We’re now in Warsaw – third stop! So some catching up to do.
We had four days in Amsterdam for our first stop. Amsterdam is pretty, and quite small, so nice and easy to explore. It’s also rammed with tourists, but I can’t really complain when we’re two of them.
On the first day we did very little – we were pretty shattered. We just had a bit of a wander, and a nap. First off we found some coffee in a cafe on a busy street, and sat at the window bar watching two guys lowering construction rubble out of the window of a tall canal house. They were using a pulley attached to the gable. Old school.
Later we wandered through the Rijksmuseum, and peeked into the lobbies, but didn’t go in (€15!). We had a lovely time sitting in their gardens though, in reclining metal chairs (which were the same ones as in the Jardin de Luxembourg). There was an exhibition of Joan Miro sculptures in the gardens, which was cool, and also one of those flat fountains you can run over. At first nobody was daring, but then a little girl ran into the middle and stood there while all the jets went up around her. After that everybody wanted a go, so that they could get a photo of themselves trapped in a fountain. People were leaping into each other’s photos, and studiously ignoring each other while they were trapped in the fountain together.
On day two we checked out of our hotel (first night treat), and walked to the Anne Frank house, which was the main thing I wanted to see in Amsterdam. The queue looked pretty daunting, however, so we thought we’d come back another day at a less peak time. Instead we went to hire bikes. We thought we might only have them for a few hours, but we had so much fun that we kept them for two days. It was only €15 each for 48 hours, so cheaper than using the trams. We spent day two cycling around the city, exploring the parks and suburbs, and having a picnic lunch.
We especially liked this neigbourhood of floating houses. It seemed like it could be a fairly low impact way to live – I’d guess they’re not connected to most services, though a few of them were pretty massive so who knows. And if they’re not an idea for preventing seas rising then at least they’re an option when (if) they do. Haha.
Amsterdam generally seemed pretty green (as in eco). The bikes are a big thing. Absolutely everyone is on a bike, from tiny kids to grandparents. You see parents transporting basketfulls of children in their bakfiets box thingy (picture below), or with them on bike seats fixed to the handlebars or pannier rack of their bikes – often both. People are riding bikes in whatever they’re wearing – smart or whatever. I also saw heavily pregnant women cycling by. Basically it’s just the default mode of transport, rather than something a bit specialist as it is in the UK I think.
So we only though it was right to move from our hotel to a campsite by bike.
It was actually ok cycling with our big packs on, but we did have sore bums in the morning… We felt quite intrepid though, which is the main thing.
The campsite was on the edge of town on a little island. It had some pretty good facilities – a sort of kitchen with a fridge and hobs to use, and a herb garden! The actual pitch was kind of a desolate field of mostly mud (I think the soil was too sandy to grow grass properly). But we had fun eating all their herbs in our otherwise uninspired pasta dinners, and sitting by the snap crackle and popping open fire in the bar trying to sort our lives out on the wi-fi.
Day three we basically cycled round town most of the day, stopping to check out a food market, on the roof terrace of the science museum for a coffee, and at the city archives to see a free exhibition they had there.
In the late afternoon we went back to the Anne Frank house. The queue was smaller, so we joined it, and waited about 40 minutes. I’d highly recommend visiting. There are some museum bits explaining the context and showing some photos and things, but the main thing is the house itself. It’s totally empty, left so after it was emptied under orders when the families were discovered. I could really feel what it would have been like being trapped in those rooms. The museum parts were also very good. Particularly in addressing the fact that Anne Frank’s story is one of millions, but one that attracts all this attention. They had a selection of interviews and clips playing at the end. They were mostly full of reverance, but there was also one calling the whole industry around Anne Frank a personality cult. I thought it was to their credit that they’d included that. It makes you think.
Our last day was spent mostly moving out of the campsite and sorting out our next couple of stops. In the afternoon and evening we did some more touristy stuff, like buying a magnet to start our collection of one from each country we visit. We also went to the Sex Museum, which was terrible. There was some interesting stuff on the effect of developing technology on porn, and it was interesting seeing very early photos from the 19th century. People don’t change. But mostly it was just piles of badly curated nonsense, and creepy mannequins.
We had a nice dinner at a studenty place near the centre of town, and then it was nearly time to catch our bus. On the way we walked through the red light district to see it at night. We’d already stumbled across it in day time, when it felt sleazy. Girls sat in windows next to people having their lunch at a pavement cafe on a church square. It was just pretty depressing. At night it seemed almost jolly. I don’t really know what I think about this. You wonder if these women want to be there. What was particularly strange was the number of tourists milling about.
Then there was just time to go to a coffee shop, before heading to the station for our bus. TIP: Bring your own lighter or you will feel very silly.