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Published: February 10th 2008
A museum of drugs
They really love their drugs over here.
Given that the Netherlands border was just a mere 30 mins drive from Antwerp, me and a few friends decided to hire a car and drive up for the day to explore this tiny country in a day. We had grand ambitions of racing through Rotterdam, stopping over at the famed water dykes, then trolloping across the flat country side spotting windmills, before ending up at Amsterdam to see the wandering drug addicts. Alas, that was not to be, thanks to the wonderful service of Rent-a-car, a rental company recommended to us by the 4-star establishment we had been staying in.
Rent-a-car, by any standards, was a seedy, slimy, hole-in-the-wall of a place, located in some out-of-the-way suburb of Antwerp that was clearly the abode of shifty gun runners. It was dodgy. We walked in at an early 8am to claim our car, only to be told that the owner's friend, Abdul, had rented the car for the day, and wouldn't be back till the afternoon. So where was our car? Oh, Abdul had it. Any other options? A 12-seat van. Thus proceeded my angry barrage for 1 hour where I complained about how they should honor a deal, and
A real windmill
They were actually grinding stuff here. Can't imagine people still work with such things. Not sure what the white stuff is - probably cocaine given the drug policy of the country.
basically give us whatever car they have - even their personal cars - to show good faith. No such thing here though. Not at Rent-a-car. Just lots of cigarette smoke, an annoying cheeky smile, and the occasional pretense that they didn't understand English.
To cut a long story short, I finally made them find us another rental, and then got them to drive us to pick it up. Seems that the owner also ran a part-time moving business, because his car was a little van with a cherry-picker on the back used for moving furniture through the windows of apartments. There were 3 of us, plus the driver - and me, being the smallest of us all, was forced to lie across the laps of my other two friends, covered in bags to obfuscate me from the police, while our overzealous driver bumped us across the town.
10:30am and we finally arrived outside the other car rental company. Our driver bid us a fond adieu, we exchanged a few 'no hard feelings' (yeah right), and ventured in. Only to be told that the car had to be back by 5pm that day, since tomorrow was the weekend and
Quaint little houses of Zaans Scaans
they were closed. Fat chance we were going to get back by 5pm. Okay, steam exploding from ears right now.
12:30pm. We're back at the hotel - the one we had left 5 hours before. We had travelled a grand 0km in 5 hours, and had seen nothing of Amsterdam. Then one of us had the brilliant idea of catching a train. Ran to the train station, discovered there was one leaving in 10 mins. Bought a ticket, got to the platform, only to discover that I didn't have my passport. Train leaving in 7 mins. Sprinted back to the hotel, fighting off an asthma attack, and noticing that my tummy really was jiggling from excessive eclair consumption over the last few days. Negative 3 mins - back at the train. Train had been delayed. All that running for nothing. Oh well, at least we were on the train.
2pm, and the train pulls into Amsterdam. We had been forced to cut back our itinerary to simply Zaanse Schans followed by Amsterdam, before catching a late train back to Antwerp. We hurriedly bought a transfer ticket to Zaanse Schans, hopped on the train, and bid Amsterdam a fond
Absolute water front
All the water front houses in Zaans Schaans come complete with personal dock and boat.
farewell for the time being. Twenty minutes later, we were in a new province - North Holland. Goodness - this country is small if you can change provinces that quickly!!
Zaanse Schans is a picturesque little town full of quaint windmills and wooden houses. Its the typical 'get a glimpse of old Netherlands' tour that all the geriatric package tour buses do - close to Amsterdam, and relatively pretty. We weren't disappointed, though not entirely over the moon either. Lots of photo snapping before we hurried back to the train to head back to Amsterdam.
In Amsterdam, we decided to do a walk around the city. Its small enough to be able to circumscribe the entire tourist map in 6 hours, taking you through many of the major sights. The most immediately obvious fact was that Amsterdam was full of canals. None of us ever realized that. So lots of bridges, lots of water, but surprisingly relatively few boats. Its a relatively pleasant city to walk around, and for some reason reminded me of a very large university campus - full of old brown buildings, lots of young people, and a carefree soul.
More surprising though was
The Village of Zaans Schaans
Just not sure how real a village this was - everything was much too well painted
the relative lack of syringe toting heroine addicts that we expected to see on every corner. We had expected that a country that had legalized marijuana would be full of such folk, and so we were either disappointed, or possibly relieved, to not have to spend our afternoon dodging rastafarian-like derelicts looking for a fix. In fact, it was relatively tame - even a little boring. So much for the images of wild amsterdam that we had somehow imagined before coming here.
We headed over to an area known as the canal district, walking past the Anne Frank (wrote a diary during Nazi times about living in a secret room in her house) museum on the way. We decided to skip actually entering the museum, simply because we weren't cultural/historically-inclined enough to care. Plus we were rather hungry, and the canal district had a recommended pancake house that we were hankering for.
The pancake house didn't disappoint. Immense - these things were as big as fat sumo's head, plus a bit extra. Available in a bazillion varieties, but I decided to opt for a safe and traditional coffee and cream coated delight.
It was then onwards through
Windmills and Bicycles
Apparently the two 'typical' sights in the Netherlands
more canal-laden streets. Along the way, we saw our first coffee shop. Amsterdam has coffee shops and cafes. Cafes are your normal average shops selling coffee (and thus should be called coffee shops), whereas coffee shops don't sell coffee, but rather drugs. Yup, the government decided to combat drug abuse by legalising yet controlling it, so its perfectly legal to walk into a coffee shop, by some marijuana, kick back and smoke, and then walk out the door rather doped. So you can imagine my excitement when we saw a congregation of ripped-cargo-pants-wearing, dreadlocked, overly-pierced guys draped on chairs outside one of these famed coffee shops. Those guys looked so stereo-typical that I simply had to take a photo. However, fear of the fact that under their dazed doped out faces, that they could really be syringe-toting heroine addicts, I decided to use my zoom lens and stand across the street and 'snipe' a shot.
Later that day, we arrived at the famous Van Gogh museum. Gave that one a miss, simply because colours on canvas, however insane, were simply not our thing. Rather, we took photos outside just so we could say that we'd been to it -
Drugs - all shapes and sizes
The shop was called 'drug' store, and we stupidly assumed the were selling drugs in the open. Turns out it was chemist, and these were bags of potpourri.
all gain, none of the pain.
By now, it was dark, and time to head back to the train station. Our quick tour of amsterdam had been reasonably interesting, but nothing to write home about - though somehow this blog entry managed to get rather long.
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