I took the tram for the first time in the last week - I had to go to The Expat Centre and register myself formally. It's much further out from the city centre, at the World Trade Center. I decided I might as well bite the bullet and try and figure out the tram system coz... well... you've gotta at some point, right? My HR Manager was super proud of me. She reckons I'm probably the first person in the entire company to have taken the tram to the World Trade Center! HAHAHA! She says every other international person has been too scared to take the tram "so far away" for some reason. So they've paid shitloads to cab it there. I am probably just too cheap to pay for a cab. I'm still in the habit of converting the currency from Euros and thinking that everything's just soooooo expensive! HAHAHAHAHAHA!
Anyways, after that virgin tram ride, I am now Queen of the Trams, complete with my own stored-value tram card. Thanks to the internet - Google Maps marks out all the tram stops - so I mark out my routes beforehand and pick them up on my Blackberry... and away we go. It's just like a bus - when in doubt, ask the driver (but I suppose asking for directions is more of a female trait). :)
(Exterior tram shot credit from here)
So on Saturday, I took the tram to the Albert Cuyp Market. It's like Paddy's Market in Sydney, except it's all outdoors. And it goes on forever down this one street (like a very plebian version of London's Notting Hill market).
There was a stall that sold the fuzzy Dutch clog slippers I got a few weeks ago in town. Except they were all HALF THE PRICE!!
Of course this being Holland, there were lots of stinky cheese shops. There was also an entire stall of pickled food. Like seriously - jars of pickled gherkins, pickled herring, pickled onions... it was such a STINKY pickle that I couldn't stand in front of it to take a photo. YUCKS!
Today, I decided to do a walking tour of the city centre. I've seen most of it already just by walking around, but there's nothing like being told stories of the place and its history by a local. I found a company that does FREE 3-hour walking tours (every other place charges 20 Euros!) The guides work for tips of course, and Lee deserved every penny of the 20 Euros I ended up paying her. HAHA. I figured she did such a great job, she deserved the market rate. :p
This is Lee.
She took us through the red light district first. Y'know, the famous streets where the hookers actually stand in front of store windows in their lingerie? We were warned not to take photos as the ladies don't appreciate it. They've been known to run outside in broad daylight and attack tourists, smashing their cameras... or throw a bottle of piss (yes, urine) onto people who take photos of them. CLASSY.
It was middle of the day, like 1.30pm, and many store window curtains were open, with ladies posing. It was pretty scary - as in, some of them looked like they were men! In S&M gear! There were skinny chicks, fat chicks, in all kinds of skimpy gear (My poor eyes!) I was too chicken-shit to even take surreptitious photos coz we were warned beforehand. All the action happens down streets that look like this one:
To give you an idea, these are photos I fished from the internet:
In BROAD DAYLIGHT! Interestingly, the red light district is right next to the "Old Church"... yes, Amsterdam's oldest church. They both popped up at the same time coz apparently back in the day, the sailors would all come in droves to see the ladies and then pop in next door to repent for their sins. HAHAHA. How convenient.
Right on the pavement next to the Old Church, an anonymous artist lay this sculpture of a hand on a boob in the middle of the night. Apparently when the city council was re-paving the streets, they decided to take the sculpture away. The locals protested, and the city council put it back. Power to the People!
View from a bridge in one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam (still in the red light district). Apparently here's where a lot of the buildings are sinking or are crooked, coz of the rotting wooden foundations.
Here are the only pictures I dared to take of the naughty places - sans women in windows.
This same company (amongst others) does evening walking tours of the red light district and I'm considering going on it. The thing is, because I'm travelling as a solo female now, I'm a bit afraid of venturing there on my own especially at night. As "safe" as it's supposed to be coz it's full of tourists and all... well, I dunno, maybe I'm just a paranoid Singaporean.
I'm glad to find these enterprising companies have organized evening walking tours of the area. HAHAHAHA! (If I were a prostitute there, I'd be pretty pissed off... like... "What do you think this is? A freaking ZOO?!")
Well, yes, as a matter of fact. Not quite a petting zoo for me (maybe for others), but I wanna see what goes on! Here's what the online brochure for this tour says:
"The excursion starts at a prostitute information centre, where we will offer you a drink. A former prostitute will explain the system and you will be able to ask any questions you may have. The visit to the "Wallen" the Red Light District- is perhaps the most interesting part of this tour. There you can see for yourselves the oldest profession in the world. The tour continues passing old monuments and through old streets, one of which is the well-know "Zeedijk", which was, in the past, one of the most dangerous streets of Amsterdam, where seamen could be found looking for local amusement. Nowadays, because of the disappearance of the harbour, you can find lively Dutch pubs and restaurants (certainly it is not dangerous anymore), instead of the shady bars of yester-year.. We guarantee your safety during this excursion as a reliable and trustworthy guide will be accompanying you."
And the "Itinerary" says:
- walk to red light district
- visit prostitute information centre including free drink
- tour of red light district
I'm sorry if it's rude to laugh, but this is absolutely BIZARRE!!!! The fact that this place has a Prostitute Information Centre, for one, makes my eyes pop (and a free drink! WOO!) And then that there are people offering tours of the red light district too... Well, who am I talk... I wanna go on this tour! HAHAHA!
We then cut through Chinatown (Woohoo! I know where to go now if I'm craving Chinese!) This is the oldest Buddhist temple in town. It's all of... 10 years old.
Here's the Weigh House in the middle of some other square. It used to be the medieval gates into Amsterdam with a moat around it - where boats would bring wheat in to be weighed. The land has been so reclaimed now that it's hard to imagine there being a moat around this place. After it stopped being a Weigh House, it was here that the various Guilds of Amsterdam used to convene for meetings. The Doctors Guild performed public autopsies in one of these towers, and it was here that Rembrandt used to hang out a lot. One of his famous paintings about an autopsy was based on the stuff that was going on here:
And then of course, right in the heart of the Red Light District are 2 even more fascinating places: The Cannabis College and Museum of Marijuana & Hemp. Ha.
(Er, yeah... look harder - the Cannabis College is to the right of that live porno show place!)
We took a break back in the Dam Square, and here are these talent-less people who dress up in costumes and get paid money just for people to pose for pictures with them. I guess there's a job for everyone. I liked Darth Vader, though.
Remember the Begijnhof? That place for religious women I found on the first week I was here? We traipsed through it again. Apparently it's now open to religious women of any faith. You just have to jump through loads of hoops to prove to the council how pious you are and why you deserve to live there... RENT-FREE! As Lee the tour guide put it "The trade-off is a lifetime of celibacy in order to live in the middle of Amsterdam rent-free. Take your pick!" Haha. It's the first day of Spring and it was a gorgeous day, so look how different this place looks now! (Yes, that's a kitty-cat hanging out in the garden).
Contrast this with photos from about a month ago:
There's a "secret chapel" in the middle of the Begijnhof. A chapel in the middle of a religious commune? Noooooooo! You don't say! How would anyone keep that a secret?
One of the houses in here (the black one) is completely made out of wood from back in the 1400s.
Lee then took us round the corner to a famous "Coffee Shop". (You know Dutch coffee shops are where you buy weed, right?) The Dampkring. This place was where they shot one of the scenes in Oceans 13. She explained which one, but I forget now. The resident coffee shop cat apparently is the most chilled-out cat (!) and loves sitting in the corner of the shop window.
We ended off with heading into the back of a comedy theater club for a "traditional" Dutch meal. It turned out to be suspiciously like Bangers & Mash (sausages and mashed potatoes for the non-English folks). It was kinda cool eating in a theatre:
And of course I got a vegetarian option.
Another weekend well-spent. :)