We started our vacation
on the 4th of June 1999. I was pretty stressed up cause I had
been to a course the 2 weeks before we left. And we were also pretty
late with the visa application so we only got our passports back the day
before we left *phew*. But on this Friday (4th of
June) we were ready to go. We left from Stavanger and went to Amsterdam.
It was a weird feeling going on vacation and coming there so soon.
Normally when we have travelled it has taken quite some time to get to
our destination. But this time we were there after just 1 hour and ten
minutes. Trains run from the airport itself and it only takes about 20
minutes to go into town. So we were at the hotel ready to check out the
town by 2 pm. I think that half of the fun is looking forward to the
vacation itself and I had prepared myself by reading a travel guide. I
bought the Eyewitness travel guide and I like this series cause it gives
fair enough information about what is worth seeing.
We were staying in the
museum quarter of Amsterdam but the town itself is not all that big and
I like that. That means that you can walk around to the different
destination. The first thing we did was to walk around town to get a
feeling of where we were. The guide book also included a map and thank
god for that cause I think we would have been lost without it *grin*.
Amsterdam is beautiful
with the combination of canals and roads everywhere. And because of the
fact that Holland used to be a great nation back in the 17th
(not that they are not a great nation anymore but they had a
Golden age back then) the town is filled with old houses with great
architecture. I think what I will remember best from Amsterdam is the
sounds of the bells on the bikes and the bells ringing on the trams. People back home here don’t bike that much but in Amsterdam there were
bikes everywhere. And I’m talking old bikes, new bikes, worn out
bikes, self painted bikes and so on. But they all seemed to have a
little bell on the steering wheel to be able to indicate to the
pedestrians that they were coming :-) And they had lanes on most of the
roads that were dedicated to the biking and they didn’t seem happy
when we used this lane for walking.
The trams worked on the
same principle. They rang their bell to get people to get out of the
way. The drivers seemed to be a bit fed up with all the people that were
in their way. One day we saw one guy that was sooo close to being run
down by a tram and of course he was angry as hell after that. It rained a few times
while we were in Amsterdam and it looked like the rain turned the tram
tracks into lethal weapons for the bikers. We saw several people who
fell pretty bad as they were biking fast over the tracks.
There were lots and lots
of restaurants around the area in which we stayed. We tried different
cuisines actually. We had Italian one day, Indonesian the next and then
Caribbean food. And of course we stopped by Burger King for a fast meal
:-) But the general impression of the places we went to were that the
restaurants were kind of small and the service was not really great. The
food was served slow and we had to hunt down the waitress to pay the
bill. They seemed more relaxed than I’m used to at least.
We went into a coffee
shop at one stage. I don’t know where the term came from but at some
coffee shops you can buy hash if you want to. We went into a coffee shop
near Leidsplain and there was a big sign behind the bar saying “We
don’t sell joints, only bags”. We went into the place because it had
an internet cafe as well.
According to my guide
book the Dutch men are “famous” for pissing everywhere and because
of this the smell of piss have become more of a problem than dog shit in
the streets. Well, I don’t think that there was that much dog shit
around but we did smell piss on various locations. They have even put up
more or less public urinals to get rid of some of the problem.
There was one problem
for me in the museums that I visited: the information was often only in
Dutch and that made it very hard for me to understand anything. In some
places you could rent audio guides but I have tried that before and most
of the time you get fed up by listening to the voice and then you just
carry the equipment around.
We stayed in Amsterdam
from Friday until Tuesday morning. In that period we checked out the
Anne Franks house:
we had to see this “attraction” of course. I have read the book and
seen plays about it so it was a bit special seeing the place itself. But
it also seems unreal when you are there to think that this is the place
where she actually wrote her stuff. But there is not much left in the
building when it comes to furniture. More or less all the rooms were
totally naked. It seems like they are working on making this a major
attraction cause they were reconstructing the entrance and parts of the
house when we were there.
Rijks Museum: The
museum is located quite close to where we stayed and it is listed as one
of the attractions in Amsterdam so we decided to go there. It is like
the Louvre in Paris but a smaller edition. The museum was interesting
enough but it is a bit much when you walk around and look at paintings
for hours. I enjoyed the section where they had displays of everyday
stuff on board ships belonging to the VOC (The Dutch East India
Company). Some of Van Gogh’s paintings had been transferred to this
museum because they were renovating the Van Gogh museum itself. So I got
to see the sunflowers :-)
The Royal Palace:
The palace is located on a place called Dam. This palace was really
nice. The great hall inside the palace was just fantastic. It was about
30 meters up to the ceiling and the floor was made of marble and it
included maps of the world as they knew it when it was built. And there
is also an astrological map on the floor. There maps were round and they
must have been about 5 meters in diameter.
And there were figures carved
in stone above the different entrances. Of course it is hard to explain
how all of this looks but it was quite a sight. I guess they had also
thought about which rooms being used for what before they built the
A nice example of this is two rooms that were right next to
each other. One of the rooms was the insurance room and above the
entrance there is stone carvings of the Greek poet Arion being saved
from drowning by a dolphin. The room next door was the bankruptcy room
and above the door here one can see Icarus as he falls towards the sea
after coming too close to the sun. There are also small details like
carvings of poisonous plants, rats crawling over empty money chests and
Yes, Amsterdam also have a Madame Tussaud wax gallery. This is located
right next to the Royal Palace in the middle of town. I guess we went on
a bad day (I think we went on Saturday) and the place was really
crowded. It made it hard to see all the figures and to hear all the
information that was given. But it was a cool layout. First we got to
hear about the history of Holland/Amsterdam and they had created
different scenes in the past with wax figures. And then we moved into a
more conventional gallery where there were figures of different well
Oude Kerk: The
church is located near the red light district and it is kinda strange to
walk through this area to get to a church. But the church itself was
beautiful. The were “testing” the great organ when we were in there
and it sounded great. I love to hear organ playing in churches like
that. The church also has some nice paintings in the ceiling. According
to the guide book these paintings were covered up with blue paint a long
time ago and when they found out about this in the 60s they had to do a
lot of work to restore it back to the original look.
The maritime museum has lots and lots of models of ships and it takes
you through the history from sail ships to steamboats and so on. There
were also displays about the world wars. There is a full size sail boat
on the harbour of the museum called the Amsterdam and it was fascinating
to get on board this ship.
The Hash Marihuana
Hemp Museum: The “museum” was a real disappointment. According
to the guide book it was a thing that we had to see. OK, so the subject
is controversial but the displays of pipes to smoke hash in, things to
make out of hemp and the green room filled with hash plants does not
change that fact that the museum was small and pretty boring.
Canal boat ride:
We took a canal boat ride one day and it was not very expensive. The
trip lasted for about 1 hour and a half and took us around on some of
the most important canals and even outside in the main harbour.
On Tuesday morning we
got up at 5 am to get ready to go to Paris. I had already booked tickets
back home to get on the speed train from Amsterdam to Paris called Thalys.
The trip started at 7 am and by 11.30 we were in Paris. The train went
kind of slow through Holland and Belgium but it sure speeded up when we
came over on the TGV lines in France. I guess the train did 250 to 300
km/h when we were going full speed. Read more about the stay in Paris here.