Monday, July 6, 2009
Holy cow. This is the dirtiest city I have ever been in in my entire life. It makes Detroit look like a poster for living green. Amsterdam’s canals are clogged with cans and bottles and one actually expects to see a body floating somewhere around the next turn.
We arrived two hours late due to heavy ship traffic in the locks. I was up early and managed to get some nice photos as we made our way into Amsterdam. One myth has been totally debunked. Swans are not territorial. As we sailed along, I spied dozens of groups of dozens of swans all swimming along in harmony. They are everywhere.
We walked down the gangway around 10:00 and made our way to the Central Rail Station a short walk away. Once inside we purchased tickets for a one hour barge ride through the central area. That was the easy part. Finding the boat depot was not so simple. We followed the crowd for several blocks until we recognized the sign that matched the logo on the tickets we had purchased. We waited in line for about a half hour before boarding a barge and finding a seat in the back. The good news is that our seats were a bit cooler than those on the inside of the boat, but we couldn’t hear the guide as he pointed out the sights. Not a problem however, because there isn’t a lot to see. The canals are jammed with houseboats tied up end to end and this obstructs your view of the buildings along the canal. The houseboats are old, messy, dirty and unkempt, but still interesting. As you pass the intersections in the canals you get a good view down each one that looks very much like the previous one. We did see the Anne Frank house as we made our way through the maze of canals. And, I really mean it is a maze. There are traffic jams and irate barge drivers honking as one barge might have to back up to let another through a narrow tunnel. Sometimes the drivers must throttle the barges back and forth to turn a boat that is too long to manage a bend in the canal. The houses are all at least three stories tall and very narrow. Many of them sit right at the canal edge. These houses have a block and tackle suspended over the front to use in hoisting groceries and furniture up and into the house. Rather ingenious. Some of the bridges that we passed under were lined with bottles and cans completely filling the girders. There are pigeons nesting within an arms length of the passengers.
There is a lot of construction going on and there are thousands of bicycles coming at you from every direction. As I paused to check a map, having one foot in the bike lane, a man cycled straight at me and yelled “BOO” just in time for me to make it out of his path. We were on a mission. Linda had done her research and knew that she would be able to purchase her “special” cigarettes in coffee houses throughout the city. She wasn’t exactly sure how we would recognize one of these special establishments or just how she would ask for what she wanted. So, the first street we walked down had coffee houses with names like ‘The Grasshopper’ and ‘Stones’ and ‘Elements of Nature’. I followed her into The Grasshopper. She did all the talking and I tried to be invisible. A young man showed her to the lighted menu case and she asked his advice for something that would just make her giggle. Eighteen euros for three joints. She made her purchase and we took a table outside so she could enjoy. Man, did she giggle.
Of course now we had eat. So our next mission was to find a café where we could sit outside. We choose one and sat down. We looked over the menu and each selected what we wanted for lunch. We waited. We continued to wait. We gave up waiting and left. We took a table at the next café and the waiter brought us menus. Very strange. It was exactly the same menu. Unfortunately, the cloth on our table was so dirty, we chose to leave this restaurant as well. Off to a third café. The waitress brought us the menu and it was the same damn menu as the last two rejected cafes except this one was laminated. We ordered and enjoyed the sandwiches we had chosen at the first café. While we were sitting at our table we were able to enjoy some of the indescribably odd people to be found in Amsterdam. We saw a young man in barefeet, neon green leg warmers, pink lace short shorts, a tank to and a lovely neon green scarf. The pink short shorts appeared to have been spray painted on, adding to his dramatic look.
We still had one mission. We had to find the red light district. No problem. It was only two blocks over. But first we spied a beautiful old cathedral and thought we had best be good tourists and take a look at it. We cut across the street and as we neared the church we discovered it wasn’t currently being used as a church. It is now a shopping mall. The lower level contains a wonderful store named Sissy Boys. I looked all through the store hoping to find a logo tee shirt, but there were none. Linda did purchase several bottles of Sissy Boy bath gel and such to take back for gifts.
Two blocks over we found the red light district and it is quite something. Shop windows display every sort of toy, lotion, enhancer, costume, and party favor you can imagine. We stopped into one shop and each bought VERY naughty tee shirts. I have no idea who I will give the one I purchased to or if I will ever wear it. It has a saying printed on it that refers to your mother giving a discount. Linda bought one that says good girls go to heaven and bad girls go to Amsterdam.
Back to the ship to face the job of packing. Again, it has been some sort of record high temperature today and we are wrung out.