Friday 11th. Our bus left at 8:45 to connect to a canal tour boat which took us on a guided tour around the Amsterdam canals. The buildings are amazing – some a tad lopsided as their piles have given way (The call them ‘dancing houses’ here). The canals and bridges offer some lovely photo opportunities and as usual we took plenty! The canal boat then dropped us at a diamond factory before we had a guided walking tour back to the city centre. We passed a lot of Amsterdam history on these tours – Anne Franks house, the old Jewish quarter and some magnificent old ‘gentry’ houses that are so valuable now only companies can afford to operate in them. There were also remnants of the previous week’s Gay Festival still in evidence. Apparently it is huge. We also passed a number of ‘Coffee Shoppes’ experiencing an overwhelming smell of weed emanating from within. We also skirted the red light district. We went back to the boat for lunch and then took another bus ride out to see the windmills, cheese factory and clog makers. This was another worthwhile excursion. The windmills are now owned by a society but are kept in commercial production and whilst clearly no longer commercially-viable the tourist trade will certainly be paying for the upkeep. Windmills are amazing constructions and to think they are nearly 400 years old and can still function is fantastic. The cheese making demonstration was a bit weak but the cheese itself was very nice! The demonstration of the making of a clog was also good – it was hard to believe the amount of water that the maker ‘blew’ out of the raw clog after forming it on two lathes – apparently they then duty them for three weeks. We had the ‘bistro’ dinner this evening with Richard & Robyn from Hawkes Bay and Fred & Sandy from Brisbane. It was a real treat, every one of the 10 or so dishes was a delight and we all left the table fully sated! Hopefully we will be able to stay in touch with these couples as we had a lot of fun with them on and off board the boat.
Saturday 12th. Awoke to a miserable morning in Amsterdam. Raining and dreary. We had breakfast and then awaited our taxi to transfer to hotel at 9:30. The taxi, organised by Avalon was a rip-off. 25 euros for a trip that should have been 10 max! Fortunately our hotel is right next to the central rail station so we won’t need a taxi to get there on Monday. We went to the station to check our trip to Bruges and found its three transfers (Antewerp, Brussells, Ghent) so a bit of a mission. We decided to check a bus option and grabbed a tram, missed the drop-off point and decided to stay on for the ride as it was peeing down. We went out to the outskirts of Amsterdam and back again and eventually found the Eurolines office only to find it closed. An online check showed there was a bus but it left from another station at 8am – we decided that was a no-goer and we would stick with the train option. We then visited the Royal Palace which is open to the public when not used for state duties. It was originally the town call but was converted by Naploeon (Bonaparte’s brother) in 1810 to his palace and after he left in 1812 it was given by the City to Wilhem III. It was given back to the city at some point. It is an amazing building inside (once described as the 8th Wonder of the world. Fabulous sculptures, paintings, marble floors and walls, Emperine (French Naploenic) furniture, wall coverings and drapes. It was easy to spend an hour or more here just gaping at the ostentatiousness of it all. I am sure the visiting dignitaries appreciate it. After that we visited the Sex Museum for a laugh. It was that. It housed an amazing array of erotic art, sculptures, figurines from all cultures and of course endless photographs going back to the mid 1800s. It seemed to be highly popular with all ages. After that we found a café and had a Panini and cappuccino before catching a tram back to the hotel. We had dinner at the Eastwood Restaurant on the bottom floor of the hotel – not bad at all, and then ventured out to see the famous red light district. Some of the evening (scenic) views around the canals were magic. We agreed the girls in general were quite ‘tidy’ but the whole thing was a bit ho-hum and really quite degrading for the ladies of the night.
Sunday 13th. Clearly it had rained heavily overnight but had cleared by the morning. If we thought Saturday in Amsterdam was busy we hadn’t seen Sunday! Honestly I don’t think I have seen so many people in a major city since Hong Kong. We decided to go for a wander through Vondelpark but grabbed an ‘all you can eat’ breakfast at the not-so-aptly named Grand Hotel downtown first. The place was dark and dingy but nonetheless the food was good. Julie left her hat behind but it was well looked after and we retrieved it on the way back around 5pm. We then caught a number 2 tram to near Vondelpark and having walked a wee bit of it decided we would need to hire bikes to do it properly so we did from a nearby bike rental that was doing a very brisk trade. We spent an hour or more roving around the park and then the nearby ‘posh’ area full of grand houses and pricey cars (A nice part of town to live in obviously). We stopped for a coffee and it was timely as it started to spit with rain whilst we were there. The park was packed with people biking, walking, jogging, exercising, playing and generally enjoying the park and its surrounds. It was busy! We then walked around the Leideseplein area and the Museum area adjacent. We then decided as we were close by to do the Heineken Experience. It was pretty good and Heineken have done their best to ‘sex it up’ and haven’t done a bad job at all. We caught a tram back to closer to our hotel and walking along the canals it was wall-to-wall cafes and restaurants doing great business. In the retail area it was a constant throng no matter which street or alleyway you chose. We had a cappuccino at Starbucks in the hotel and then went to the nearby supermarket to get supplies for the next day as we are leaving by bus at 8am for Bruges.