30 March 2007

Follow me... to Amsterdam! (Day 1)

After the arrival in our psychedelic artsy hostel after a horrible coach journey (which deserves its own post), we took a stroll through the city to capture the air of Amsterdam. Amsterdam's structure basically looks like Vienna (eg, an inner and an outer main ring road, a big river crosses the northern part of the city) and there is always sth which reminds you of sth you have seen elsewhere (Centraal Station looks like St. Pancras in London, the tram looks like the Badnerbahn tram in Vienna, the Grachten resemble Venice even though Amsterdam has more canals than than Venice and the more residential places at the outskirts remind Kat of Potsdam). The only difference is that the whole city smells like weed.

The first things that struck us in Amsterdam were:
1) they actually have proper black bread.
2) they have REAL "Kaas" not some British cheddar shit.
3) they have shop diversity.
4) everything is so cheap again compared to the UK!
5) cars come from the left side and...
6) ... bycicles from all sides.
7) paying with € needs re-accustomisation, especially a the 5cent coin looks exactly like the 1p coin and the 2p coin is larger than the 5cent coin.
8) Dutch is a REALLY quaint and funny language.
9) everyone speaks English (according to Bart & co. it becomes less and less necessary to know Dutch to go to uni, as most lectures are in English anyway but it still is a requiremnt to take a language foundation year prior to your studies, Erasmus excepted).
10) houses are often crooked.

We went through the Flower Market (absolutely LOVELY!). You can buy a bunch of sunflowers for 5 € whereas you can buy only a single one for 5 £ in London! They sell everything from (black) tulips over carnivorous plants and papyrus to cannabis starter kits. After that we passed through a crowded shopping street (Nieuwendijk) which resemles Getreidegasse in Salzburg on Saturdays, ended up in Dam Square where we saw the Koniklijk Palais and the Monument which is so ugly and plain, it basically just there to say you have a monument. It looks an oversized white dildo.

Finally we reached our first museum for today: The Sex Museum. It is a quite interesting collection of sex-related antiques, pornographic pictures (incl. some disturbing bestiality), modern erotic art, even wooden penises from all over SEA and Papua New Guinea and even a Viennese musical box which you see below. The description reads "The wooden bed of this funny 19th century musical box contains a mechanism that when put in motion, plays the tune 'Edelweiss'. [...] The two wooden puppets on the bed move their bodies on the rhythm of the tune."

After this enlighting visit Kat and I passed through Old Chinatown, the Red Light District (Christ! Women DO really stand in the display window!) with its coffee shops, theatres, erotic entertainment and sex shops but also the hash museum, the prostritution information centre and the Erotic Museum which was our second museum for today. Below you see Kat and me in that one. On our way back to the hostel, we passed the uni Amsterdam and discovered there was not much left for us to do on the next day.

In the eve, we took the train to Leiden, to meet up with Bart (Kat's flatmate in Ed who currently studies there) and the others (a delegation of people cam over from the UK for his 21st B-Day, the rest were folks from Leiden University). I wish we would have had a day to see Leiden which I found BEAUTIFUL. On the train, Kat was astonished how flat the Netherlands really are (fields upon fields stretching to the horizon without so much as a hill) and I was disappointed because there were hardly any flowers in bloom.

First the whole crowd went to have dinner at a pancake place which sold more than 100 varieties of delicious pizza-size pancakes. By chance, one of the guys from Kat and my table, Maurice, grew up in Eastern Africa and his parents worked for an NGO. He became quite skeptical of the whole development aid thing - so we engaged in a discussion of development policies and tried to explain to the Greek exchange student and nicotine locomotive Vangelis, why preventing children in Africa from dying of starvation is not as simple as the people in the Western countries stopping being selfish.

We then went to a pub which is a vault with additional seating on a footbridge since it is directly on Gracht-level. We met a girl who grew up in Northern Ireland, whose parents are from Malaysia and whose grandparents are Tamil. It was great fun to meet these people, his friends are really okay, everyone talked to everyone. Kat and I talked about this later and agreed on the discovery that in the UK and the Netherlands, people are more open to meet new people whereas in Austria people tend to stay in their groups.

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