Canals and bridges

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
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17
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Trip End Oct 01, 2007


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

We've arrived in one of Europe's most famous cities (or notorious, depending on how you look at it, I suppose). I hate to start off with negativity, but I've never been incredibly fond of the place, and having spent a couple more days here, I still don't find it all it's cracked up to be. It's still filthy, overcrowded, full of petty criminals, deadbeats and lechers, architecturally rather redundant, and now has become extremely expensive to boot. The positive is that the Dutch are generally good, friendly people and the weather has been fabulous. Actually, it's been uncommonly warm: the other couple times I've been to Amsterdam, it only alternated between grey skies and rain.

Our lodgings have been a bit cramped and thin-walled, but the owner is very nice (as well as a bit eccentric). The only serious drawback is the young couple sleeping above us with their two-year old kid. Why on earth people would choose to stay in a quaint B&B with an infant is absolutely beyond me. It isn't exactly fun to be awakened by a screaming child running back and forth on hard wooden floors above you at 7:30am. Other than that though, it's about the cheapest double room we could find in town (hell, it was just about the only double that we could find period!). I guess you have to take what you can get.

Yesterday was mostly spent wandering around the town. Mayu was somewhat disappointed to find the city less romantically picturesque than she imagined. She was also a bit put off by the seediness of the Red Light District even by day, overrun as it seemed to be with shady characters muttering "crack, coke, smack..." as they walked past. A bit of a switch from the cleaned up Reeperbahn, I guess. The Damrak was predictably awful, absolutely covered in tourist schlock and overpriced restaurants. At least our place was closer to the Leidseplein, which has some interesting ethnic character.

Today started a bit hazy, but we wasted most of the morning trying to line up train reservations for Spain this weekend. Incredibly, the night train from Paris to Madrid costs €101 a person for a bed. After finding that the non-direct option was fully booked, we decided we had to settle on a splurge, only to discover that even the direct train was booked! So instead we had to just go with a seat for all Saturday night, but even that cost each of us €43. All this despite us having a 1st class Eurailpass! Add that to the compulsory Thalys supplement from Brussels to Paris and the return couchettes for the weekend after, and we had nearly €200 to pay up. Adding insult to injury, we were treated to the classic European "service" of someone acting like we were an absolute nuisance for daring to ask questions and deal with a human being, then billed an additional €7 for the privilege. Cheers!

Having already started the day on a sour note, it took a little while for tempers to settle as we walked the canals. We improved things by a visit to the Van Gogh Museum. This is one area where Amsterdam excels: museum culture. Sure, it now costs an arm and a leg to visit any of them, but at least they're well put together and informative. Mayu was impressed with the place, but then realized after we started strolling through it that we'd already seen a number of the works at an exhibit in Nagoya! Oops. All the same, it was well worth the visit.

We ended the day with an obligatory evening walk through the sleaze and loud, drunken tourist culture that is the Red Light District. Probably the first five minutes or so were fine, but Mayu grew increasingly uncomfortable in the environment. After strolling several paths, she was a bit overwhelmed, so we turned round for the long walk down the Dam. I guess looking at the bizarre subculture isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Having seen a good deal of Amsterdam, we're going to try something new tomorrow and do a daytrip out of the capital. It'll be the first time for each of us to see someplace else in the Netherlands, so I'm looking forward to something different.
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