Friday, 6 January 2012

I AMsterdam

The tourist slogan in Amsterdam is I AMsterdam which can be found all over the city. The biggest of which is a huge sculpture in the city centre of which tourists are renowned for jumping all over and taking pictures. Staying true to our role as backpackers, we could not walk past without doing the exact same so below are the photos but unfortunately not in order because that is beyond my technological ability.


We stepped out of the main train station on the evening of the 29. concurrent with a massive storm hitting the city. When you combine sleeting rain, hail, lighting, thunder and gale force winds with a stubborn mindset you get two soaking wet people with equally drenched luggage standing in the middle of a foreign city with bewildered looks on their faces. Irritatingly, the locals continued to cycle on their merry way as though this was a daily occurrence, which we found out in the next few days that it actually was. Dodging cars, buses, trams and cyclists which are affectionately named cyclopaths in the netherlands proved to be no easy task and it took us a while to find our hostel. The traffic is insane in Amsterdam and there is actually no easy way to get anywhere without the constant fear of being killed. Pedestrian crossings mean nothing, traffic lights mean nothing, road rules mean nothing and footpaths mean nothing. You get the idea. Anyway, we eventually arrived at the hostel dripping wet only to realise that because it was a houseboat in the middle of the river, everything in it had a dampness to it and was guaranteed to be cold all the time. Our room was a tiny ships cabin which I did like because it was very authentic but was so small that we could literally touch each wall with our fingers when we stood in the middle of the room. It was actually meant to be a three person room and I for the life of me cannot see how this would have worked. We were right next to the communal bathroom which could not have been more impractically designed with the shower directly in front of the entrance so that you had to walk through dirty water that refused to drain if you needed the toilet. My favorite time in amsterdam was the early morning when it wasnt raining and everybody was still asleep. It was really beautiful then so we always made an effort to wake up early. The architecture is really great with buildings threatening to topple over left, right and centre because the city is built on a swamp with tree trunks providing the foundations to the houses. This is of course not a great design because water and wood do not mix well and the result of which is a city which could fall apart at any moment. It is also a city of canals, apparently more so than Venice which provides a sort of drainage system for the city because it sits below sea level. In fact the highest point in the city is an incredible 1.1m above sea level. We spent our days visiting art galleries, photography exhibitions and dodging the swarms of stoned teenage boys as they shuffled from one burger king to the next. For new years eve we were planning on going to an open air concert but when we stepped out into the streets after dinner we were greeted with thousands of drunk people and DIY fireworks which is a lethal combination so we headed back to the safety and free champagne of our hostel. It ended up being a good decision because everyone else was back there as well and we had the best spot in the city to watch the fireworks so we headed up to the top deck and
watched the fireworks exploding 360• around us. The narrowest house in Amsterdam is only 1.8m wide and is so cute I had to include a picture which you will find below, it's the red one.


Where to begin? Let me first say that I absolutely love the city and everything about it. It is a place of extreme contrasts - the old and the new, the poor and the rich, colourful and gray. It is also exciting, dynamic, fast, ever-changing, dirty and artistic. We spent the first few days visiting contemporary art galleries which are hidden in every dilapidated alleyway and staircase in the city, as well as some incredible photography exhibitions. We also did a free walking tour which was so interesting considering berlin's recent and remarkable history. The Berlin wall only came down 20 years ago and the remnants of the city's old self are scattered all throughout the city. In fact, we loved the tour so much that when we returned to Berlin three days later we did another two with the same company. One was an alternative city tour which introduced us to the grungy, graffitied heart of the city in which we visited some of its most famous street art and squatting houses. The next day we did a tour out to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside of Berlin which was the benchmark for all other concentration camps under the nazi regime. It was an eye-opening experience and just made us appreciate everything we have do much more. Berlin is very cheap so we stayed in a 7 euro youth hostel when we weren't bumming off our generous friends and eating amazing turkish, Indian and Japanese food for ridiculously low prices.