcass on a third visit. The museum was mobbed and I wasn't really in a mood to fight my way through the hordes to get at the main attractions. I wandered up into the two other upstairs galleries which were less crowded. The old smoking skull painting was rather jolly. Not a patch on the bizarre self portraits that resided in the basement area though. I was also pleased to see a few Egon Scheile paintings.

I purchased a book of Cartier Breson photographs and made my way back to the pub Clairwil was ensconced in. By this point I had decided the best thing for my miseries was plenty walking, plenty beer and a good meal. One down two to go, eh? We found ourselves in a series of little back streets just off a nearby square and much to our bemusement found ourselves knee deep in restaurants and bars. A quick stop in another Irish bar was followed by a proper hunt for a place to eat. We eventually settled on a wee Italian restaurant with a bizarre looking water feature plonked in the middle of the floor and a huge but slightly grubby looking goldfish tank at the back. Fine pizzas though. Because of the concentration of restaurants in the area, some of the establishments seem to feel the need to employ someone to stand outside and 'woo' the customers. You know, all that "We have one table madam, just for you" stuff. We decided that frankly they could go and get stuffed and that there must be a good reason why they feel the need to have someone accosting pedestrians to drum up business.

We got lost for a bit on the way back, then missed the canal boat that would have taken us back to the hotel. Never mind, a few more drinks in the 'Aran' Irish bar and a quick look at what the guide books had to say about the trams and we were off again. Of course, the Ill Man, being a tediously cautious type wasn't sure. How does one pay? Do we need a 'Stippencarte'? What if they fine us for transgressing some bizarre Dutch public transport custom?

Clairwil suggested we just get on and see what happens. A cuff round the ear for yours truly wouldn't have gone amiss. Anyway, we fare dodged our way back. We got on a side door in the packed tram and nobody came for our cash. Yay! Celebrated with a drink at the little sawdust bar near the hotel. The Amstel Bock and the 'Wieckse Witte' being our drinks of choice.* Back to the hotel then for an exhausted Ill Man and before I dropped off I got the chance to marvel at the wonder that is Dutch late night TV. They seem to have phone sex/contact programmes on in the wee hours. Nowt too racy, though the adverts would certainly raise eyebrows in dear old Blighty. The funniest thing about it was the contact ads which seemed to consist of details of people like 'Dirk from Utrecht' or 'Greta from Zandtvoort Am Zee' and pictures of random porn models obviously chosen to signify nothing other than the sex of the lonely/randy/desperate person in question.

Friday morning was our last in Amsterdam. I got some Nurofen (Sweet Fucking Relief, I tell thee...) and some Strepsils and was right as rain for the rest of the day. We had a delightful little stagger round China Town and stumbled upon a Buddhist Temple that defied belief. Glasgow needs something like that. Hell, every town does. Let's start a campaign kids! Amsterdam needs at least a week to explore it's various nooks and crannies but to be honest, if the two days I spent there are to be my only memory I ever have of the place I shall have no regrets. Wonderful place.

All too quickly we were on the train for Rotterdam though. Another story for another day.
*Take no notice of the real ale snob in this link. Such anal little men I have no time for. That said, we could have done with his pub guide to Rotterdam in hindsight.