A little bit of history to start…..
Amsterdam was founded in 1250 when a dam was built beside the River Amstel. The population is around 800,000
We’re staying at the Doubletree by Hilton near Central Station a 10 minute stroll to Damrak and the centre of the city. I’d booked us into executive rooms with access to the executive lounge. Of course an exec room in Amsterdam is not going to be the same as an executive room in Sydney. I liken the executive room here to a deluxe room in a Sydney Hilton but with a small bathroom. As with most hotels in Europe the rooms are smallish. Given we don’t spend our days in the room I can cope…just!
The weather in Amsterdam certainly wasn’t being too kind to us. It obviously didn’t appreciate the distance we had travelled to see this city! We were in the lift after our morning tea, or in Darelle and Lesley’s case, second breakfast, returning to our rooms to gather our rain gear Darelle suddenly burped very loudly. Surprising even herself by the volume….we looked around in amazement then broke into laughter as she was clearly embarrassed by this….er….mishap. Thank goodness we were the only 4 in the lift at the time.
It was raining, windy and 13 degrees when we left the hotel heading for Damrak street. Rain coats and jackets firmly in place we fought the wind, the cyclists, the crowded station square and the intermittent downpours to make it to the shopping district. It is summer holidays so schools and universities are closed and people across Europe are on holiday. I think most of them have come to Amsterdam especially the students. Amsterdam is an especially popular place for people from the UK and Ireland to have their bucks and hens nights/weekends.
Oh, before I continue I must tell you that if reading the whole blog is a little daunting or you just like my lists you’ll find ‘like/didn’t like’ lists below for you to skim through….
One very noticeable change since my previous visit was the cruise docking area on Damrak. Of course there were many new glass buildings dotted around as well. The charm, for me, is old Amsterdam and it’s history. If a building in Amsterdam is crumbling and needs to be repaired or rebuilt it has to look the same as the original including any lean it may have had. I know modern buildings are a necessity especially for hotels (I don’t like hauling luggage up tiny spiral staircases to my room in the attic) but I do think keeping to the original is a great way to hold onto the history and streetscape even if it’s just the old facade that has been kept. Hmm better not let Ty read this paragraph…he would say ‘you don’t haul your luggage up numerous flights of tiny stairs your husband does that for you’. Yes, he’s correct, however I have done that in a previous life. These days I do my best not to book us into ancient buildings where there is the probability of no lifts……given we’re only into the first week of the holiday I better not say too much more on this subject……….just in case!!
Our wandering took us away from one shopping district into a different type of shopping district….the red light district with it’s offerings of ladies, all shapes, sizes, nationalities on display, if not every window then every second window, gift shops selling erotica, dope smoking equipment, all sorts of foods and sweets containing Marijuana, sex museums, prostitution museums, peep shows ….. you name it it’s there. There’s also the many pubs, cafes and restaurants and the churches. The canals are very pretty here with the huge baskets of brightly coloured flowers handing from either side of the bridges that cross the canals. The combination of canals, bridges, many bikes and the flower baskets make for some great photography….CA you would love it.
We didn’t spend too much time here because I had booked us on a Red Light district tour tonight so we’d hear plenty of information about the history of the area then and Jacinta was also arriving this afternoon. We started the stroll back to our hotel. We stopped along the way to take some photos and it was at one of these locations I lost my little travelling companions, Ted and Dog. Ted had travelled with me for 10 years and dog joined us about 8 years ago. Ty gave the little Teddie to me to ‘look after me’ when I was travelling without him and Dog was a Valentines’ gift a couple of years later. I had taken them out to take their photo and then placed them back in my bag…..they were sharing a section of the bag with my camera and at some point I’ve lifted the camera out again and I think they’ve fallen out ….. We walked back to the hotel and it wasn’t till I was in our room that I realised they were missing….we made a mad dash back to the the place I last had them and retraced our steps from there…..they were nowhere to be found. Needless to say I was devastated because they hold great sentimental value, they weren’t valuable in the sense of price but valuable because they were gifts from my husband. Ty tried to console me by saying someone has probably picked them up and given them to a little child who’ll love them. That they don’t need to look after me for him now ‘cos we’re always together. I know some would say I’m a little strange being upset because I lost a couple of fluffy toys and that’s fine – we all have our little idiosyncrasies and mine is to be sentimental whether it be over a person, place or an object someone dear to me gives me.
Jacinta arrived around 3.00pm we gave her time to freshen up, unpack a little then we headed back out to find a place for dinner. Later we would meet our tour guide at the designated spot Damrak 26. There were quite a few people on our tour so it could be hard to get to see everything up close….not that we needed to get too close to some of the objects in the windows!
There are less ladies in windows today than were there 10 years ago. The industry is more controlled including the number of windows available. The weird and wonderful objects available for purchase have increased as well…I’m sure. More S&M than I remember seeing in windows on previous visits or perhaps I was just too embarrassed to take a good look in my younger years!!! Maybe it was just that our tour guide, on this occasion, was stopping by more of these shops, getting us to move in closer for a better look, as he described what the items were used for. There are some very strange fetishes out there….each to their own I suppose …… still it can’t be denied there are some strange puppies sitting behind closed doors. Difference is what makes the world go round so they say so ‘viva la difference’!
We passed a number of bars with rowdy patrons singing, swearing, shouting or just hanging out the doors and windows but all with glasses or bottles of alcohol in hand. There were large numbers of girls stumbling along the pavements in various costumes and under the influence of alcohol. As the tour ended we noticed a commotion going on at the side of the canal, several ambulances were parked in the narrow street, girls were shouting…..English girls on a hen’s night. How did I know it was a hen’s night? The dress and the Bride to be was dressed in her finest little pink dress with veil and all manner of sex toys and other objects swinging from her neck. She was shouting and crying as the paramedics removed her from the main scene of the chaos. We could see a girl shouting and trying to put her leg over the barrier that protected people from falling into the canal. She had obviously taken something that made her want to commit suicide or perhaps she, give the benefit of doubt, just decided take a late night plunge into the canal. Whatever the reason the paramedics were not having any of this on their watch and suddenly they lunged at her, threw her to the ground, handcuffed the screaming girl and placed her in the ambulance. All the while the bride to be was screaming and crying and continued to do so as the ambulance drove off with her friend in it.
Our hotel, as well as having several restaurants, had a Starbucks. As we know Starbucks is not the best coffee however it’s consistent. Consistently good or bad – up to the individual – I’m just saying there was a Starbucks and we dropped in a couple of times. There are two guys, working very long hours, who just spend the day having a laugh and a good time. The first time I ordered coffees the happy young man with the dark curly hair taking my order started talking about the weather. “Lovely day” he said. “Wind and rain is not a good day to me” I replied with a smile “I want sunshine”. He very quickly replied with ” I’m confident the sun will shine so I’ve got my bikini on under my clothes ‘cos I thought I’d go to the beach after work”. Then a song comes on and they both start singing and dancing as they make the coffees and take orders. They were the same every day we called in and we thought it was great and obviously so did all the other customers…the place was very busy.
We’re all getting in lots of walking, 3 of us are wearing items that measure our steps…..not saying the brands as I try not to endorse any products……consequently there is a bit of competition happening. It makes for interesting outings especially if someone is falling behind the others in the step count.
List of places visited, tours taken and other random items:
- Put rain gear on before leaving the hotel
- Walked main pedestrian malls, venturing in and out of many shops along the way.
- Took our rain gear off
- Stood around in Dam Square viewing the scene, people watching, taking photos whilst ensuring people don’t photobomb our photos.
- Put the rain gear back on again
- Found a cafe for coffee….yes, coffee, no cookies or odd looking cigarettes were had on this walk – I know we’re very boring. We did venture into the shops selling all kinds of interesting bits.
- Tried not to breathe too deeply in some of the streets whilst we wandered from one canal area to the next canal. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana and if we stood around inhaling long enough we’d probably just sit on a step in a haze going nowhere. Yeah man……
- Take the rain gear off again
- Gasson diamond buyers and jewellers of Amsterdam and the world
Things I liked
- The view of the river and parts of the city from our room
- Red light district walking tour – definitely worth it.
- When the rain stopped and the sun came out…….on our 4th day in the city
- All the diamonds available at Gassons
- The two guys in Starbucks at the Hilton…whatever they were on should be given to all the grumpy, unhappy people out there in retail world!
Things I didn’t like
- The intermittent downpours of rain and the icy wind…this is the Northern summer!
- Losing my little travel companions of 10 and 8 years….devastated.
- Bitter coffee
- The crowds….so many visitors in this great city.
- The ringing of bicycle bells which told me I was walking on a bike lane and in danger of being run over by an angry cyclist.