Amsterdam! Day 1October 13 in the Netherlands
The time had come to explore the Netherlands' world famous capital city! After a prompt set off on Saturday morning Will navigated the van to Amsterdam City Camp on the North bank of the River IJ. The area was rather run down with building and road works, overgrown verges, random grafitti and a general air of being unloved. The camp itself was accessed via tall electronic gates, one for vans and one for pedestrians. Vicky got started entering our details into the machine. Despite having to pay extra for dogs there weren't any dog facilities, so the warden helped us choose a plot close to the entrance so Poppy didn't have to walk too far for the toilet. After parting with €56 for two nights we scanned our barcoded ticket, the big gate slid back and we parked up between two other motorhomes on the gravel. There was space for about 100 vans but we chose one of the 50 spots that came with electricity to give the batteries a treat. We made a plan to stick the ticket to the door handle whenever we were in the van. Vicky could just imagine going out to take Poppy in the middle of the night and getting locked out of the compound!
It didn't take us long to get the tandem down and cycle to the NDSM ferry point, although we did need to wait for a bridge to open and let a large boat through. We are almost getting used to it by now! The city runs free pedestrian and bike ferries between various points on the river and they are hugely popular. We waited about 15 minutes, taking in the floating 'Botel', the grafittid submarine and the pancake boat in the harbour area.
Our transport came and we squeezed on with the other 200+ people. The blue and white boat zipped us accross the IJ to west of the city where we headed towards Noordermarkt. The cycle tracks were great when they were open but several junctions were undergoing work and nobody knew where to go. There were a great number of tourists mixed in with a few locals and you can imagine the mayhem, with hundreds of bicycles and mopeds cutting accross lanes, stopping, turning and generally being confused. Between Vicky looking at Maps.Me and Will steering around hazards there wasn't much chance to take in the sights, but it was still miles beter than walking and we felt a lot safer on the tandem than we did in many cities.
The streets and canals were layed out in a grid pattern. Noordermarkt was located in one of these long straight roads, with two lines of stalls taking over the car lanes. We again left the bike chained to itself and entered the gauntlet! It was very busy and difficult to move at times. Vicky was rudely barged to one side by a couple of women and to her shame, barged one of them back when she encountered them later on. On offer was a mix of fruit, veg, raw and processed meats and fish, quality clothing and jewellery. We picked up some mushrooms and beansprouts and were a bit shocked when the seller charged us €5.50. It seemed a lot of things were priced highly for the privilage of buying them at this particular market. A greek stall was selling spinach in filo and pepper stuffed with rice at a reasonable price, so we had lunch on the go. For desert we found traditional Dutch poffertjes - like fluffy, mini scotch pancakes cooked to order, topped with a knob of butter and more than a sprinkling of icing sugar. We'd both have these again if we saw them!
We were relieved to find the tandem still there and peddled our way towards the Sex Museum - a 'must see' when visiting Amsterdam. Vicky had visited with her friend Mel when they were at uni more than 15 years ago, so was looking forward to a return visit. The museum has a range of displays; artifacts and art from different cultures, photos, comic books and life size models. Many of them poke fun at sex, such as the old flasher in his mac that moved out of the shadows on rails.
When we'd finished looking round it was getting hot and we needed to get back to Poppy, so returned to the ferry point at the beautiful Station Centraal. This stately red brick building with its two gold faced clock towers was resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. The multilayered bike racks behind it were also an impressive sight as we waited for our boat. It was crowded on board and some people decided they needed to move further forward, despite the lack of space. One person in particular pushed past Vicky and stood very close behind Will, casually holding on to the rear handle bar of our tandem!
Back at Martha Motorhome, Poppy had enjoyed having the electric fan on while we'd been out, settling easily into her bed after a little walk. We chilled with her and ate tea, but thanks to the bike, we still had plenty of energy to head back into central Amsterdam that evening. We chose to go on foot and once again took the free ferry over the river. We planned to visit Abraxas, one of the many coffeeshops this city is famous for. We caught the first ferry that arrived, meaning we needed to walk further once we docked on the south bank but we really enjoyed taking in the night time sights. The city lights had been beautiful from the river as they reflected off the water. Now we walked among them, through quiet streets, past the marina where huge houseboats were moored, some with pontoon terraces. One of these supported a communal play area and long picnic table where a dozen or so residents had gathered to make use of the warm evening. Many boats had golden fairy lights illuminating their cabins or strung above their decks and arched bridges were lit by bright bulbs tracing their outline. It seemed quite magical at points.
Reaching the cannabis corridor the pavements were lined with bright display windows pedalling all sorts of seeds, leaves, buds, block, oils and the paraphernalia that went with them. These establishments were intersected by mouth watering bakeries selling cream cakes and pastries, chip shops and pizza places. We saw several coffeeshops as we walked along, with people sitting around low tables sharing hookah pipes and bongs. As you can imagine the atmosphere was pretty chilled out and we enjoyed people watching, especially the expressions on our fellow night owls' faces.
Neon lights alerted us to Abraxas coffeeshop down a narrow alleyway. The staff were very helpful, with one bar selling drinks and snacks and another with a digital menu, selling cannabis products. We bought a couple of vegan blueberry muffins and climbed the steep wooden spiral staircase to the first floor where we found a couple of low stools. The air was smokey but thankfully tobacco was prohibited and the open window we were next to provided a cooling freshness. Coffeeshops aren't allowed to sell alcohol but one of the 'Abraxas Crew' brought us a good coffee and an elderflower lemonade to sip on. After a while we found ourselves relaxing and grinning. The atmosphere was chilled with pairs and small groups drifting in and out, sharing the curved wooden benches that made a U shape around 3 of the 4 walls. It was proving to be an enjoyable experience, enhanced by a frothy hot chocolate and a little Dutch stroopwafel biscuit for Vicky. Nearing 11pm we happily made our way back to the central station ferry port and took the boat back to our side of the river.Read more