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Europe » Netherlands » North Holland » Amsterdam
August 14th 2014
Published: August 31st 2014
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Canals and bikesCanals and bikesCanals and bikes

Lots of both in Amsterdam

I love The Man in Seat 61.....




....Sometimes I just browse it, imagining all the places I could go by train. It goes without saying that the Trans-Siberian or Trans-Mongolian Express is on our bucket list; I'm just waiting for the opportunity to travel between Asia and Europe without having to carry our lives with us.

So when we decided to take the job and move to Ukraine, I ended up surfing into Seat 61 while looking for anything I could find on Odessa. On the page was information on how to travel by train from London to Odessa. You could do it in three days. It was settled right about then. I wanted to do a real Seal 61 overland trip. We had time off in August when our school was closed and were going back to visit everyone back home so had the perfect opportunity to try it out and travel back overland.

Originally we had all of August off work. Our school closed on the 1st August and teaching began on 1st September (although we had to be back on the Friday before to pick up timetables etc.). We planned two weeks at home and two weeks over-landing. Then I got promoted. That's a good thing, I'm now the Academic Manager of our schools so I get some say over how things are done, but it meant that I had to be back a week early to set everything up and do the induction for the new staff. Our holiday was a quarter shorter. We decided that the journey from either Wolverhampton to Amsterdam (by Eurostar) or Newcastle to Amsterdam (by ferry) could be cut out, so we cheated a bit and flew. Budget airlines also make it a lot cheaper than the booze cruise ferry where you had to book a cabin instead of just sleeping in a chair in the bar.

After a few variations on a route (which obviously got a bit optimistic in terms of time - the way my travel plans always do before Kris comes in with the voice of reason) we decided on Amsterdam - Berlin - Warsaw - Krakow - Lviv - Odessa, only a slight variation of the original Seat 61 suggestion because the rail link between Berlin and Krakow has been suspended so you have to go via Warsaw anyway.

The 12th August found us flying into Amsterdam after a lovely time in the UK. We found the train into the city and then hopped on a tram to our hotel - the Best Western Leisde Square - basically what you would imagine from a Best Western - your typical 1990s hotel with an en-suite room with TV. Not the biggest room ever, and being up on the top floor of a narrow Amsterdam building, with a slanty roof but perfectly fine for what we needed it for - sleeping.

Sleeping in expensive Amsterdam




My first investigation into Amsterdam revealed what you might imagine, that it was bloody expensive. Within what we wanted to pay for a room, we were offered hostel beds in dorms. One hostel offered a double bed in a 16 bed dorm for €50 each. Really? Who wants a double bed in a dorm room? It's hardly romantic or coupley to wake up cuddled up together with 28 pairs of eyes on you, is it?

We might like travelling rather a lot, and had chosen to overland back (to which many people we told asked "Why? Can you not fly? Are you scared/skint?") but we are no longer your traditional 'backpackers'. We do not want to share a room with strangers. We do not particularly want to share a bathroom with strangers either. Hostels are great because they have great facilities and a nice atmosphere as a rule, but we want our own room with our own bathroom in such places. As Travelblog's Donna and Neil discussed in their recent blog , these days you often don't save money from staying in hostels anymore. A short time with Google, Booking.com and Agoda can reveal great deals on hotel rooms for cheaper than a dorm bed in a hostel (more on this in a later blog). However, this was not to be in Amsterdam. What to do?

Luckily, last year we flew twice long distance with British Airways and collected Avios points. We had plenty of points to pay for a room in Amsterdam with them, so decided not to break the bank on a double bed in a dorm but to have some comfort. The hotel had a great location near lots of restaurants from all over the world and many bars, by the Museum Island and next to a tram stop about 7 stops from Central Station and an easy walk to most of Amsterdam's attractions.


Free walking tours




With only two full days in most places we had decided to do some guided city tours to get the feel for each city and learn some history without relying on the trusty guidebook (in fact, we didn't bother buying one this time). Shortly after arriving in Amsterdam we headed to Dam Square - about a 20 minute walk - to join a Red Light District tour. For just €12 each our guide Tim spent 2 hours taking us around the slightly more dodgy streets (although actually very nice and quite safe) in Amsterdam telling us lots of really interesting stuff along the way. For example:


Prostitutionwas introduced to Amsterdam by catholic priests in the 14th century to protect local women from being corrupted by the sailors who started arriving to the new port. Women were brought in to 'service' the sailors and paid a small 'fee' to the church. The catholic sailors then went to confession to confess their sins and were asked to pay a penance to the church. Our guide went so far as to suggest that that made the Catholic Church the first pimps in Amsterdam, but I wouldn't say such a thing myself because my mum is reading this!
• Prostitutes in Amsterdam are registered with the Chamber of Commerce as single person businesses and pay taxes.
• There is only one peep showleft in Amsterdam because the internet has put them out of business.
Cannabis is actually still illegal in the Netherlands; it's just that the authorities decided that they more serious crimes to worry about like heroin so decided to turn a blind eye. There are coffee shops all over (that only sell coffee and dope - no alcohol) and shops selling seeds and various drug paraphernalia but you can actually get a €90 fine for smoking it in public.



I won't spoil the tour for you by telling you more. We passed many of the windows with girls in their underwear on the other side - some posing provocatively and some texting and looking bored. Apparently they don't like to be photographed and you risk getting a cup of wee or a stiletto thrown at you if you try (we didn't).

The next morning we went on the free tour offered by the same company Sandeman's New Europe . I'll explain how the free tour thing works in other blog because this one is getting quite long, but for a tip (we gave ten euros each), our guide, Kendra, took us on a three hour walk around Amsterdam through Red Light District again, to the Jewish Quarter, through the Canal District and to Jordan, where Ann Frank's house is. I'd recommend these tours as they were great.

Amsterdam reminded us a lot of York and some of the older parts of Leeds. There are lots of narrow streets with little cafés and bars and cute boutiques and shops selling homemade products. When you look up, you realise that the houses are all really tall (they used to be taxed by width, like in Vietnam) with hooks just below the roof for them to pulley up furniture when they move. Of course, there are more canals than in York, but the houseboats and housecafes and boat trips up and down were familiar of waterside living in other places we've been. It's a lovely place just to stroll around and soak up the atmosphere.

Another observation about Amsterdam was the sheer amount
These twins are some of the most famous prostitutes in AmsterdamThese twins are some of the most famous prostitutes in AmsterdamThese twins are some of the most famous prostitutes in Amsterdam

We actually saw them walking down the street in identical clothes.
of English everywhere. People immediately spoke in English in shops, bars, restaurants and even when apologising. Signs are in English and even on TV half the adverts seems to be in English and half in Dutch. As English teachers this was interesting. The Dutch are generally excellent at English and many of those we met in Amsterdam sounded like native speakers. What came first? Did English become a widely known language through commerce or tourism or something else, so it became commonly used in or did it become commonly used in advertising and tv so it became easier for young people to pick up and become good at? And will it overtake Dutch as the official language of some areas?

Well after two days in Amsterdam we had seen a windmill and some tulips. eaten some cheese, worn clogs, seen girls in red-lit windows, smelt a lot of dope, had dinner with Frank and Carol from Haiphong (who we incidentally met through this blog - they got in touch because they were moving to Haiphong and said our blog helped them understand more about it).....

Time to move on to our next destination - Berlin.


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Cool signs above doorsCool signs above doors
Cool signs above doors

They tell you what the inhabitants jobs are or something else about them.
Cliche #2 cheeseCliche #2 cheese
Cliche #2 cheese

There's even a museum to it, where you can try a lot of different types


31st August 2014

Amsterdam, one of our favourites
We have very fond memories of Amsterdam from our visits there when we lived in the UK and your blog brought back some happy memories of sipping coffees (only coffee!) next to the canals. You are right that hostels and ferries are sometimes false economies or just not cheaper than the alternative hotels and flights. We noticed the same as you with English seemingly being the predominant language and would be interested, like you, to know how this started. We particularly like the clogs Kate is wearing...bet you couldn't get them in your hand luggage to take back to Odessa ;)
31st August 2014

Amsterdam
We loved exploring this city. All the fabulous museums, food and people. Have fun.
31st August 2014

The Story at Last
Vietnam, China, Ukraine, then what? At last the story of your move to Odessa, Ukraine and what happened next is being told. I will await each instalment as it unfolds. Best wishes from one who knows why you guys are called the amazing name of Rat on the Road!
31st August 2014

Trip to Odessa
Ah Dave, this is the journey back to Odessa after our summer holidays! What happens next has not happened yet......
31st August 2014

Congrats
First of all congratulations on your promotion. I have been lucky enough to visit Amsterdam twice and enjoyed it both times. Sounds like some great tours you were on and good thinking using the points to pay for the room. Looking forward to the next instalment.
31st August 2014

Jolly good yarn
Top blog guys, gave me a few giggles this morning. Totally agree with hostel observation, They typically only seem to be great for solo travellers, I don't miss drifting of to sleep to the melodic sounds of my dorm mates farts, coughs and snores. Those clogs did look a couple of sizes to big for you Kate. Looking forward to the next instalment
31st August 2014

Jolly good yarn
Top blog guys, gave me a few giggles this morning. Totally agree with hostel observation, They typically only seem to be great for solo travellers, I don't miss drifting of to sleep to the melodic sounds of my dorm mates farts, coughs and snores. Those clogs did look a couple of sizes to big for you Kate. Looking forward to the next instalment
31st August 2014

I also love the Man in Seat 61...
having used his website to plan my rail journey across China and Uzbekistan in 2013.
1st September 2014
Cliche #2 cheese

Cliches...
I'm totally fine with cliches when they involve delicious cheese (or wine or bread)! :)
19th October 2014

I love the Man on seat 61 too! I like flying less and less everyday, so this website makes me dream. It's nice that you guys are doing overland in Europe... oh! and I love Amsterdam too, it's so beautiful

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