May 17, 2005
I also visited Van Gough's museum which had a great collection of his works with many paintings I had never seen before including many of his early works. Visiting Anne Frank,s house was an emotional experience. The house is unfurnished but even so just walking through the rooms and reading extracts really brings the harsh reality of the book to life. Another stop on the tourist trail was the Hilton hotel where John and Yoko had there honey moon, love-in with the media. The writing on the windows -peace, love etc was still there!
I also managed to squeeze in a day trip to the Hague to see the peace palace. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed inside because the tour was already fully booked but it was lovely to wander around the gardens which in some parts were like an enchanted forest with different plants from all over the world, the Peace palace from the outside was a grand and beautiful building. On the way back to the train station I noticed a small gathering crowd near a stall and I sign - "Haring". So I got in line to see what all the fuss was about. "Would you like it by the tale" I hesitated not really sure what she meant. The girl pointed behind me, and I saw a woman dangling a fish above her mouth by the tale before biting into it. To be on the safe side I decided to take mine without a tale on a bun. To complete the dish the girl topped it off with some finely chopped raw onion. Again I hesitated "It's the first of the season you can't get better than this" she said encouragingly. With a news camera taking a close up of me picking up my my haring I took a bite into the oily, gelationous delicacy - and did my best to smile. I ate about half before i decided that my taste buds just weren't ready for this,so l walked out of the square and discreetly hid it in my day pack -which then smelt like fish and onion for the next few days. One staple of the Netherlands that I did love however was the frittes with more mayo than chips. In one store I counted 19 different flavours of sauce to choose from.
Arrived in Amsterdam. The sirens here sound more like Mr whippy vans than police cars. Perhaps this is appropriate given the Netherlands liberal laws and relaxed attitude ,eg Euthanasia, gay marriages.On my first night I strolled the streets of Amsterdam with a large group of six Australians, one New Zealander, one loud Canadian and a quiet American. Between the 10 of us it was impossible to make decisions about where to eat and where to smoke so it took half the evening to grab a kebab and eventually settle down in one of the many Coffee houses called "The Greenhouse effect". The people inside were a friendly and eclectic bunch and there was an long price list with different varieties of grass and hash to select from, it was certainly an interesting experience. Bicycles are everywhere in Amsterdam. Everyone seems to ride the same model bicycle, big wheeled,rattling and slightly old fashioned looking. There are no mountain bikes or riders in slick lycra suits, only people riding to work in their suits or relaxed, casually dressed locals going about their daily business, sometimes with bunches of fresh flowers in the front basket on their handle bars. Not to be misled though, those rattling bikes are actually mean killing machines, trying to avoid them as a pedestrian is no easy task. I managed to hop on a bicycle and take a trip into the countryside. I visited a farm that makes clogs and gouda cheese with an eccentric farmer who stomped around in the mud in his clogs singing and muttering to himself. Because the cheese is handmade you don't refrigerate it so i jumped at the chance to lug around a big hunk of waxed gouda in my back pack. Clog making was also interesting but i resisted the urge to carry around a pair, apparently they are actually supposed to comfortable. Then there was the famous red light district offering prostitutes of all ages, shapes and sizes, in red-lit windows. I was told that near the blue lights is where you find the men - I was looking forward to seeing scantily clad buffed males but instead the only "men" I found near the blue lights were the transvestites. The prostitutes in Amsterdam work for themselves, there are no pimps and they even have there own trade union called The Red Thread. For around 200-400 €s a night you too can hire a window and go into business - if you run into trouble the police are at your call at the press of a button. Photos are strictly forbidden but I managed to take a couple of empty windows without being thrown into the canal. I also saw my first Piisoir in Amsterdam - a public urinal for men with a screen around it. I love the fact that the screen has a gap in it at eye level so you can watch the world go by or have a conversation as you have a pee. There are also female pissoirs - enclosed - which were put in the city as a result of women protesting that there was no female equivalent of the pissoir. As part of their protest they went to the main Bridge, squatted and all took a protest pee together. The Architecture of the houses here is eye catching. The canal houses have narrow fronts and extend a long way back into the property. This was to avoid land taxes which were calculated by the width of the front of the property. The problem was then trying to move furniture up narrow passages and stairways. To get around this the tops of the buildings come to a point with a post and winch to pull the furniture up through the windows. There is a real housing shortage in central Amsterdam-people can be on waiting list for rentals for 5 years or more. This coupled with the large hippy population means there are many squatters living in Amsterdam. As I was walking into town one morning I came across police baracades with around 60 police in riot gear, in two lines blocking off a section of the street. At first I thought it was an EU protest when I saw the media there, but it was actually an eviction. People shouted " no justice no peace fuck the police" while the police hoisted a large porta cabin suspended on a crane up to one of the windows in the building. Apparently the cabin held police who were trying to enter the property through the window but they were kept at bay by people with sticks holding the door closed- there were also paint bombs and molotov cocktails being hurled into the street. The resources used by the police was phenomenal compared to a usually low key eviction in Australia. Walking past the next day the windows were smashed and a lonely rainbow "Pace" flag waved in the breeze, while clothes and other personal belonging were tossed out the windows into the street.