Wandering the Netherlands, part 2

I took the train from The Hague and settled in for the short journey to Amsterdam. I was looking forward to Holland’s capital city for many reasons. I had been once before but only for the day and didn’t really get to see everything it had to offer and I also knew a couple of people who lived here, so the thought of catching up with them added my excitement.

I managed to navigate the tram from Centraal Station to my hostel with relative ease and checked into my dorm, which I would be sharing with 7 other people. However, from the super friendly hostel in The Hague, it was quite a contrast to seemingly have 7 mute people in my room. I said hi to the 3 who were there upon my arrival and was blatantly ignored – not even a glance or a grunt – so I afforded them the same hospitality and went about my trip not hearing one word spoken in my room the entire time I was there!

I arrived late in the day and took a late afternoon stroll around, getting my bearings and enjoying views of the vast canal network and beautiful architecture. It still made me smile seeing the buildings lean so much, due to the subsidence. Its like they were all drunk and holding each other up, seemingly mirroring the myriad of stag and hen parties which were weaving their way through the city this weekend, as they no doubt do every weekend.

At the hostel there wasn’t a common room in which to hang out and I didn’t relish the idea of just chilling in my dorm, so I took myself to a bar hoping to strike up conversation with a local. I was fortunate enough to meet a Swiss guy who was in Amsterdam for a few days, catching up with a friend who wanted to introduce him to his new boyfriend. As the conversation (and beer) flowed, I suddenly found myself agreeing to be part of a double date and was on my way to be wined and dined in a lovely Italian restaurant in the heart of the city. The evening was great fun, the four of us got on well and Michel and I have kept in touch. It’s just a shame I’m not scheduled to be in Switzerland until January…

As I walked back to my hostel the next morning, the sun was out and I was able to really capture some stunning shots before the tourists woke up and the crowds descended on to the streets.

Amsterdam is a great city to wander around. Although it is very tourist driven, they do also add to the ambiance of the place and the throng of people is often matched in volume by the numerous things you can do in the city. It would be easy to spend two weeks here and have a compliment of museums and attractions to explore each day, with a new cuisine to try each night. My long morning walk ended at Dam Square, where the World Press Photo exhibition was being held, where they exhibit the best journalism photos from around the world, with a number of categories being featured. It was really humbling to wander through some of the worlds most infamous shots of the past 12 months and it really sobers you up to all that is going on in the world and despite how big it is, how close photography can make you are to everything. You feel you can reach out and hug the refugees fleeing from their once happy homes or try to save the innocent animals which had their tusks sawn off or were trapped in the ocean in the waste we put there. Basically the majority of the images showcased all creatures great and small on 4 legs or 2 (sometimes 1, sometimes 3 due to maiming) all fleeing from the same threat. Humans. It was a strong exhibit and I was reminded not to take my care free adventures for granted, as you never know what our species will do next or where they’ll do it.

I exited to a more upbeat visual, as there was a huge fun fair on Dam Square and delighted children and happy people were making the most of the rides and the food stalls and it was immediate catharsis which lifted my spirits and re-fueled my happy. I wandered through and made my way to the canal which led to Centraal Station and hopped on a boat for a 1 hour canal cruise to see the city from a different perspective.

Now I was on a schedule today, as I had arranged to meet my friend Sebastiaan at 6pm at Haarlem station. I met Sebastiaan 12 years ago in Rio. We had spent a few days hanging out and managed to climb Sugar Loaf Mountain together with a few others from the hostel but not having seen each other since Brazil, I wasn’t sure of the reception I’d receive after so long. I reached out just before arriving in Holland and suggested a beer and was told to meet him at Haarlem station and we would go from there. And what an amazing time I had!

Sebastiaan and his girlfriend Jara collected me and took me back to their home. I knew we were going out that evening and it turned out it was Jara’s Mum’s birthday and they were going out for a family dinner and I was to come along. I felt a little intrusive at first but they are all such lovely people, I immediately felt at ease in their company and they were all so kind to speak English with me, that I had a great time. My lucky timing (once again) had me in Haarlem the night the Flower Parade comes through town, which only happens once a year. The Parade travels for about 44km throughout the day, ending in Haarlem at night and all the floats are made up of amazing floral displays depicting different characters, themes and animals. It was a real sensory feast for the eyes and nose and the event showed a great sense of community and families coming together to enjoy it.

After we made our way back to their house, I assumed the evening was over but it was just a quick pit stop before heading back out on the town. I went with Sebastiaan to a cool bar which had been converted to a church and had a couple of the beers which had been brewed on the premises, before moving on to meet up with some of his friends. We had a really fun night and again, I was so lucky that everyone spoke pretty much fluent English and I wasn’t left out of any conversation. Having had a complete blast, I slept well but we both woke up with quite the hangover! In order to cure ourselves of these, the 3 of us took the dog for a long walk in the sand dunes near their house and the fresh, bracing air did us wonders. We then headed to the beach for some more blustery air and much to my surprise, I tried herring for the first time and really enjoyed it. The combination of the oily fish, the fresh air and a diet coke had our heads clear for the rest of the day and similarly, the clouds also cleared, leaving us with a beautiful afternoon to enjoy.

Not knowing what else I was going to enjoy in the company of this awesome couple, I was delighted to see that Sebastiaan had arranged for a boat to be available to us, so we could spend the afternoon on the water and I was to get a private tour of Haarlem from the canals and learn some of the history of this beautiful city and enjoy Sebastiaan and Jara’s amiable company. We stopped and moored the boat when we wanted, had an ice cream and wandered around the city which is a lot less crowded than Amsterdam but equally as beautiful. I really enjoyed the afternoon out, trying some more local delicacies as we wandered.

The evening was rounded off with us going for a pizza and I got the chance to meet another of Sebastiaan’s friends who he met on his travels and they became so close, the friend is now married to Sebastiaan’s sister. He really is the most hospitable guy! I left in such good spirits and made my way back to Amsterdam, loving the fact that friendship will always override time and it doesn’t matter how many years have passed, as friendship will always last.

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Following a brilliant weekend, I was up early to join the queue for the Van Gogh museum. The queue, as it is everyday was huge and I waited patiently before getting in. Now everyone raves about this museum and the works of Van Gogh but I have to say, I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t see a number of his most famous paintings and as I read the many letters he wrote to his brother and other artists, I can’t say I was a huge fan of him either. As a very novice art critic but long time people judger, I have to say he seemed like a bit of a knob. It wasn’t until the following day that I saw that they had opened a Van Gogh exhibition in my home town of Melbourne, where all his major pieces were, which made me feel glad that I didn’t travel all this way just to see his work, when I could have stayed at home!

I was glad to leave not just because I’m not a fan but I also had another reunion to get to, which was with Eline who I met on the best trip of my life in Africa in 2015. We had a huge hug when we clocked one another and had an amazing afternoon catching up, starting with a delicious lunch, before moving on to a photography museum and then a lovely long stroll in Vondelpark. It was so much fun reliving so many memories of our trip to Africa and even felt a little strange chatting without the odd zebra or elephant wandering past! Again, I felt amazed at how you can meet someone just by chance but it is clear they’re destined to be in your life forever and this is the case with Eline and all the Africa crew.

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That evening, I decided that I would take a stroll into the red light district and have a peak into the windows and see the seedy side of Amsterdam. I have to say though, it wasn’t as seedy as I had assumed and what I saw was lots of similarly dressed women all sitting there looking really bored and they were either fiddling with their phones or eating their dinner. It wasn’t particularly sexy but it was a touch amusing when they saw me wandering around on my own, as their demeanour completely changed in the hope to tempt me to go behind the curtain with them. Sadly the only action they were going to get from me was a cursory wave and a nod of my head as I continued on by.

I headed back to my dorm to continue the game of dead fishes with the others in my room and woke up to what was to be a day of culture. I went to Museumplein, where I strolled through a number of museums, seeing the works of Banksy and Dali together in the MOCO and then moved on to see more contemporary art at Rijksmuseum and another photography exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. It was a cultural overload to see so much art work but it was definitely more my scene, as we had the works of Dali (not the real works!) on the walls at home when I was growing up and I last saw his work at The Tate in London on my 21st birthday with my parents, so it was good to see it again after so long. I saw an original Banksy in Bristol, when I was only my UK road trip and I love the messages he is able to convey in his work and seeing more contemporary art and photography really appealed to my personal tastes. It was a long day on my feet though and I was glad to find a pub to park myself in for the evening and have a nice chat with the other patrons over a pint. It does take a bit of courage to go up to people in a foreign country and initiate a conversation in their second language but it is worth it. Most people are so kind and I am always able to enjoy the company of most people and conversation always seems to flow.

My final day in this fantastic city involved tulips. thousands and thousands of tulips. I was fortunate enough to be close to Keukenhof when all the tulips were in bloom and they were truly magnificent. I have never seen so many flowers in one place before in my life. They were so vivid and the colour was breathtaking. I wasn’t sure how long I’d need there but it was easy to spend a few hours just wandering around and taking in the beauty and scent of the place. It is so big and the fields of flowers as far as the eye could see was so spectacular. I was lucky that the sun continued to shine and the day topped off an amazing trip to this part of the Netherlands where I had such a good time, saw so much, reunited with amazing people met new friends (and possibly more) and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. Holland was shaping up to be a major highlight of this trip so far and it hadn’t ended there, as the next stop is Arnhem for Kings Day and my very first couchsurfing experience.

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