Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tilburg: the quieter side of my trip to the Netherlands

Before I went to Amsterdam, I went to Tilburg. However, after arriving at E's (a slightly complicated route due to works on the railway) and getting some food we sat down to a movie and didn't do a whole lot. We had wine, we had pastries, and we were pretty happy with that (seriously, try Dutch pastries if you go there, especially Stroopwaffel).
Amsterdam brought out our inner tourist and we did a little more on our return. E had a class the first day back and I had an exam in 2 days so we both studied in the morning, but in the afternoon we went for a forest bike expedition with E's Australian friend, Aaron.

 How very Dutch, right? It's also the first photos of E on a bike even after 10 months in the Netherlands!

 That afternoon we cycled into the town centre and had a wander around.

Somebodies finger is in the way!
 There's a shop there, much like the one we found in Bordeaux, called Auckland, NZ which confusingly has NZ branded things. We had a squizz.

I'm a big fan of this incredibly colourful autumn ivy that's around Europe right now. 
 Then it was off home in time for a student party. This is one of the separate bike lanes that the Netherlands has - notice there's one for each direction + the road! How civilised!
 The theme of the party was nerdy and a little bit flirty so we brought out the taped-up glasses, collars and short skirts.
 I went for Spiderman. Unfortunately they only had it in 5 year old boy size. Apparently grown women don't wear Spiderman shirts.

I was up the next day at 5am still a little wobbly on my feet to catch my flight back to Milan. The next day I had my exam (which I passed!) and then my sister arrived - so I'll tell you about my adventures with her soon. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Red Lights, Hookers and Canals: The Dam of Amstel

I know. What a horrible title.
I was in the Netherlands visiting E last weekend and we popped up to Amsterdam for a night. The title is because I didn't want to call it "Amsterdam" and red lights, hookers and canals featured rather a lot. We did do some other cool stuff though!

We started off with a bus ride to 'S-Hertogenbosch - try saying that out loud! Conveniently called Denbosch for short which is much more pronounceable. 

We were a bit early for the train to Amsterdam so wandered around the town a little.

After we checked into our hostel it was time for a canal trip. E had already been on one but humoured me. We cruised through the Gentleman's Canal, saw some of the 1200 bridges, 500 of which are from the 17th century. We were told that the total length of the canals is about 100km and they're 2-3m deep. We also heard a Dutchman say "Eighty-eight illuminated canals" which sounded like he was choking and was very amusing!

Hard to see but there are a bunch of bridges seen through each other.

After the canal tour we went in search of lunch and found ourselves at the Sex Museum. Not quite what we'd had in mind but at only 4 euro we peeped in. It gets somewhat graphic from this point so if you're not OK with penises now would be the time to stop reading. By the end of the museum I wasn't sure how I felt about them! It was very informative and had most mediums featured - photos, paintings, sculptures, old scrolls, furniture and animatronic dolls - but it's quite full on as this level of constant nudity is not something I'm used to seeing!

We were still immature and giggly at this point.

E got a fright when the eyes on that butt suddenly blinked at her!

A penis bowl as far as I could tell.

Don't you wanna be this chick?

Most forms of fetish were covered, I won't include all here.

I have somehow managed to accumulate two photos of me with model penises this year - the other was a bucking bronco version in Vegas.

I particularly liked this one!

There were actual chastity belts.
We stumbled, blinking, into the daylight and headed to our standard refuge - the library. Amsterdam's library has awesomely late hours and we settled into the comfy seats in the children's area to read for an hour or so.
The top floor of the library, and our official reason for going, has pretty good views across the city too - but an unfortunately wide roof as you can see in the top of the photo!
Back at our hostel we took stock then headed off to a place that E's research had revealed played Jazz on Sundays. This meant a walk through some of the red light district. Surprisingly pretty, and yes, the women really do stand in the windows. And no, do not even think about taking a photo of them.

We got some snacks at the Jazz bar and E practiced her camera face.

We finally got some people to take a photo of the two of us.
Post-Jazz we popped by the I Amsterdam sign, it was raining by this point so we got the whole thing to ourselves.

The next day we grabbed some bread and coffee and had a canal-side breakfast. We hit up the flower market before going on a walking tour of the city.

Sadly limited flowers heading into winter.

Very cliche Amsterdam photo - canals and bikes.
I'm a big fan of fun facts, as is E, so I took notes on my phone. Get ready! Before I launch into that though here is a photo of a condomerie that I found amusing.
Below is Dam square. Amsterdam gets its name from the Dam built on the Amstel river. Over time the L became and R and voila - Amsterdam!

Quick history: It began as Amsteldam in 1200 in the province of Holland. It had a large number of protestants and merchants which the King of Spain (also King in the Netherlands at that time) didn't like so much leading to the 80 Years' War. However, as they are merchants they actually preceded the war selling arms to the Spanish. They won and in 1688 became one of the first republics. The city was very rich at this point however, as we all know "mo money, mo problems" and there was a lot of corruption. Napoleon turned up and ruled for 20 years from 1795. The city was devastated. They sat out of the first World War for this reason and tried to sit out of the second but got invaded by Germany instead. This was incredibly depressing and led to the hippie "Make love not war" attitude that the city now has.
On which note: hookers. It costs them 100 euro a day to rent the window and Dutch law requires they don't sell for cheaper than 50 euro/15 minutes which is the standard price. They range in age from 18 to 76 and as we all know prostitution is legal in the Netherlands! (Also in NZ so no big shock for me and E). There is actually an old church in the red light area that used to have a practice where sailors, who were often very short on time when they got land leave, could repent their sins in advance and pay a little money to the church of course. This church is beside a kindergarten, a pub, and a brothel - shows some of the diversity in Amsterdam!
As we all know the Dutch are pretty keen on biking: Amsterdam has about 800 thousand people but around 1.2 million bikes!
Around 5 or 6 people a year die from falling in the canals, largely during winter and largely drunk male Brits according to our guide.
Many of the houses have hooks at the top used to winch items up - if you've ever seen a Dutch staircase you'll know why - and many of the houses also lean forward slightly to avoid smashing windows while transporting the goods.
The entire west side of the country was created by draining the water from the land. This was done using windmills which is why the Netherlands is known for them. The local airport's name translates to "Graveyard of Ships Amsterdam International Airport" - this because it didn't used to be land.
During WWII so many of the houses in Amsterdam were destroyed by the Dutch themselves to use as firewood that the Canadian liberators asked if they had been bombed.
This is the Tripp house - houses used to be taxed on width so you can tell how rich they were. There is a story that their coachman upon seeing the house joked that he wished his house was as wide as the door, at which point the house below was built for him.

Below is the old headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, now a university. They usually went to South Africa which is why the language there is similar to Dutch. They were also the company to invent stocks and eventually collapsed due to corruption.
The Netherlands actually settled New York first and named it New Amsterdam, they eventually traded it to the British for $700 and Suriname.
Marijuana is actually illegal in the Netherlands but the Dutch legal system has three tiers dealing with it - the lower two allow for set amounts to be carried and sold within the country.
There are also some wonky houses that sink and either have to pay for expensive repairs or lean on their neighbour.
This is like the SUV of bicycles and is used to transport luggage or kids.
One of the Kings of the Netherlands wasn't actually Dutch but decided he would address his people in Dutch. He raised his voice and declared 'Ladies and Gentlemen, I am your Rabbit!" - the word for rabbit in dutch is similar to that of King. After this he was known as the Rabbit King and only lasted 2 years. He also ordered the Dutch to choose last names because they didn't have any at that point. This resulted in many of their descendants having slightly ridiculous names such as "Brownass" or "pancake" as well as the token "King", "Emporer" etc. You can imagine some guys sharing a pint in a pub and coming up with those, eh?
The current King is known as the Beer King and has an Argentinian wife. He's not very popular but she is - her first introduction to the Dutch people was a video of her drunkenly dancing on a table!

All of the above information (with the exception of the Dutch law, courtesy of Eleanor) was provided by our guide on a 3 hour tour, so if some of it is wrong - his fault! In any case it's generally entertaining.

So, that concludes my trip to Amsterdam - no coffee shops I'm afraid! After this we returned to Tilburg which I'll show you in my next post. For now I'll leave you with a picture of Eleanor looking silly :P