Flying dutchman

Trip Start Feb 21, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Netherlands  ,
Friday, May 18, 2007

So yesterday me and my Belgian friend Monia decided to drive up to Amsterdam to check it out, as neither of us had been before, and she had a friend we could stay with who lives on the edge of the city itself - still an ideal location.  As we later discovered anything is ideal in Amsterdam, as the usual wait is around 5 years to score any flat anywhere in the city.  Insane I tell you!!!  Well her friend to stay with turned out to be Jan, this cool yet somewhat spastic 84 year old guide, who reads 7 or 8 languages and still speaks about half fluently and with ease.  He proved to be a fantastic and almost too thorough guide though.  I think I can safely say that we left being experts in architecture.  It was really funny because we started to hike towards the city centre in the most round-about way of course, sometimes running with him to cross streets in the process.  Though he's in his eigthies, this guy is fit!  He lives on the 4th (that'd be the 5th!) floor of a building with possibly the steepest and most narrow wooden steps I've ever seen, and goes up and down, and he only stopped biking because his hearing is bad and he can't tell what direction the sound is coming from.... which proved funny but difficult for us. 

This meant that every time he wanted to tell us something (which was like every 10 meters), he stopped directly in his tracks, 90% of the time forcing me and Monia to walk into each other, or him, or both.  But he didn't seem to mind!  In fact in hindsight I think he was oblivious.  But no matter....  Anyhow, often he stopped to point out the various (especially older - 16th/17th cen) facades, as well as the gables, the decoration at the tops of the uppermost windows.  It was interesting though because every single apartment (they're all connected on the sides by the way) has this iron bar coming out from the gable, and it was and still is used to haul people's furniture in and out of the upper apartments, as everyone in Amsterdam has equally steep and narrow staircases as Jan's.  To avoid window damage, the facades are purposely built at a slight angle towards the street, so when the furniture etc is on the pully, it theoretically won't swing into anyone's windows.... granted the poeple doing this didn't just come from a coffee shop (where one finds more than just the drug of caffeine).  Initially these pulley systems were used to bring merchandise in and out of upper floors as the majority of these buildings were used as warehouses or for merchants in various trades - still apparent thanks to decorative tiles or stones depicting a picture of the trade above the front door.  And as property taxes are based on the width of the facade, the cheapest ones you'll find are little wider than the front door.  So you can appreciate having all those tight stairs and numerous floors for one apt. building.

Anyhow, in the last 24 hrs, the three of us have crossed numerous wooden bridges, seen old and still working locks in the canals, taken a canal boat tour (which wasn't all that intriguing since they basically repeated everything Jan already told us in a nutshell.... we're like, *yawn* tell us something we don't know!), tried out dinner at a somewhat famous Chinese restaurant, got a taste for traditional Dutch apple tart/cake with Dutch cappucinos (milk first, then coffee), saw an area of the town dedicated solely for women to live in (cool! kind of like a nunnery but you  don't have to be a nun... at least anymore), checked out Anne Frank's Haus (cramped quarters let me tell ya), and walked the red light district.  My only real beef about that was that apparently now the majority of the ladies working the windows are there because they were tricked into finding work in Holland, and coming from mostly Eastern Europe or Asia, and now find themselves stuck with a pimp who makes sure they can't keep enough money from what they earn to get the hell out.  Not cool.  Hey, your ambition in life is to be a professional prostitute?  fine.  But when you've basically become a slave to the sex trade... not cool.  And the fact that basically it's a meat market in the sense that they are objectified into categories: white, black, Asian, tall, short, skinny, fat... you know, something for everyone!  Uh, right.

Anyways, after I scored almost 1 1/2 kilos (1400g altogether!) of a highly recommended brand of peanut butter (be still my heart), we left the madness and chaos of the city that is Amsterdam for the nearby coastal town of Marken.  It was a little bit unnerving though to be driving alongside one of the dikes that flooded over a few years back, leaving a nice lake on the inside which still remains.  Marken itself though is steeped in the more traditional Dutch ways... with the older houses, costumes (on special holidays at least) and food (pancakes!).  The people are super friendly and there is a little harbor and many small pedestrian walkways... in fact no outside cars are allowed into the city unless you're an inhabitant, and to profit from this they charge a killing Per Head to park in their conveniently placed parking lot just outside the town.  Nice.  Not to worry as Monia has a practiced eye for this kind of situation (Brussles isn't much better for parking), and we eventually found a nearby free spot. HA you Markenites!
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