We went out to explore the city and within a few minutes had decided food was required. Before we knew it we were sat in an Irish bar called Slainte ordering Sheppard’s Pie, Bangers and Mash and Fish & Chips
. Well you can take the lads out of Ireland but you can't take Ireland out of the lads. Later in the evening Vincent arrived and we went out on the beer for the night, not too crazy mind you... just to get a flavor of the city. We hopped around a few pubs and had a look around the Red Light District. A very strange thing the Red Light District is. I thought it would be a really sleazy dangerous place but it didn’t feel that way at all. Perfectly safe and full of tourists. Really it just felt awkward walking down these narrow streets having girls proposition you from behind red lit windows. Honestly, I didn’t know where to look half the time, the whole thing made me quite uncomfortable. I felt sorry for the girls, especially for the younger ones. Imagine having to do that every day. Surely they had dreams of being something when they grew up, something else?
On the Friday Vincent and I did the Sandman’s New Europe free tour, Dan and Pa opted out as they were already pretty familiar with the place. This is a great company who do free, yes FREE tours of most major western European cities. The guides are paid only on the tips they make, but even still tips are optional and you could easily not pay. The guide was quirky and entertaining as he took us around the centre showing us all the main attractions. He was working for his tips, big time! It was cool to get the history of the place, how the Netherlands was formed and all that
. It was also great to learn the reasons behind the legalization of two great taboos of Amsterdam; prostitution and soft drugs. Apparently the former was to cater for the streams of marine and naval workers, and has been a crucial part of the Amsterdam economy for centuries. The latter was to combat a huge junkie problem in the city. In the 70s there were 10,000 heroin junkies on the streets, and now after 40 years of legal soft drugs there are only 800. Another interesting fact, apparently Amsterdam was the only city to strike and protest in support of its Jewish community. The Nazis however put an abrupt end to the protests by firing indiscriminately into the protesting crowd, thus setting an example for any other cities who felt like sticking up for their Jewish comrades. After the tour, which was a good four hours of walking around the city, we met back up with the lads for a few well earned beers. It was an embarrassingly early night too as I was feeling it all catching up on me. Got about 10 hours sleep, probably the most I've had in a month, and a definitely required recharge.
Saturday was the highlight for me. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. So when in Amsterdam you just gotta rent a bike. All the guides say it, and it was also recommended to me in Brussels so I dragged the lads. To be fair they were all up for it and really just needed a little nudge
. Dutch bikes are a bit funny. They have no gears and to break you have to pedal backwards. I think break is a strong word for what the bikes do; gradual deceleration would be a bit more accurate. They are what we would call back home 'high-nellies'. We took the bikes and headed north. After a quick ferry across the Amstel we found ourselves very soon in the Dutch countryside. We must have cycled over 20km exploring the area called Waterland. It was so great to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and explore a few sleepy villages connected by canals and narrow cobbled streets. There were fields and fields, horses, cows and sheep, it was almost home like. Some houses were only accessibly by the canal and they had these little pulley platforms to get to people and their bikes from the road, how nice. The end of the day we had a lovely beer in the sun in one of the villages before rushing back to town for the Munster match. We pulled out our jerseys and did a bit of an Irish bar pub crawl but we eventually found one which would show rugby over soccer. Clearly we were the only people in the whole of Amsterdam who had any interest in Munster. It was a true Irish bar, possibly the most genuine one I have ever been to, and the stout was of a well acceptable quality and the owner was evening moving locals out of our line of sight to the TV, very impressed with that. Munster won 23-10, which was nice! Afterwards we went to one of these famous live shows. I found it quite awkward and really not all that erotic. Surprisingly it was not full of dirty old men but rather couples and even two courageous American girls; clearly it was just another tourist attraction.
Vincent was leaving us on the Sunday but before that we decided that we should really get a bit of culture into us. Dan and Pa were dead set on seeing the Liverpool match and we had no interest in this
. We saw the perfect opportunity to sneak off and do a tour of the home of Rembrandt. This was the first real museum or gallery to which I have gone I side, and it was a good choice I think. Having studied art, Rembrandt was highlighted as one of the fathers of realism art, so it was cool to have a look. We got a bit of history and a tour of where he lived. We also got demonstrations of how he used to create his prints and how to create different paint colours in the 1600s. Afterwards we saw an extensive gallery of his prints. I found it quite interesting and was pleased to add a bit of culture to the trip. Later the all Ireland football final was on so we ended up in yet another Irish bar to watch it. Great to see Cork take it home... Gwaaaan Cork Bai!! Would have been a savage night out to be had back in Cork I'd say, probably a week of great nights actually. From there we saw Vince off before heading to an Argentinean Steakhouse for some highly recommended steaks. It was savage food but we felt a bit ripped off. I mean 6 Euro for a bit of bread and butter is just silly. Actually we felt a bit ripped off everywhere in Amsterdam. Every time you sit down to eat at all you spend like 15-25 Euros. So, the hotel room, a couple of meals, a few overpriced beers and you are spending more than 100 Euro a day... not sustainable. The last night it was just the three of us so we went off for one last hurrah and did another bit of a pub crawl, also visiting the odd coffee shop. It is quite nice how you can go out and it's not beer beer beer all the time, you can get a coffee and just chill out for a few hours, something which is just not possible at night back home.
Monday morning there was a definite feeling that we had enough of Amsterdam. It’s a wonderful place but I could not imagine staying there any longer. Big busy cities are quite tiring and when you add a few nights out on the beer into the equation it’s just exhausting. We had a few hours before we had to leave so we arsed around, I did a few sketches and blogged a bit. When I saw the lads off at the station it was the first time I felt a little bit lonely from home. The idea that they were going home to sleep in their own beds that night did it for me. After a few days in Amsterdam it is really your own bed that you need, not another train ride and a new city to explore. Anyway the feeling was short-lived, and I looked forward, rather than behind, towards my next destination, Cologne.
I was excited about Amsterdam. My brother and cousin and another lad were coming to meet me there and stay for four days, until Monday. I had a flying visit to Amsterdam a few years back and felt like I hardly got an idea what the place was like then. This time it would be different. I arrived around noon and navigated my way to the hotel with relative ease, due to my previous knowledge of the city and with the help of a Google map. The Dan and Pa were waiting there, but they were wrecked since they had travelled through the night and had not slept since the previous night. So our first event in Amsterdam was an hour’s rest... wild!!