Thursday, September 13, 2007

Logbook: Amsterdam I

Amsterdami1The ferry from Newcastle was entirely straightforward, and even a little bit funny. The bus from the central train station to the ferry dock was completely full which surprised me a bit, if only because I'm usually one of only a few people who take a ferry without a car. As it turns out, the ferry to Amsterdam is more than just a ferry. It is a "mini-break" for folks to spend the night at sea, spend the next day in Amsterdam and then spend another night at sea on the way back to the UK (or vice versa, I suppose... Though I'm not sure why folks in Amsterdam would take a mini-break to Newcastle!) Anyway, the ship is very large for a ferry and even bigger than the one I took from Canaria to Cadiz. It has three restaurants, four bars, many shops, a movie theater and even a miniature casino. For me it was just passage across to Amsterdam, and although I enjoyed a pretty good buffet dinner and a movie, I mostly spent quiet time on deck or in my cabin. For most others on board it was a "mini cruise" and they ate, drank and partied accordingly. Thus, although my little cabin was comfortable enough, I got little sleep due to thin walls and much carousing on both sides of me.

Amsterdami2The ferry arrived in the port town of Ijmuden at about ten o'clock yesterday morning and it was immediately obvious that my transportation options to Amsterdam were limited to the shuttle bus offered by the ferry company. So, I threw my gear on board and enjoyed the 45 minute trip into the city. After the wide open, green spaces and colorful little cities of Scotland, the relatively drab, gray appearance of Amsterdam was a noticeable change. In addition, the heavy traffic, the swarms of people on the streets and endless streams of bicycles in motion made my first moments in the city a bit of a sensory overload. Amsterdam is clearly not the biggest, busiest or noisiest city I've ever been in, but it is all of that compared to where I've been recently. So, I gave myself a minute to grab my gear, stand on the sidewalk and get my bearings. Then, my first order of business was to arrange my accommodations. You see, although I had made a reservation at a small hotel I found on the internet back in Newcastle, I decided I really didn't need to continue making such "soft-landing" arrangements at this point in The Voyage and cancelled it.

Amsterdami3The bus had dropped me off outside the Victoria Hotel right in the middle of the city, so I figured that was as good a place as any. I quickly found out that Amsterdam is not such a great place to arrive in without a reservation because the city is almost always busy, and September is the busiest season. The woman at the desk informed me that in fact she had only one "very small" single room left, and it was available only for two nights. I decided to take it and checked in, then went to dump my stuff in the room that was indeed "very small." As you can see in the photo it was barely big enough for a single bed, a miniature desk and a small chair, but it was clean and promised to be relatively quiet up at the end of the fifth floor. Although it was the smallest room I've been in on The Voyage -- even smaller than my many cabins on ships -- it was big enough for me and my gear so I settle in and took a few minutes to plan the rest of my day.

Amsterdami4On the advice of the woman at the desk who suggested I see to making arrangements "straight away" for my remaining three nights in Amsterdam before my friend Greg arrives, I hit the streets and checked out a few places in the neighborhood. After a few "no vacancy" experiences, I found a little place nearby that could offer me a "very small" single room for three nights and reserved it in the confidence that it couldn't be any smaller than the room I currently had. With that sorted out, I hit the streets in earnest and started exploring the city. I have to admit that I didn't really like what I found. The area is full of souvenir shops, kebob restaurants, bars and currency exchanges. In addition, there are many cannabis shops, "coffee shops" (which is the local term for "cannabis parlors"), sex shops and what not. When you add to this the crowds, noise, commotion and traffic, you pretty much get the picture. By evening I was pretty well convinced that Amsterdam is not really my kind of place, and this was reinforced by one look -- from a block away -- into the "red light district." I don't think it's that I'm particularly prudish or anything, I'm just not particularly interested in getting stoned and paying for sex or -- for that matter -- interested in people people who are.

Amsterdami5Today has been a bit of a "down" day for me. Partly, I think my first impressions of Amsterdam yesterday carried over, but mostly it was just a day where I couldn't seem to get in a groove. For example, I wanted to find some maps of the "Benelux" area which my friend Greg and I plan to explore, but I couldn't find any no matter how many news stands, book stores, or souvenir shops I looked in. I even asked the concierge at the hotel for help, but he didn't know where I might find any either. Similarly, I was in the mood for a nice big salad for lunch, but could only find an endless array of meat, cheese and chips joints. I finally ended up with a Subway sandwich and although I hoped to eat it in a nice quiet "green space" I was unable to find one and ended up settling for a bench in an urban plaza. There, I saw three cops hassling a doper while another gave a tourist directions and that seemed to say a lot about the city. On the way back to my room I was glad to be able to resolve my Mac power adapter problem, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening online here in my little room. I'm going to make it an early night, sleep in a little bit in the morning and look forward to a new day back in the groove tomorrow!

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