AFL Granny, Windows and the Prince of Belgium
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
29Trip End Oct 28, 2009
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Where I stayed
We arrived in Antwerp and found the right platform for our train to Amsterdam, which was due to arrive at about 1:05pm. The station is huge! It is by far the biggest station I have seen, it may just be the way it’s laid out that makes it look big, but it is still pretty impressive. All of the platforms are on different levels and you can see from the bottom platforms right up to the top. The clock is massive and very impressive too.
1:05pm came and went……and by 1:15pm there was still no train
We got back down there just before 2:30pm and we must have looked a bit lost as a rail employee questioned which train we were waiting for. He then told us we needed special tickets for that train so we would have to wait for the next one at 3:05pm!! We were not too impressed but there wasn’t much we could do so we sat and waited.
On our way back down to the platform from having a snack we had noticed that there were TV cameras at the top filming the platform below and we thought that the same TV show we had seen being filmed in Brugge may have now been filming here.
We soon learned this wasn’t the case. While we were waiting for the train we saw a few photographers start to gather in front of us which was a bit curious
There seemed to be a lot of important looking people standing around in suits too, as well as a TV reporter. Finally a policewoman come over to us and said that we needed to move further down the platform. Of course we asked her why, to which she responded ‘The Prince of Belgium is coming’!
We found that so funny, especially after everything that had already happened with our trains today! So we moved down the platform along with everyone else and waited for the Prince to arrive. I didn’t even know that they had a royal family, but there you go!
It was interesting that he arrived on a very normal train in a normal carriage with people all around him. I was surprised that we all didn’t have to pass through security before going to the platform, but after talking to different people here it sounds like most royal families in Europe like to be amongst the people as much as they can
We saw him disembark from the train we were about to board and caught a bit of a glimpse of him. He was probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s with grey hair and beard, not really what I expected.
We got on the train and found that our theory about catching a later train to avoid the crowd was unfounded. The train was almost full and we ended up in the very end carriage which was by far the oldest train carriage I have seen so far, with no air conditioning and completely packed.
About an hour into our journey the train suddenly stopped and didn’t move. After about 10 minutes the announcement came that the train had engine problems and that they were sorry, but the driver was trying to fix it!! Unbelievable! What else could happen?!
After about half an hour they announced that the problem was fixed but we would need to wait another 10 minutes for the track to clear.
The rest of the journey was ok, until we got to the Schipol Airport stop and they told us that we would have to all get off the train and catch another one to Amsterdam Central as this train wouldn’t go any further now that they were running late
So we did as instructed and finally found our way to Amsterdam Central then caught a tram to take us to our hotel. Our original plan in the morning had us arriving at our hotel at about 4pm, it was now almost 7pm!
Our hotel was nice and clean, the room was a bit small but it wasn’t too bad, had a TV and a fridge and the floor space was just big enough. We were in central Amsterdam so that we were walking distance to the Aussie pub to watch the AFL Grand Final in the morning, and accommodation there isn’t cheap at all. This was the best we could do for our money, but it wasn’t bad.
We got directions from reception to a square nearby with a few restaurants and went to check it out. We decided on a Mexican restaurant and sat down. The service was a little slow but it was ok. We ordered a litre of Sangria to start and perused the menu.
Another waiter came to see us after a little while and asked what we would like. We told him we had already ordered the Sangria and he told us it was 34 euro for a litre
When we finished our beers we decided to order a half litre jug of Sangria instead for 17 euro.
When our mains came out the waiter struggled a bit to fit everything on our table for two, and while he was attempting to balance things he dropped the container of salsa which shattered on the floor and splashed everywhere! It looked like it had just gone on the tablecloth and the floor though and only on my shoes a little bit, so we weren’t too worried. He cleaned it up but didn’t do a very good job, there was still a small puddle on the floor that I had to keep my feet away from.
We tucked in and after a few minutes I realized my leg felt a bit wet, so I looked down and I had salsa all over the bottom half of my jeans! I was a bit annoyed as I had only washed them the last time we had done washing and every time I have to wash them and throw them in the dryer they get a bit tighter!! That could also be all the European food but I like to think it is the dryer J
I went out to the toilets to try to clean myself up a bit and came back to the table
Turned out I didn’t have to try to make a big show as I seemed to keep discovering new globs of salsa and eventually the napkins just weren’t cutting it. I asked the waitress for a wet cloth and started mopping up the rest of the globs on my jeans and handbag.
Finally the manager came and asked what had happened. We explained and I told her it was an accident but since we are travelling it is a bit of a hassle to have to wash clothes again unnecessarily. She was very apologetic and said that the least she could do is try and get us drunk so we wouldn’t care and she promptly got us another jug of Sangria! Turned out we got our litre of Sangria for 17 euro after all!
We turned in for an early night after that seeing as we had to be at the Aussie pub at 5:30am for the AFL Grand Final
Saturday 26th September – Day 2 – GRAND FINAL DAY!!!! I love Grand Final day, even when my team isn’t playing – which hasn’t been the case for 9 long years now. I love having the telly on the coverage all day, having a barbeque and a couple of coldies and settling in to watch the game. It’s probably my favourite day besides Christmas! There was no way I wanted to miss the Granny, so when I booked our accommodation I made sure we were walking distance from the pub seeing as the trams don’t start running until 6am. I also adjusted our itinerary to make sure we would be in Amsterdam in time to see it!
So, we were up at 4:30am which was pretty good seeing as it ended up being close to midnight before we got to bed! We were ready to go by 5am, I had my Bombers guernsey on and Witek had his Bombers t-shirt and we were ready to rock!
It took us only about ten minutes to walk there and so we had to wait out the front with the other die-hards, there was actually a line up once the doors opened at 5:30am!
We rushed in and chose our spot in a couple of arm chairs near the bar
They were doing drink specials of 5 beers in a bucket of ice for 12 euro so we got ourselves one of those. From 6am they were serving breakfast too, so when that came around we got a couple of egg and bacon rolls, just what the doctor ordered to go with beer at 6am in the morning!!
All this time we were constantly battling to keep people from standing at the bar in front of Witek, so before the first bounce we decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and we went and stood at the bar ourselves and relinquished our armchairs. It turned out ok as we were next to a fellow Bomber supporter and a guy from Adelaide who supported the Crows.
The bar was packed, I couldn’t believe how many people were there! It was a fantastic atmosphere with a rowdy crowd
By 8am we were both feeling a bit tipsy! I think being tired didn’t help. There was only one thing for it – meat pie and chips! It was 10 euro but it was so worth it!! One guy even came up to me and asked me if it was worth the 10 euro, I smiled, wiped the sauce from my mouth and nodded! I saw him eating one about ten minutes later.
By 9am I was struggling to stay awake but I was having fun watching the game and chatting to the people around us so I soldiered on. It was a fantastic game and the atmosphere in the bar was great, even though I don’t think the result was as it should have been. It would be nice to see the Saints win one soon, but not before the Bombers of course! You had to feel for them though.
It was about 9:30am when it was finished and we watched until they had done all the medals and Nick Reiwoldt had wiped his last tear (only day of the year you get to see a whole footy team cry!) before going back to our hotel for a nap
On the way back to our hotel we noticed a cat in a shop window, not for sale, just sleeping! We later learned that shop owners keep cats in their shops to keep away the mice! We even saw one asleep on a table in a closed restaurant!
We got back to our room at about 10:30am and we slept until about 4pm! Well, we tried to. It sounded like we had a room full of at least six girls next to us all chatting and laughing really loudly the whole time we were trying to sleep. We slept, but it was constantly interrupted so I was really looking forward to bed that night!
We didn’t want to waste the whole day and before I went for our nap I had read on the internet that the Anne Frank house would be closed on Monday, so I wanted to try and see it today. I couldn’t get tickets online as I couldn’t print them and I had read the best time to go was the end of the day if you want a shorter line, so after our nap we head off.
I should talk a bit about Amsterdam here. It is a fascinating city. You can’t avoid the smell of marijuana wafting out from the coffee shops that you find at least on every block
It took us about 15 minutes to walk to the Anne Frank house and we noted on the way that there was a Birkenstock shop! Yay! We noted its location and planned to return on Monday.
At the house there was a reasonable line to get in but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. We were there at 5:30pm and I knew they stopped letting people in at 6:30pm and closed at 7pm, but the line was moving pretty quickly so I was confident we would get in. A lady came through the line a couple of times to let us know that it takes an hour to get through the house and there was a chance that we wouldn’t get in so we might be better off coming back the next day. I didn’t want to risk missing out altogether though so we waited.
We got in at 6:10pm and made our way through. What can I say about the Anne Frank house? It moved me. It was hard not to cry in some parts. They have done such a great job of setting up the place
There are televisions with video footage of interviews with people who knew the Franks and the people who helped them placed throughout the house. There are also quotes from the diary written on the walls in every room. Although there were plenty of people in there, everyone was pretty quiet as they took it all in. It is so sad to think that they almost made it through and that they might have made it if they hadn’t been betrayed. Those poor girls, it is heartbreaking. The whole Holocaust is heartbreaking, but Anne Frank put a face and a personality to it, she gives us someone to relate to which makes it more real to people who didn’t live through it.
I felt a bit mellow after we left there (and no, we didn’t stop at a coffee shop!) so we took a moment outside to collect ourselves before considering the next move – dinner
We were planning on doing a tour of the red light district that night so we walked towards the tour meeting point while keeping our eyes peeled for a place to eat. We ended up at a little Indonesian restaurant doing small buffets for 17 euro a head. The food looked interesting and we hadn’t eaten Indonesian before so we gave it a go.
It was really good! They guy was lovely, a VERY short Indonesian guy probably in his late 50’s who owned the place and did all the waiting. There was only one other staff member that we could see, and that was the chef! The owner did poke his head in to the kitchen to lend a hand every so often as well. We really enjoyed our meal and he talked us into finishing with a dessert of a liqueur each. Ok, so he didn’t have to talk too much to convince us!
We still had about an hour and a half before our 10pm tour so we sauntered in the direction of the meeting point and for some reason we decided that we would like to go and sit and have a cocktail somewhere. Maybe the liqueur had got us in the mood for sweet alcoholic drinks
We found a hotel which looked like it would have cocktails so we wandered in and we were quickly approached by a waiter asking if he could help us. We told him we would like to have a cocktail and he told us they had a fabulous cocktail bar and asked us to follow him.
He led us through the hotel and showed us to a large, comfortable looking cocktail lounge with a nice bar. I was immediately reminded of the hotel with the 9 euro beers in Florence, so we apprehensively checked the prices before we sat down. They weren’t cheap but they weren’t overpriced as far as European prices go, so we decided to stay. We had also realized that we were in the hotel that we were supposed to meet in front of for the tour, so it was convenient at the same time!
We ordered a cocktail each and settled in for a chat. Unfortunately they were really tasty and went down quite easily, we were both finished after 15 minutes! It was only 9:20pm so we had time for another. There were two older American guys at the bar and we overheard them ordering a cocktail and they were instructing the bar guy on how to make it. It sounded good so we asked him to make us one too – it turned out to be a Long Island Iced Tea
Iced Teas finished we staggered out of the hotel and went to meet the Red Light Tour group. We had a group of only six which was a good size, a couple from India and a couple from Australia.
We set off and our tour leader Kimberley first took us to one of the bigger streets within the red light district. There were no ‘windows’ there but it was full of bars and coffee shops. I should explain in case anyone doesn’t know, coffee shops are not exactly coffee shops in Amsterdam, they are cafes for smoking marijuana. They actually have menus and everything! Kimberley showed us the coffee shop that Eminem and Mike Tyson apparently visit when they are in Amsterdam as they both have property there. She told us that Mike Tyson apparently passed out in there once too!
She took us past the office for the prostitutes, I can’t remember what it is called but it basically provides services to help the girls out, they even have a Union! They provide counseling, advice on managing money, safe sex etc. etc. Apparently a big problem with a lot of the young girls is that they take home anywhere from 4,000 to 30,000 euro a month and they don’t save any, they just spend it
When we got to the window sections it was fascinating. There are girls of all different ages, sexes (yes, some of them have extra ‘bits’!) and nationalities. Some are fat, some are skinny, some have big boobs, some have little boobs, some are tall, some are short, and apparently they all do good business! So girls, there you go! The boys do love all shapes and sizes! The girls with extra ‘bits’ do have a blue light as well as a red light in their window just to let people know that they may be getting a bit extra in that window! Apparently some guys don’t know this though and get a bit of a surprise when they go in and the girl offers them an extra service!
The alleys with the windows were full of different types of people, groups of guys out for a ‘good time’, guys on bucks nights, couples, tourists, old people, young people, it was VERY crowded! Some alleys took a good ten minutes to get through once you squeezed past everyone
Kimberley also took us down the big main street of the red light district and pointed out all the places of interest. There was a theatre that showed live sex shows and had a string of lights in front of it stretched across the canal. She told us that if the lights were all lit up that meant they had a full house that night, and they were all lit up! She also took us past a place that offered peep shows for 2 euro and recommended going in, she said it was a good giggle.
At the start of our tour she had looked nervously at my big Nikon SLR camera and advised me to be discreet with it. The girls and even some of the patrons don’t appreciate having their pictures taken. Some of the girls have kids and families that don’t know what they do (most of them tell them they are ‘models’), and some of the patrons have wives that don’t know what they are up to, so none of them want photos of them in the red light district showing up on the internet. She told us that some of the girls react quite strongly to having their photos taken.
Part way through our tour we got a demonstration of this. A lady had obviously taken a photo of one of the girls and she didn’t like it
We saw a couple of other bizarre things, one was a child care centre in between the windows. This is apparently why the girls are dressed very scantily but not naked, it’s so the parents dropping the kids off at child care can tell the kids they are models. The other bizarre thing was a church in the middle of it all. The live harmoniously side by side Kimberley said, and some of the earliest prostitutes were actually daughters of members of the congregation who had been forced to live next to the church to keep them safe!
There was much more and it was all fascinating! At the end of the tour Kimberley took us for a drink at a small bar in the red light district so we all sat and had a chat in there for a while.
Once that was all over the Indian couple said they were going for a walk and the Australian couple said they were going to a coffee shop. We decided to join the Aussie couple and visit the coffee shop!
We went in and the guy at the bar directed us to the DJ to buy
We left them to it and wandered off. We decided to check out the 2 euro peep show Kimberley had recommended.
The guy at the front office directed us to a row of booths. We went in to one of them and deposited our 2 euro which made the blind pop up. A busty, topless blond girl wandered out and hopped on to a rotating platform and started gyrating and throwing herself around and I couldn’t help but laugh! She looked ridiculous! Kimberley was right, it certainly was a good giggle! She looked like she belonged on a late night 1900 number commercial! The ‘performance’ went for about 2 minutes and we walked out feeling glad we had only paid 2 euro for it!
We spent a bit more time wandering around just taking it all in and stopped for a toilet break at an Irish pub
We were both a bit tired after this so we headed back to our hotel and hit the sack.
Sunday 27th September – Day 3 – It was a pretty late night last night and we needed a sleep in. We decided to skip breakfast in favour of more sleep, only to be woken by the girls next to us again! They started their racket at about 9am and by 11:30am we gave up and got out of bed.
We desperately needed to do washing this morning so that was the first task of the day. Unlike our other laundry experiences this one was fairly uneventful, the laundromat was right across the road and all very straightforward. I was a little disappointed!
We had decided to do a bike tour of Amsterdam in the afternoon so once our washing was done we wandered over to the bike shop
Our guide was a guy named Sean who had spent time growing up in Amsterdam and had now lived there for about seven years. He kind of reminded me of a young Gene Wilder with his big blue eyes and sandy curly hair. He was really laid back and new plenty about Amsterdam and its history.
The tour was good, as far as sightseeing goes we didn’t really see much more than we had already, but we learned a lot more than we knew. He took us to the park as well and told us it was a nice place to sit and chill out so we took note of that.
We were fortunate to find a family moving house during the tour as well. That may sound boring, but in Amsterdam moving house is interesting! All the houses have very steep and narrow staircases, so it is impossible to move furniture up and down them. There are two options when moving house. You can hire a portable escalator to be fitted in your staircase at the cost of about 150 euro an hour, or you can utilize the pulley built in to the front of the top of every house in Amsterdam and lift your furniture up through the window
We came across a moving van and a family about to haul a washing machine up to the third storey window so of course we all stopped to watch. It was fascinating! They tied the washing machine up as tight as they could and then it was on its way up. At the top they swung it out and then over the balcony rail and in the window, receiving a hearty round of applause from our tour group at the end!
At the end of the tour Sean took us to a small bar just out of the red light district that was the about 400 years old. It was a Genever bar which is a drink served mainly in Belgium, the Netherlands and one other place I can’t remember. He recommended we all go in and have a glass of Genever the traditional Dutch way in this little flute glass.
We went to the counter and asked for two Genevers, then discovered that there were about 50 different ones to choose from! We had no idea where to start so the bar guy picked out two that he thought we would like and let us choose which we preferred.
He poured them into the two flute glasses and we gave him the money
It was back to the bike shop after this and we asked Sean for some advice on where to get pizza and a bottle of wine to take to the park he had showed us on the map. We thought that would be a good idea for dinner. He gave us directions to a supermarket for wine and an Italian restaurant that did pizzas for 5 euro.
We got lucky at the supermarket finding a 2006 Jacobs Creek Shiraz Cab for only 5 euro, not too bad considering it is an $8 bottle at home and not a bad drop for the price.
The Italian restaurant was great with not only 5 euro pizzas but also 5 euro pastas, so we got a veggie pizza and a lasagne and made our way to the park
It was pretty quiet, there were a few people floating around but not the huge crowd that Sean had told us they get in summer. Nevertheless it was a nice way to spend an evening just relaxing. The last couple of days had been a bit full on so it was nice to relax for a change. We slowly made our way back to our hotel and off to bed after this.
Monday September 28th – Day 3 – Our flight today wasn’t until 5:10pm and we didn’t need to get the train to the airport until about 3pm so this gave us a fair amount of time during the day to do some last minute exploring. I also wanted to check out the Birkenstock store, of course!
We headed for the Birkenstock store via the flower market to start with. On the edge of the main part of the city there is a market with about twenty stalls full of plants and bulbs. It is amazing, so many different types of seeds and plants – of course they sell marijuana seeds as well! We also popped in to a cheese shop and did some tasting and could easily have bought a few different ones had we not been restricted by weight on our flight that afternoon. We did buy these Dutch waffles Sean had told us about there, they are two very thin wafer biscuits with a layer of caramel between them. He told us the tradition is to have them with coffee or hot chocolate and sit them on top of your mug and let the caramel melt. Yum!
We went to the Birky shop after this and unfortunately it didn’t open until 1pm, so we decided to come back and go see the Sex Museum first – yep, only in Amsterdam
It was a very strange place that didn’t hold back at all! We saw all sorts of stuff, notably two 7ft penis sculptures! There were some very graphic photos dating back to the early 1900’s and up to today, some kinky sculptures and jewelry from the Roman period and even a penis birdbath! I don’t think I will ever see anything like it again!
We continued the never ending Birkenstock hunt after this and went back to the store we had seen earlier. They didn’t have the ones with the back strap either, but they did have the original type that I wanted in leather. The others I tried on had been a synthetic strap, so I thought I would give them another go.
They felt much better, they didn’t slide around as much as the synthetic ones at all. They were 20 euro more than the synthetic ones, but it was worth it to finally be able to declare the Birky hunt OVER!! Yay!!!
We went and grabbed some lunch nearby at the Italian restaurant where we had got the pizza from last night, then raced back to our hotel
We ran for the tram and we were lucky to make the one we wanted, but when we got to the train station we had trouble with the ticket machine so we had to line up in the ticket office. I had to get firm with a couple of groups of people that didn’t notice the line but luckily I didn’t have to resort to violence!
We got our tickets and she told us the train came in two minutes and the next one wouldn’t be for another 20 minutes, so we raced for the platform. We eventually found platform 15 and jumped on the waiting train. Whew! Or so we thought……it seemed too easy. We asked a guy on the train if it went to the airport and he said no! So we jumped off and looked frantically around to look for the right train. We asked someone nearby where the train to the airport was and they pointed to the other end of the platform – apparently Amsterdam is the only train station in Europe we have come across to have two trains at the same platform at once! Most stations have platform 1a, 1b, 1c etc but the divisions relate to first class carriages or second class carriages, at Amsterdam they are actually separate platforms
We completely missed our train, so we went and looked at the timetable to see if there might be another train we could get that the ticket sales girl might have missed. There was one on the next platform leaving in a few minutes, but it was one of those special trains like the one we weren’t able to board in Belgium. Witek wanted to just jump on anyway but I was worried that if we got caught without the right ticket we might get held up while they wrote out the fine or something, so I didn’t want to get on. While we were arguing it pulled away anyway! As much as it pains me it did turn out that Witek was right, a conductor told us we could have upgraded our ticket on board. Ah well, you live and learn!
So we got another train we found about ten minutes later and we arrived at the airport at 4:05pm with no clue on where we were supposed to go to check in. We raced inside and worked out where the counter was and tore over there in record time. She checked us in, told us the plane was boarding now and then told us we would have to check our bags through oversized luggage!
We dumped them there and ran through security and through the airport to our gate. When we got to our gate there was no one lined up so we knew we were the last to board – or so we thought.
We went up to the girl at the gate and she told us that they hadn’t even started boarding yet! They didn’t start putting people on the plane until 4:50pm!! Unbelievable! We sat there in the gate lounge for about 25 minutes before we boarded the plane! It was ok though because we were flying Croatian Air and I knew nothing about them so I was a bit nervous. The extra time allowed me to look out the window at the plane and reassure myself that it looked like it would stay in the air!