When I made it back to New Zealand a few fantastic weeks later, the last thing on my mind was spending hours talking about the trip. I’ve spent some time getting my life in order now, and am ready to continue my blog after a long hiatus.
I suppose I’m doing this as much for myself as for everybody else. I just feel a huge desire to get these memories down, so I can look back later and hopefully remember what it was like.
As you’ll hear about a couple posts down the line, I had serious issues with my photo storage and only two relatively unexciting photos remain of my time in Amsterdam (while none remain of my second time in Paris, nor my trip through Alsace, Brisach and The Black Forest), as these two were for some unknown reason stored in my camera’s internal memory.
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I had hoped that my credit card would arrive while I was away in Luxembourg. No such luck. With my travel options still immensely hampered, I eventually convinced Kelly to accompany me on a couple day trip to Amsterdam. With only a few weeks left in Europe, she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her host family. In retrospect, I feel guilty about dragging her along, though we did have a great time.
Kelly having come over the previous night, we left Genevieve and Peter’s house in Brussels very early in the morning, while it was still dark. We made our way to the central station (which took us about 10 minutes... thank you Metro system!) and managed to board the train seconds before the doors shut.
The train was bound for Amsterdam, stopping in Antwerpen. In the morning rush, I had forgotten my go pass (5 euro train rides between any two places in Belgium) so we spent one awkward minute filling in Kelly’s pass twice as the conductor looked on with displeasure (go passes are meant to be filled out before boarding the train). We ran into further troubles upon arriving in Antwerpen, as the train was to continue all the way to Amsterdam, but we had not bought yet bought a ticket. Buying a ticket on the train would apparently cost almost twice the price.
So we got off the train, with an hour to kill before the next one. The train station in Antwerp is simply fantastic and was almost worth the wait alone. The place is partially constructed from an old cathedral, and mixes the old with the new magnificently.
We took brief foray out into the city. Unfortunately nothing was open yet, and it was far too cold and rainy to properly explore. Besides, I was hungry. A supermarket called “Spar” was open inside the station, and offered extremely cheap prices on virtually everything. We ended up snacking on a baguette filled with a tomato and mushroom pasta sauce with cheese (avec fromage) washed down with chocolate milk and a side of MSG encrusted crisps. Nom nom nom.
It was nice really, sitting there inside this immensely spacious and beautiful railway station eating a horrendously bad breakfast and watching a man driving a huge floor washing vehicle around in circles.
In no time at all, we were on board the next train (the 8:30am) to Amsterdam, a short 5 hours train ride away. I won’t lie, those 3 hours were probably the least fun i’d had since arriving in Europe. The windows were incredibly grimy, and it was very grey in The Netherlands that day, so there was little to see. I remember at one point Kelly remarking about the hundreds if not thousands of ducks in the fields. I didn’t see them at first, and had a hard time believing her i’m ashamed to say. Sure enough though, a minute or two later, another such field came into view. It was crowded, literally crowded, with ducks. I’ve lived most of my life next to a very duck heavy lake, but this was several orders of magnitude more ducks than i’d ever seen in one place. Hardcore!
You may remember me talking about how I’d thought I’d seen the last of the snow on my way back from Brugge a week or two previous; How wrong I was. We stepped off the train and out into a bitterly cold, snow covered, and wet Amsterdam.
The first of two pictures, Kelly underneath the railway tracks
Our first thought was to find our hotel. Evidently, the temperature had risen above 0 sometime within the last few days, so the streets were slick with ice, covered with a layer of snow. Often it was impossible to tell where the ice lay, due to the snow disguise. Though the hotel was only a few minutes’ walk from the train station, I almost fell flat on my face a number of times. Kelly seemed to manage far better than I, and I caught myself thinking about the look on her face were I to fall. Perhaps it was that thought which brought forth my great determination not to fall, delivering me safely.
The Hotel Internationaal was above a cosy little pub, run by some of the friendliest people ever. Cosy rooms, free internet, cheap beer and right in the heart of Amsterdam. The best way I can think of to describe the staff was simply that they seemed to be enjoying life, and there was always lively conversation down in the bar. Having arrived reasonably early in the day, our rooms were not yet ready, so we dropped off our bags and made for our first port of call.
The first thing each of us wanted to see was the Van Gogh museum. It was a little ways away, so we decided to take the metro. When we got to the station, we had little idea of what to do. How did we buy tickets? Which line and direction did we want? Where did we need to get off? Thankfully, a station attendant noticed us poor lost tourists and was more than happy to tell us what we needed to know.
After more underground travel and aboveground sliding around on the ice, we finally made it to the museum. I’ve always liked the impressionists, and Van Gogh has always been one of my favourites. The museum contains over 200 of his works, and I was very much looking forward to seeing his works in person for the first time.
The museum was the second most expensive I was to visit in Europe. Sitting at 14 euro (compared to 10 at the Louvre), I was also disappointed to find cameras were not allowed inside, with metal detectors set up to stop any sneaks like myself. The layout of the museum followed the artist throughout his career, beginning with his time as an apprentice and ending with his time in Saint-Remy hospital before his suicide in July 1890, age 37.
The ground floor was devoted to his work as an apprentice. While interesting from the perspective of seeing how the artist’s work evolved over his life, the paintings themselves were crude and failed to impress me greatly. Kelly agreed, and we moved on without lingering for too long.
The next floor contained his work as an emerging artist. One painting in particular really caught me. Perhaps one of hi s most famous pieces, The Potato Eaters is certainly evocative.
Vincent Van Gogh – The Potato Eaters 1885
I enjoyed the entire Van Gogh collection really. Kelly felt his lines were too thick, but for whatever reason, the paintings did it for me. Especially interesting were the paintings towards the end of his life. They seemed to get progressively darker, in colour as well as theme. I couldn’t help but see all those last paintings as the work of an artist in the midst of a deep depression, who knew his time was rapidly drawing to an end.
Unexpectedly, there was a floor of the museum devoted to the private collection of the late Dutch artist Hendrik Willem Mesdag. It contained many fantastic pieces, and it was here that I truly started to appreciate how much I love Dutch art. I must confess that before leaving New Zealand, I doubt I could have named 3, but from Rembrandt and Vermeer to Van Gogh himself, the Dutch seem to be responsible for a vast number of absolute masterpieces.
The museum wasn’t all that large, and we left after doing the tour. We exited into the rain, where I found that my camera had broken. The screen had become wet, and stopped working though I later found out that the camera still worked otherwise. I spent the rest of my trip looking through the little glass window and hoping that the picture would turn out alright.
We took a tram back into the centre of town. I know i’ve ranted on about public transport a fair bit during the course of this blog, but i’d just like to say a few words about the system in Amsterdam. It was cheap, reliable, clean and quick. One could buy a 24h pass for 7 euro, which could be used on all the forms of public transport and it was even cheaper to buy longer passes. Busses and trams often ran on dedicated bus/tram lanes, making it very easy to get around. It seemed like almost everybody rode a bike anyway. Just fantastic really, traffic congestion, at least as it is defined in most major cities, seemed almost non-existent.
Now we enter into the discussion of the slightly darker side of Amsterdam. Children may want to block their ears. No explicit pictures follow, but the subject matter is sex, prostitution and more sex.
+ Show Spoiler [NSFW (text only)] +
After having lunch, we headed back to the Damrak. Upon arrival, we noticed a so called “Sex Museum” open to the main road, it being somewhat of the thing to do while in Amsterdam, we decided to take a closer look. I wasn’t expecting much, but it wasn’t bad. Some displays were a tad odd: A life size man who shuffles forward, then opens his cloak to you exposing himself; a prostitute giving a man head in some dark corner; a man ejaculating into your face (protected by a sheet of glass). Giggles and peals of laughter were unavoidable in any room of the establishment. Other rooms provided some historical backgrounds. One was full of photographic pornography through the ages, which ranged from fully clothed women through to black and white S&M threesomes. The place was interesting and entertaining, probably worth the 5 euro entry fee but certainly should appear on any ‘must see’ list.
Our night was destined to become progressively more risqué. Over dinner at a place called Wok to Work, I noticed a very odd looking couple. I’m still convinced the woman was an escort, because I’ve never seen two people act like that around each other before or since.
Night had fallen as we ate, so we decided to walk through the world famous red light district. I don’t know if I could have ever mentally prepared myself for that place. It felt like something out of a sci-fi novel. The alleys we walked down were lined with windows each perhaps a metre across, which doubled as doors opening onto the bedroom. In each window, there was a woman bathed in red and UV light. There was woman after woman, beckoning to the people in the street, tapping on the windows, licking their lips, doing whatever they could to attract customers. A throng of men coursed through the street, sizing up the various women, making judgements (often out loud) and entering into negotiations. When a deal was made, the man would be invited inside and a curtain drawn, obscuring vision but not blocking out the sounds.
Morbidly fascinating was the way Kelly put it, and it was. Here was a section of society that i’d never been exposed to before laid bare. Men (very occasionally couples) paying money for what was presumably very emotionally detached sex. Did they do it because they were in Amsterdam, and it was the thing to do? Or was it because they felt alone? Perhaps they were just desperate for a fuck. Either way, I couldn’t help but feel it was all rather sad.
That all being said, it also felt unexpectedly safe. Even Kelly admitted she felt safe there. There were plenty of other women there, doing the same thing as us. One of the benefits of bringing it out in the open I suppose. It was the women in the windows surprised me the most however. I hadn’t really known what to expect, but if anything I had expected broken shells of women, like in the movies and literature. Instead, the women seemed relatively happy, and were often seen chatting animatedly on their phones or to their neighbours when not otherwise engaged. I understand there is still a large problem with pimping and trafficking, but I couldn’t help but feel the prostitutes probably had it far easier than in most other countries. At the same time, some part of it was undoubtedly a facade, disguising the nastier aspects of the sex trade from those who don’t look too closely.
One of Kelly’s friends had been along to a live sex show while in Amsterdam, and recommended it. The kind of thing you don’t really ever get the opportunity to experience elsewhere we thought, so we did some quick research on the computer back at the hotel before heading off to what the interwebs told us was the best deal.
Porco Rosso was the name of the place, from memory. The 70 euro ticket (for both us) provided entry into two separate shows and 4 free drinks from the bar. The guy who sold us the tickets was some random dude on the side of the street, who then pointed us in the right direction. It occurred to me after handing over the money that we had no proof he represented the shows at all. Thankfully, it wasn’t a scam and we made it into the shows without incident.
The first show was up a narrow flight of stairs, which opened up into a dimly lit medium sized room lined with benches to sit on, and a raised platform front and centre. A woman had already begun her set as we entered, and was dressed in her underwear and dancing to the raunchy music playing. A light shone up from underneath her, making her look (forgive me) very exotic and interesting. It was a well designed act, the music and lighting fit and she was very attractive. Unfortunately, the room had a very seedy feel to it, and I was utterly unable to relax. However, after a few minutes of slowing taking off her remaining clothes, the woman brought out a cigar. She proceeded to cut and light it, taking a few puffs on it before lying down. She then inserted the unlit end of the cigar into her vagina, and began to smoke the cigar. I distinctly remember Kelly’s sharp intake of breath at that point. I’m sure everybody in the room agreed with her sentiment of “whoa”. Not all that sexy, but damned entertaining.
The next act was a stereotypical stripper. She looked haggard, but did her best to entertain as she stripped and masturbated in front of us. She was followed by some sort of Vietnam war protest cum porno starring a slightly overweight woman and her emotionless partner. It was all very odd, and completely outside my ken. I can’t imagine how people get erections in that room.
Apparently the first show was simply a warm up for the main event, situated across the canal. The format was of an infinitely rotating set of acts, so we took our time. Got some fresh air and discussed how immensely odd the show had been so far. Upon leaving, we noticed that the people seated behind us in the show were a young Asian lesbian couple, which was probably the highlight of my trip to Europe. Kawaii desu yo!
After psyching ourselves up for the main event, we made our way over. The place again defied expectations. It was a well lit, reasonably sized theatre with a large stage and the audience was roughly a third female. We grabbed the first of our drinks, and sat down to watch.
The first act we saw (infinite rotation) was a dominatrix. She strutted up and down the aisle, looking for a volunteer, before eventually coercing a middle aged man. We were reminded over the intercom that cameras were strictly forbidden and then the show began. I, and most of the crowd I imagine, were expecting some conceivably unwatchable S&M, but instead the act was all about (surprisingly) humour. The whip was discarded almost immediately, and the woman strapped a floppy dildo to the man’s head, and motioned for him to try to use it on her. Obviously it was set up such that it wouldn’t work, but the man’s vain efforts were hilarious. That one moment really set the scene for the rest of the night. Our concerns about it being serious and seedy were set aside, and the entire crowd relaxed and started to simply enjoy the entertainment.
We were shown a wide variety of acts, from solo acts to extremely built couples energetically having sex upon a rotating bed. We had a male stripper who similarly entertained by tormenting one poor young woman from the crowd(by stripping in front of her, and encouraging her to touch him), whose friends laid on some mean peer pressure to get her up there. We had fun, her friends had fun and she had a lot of fun in the end too.
There were other highlights too. One hot Asian stripper spent a large amount of time staring at Kelly while fucking herself with two glass dildos. The cigar woman made a reappearance, though she looked very bored as she preformed the exact same act we’d seen an hour or two ago. At one point, I even took part in a conga line and, along with a number of others, ate a banana next to a woman’s crotch. A man in
It was a good night really, well worth the price. The shows were sex shows, but weren’t really about the sex, but about entertainment and just having plain fun.
When we made it back to the hotel, the mid week partying was still in full swing all around us. Thankfully, the hotel provided complimentary earplugs, which proved invaluable that night (and even more so later on in my trip, while staying in various hostel dorms).
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I’ll be looking to get the next post out within the next day or two. Got another rather interesting project in the works though, which i’ll hopefully have up and running within the next week or so. Hope you all enjoy it when it reaches you.
All the best everybody,