We get up before the sun rises, today we go to Amsterdam for a few days of laid back travel in one of the most liberal cities in the world. It is dark outside, the weather is still gloomy and it is pouring down rain, the weather matches our mood. Paris has been an absolute joy for us to experience, I knew that there was something special about this city but I wasn’t expecting Marty to love it as well, we didn’t want to leave and during our time in the city we were looking at the price of real estate and discussing the types of work or lives we could lead here.
Rather than struggle with luggage, trains and buses on a wet day we caught a cab to Gare du Nord, it was only 15 euro and made our morning easy and painless. Today was our first day to try out our Eurail passes, we had to activate them at Gare du Nord, then write a date on them and start filling out the travel report. Paris is extremely dog friendly, everywhere we’ve gone there have been people with their dogs, it is another reason to love this city although the amount of dog poo is a little worrying. A girl sits down opposite us, she has a small dog, he is very excited and when she eats he sits in front and gives her the big eyes that dogs are famous for, she eventually shares her food and when it is time for her to catch the train she puts him in a little bag and carries him under her arm.
Our train trip to Amsterdam last for three and half hours, there is free wireless for 1st class passengers, however we’re not eligible, our reservation is for 2nd class and I spend most of the trip downloading images to my laptop and converting them to jpegs. The scenery is picture postcard perfect, the countryside cold and misty with bare trees and ploughed paddocks – sounds depressing I know yet it was actually quite beautiful.
Amsterdam Central Station is confusing, we are not sure which exit to take, only that tram 17 will get us to the hotel. We ask for help and find out that the trams are directly opposite the station, it is about a 5 minute ride to a street near our hotel and then we drag our bags across the cobblestones for 10 minutes, the noise is horrible. Trams are clean and comfortable, more expensive than Paris, it costs us 2,60 euro each to ride the tram, bikes are the most popular form of transport, they are chained to bridges, posts, trees and railings and range for shiny, near new bikes to ones with damaged wheels.
Our hotel is nice, the rooms remind me of a converted school or hospital and the gentleman at reception seems less than impressed that we’ve dropped by, our room is on the first floor and we have to hand the key into reception each time we leave the building. The room is stark and clean, the floors are noisy and creak with each step, we can hear the guests above us moving around, at times it sounds as though they are moving furniture. It is only a 10 minute walk to Dam Square, thousands of people mill around, Sunday is a good day for buskers and street performers, the smell of coffee shops permeates the air and our jaws drop when we see the clothes and shoes shops, they are fantastic! There is nothing you cannot get in Amsterdam.
My last time in Amsterdam was short and sweet, a visit to Anne Frank’s house and Dam Square and that was it, this time I got to see the red light district (in daylight) and what a seedy, grubby, smelly place it is. The girls in the windows are all shapes and sizes, they tap on the window to get attention from men passing by, the outdoor urinal stink up the street and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with someone’s urine splashing your shoes and pants. We call into the Baba shop, not a coffeeshop but obviously associated with one, they sell all types of products and the staff are friendly, one of them giving us the run down on the area, what to look out for and what to see.
I relax once the crowds have thinned out and it gets close to dinner time, the temperature has dropped and I consider buying gloves because the weather forecast is not going to get better. Dinner is a kebab in a turkish pizza shop, they’re not like our kebabs and the taste is divine, so different to pastries and baguettes and with full bellies we make our way back to our hotel. The walk between the tourist centre and our hotel is pleasant, we cross several bridges over the canals including Singel Canal and at night the bridges light up and the area looks pretty and interesting. We spot a cat sitting in a bakery window, he is munching on a croissant that is part of the window display, I have to take a photo, the cat is camera shy and bolts after the flash goes off.
That night we watch an English crime show, it makes a good change from only having access to CNN and BBC and within minutes I am asleep.