Canals. Naked ladies. Drugs. No Dutch people. Must be Amsterdam…

So finally I make it to the last non-British city of my trek. Amsterdam – home of tulips, windmills, the famous red light district, stoned teenagers from everywhere except Holland, more bicycles than I thought existed in the entire world… and Esther, my lovely host for a couple of nights.

The last time I saw Esther was in Darwin, back in April. Then, we shared a dorm room for the second time during my stay in Oz. She had to put up with my snoring for several nights, in return for which I had to put up with her giving me free food while she worked in the Vic. Hardly a fair swap, but one that worked very well for me.

Now she’s settled just outside of Amsterdam, and we’re sharing her room in a flat. So she’s putting up with my snoring and and giving me free food every night. I think I’m onto a good deal here.

There’s a fair bit to do here and we managed to drag ourselves into the city twice. Esther is almost a tourist in the city as well, as she’s spent most of her time in the area at her new job so it’s an excuse for her to see the place. There really are some nice canals, the boats are cute and the buildings are narrow and tip forwards. This is something to do with the land value or tax being calculated by the width or footprint of the property many moons ago. As a result – narrow and tall. This makes it hard to get large items up the stairs, so they were lifted on a hoist which pokes out of the front of the roof and popped in through the windows. As a result – buildings that lean forwards so that the things on the hoist don’t bash off the walls.

Bikes are everywhere. Cyclists here are mad and don’t obey the traffic signs, but that’s no different from most of the rest of Europe. It’s just they outnumber cars (and sometimes pedestrians) so it’s a bit frantic on occasion. There is a three-storey bike park by the central station. Impressive when it’s full.

On Saturday, we were really touristy and did two attractions. The first was the fourth in my collection of sex museums. This was one of the best and certainly the cheapest at only three Euros entry. This is at odds with the web site [warning – adult content in link… DUH] which claims only 2.50, but I’ll let that slide as it’s so cheap anyway.

While we were in there, we picked up a leaflet for the Amsterdam Dungeon which offered two-for-one tickets. A good thing, as it turns out it’s just under 19 Euros per person. Ouch.

It was somewhat different to the ones in the UK, as you’re led around as a group and have various set scenes to watch. Back home, it’s more a series of static exhibits with some interesting information. It was cool, and a bit of a giggle. Esther got picked out for various “volunteer” parts twice. She is now officially a witch! My only complaint is that as the lighting is so low, it’s hard to read the signs on some of the displays. They also rush you through a little too quickly to read them all. Other than that, a good laugh if an expensive one for 75 minutes.

Straight after, we munched some little Dutch miniature pancakes which I’m not allowed to call little Dutch miniature pancakes. They’re actually poffertjes (thank you to Esther for spelling that for me). Thus fortified, we wandered around two bookshops and then into the infamous red light district where many… a few… OK, about three women were sat in windows making “come hither (and bring your wallet)” gestures to the passing male crowd. Our fault for getting there during daylight.

While wandering, we discovered the Newcastle Bar. Only it’s not. According to the owner who we got talking to, it’s actually the “New Castle Bar” and originally had no connection whatsoever to the Toon. This didn’t last with half the Geordie population visiting on stag do’s, hen nights and so on and they took it for their own. Pictures of the team, shirts, scarves and other decor are pinned all over the place – every single one donated by visiting Novocastrians.

We’d missed the 3-1 defeat to Man City in the afternoon, so drank beer (miniature bottles of Brown Ale) and watched ManUre just edge it past Birmingham City. After the final whistle, we squished through the rain and made our way back to Esther’s for some unhealthy munchies and an early night.

Sunday was a little quieter as we just wandered the streets randomly for an hour or two before meeting a friend of Esther’s for a drink. Or three. As we walked, Esther insisted I stop and try some Dutch fast food from a shop called FEBO. I sampled a kroket (deep fried something in a bun), a sausage smothered in sauce and some pretty acceptable chips. Then we went to McD’s for an ice cream that was so cheap they may as well have given it away. On the square where we sat, a famous (in the Netherlands) singer put on a show to help sponsor the Dutch girls’ trampolining squad as they head for the World Championships in Canada. Their display was very impressive – good luck to them!

Chilled and with my kidneys floating in a little sea of Hoegaarden, we once more headed back to Esther’s flat. Dinner tonight was fluffy pancakes which turned to cement in the stomach (very filling!). Another early night as Esther has one of those job things.

My last full day was Monday. I sat around for a lot of it updating this thing and tidying Esther’s computer. In the afternoon I met Ria – another internet person – for a couple of Cokes, and that was my trip out for the day! Amsterdam is lovely, but the weather’s nasty right now and everything in the city is so expensive if you’re doing more than walking around.

This evening, a friend of Esther’s (Monique) has arrived to have dinner with us. Earlier I managed to get 20% off my ferry ticket back to the UK by begging a bit to a woman in the DFDS ticket office. I set off at 6pm tomorrow for Blighty and should be on English soil by 9am Wednesday!

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