Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Sometimes, things are better in theory than in practice.

Take for one, liberalism. In theory, I wholeheartedly support the idea. However, in practice, sometimes, the results are less than pretty. And that is all I have to say on that.

Take for two, our hotel. In theory it was uber-funky, modern and efficient. In practice it was gimmicky, annoying and uncomfortable. And that is all I have to say on that.

So Amsterdam took a little while to grow on me, but grow on me it did. On the first afternoon we went for a random wander with our little time, found the tourist-y areas (and as you imagine this ponder for a moment on the kind of tourism Amsterdam that attracts) and didn't like it very much. The one nice thing that we did see was the Bagijnhof, a serene little complex of old churches, houses and gardens, entered by a secret door.

The next day we got an early start after hardly any sleep (see theory vs practice). We jumped on a bus (which ended up being two busses, and join me, will you? in thanking the standard international deity that ALL of the Dutch, including the busdrivers, speak excellent English) to get to the Aalsmeer flower market, the largest flower auction/distribution houses in the world. The getting there was fun, as we drove through some cute suburbs, with sweet Dutch houses with colourful gardens, and driveway bridges over the canals between the footpath and the roads. The market itself was amazing with huge warehouses full of pallets and palets of flowers, all being hooked together and pulled this way and that by little men on industrial segway-like vehicles. The warehouses were so big that bikes were provided for workers who needed to get from one side to the other! The auction rooms (12 in total) were like large lecture theatres, full of buyers on laptops all focussing intently on the product being wheeled in front of them and the screens displaying the changing price. It was all very cool to watch; however, considering how much effort has gone into making the place tourist-able (purpose-built special walkways around the factory), I think they could really do a much better job, for very little more effort.

After this we headed into Amsterdam itself and went on a New Europe walking tour of the city. This, as always, was fabulous and really gave us lots of insights into the city, both as it is now and in a historical context. It presented the more controversial aspects of the city in an interesting and non-threatening way, as well as introducing the gentler and often more hidden side of the city. By the end I had totally warmed to the city, the gorgeous canals, the live-and-let-live character of the people, the crazy tilting houses (built on an angle to make it easier to get stuff through the higher windows), the polyphonic church bells, the lovely boutique shops (very welcome after city after city of chain stores), and the lilting language, which sounds like a cross between English and German, as pronounced by the Swedish chef. The only thing I didn't like in the end was the cyclists, who are totally, completely, utterly mad. They ride on the bike paths, the streets, the footpaths, the right way, the wrong way, through red lights, at pedestrians.

After the tour, we went to Pancakes! to have, you guessed it...no, wait....poffertjes! (Teeny pancakes!). Then on to Metz & Co, a super fancy department store with a cafe on the top floor serving average coffee, made worthwhile for the spectacular view of the city. We then aimed to fit in a museum before the evening, but didn't quite make it.

During the tour we were taken to La Place: Marche du Monde for lunch - a giant marketplace-like hall with any type of food you could imagine, from sandwiches to salads to soups to steaks to smoothies. You just pick up what you want, take it to the cashier and then sit down and eat it. The food so was delicious, healthy and cheap, that we went back for dinner.

And that was it for Amsterdam. Short, and sweet. (Except for the hotel, which was awful).


a4annie said...

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: http://photos-h.ak.facebook.com/photos-ak-snc1/v318/6/30/507490483/n507490483_4151815_851.jpg

and i'd hate to see what the place would be like if all the bikes were replaced with cars!

m∃ said...

Yes, but imagine how much lovelier it would be if all the cars and all the cyclists were replaced by walkers! =)

a4annie said...

Dude, then it would be Venice! Aaaagrh!

m∃ said...

No, it would only be venice if there were lots of grumpy people selling tack.

You know, I actually didn't mind all the cyclists in theory, I just didn't like them riding the wrong way up the footpath (even when there was a bike path provided) at breakneck speed and then yelling at you to get out of their way.