Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Charmful Canals of Amstel - Day 1

Quiet canal

Amsterdam                                                            Netherlands

Friday 20th February 2015

A new year and a new adventure awaited me but this time I wouldn’t be travelling alone as a good friend of mine named Sam would be joining me on my journey to the Netherlands. I woke up at the early hours of the morning and shot up immediately getting changed as quickly as I could at 3am. I headed downstairs where my grandfather and Sam were already waiting for me ready to leave for the airport. Along the way my grandfather was joking with us about what and what not to do in Amsterdam. It passed the time quite quickly as in not time at all we had arrived at the airport absolutely freezing. After talking for a bit more with my grandfather, Sam and I set off into the airport. At the check in desk we were seen to straight away and were soon given our tickets. We then headed straight for customs check and I was surprised at how empty the place was which was great to be honest. We placed all our belongings on the trays provided and headed through the metal detector. As usual the alarm went off for me and I was told to take my shoes off and so I did. I was then told to step into a new machine which scanned my whole body to see if I had anything hidden. I then left the machine in order to have one of the guards’ frisk me and double check which was awkward as he didn’t tell me his name but gave me eye contact. Sam had no bother getting through though despite the fact he still had his glasses on and all his ear rings too which surprised me. As we gathered our belongings, I thought I would be nice and place the trays on the other stack. However, I ended up making things worse by dropping them with this almighty smash which definitely got the guards on there feet; that’s for frisking me I thought thinking I was a thug. 

Anyway, I walked away apologising and arrived at the departures hall which was still getting renovated. We both sat right at the window admiring the planes that were there being fuelled up and packed; at the far end was our KLM plane so the excitement came flowing through me wondering what Amsterdam had to offer. As I had company this time, it made the waiting time pass so quickly as before we knew it the gate number came up and we set off following everybody else towards the plane. Eventually, we arrived and boarded the plane straight away. I could see nerves were building up in Sam even though he said he was fine but I could also see excitement in his heart too; I could sense nerves in me too merely for the anticipation of being in the air. We finally sat in our seats strapped in and ready to go as the plane got under way heading straight for the runway. I made Sam laugh as I made a joke about all our work colleagues running for the plane trying to stop us from taking off so we could go back to work; but getting blown away by the engines as we took off waving goodbye. 

We straightened up and then the full throttle was released as we rapidly moved along the runway going faster and faster and then we were off the ground. A sense of relief came to me as I knew we were gaining altitude with no sudden drops. The seat belt light came off a while later and I was happy about being able to listen to my music soaring in the air, in the night sky with patches of lights from towns and cities below us. I could see that Sam was relieved too as he started to look more relaxed. As we flew higher, the sky became that bit more beautiful as the sun was beginning to rise far to the east. We were up far above the clouds for what only seemed like 20 minutes before the plane began to gradually descend. 

View from Window

The seat belt sign came on again and I knew we were about to land. Quite a bit of time passed as we were descending through the thick clouds and all I was staring out at was the greyness of clouds passing by the window. We were near the ground by the time I could see the ground with roads full of bustling traffic. Suddenly the plane had landed safely with me showing a sense of relief being back on the ground. It had shocked me at the amount of time it had taken to get to Amsterdam which was only 55 minutes. The next and awful part was taxiing up to the terminals which seemed miles away; it seemed as though the pilot was taking us all on a tour of the airports runways. The amazing part though was when the plane was going over the roads with the cars driving underneath us. Finally we stopped at a gate ready to leave the plane. We were soon off the plane and heading straight for passport control and baggage reclaim. Yet again it seemed to take forever arriving at our destination. The passport control was quick and simple and we were soon at our designated conveyor belt as we sat waiting for our bags to show up. Thankfully, mine and Sams were one of the first bags to arrive but as soon as we picked them up, we immediately realised that they were soaking; I couldn’t believe it but we continued on figuring out where to find our transport. The document I had stated that we should go to the meeting point at the arrivals hall and look for a large red and white cube. After a bit of a wander around, we managed to find it. When we got there, there were a few people holding boards up with passenger’s names on. We checked every single one of them but not one had my name on; so we both waited with me being impatient. As time passed I was thinking the worst but then from no where, a large tall man came towards us with my name on it; I was really happy as we followed him to his car. 

We were welcomed to Amsterdam with British weather with grey clouds and non stop rain. We got into the car nearly confused with which side the steering wheel was at and soon set off to our hotel. A while went by and we were entering Amsterdam and immediately, I was mesmerised and admiring the sights of the place already. The layout of the long but thinly shaped buildings was perfectly organised with the network of canals flowing through the city. We were suddenly hit by the morning traffic and as we stopped, my attention came onto the many cyclists which seemed to rule the roads of Amsterdam. There were some peculiar bikes to look upon but the majority of them were all similar to each other. They all looked practical rather than quality but that’s all people needed; moving from one place to another. Then I caught my eyes on the many trams moving through Amsterdam. From what I could see from the back of the taxi, the city was a bustling one with people going about their day to day business and I couldn’t wait to be amongst it all. We eventually got moving again and had passed some interesting sites such as the Vondelpark and the Heineken experience which made me excited to begin exploring. 

Heineken Factory

Time passed and we finally arrived at our hotel. It was called the Hampshire hotel – Eden which looked nice on the pictures but was a whole different ball game when we said goodbye to the driver and entered the building. It felt like a high class hotel with a concierge at the front desk leading us to the reception area. We were both amazed and surprised about how good the hotel was with the price we paid for it too. We got seen too and showed the receptionist our accommodation document. Yet again I was thinking the worst as I thought he was going to turn around and say that we had the wrong hotel. However, he didn’t and asked for our passports and signatures. We had to fill in our details about where we lived and postcode but according to what was on the sheet, we were both from America. We also had to pay a 50 euro deposit and a city tax to clear everything up. Unfortunately though our rooms weren’t ready and we were told they would be ready before 3pm. As it was only 9:30am, we both decided to leave our luggage in the storage area provided and head into the city with our small rucksacks. 

Hampshire Hotel Eden

Our first port of call was getting something to eat. I had to break my rule of not going to McDonalds and going into McDonalds with Sam just because we didn’t have much to eat since we left home at 3am. It was already busy when we arrived as we both ordered an egg and bacon sandwich with fries and it definitely filled our stomachs. Our next concern was to find a ‘Travelex’ shop hidden deep within Amsterdam in order to redeem our city passes we pre-paid for. These were handy little things as it gave us access to museums and discounts in some areas. I had to consult the map I had for the first time and as soon as I got my bearings we were heading straight for it. I think Sam was impressed with my sense of navigation as we arrived at our destination with no complications. Once we entered, I showed the clerk the documents and he glanced up and down it looking confused saying there were supposed to be 3 papers for the pass. I corrected him on the matter quite quickly and before we knew it, we had our passes. There was a gold ticket, silver ticket and a sightseeing/canal cruise ticket. There was also a discount card so we could use them in some shops which seemed quite handy. We stood outside contemplating on what to do next. I suggested going to the pool hall as Sam loved a game of pool but immediately changed plans and made a decision to use our golden tickets straight away at the Heineken museum. We soon set off towards the factory dodging bikes, trams and cars with our lives still intact. However as we were ready to cross one of the roads, a cyclist didn’t stop at the lights and knocked into Sam hard. He was fine though as though it was a regular occurrence for him so we continued on. 

It wasn’t long before we could see the large Heineken logo beaming above the monstrous factory. We were mesmerised the closer we got admiring the golden writing on the side saying ‘Heineken Brouwery’. We entered the building and gave our golden ticket to the staff member feeling like we walked into the ‘Willy Wonka’ factory and she placed a Heineken rubber band on our wrists with 2 clips on for 2 free drinks and a clip for 1 free gift. I was happy at this point as we set off exploring the wonders of this place. But our first stop was the toilet and I suddenly thought to myself that Heineken was going to flow out of the urinals and taps. It didn’t so we continued on into the museum. The first room we came across was the history of the Heineken family and some memorabilia of the past which was quite interesting to see. The next room was a room of large billboards of Heineken images which we could pull out of the wall and could stick our heads through to have a picture taken which I did.

Heineken Experience

Heineken Bilboard (drunk quality picture)

Up the flight of stairs we went next and entered into another room which was about the ingredients used in Heineken. It was quite fascinating to see 4 large containers hanging on the wall which had water, barley, hops and Heineken ‘A’ yeast inside. The next room however was remarkable as this was a vast area where brass vats and barrels lit up the room so elegantly. Beautifully designed windows were hitting the huge brass vats in such a way that the room became a warm glow of gold. The smell though was overpoweringly amazing coming from the huge wooden barrels which contained the 4 ingredients stated before. I wandered around the room for quite some time admiring every single detail about it even the brass pipes and levers before we headed up the next flight of stairs. 

Ingredient Cylinders

Brass Vats

Brass Vats

Brass Switches and Knobs

We were welcomed by another member of staff explaining what was coming up next and were told to join the queue and wait to be called. However, nothing could prepare us both for what was about to happen next. We were placed in a dark room with several others and we were told to stand up and keep a hold of the bar in front of us and so we did. There was a projector screen in front of us of a man explaining the process of making the Heineken beer but the twist was that we were going to experience it like a Heineken bottle; literally. As it started the platform we stood on began to move around which made people gasp, smile and then laugh. Later on in the preview the man fell into one of the vats full of water and we felt water sprinkle on us twice. Every time the bottles were rushing around the belts, the wind would blow on us giving us the feeling that we were speeding through the factory. It was definitely an experience and we left that room and onto the next marvel. The next part was a sort of mini-bar area where there would be a half a pint of Heineken waiting for us but nobody was allowed to drink it until we were told too as there were people who would teach us how to look at the beer, smell it and then how to drink it like a man. It was a fun little process to take part in so I drank my half pint like a man. I looked over at Sam and I could see he was twisting his face at his drink. It was clear to see that he didn’t like the taste which I thought was funny giving the fact we were in the Heineken factory. I had to finish the rest of his beer and we both continued to the next part. 

Personalised Heineken Bottles

Heineken Mini-bar

There were a few rooms where it was showing more history and historical items of the factory and family but as little toy wooden figures which were quite unique. One room was set up for the football side of Heineken and it had a few PS3 systems inside with football games on so we had a bit of a kick about. Then Sam caught his eyes on a football table. It had been a long time since I had seen one of these or even play one as a matter of fact. Our battle wouldn’t last long though as he scored pretty much straight away. The next unique room was a dance floor area with a DJ playing music which had nobody up and jiving. There was one thing however which caught our attention which was a large wall filled with green bottles and looking twice, we recognised there was a music video playing within the bottles making an amazing effect. 

Music Video Bottles

We could tell we were coming to the end of the museum as the last part was where we got our free drinks. However, there was a separate section to the main bar where people could pour their own pint of Heineken. I always wanted to do this so I took the opportunity and joined the small line of people. I was watching how everybody else was doing theirs which turned out to be good and not so good. As I got nearer to the front, I noticed the barman was giving each person a certificate. I was feeling a great sensation when it was my turn as I stepped behind the bar and copied what everybody else was doing managing to get the hang of it. According to the barman, the pint I poured was like an English version so I was happy with that whether it was an insult or a compliment I’ll never know. Unexpectedly, he then told me to have another go and try and have it like a Dutch pint so I tried and just about did it. I was quite happy with myself and walked away with a smile and certificate. 

After drinking more beer we headed to the final part where the gift shop was. We spent a small amount of time looking around the place as it was expensive before we left the shop. We did stop off at a small stand near the exit where we would claim our free gift which was either a free canal cruise or a half pint glass with the Heineken logo stuck on it. So we both chose the glass and headed out of the building. We were immediately welcomed by the wonderful rain, chaotic traffic and cold. But we soldiered on and as time passed we were slowly making our way back to the hotel. 

Me badly dressed

When we were crossing the roads we noticed that the sound coming from the traffic lights sounded like Woody Woodpecker so we both assumed he was there to help us cross the roads safely. On the way back, we went down one street and we came across a place called the ‘Torture Museum’. Sam was intrigued to find out what it had to offer so we slowly entered the building looking for a price. It cost 7 Euros so we paid for it and entered the creaking wooden door. I didn’t really know what to expect once we entered the next room. I kept thinking that someone was going to jump out of a hiding hole and scream. However, as we headed upstairs and along the creaky floorboards, we came across some bizarre but very interesting equipment and methods of torture. Some of them had images to go with the equipment so it showed exactly how it works. Some of the things were definitely gruesome realising this actually happened once upon a time. The end piece was something I’ve always wanted to see; the guillotine. The blade looked deadly as well as heavy and to think of the process of what happens. We headed for the exit and straight to the hotel at this point. 

Torture Museum - Guillotine

We eventually arrived and there was a different receptionist at the desk. We showed her our passports and yet again we were told our rooms were still not ready which made us a bit frustrated; so out we went again in the rain exploring some more. We decided to head north and check out the red light district. It was quite easy to get too but along the way we stopped to admire the beautiful views we had of the canals and the unique styled church towers at the centre which was truly remarkable to witness. 

Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam Canal

As we were heading north we came across an area which was like a sort of china town. I then looked to my right at the shops and noticed a shop window full of Star Wars memorabilia and other items such as figures, old comics and clothing. Intrigued by what we seen in the window, we entered the shop and was overwhelmed by what we saw. There were figures of more star wars characters, batman, robin and the joker along with hundreds of old retro comics. I was happy when I came across a few assassins’ creed books and figures but I didn’t buy any. We headed out and continued north until we came across a building known as the ‘He Hua Temple’. It was a marvellous building to gaze upon outside. As it looked marvellous on the outside, I was tempted to go inside and check it out. As soon as I stepped in, I felt like I had just been transported to China. It was a classic and traditional designed temple with paper lanterns with colours of reds and yellows along with drapes, religious statues and candles burning bright in the room with a large chandelier at the centre to finish off the look. It was truly a wonder to behold and then we headed back out into the rain reminding myself I was back in Amsterdam. 

He Hua Temple
He Hua Temple

We eventually arrived in the red light district area so full of wonder of what it would look like. However, as it was still daylight there was nothing to show that it was the red light district as it looked like a normal Amsterdam street. So we headed around the ‘Oude kerk’ church to admire its beauty. As we went around the back of the church, we could see in the distance the women in the windows that everyone was telling us about. 

Oude Kerk

We were getting a bit weary with walking around in the rain waiting for our rooms to be ready so we decided to head back to the hotel for the third time where we would sit in the lobby keeping nice and dry. We arrived at 2:30pm drowned like rats because of the torrential rain and as we sat down, I finally got my tablet out my bag and played on my games until finally 3pm came. After asking about our rooms again showing our passports, we eventually got the thumbs up. Finally after waiting pretty much all day it was a relief to get our cards for the rooms. My room was number 431 and Sams was surprisingly 531 upstairs; so he would have been right above me. We headed up in the lift and we went our separate ways to our rooms to finally unpack. I entered my room and I was amazed at the quality of my room. It was a nice cosy room with a good view of some rooftops and a bit of the main river of Amstel. 

View from My Room

I spent quite a bit of time in my room just relaxing looking out of my window while messaging Sam about what to do in the evening. As we hadn’t had anything to eat for a while we decided to head for a restaurant and see which one had the best food. We left the hotel weaving in and out of the streets to find a place to eat. It finally paid off as we had come across one of the many Argentinean steakhouses in Amsterdam. We entered the place and we were immediately served which was quite handy. It was a lovely quaint place to relax especially from the rain outside. I headed to the toilet after we had ordered our food to use the air dryers to dry my hair so I didn’t feel like a drowned rat. Our food finally came and I wolfed down my steak and chips as Sam did with his mixed grill. We left the place with our bellies full of good food making our way to the red light district. 

Amsterdam at Night

It was hard to recognise the red light district during the day but by night it had totally changed around. We were welcomed by the luminous colours of pinks and reds scattered around the area reflecting on the canal. We took our time admiring the views and peculiar sex shops along the way laughing as we passed by completely gobsmacked with what some places were selling. There was a huge commotion going on across the canal with 2 men which were at each others necks for some reason. It was best to stay well out the way as we continued on our current path. 

Red Light District

We constantly passed windows with pretty women trying to grab our attention with nothing but luminous lingerie on. Some of them were trying to draw attention to us by dancing and showing off whilst smiling at us which was quite amazing and funny to see at the same time. It had been a very long day and it was getting quite late at this point so we took our leave heading straight back to the hotel. It was a nice feeling to lie in my bed with my feet up away from the cold streets of Amsterdam.
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