Amsterdam Day 3 – cloudy, rainy, cold and Red

Amsterdam Day 3 – cloudy, rainy, cold and Red

The day looks gloomy when I wake up. Plus the forecast on my laptop says rain. Not a great option for this traveler. I sleep in a bit and then make my way out.

It is pretty cold and windy on top. Not raining yet, but it looks like it might any moment. I am headed to the Van Gogh museum, which is at least 30 min walk. I hope for the best and push on.

I feel like I need to walk fast to keep warm, otherwise the wind makes me quite chilly. Not that the speed helps a lot, but at least it takes the edge off.
The place is dead again, but its Sunday morning, so its excusable. Pretty much a ghost town and its past 9am. I guess the Dutch have to sleep through all the pot they have smoked last night.

On my way I am also on the look out for a pancake place, as this is one of the local ‘specialities’ and since I like to try things like that I am trying to find one of the restaurants.

I pass through the Dam again and get a good shot of the Palace – less people and some pigeons help. I also took a picture of wax museum for your viewing.

Close by is a tourist office and I stop by to buy tickets to the Van Gogh museum and avoid the crowds hopefully. The guy also lets me know where to find the illusive pancakes on my way.

Some shops are opening, so I start browsing a bit here and there.

The pancake place is next to the flower market. I get in the one that said something like “Old Dutch House” or something similar. It has a warm atmosphere and good view of the outside, but I can still sit inside and warm up a bit.

Starts to drizzle a bit while I wait for my order of ham and cheese pancake. There are a group of three English speaking people on a table behind me. I listen as one of the ladies asks:

“Can I have jam, please?”
The girl seems confused and goes away. In a few minutes another girl comes back and tells the lady:
“Sorry, we dont have jam”
“But how could you not. What should I have with my breakfast?!”
“We dont eat jam for breakfast” – says the girl politely and excuses herself.

What is it with people and going to different places and expecting all to be like where they come from. What is the point in traveling then? And there are more people like that than one would think. The other day when I was buying soup, an American was after me and his conversation went like:
“Which soup is the lowest fat?”
“Hmmm…the tomato one I guess”
“Right, I will have that, but can I not have the pasta in it?

“Any milk shakes?
“No, not here, but just down the road is a place”
“Yeah, are they real shakes?”
“I doubt it, not like Ben and Jerries anyway!…I see you have fresh juice! Anything without orange?”
“No, but we have some from a container”
“Ooooh, no, its all too acidy too me…and dont give me any bread with my soup!”

This is a small local soup kitchen! Where does he think he is exactly? Go to the fancy restaurants, pay through your nose and be Mr.Fancy Choice mit Lots of Demands.

Anyway, my pancake and coffee arrive. It doesnt look great, but one never knows.

Well, neither was anything I would remember. The pancake had a strange texture and taste, almost like buckwheat flour or something was used. The coffee was just like bitter brown water. Too bad.

Off again and by now more things are opened and I continue browsing the shops here and there. In awhile I spot an icecream, coffee and waffle shop called “Australian Natural”. I had seen another one before, but this time I decided to get in and see what is this all about. Supposed to be a fancy chocolate and ice cream outlet. I am tempted and I still need a cup of good coffee, so I go for it. Fresh waffle with chocolate sauce and mocha ice cream and black coffee.

It looks delish when it comes.

I couldnt finish the whole thing, it really was a bit too much.

I get out and it has started to rain again. I run into on eo f the convenience stores and buy the cheapest umbrella’s – an orange one with a tulip head on the handle – 4,95 Euro.
By the time I get out, the rain has stopped. It figures.

Then it starts again. I whip my brella and it proceeds to bend upwards on me the second I open it from the whiff of wind that could barely move the hair on my head. Great! This wont last long. I push it back to the position it needs to be and a few black bits fall off from who knows where. Thankfully the rain stops shortly and I dont have to use this wreck of an umbrella for the moment.

By the time I get to Vondelpark and few minutes from the Museum it starts to drizzle again. I try to avoid opening my purchase if at all possible. The neighbourhood looks very different from the places close to the canals. I find it typically European and I wonder if it is a fancy living place now. I would guess so, by the look of the houses and the fact that is in close proximity to the fancy shopping street, which has the usual suspects of Chanel, Hugo Boss and so forth in its ranks.

There is a huge queue in front of the museum, I am happy I prebought my ticket and can just go in and save myself the miserable wait in the wispy rain.

Get in, grab an audio tour and go for it. The place is set up very nicely and they have a good selection of works from Van Gogh. Aparently most of it was left to Theo, Vincent’s brother after his death and then Theo’s son took over and kept the collection together. It was fascinating to see the development of his approach to painting and the influences that shaped him as an artist, the troubled soul that he was.
There were two paintings that really left an impression on me in person – “Still life of quinces and lemons”, which is a lovely still life that has an amazing presence and pulling power, at least for me. The colors, the brush strokes the apparent simplicity all grabbed me somehow.

The other was “Almond Blossoms”, which is a painting he did for the birthday of Vincent, his nephew named after him. I have always enjoyed the Japanese prints and this is obviously influenced by Japanese art. It also has a certain hope, freedom and happiness about it, that is not that evident in his other works. I got a print of it from the shop to frame for the girl’s bedroom. I hope it survives the trip.

When I get out, its raining, so of course I pull out my umbrella, that is its job of course. It immediately bends upwards and looks like a tulip itself. *$&(&$_$)(#_! I try to briing it back to shape, but the thing just brakes to pieces. I try to still hide underneath it and look who knows how ridiculous with this broken floppy umbrella on my head.

The walk back to the hotel is ok – wet, cold and windy, but ok. I decide to cut through the Red Light district and saw a few of the girls in the windows. I am guessing its still early for the action.

In Amsterdam you are regularly hit by the smell of pot when you pass by any of the “coffee shops”. I am sure I probably second hand smoked a joint in my few days in the city, just by walking around. The places are set up rather lovely and some have areas with cushions and hippy looking decor, presumably it fits with the drug or something.

I stopped at a grocery store as well. Not only not check out the stuff, but to buy a few nibblies, as I am afraid I have given up on the cheap food in Amsterdam. Its just no good. And I am not paying exuberant amount of money for anything more civilized.

At the hotel I receive an email from the Red Light District tour people with whom I wanted to reserve a spot for the night. Cool, its all confirmed and I have a couple of hours to rest.

The meet up is in front of a hotel near by. Feels sneaky somehow, but I guess that is the little prudishness in me after all. A hippyish looking lady shows up and pulls a roll up ‘sign’ for the tour. Lights up a cigarette and waits. I am right next to her so introduce myself and pay my dues – 12.50 Euro. People, mostly couples show up one by one and soon there is about 12 of us and we are off. She chain smokes and walks fast. Stops here and there giving us interesting facts about the place – and some history about the city in between too. We were introduced to the biggest ‘coffee shop’ in town, but which is a tourist trap now, told about a story that moved the entry to the police station from one street to the other after a case of police brutality; she told us the story of the triple X sign – which is actually the emblem of Holland and used to represent the three plagues, but then it was changed to something else recently. The Dutch porn used to put that on its films to show that the films are a bit juicier, but then it took over and now its a general representation of the industry; We passed through the ‘african quarters’ and saw a few of the girls in their windows. It is quite fasinating to really see them behind the glass and with their red light and UV light inside, I am guessing it hides their imperfections, as red is the best light for the skin. And there they are in their little cubicle with a bed and standing in underwear (or should I say lingerie?) and looking provocative. Most of them I found very beautiful and young. The oldest prostitute is 85 and she gets business! Wow.

We get past the PIC, Prositute Information Center, which is exactly what it says, a place to get information of all kind, like any other information center. It also acts like a union for the girls.
Pimping is not legal. The girls pay rent to the owners of the windows – about 180 for 8 hours, if I remember right. The service is 15 minutes and can cost anywhere between 25 and 50 Euro, depending on the girl and how popular she is. They pay taxes just like any working person.

We pass the gay area and are given an explanation of the meanings of the flags over the gay clubs and which are the S&M ones. There are no gay prostitutes, as man are promiscuous enough and there is no need for it really.

We see the window of the place where Quentin Tarantino stayed while writing Pulp Fiction and the coffee shop where Mike Tyson likes to visit and passed out one night, which caused all the people there lots of worries as they werent sure how he will react when he came through.

In between we go through a few of the very narrow alleys and see more girls. It is really strange to comprehend that they are real. Somehow it always seemed like a made up story and that its not really happening. But it is.

The whole thing was quite entertaining and I am glad I went. Heaps of fun information and knowledge which I wouldnt have gathered just by walking through the place, which is not as seedy as it sounds. There are surveillance cameras everywhere, both of the police and of the owners of the windows, who also provide security for the girls.

Then we grabbed a drink in a tiny little bar in the Chiina town end of the District.

From Van Gogh to the Red light area. Amsterdam for you ;)