Amsterdam, so much more than just a Smoke and a Pancake

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Deciding at the last minute to go somewhere is never good. Ryanair, the last resort, has its prices sky rocketing through the ceiling and so, in the same way as a lost desert marathon runner decides to drink his own piss, you log on and start browsing the Eurolines coach page. Yes, the journey will take me 12 hours and I will have to leave at 10pm and travel all night… BUT it is just £25 each way. With a shudder, I clicked the confirm payment button. I guess it will be another eventful coach journey to Holland…I boiled the kettle and sat down to drink my cup of tea and it was then, when I was half way through that I started regretting what I had just done.

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Being a girl traveling on my own, all other coach drifters seem to gravitate towards me. The person who doesn’t get a double seat, will somehow invariably be me and the person I have to share it with will normally be huge and really talkative. From the 6ft 8 Buddhist monk, to the blue haired hippy who missed both her girlfriend and her boyfriend, traveling alone on Eurolines is never dull.

This time I made eye contact with a seemingly normal blonde Dutch guy sitting in front of me. The next minute I was being told that he was a recovering alcoholic, drug addict and so was his wife. That they got married so that he could get a green card and so that she could work in Europe. Now,  that is the only thing which keeps them from divorcing. He told me about his new found religion, mediation and how chanting releases his anger. When he closed his eyes and started chanting for 5 minutes,  awkward was an under statement. That night, a group of rowdy drunk guys sat at the back, being cool as those who sit at the back of the bus invariable are. Some O.A .P  asked them politely around 2am to try to keep it down a bit. Big mistake. All hell broke loose. F*** you was the reply and a fight almost broke out between the youth and the timid senior citizen. Shouting and gesticulating now at the other coach occupants, as we were told that  they could do whatever the F they wanted. A  black woman tiered of his constant ranting replied: “Shut the F*** up N****!” Which he returned with a F*** you black B****!” Commotion, mayhem broke out again. Piggy the bus driver’s head turned constantly behind him. His eyes wide with terror. The guys friends were now holding him back as he tried to have a go at the brave woman. The blonde Dutch recovering alcoholic, seeing this distressed woman ran to the back of the bus to her defense.  His attempt to defuse the situation by chanting his meditation in the guys face failed miserably and before long more passengers were trying to hold him back from the youth, as his inability to calm either of them by chanting had pissed both of them off. Piggy the bus driver, who looked like he was about to shit his pants was forced to park the coach and threaten to call the police. This was enough to return everyone to their seats, the fight over but not forgotten. Sleep at last…

I knew we were close to Amsterdam, not because of the flower fields, or the rising sun behind the wind turbines and windmills, but thanks to the Rastafarian who started playing reggae to the whole bus at around 6am when he and his girlfriend stopped for breakfast. Yes, we were arriving at the weed capital of the world, but please, do you really have to shout out “Jamaica man” every other minute. *Don’t speak to me before I get my morning coffee!*

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Should marijuana and prostitution be legalized? Does the state not have a moral duty to stigmatize such activities in case they should become the norm and socially acceptable. Women’s rights or right to abuse women. Amsterdam is controversial. What are your opinions on these controversial topics? What tourists may admire is seen by many locals as embarrassing. This quaint little city, with its beautiful canals and cute little bicycles is in fact a complicated world. One piece of advice I would like to give is that whatever your preference with regards to smoking, do not make the mistake of turning your trip to this lovely cultural city into a smoking party. Make sure you stay in good enough shape and leave enough time to enjoy the much more interesting and cool things that Amsterdam has to offer.

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A Dutch Venice. Cobble streets, pedestrianized walk ways. Beautiful chocolate box houses, tulips, clogs and waffles. Great smells, so, so many beautiful bicycles. Central Station is a great place to emerge from, right at the heart of the hustle and bustle of this lively city. Beautiful Cathedrals and streets are everywhere, I loved walking round the old quarter.

Anne Frank’s house is particularly special. An incredibly sad place, still so full of memories and ghosts. A place to remember the power of human resilience and the incredible suffering of those persecuted under Nazi rule. A shrine to love and family.  A place which gives a human face to the Holocaust and the millions of Jews who were hunted and murdered under Nazi rule. The Secret Annex — as it was called in The Diary of a Young Girl, is the rear extension of the building. It was concealed from view by houses on all four sides of a quadrangle. Its secluded position made it an ideal hiding place for Otto Frank, his wife Edith, two daughters (of whom Anne was the younger), and four other Jewish people seeking refuge from Nazi persecution. Though the total amount of floor space in the inhabited rooms came to only about 500 square feet (46 m2), Anne Frank wrote in her diary that it was relatively luxurious compared to other hiding places they had heard about. They remained hidden here for two years and one month until they were anonymously betrayed to the Nazi authorities, arrested, and deported to their deaths in concentration camps. Of the hidden group, only Otto Frank survived the concentration death camps.

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Built in 1635, the house was rickety. Up one floor, then the next and the next. When would this Tardis end? The house seemed smaller on the outside than inside and every floor felt like it should be the top one.  Behind the bookcase, which blocked the door, the dusty books still there, were the  An incredibly sad place, still so full of memories and ghosts. A place to remember the power of human resilience and the incredible suffering of those persecuted under Nazi rule. A shrine to love and family. A little girl with such courage for Holland to be proud of.

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A tour of Amsterdam by Vespa at night was great fun and a wonderful way to see the center of the city. Above is the picture of the hotel where we stayed in, the 5* Hotel de l’Europe. Two wheels are definitely considered better than four. Holland has the advantage of being extremely flat and the road safety for bikes,the parking facilities and the cycle paths are probably the best in the world. Renting bikes is a great idea and a wonderful way to cover large distances along the canals.

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I didn’t get to see the Van Gogh Museum, that I would keep for my next visit. I did however venture out to the idyllic city of Leiden, a short train journey from Amsterdam Central Station. Arguably more pretty and quaint than Amsterdam itself, Leiden, has its own windmill, castle and lovely town center around canals and gardens. Of particular interest are the 17th-century houses along the Herengracht river, the east and west gate and the Koornbrugsteeg. From Leiden it is also possible to take the bus to Keukenhof flower fields. We ate pancakes and drank coffee on the waters edge. It was from Leiden that we went to the flower fields of Keukenhof. In the center there are some lovely places to eat, including El Gaucho, Buddha’s and Sushi Bento. Leiden is just so pretty and well worth the visit.

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Keukenhof flower gardens, a mecca for old aged pensioners and me

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So I have just come back from a very short trip to Holland. This was the first time that I would visit the flower basket of Europe in Spring time. The aim of this visit was thus, as well as to celebrate King’s Day, to see the beautiful flower fields and tulips that grow in abundance across the low lying fields around Amsterdam. My Dutch friends had been warned. Why, they asked do you want to see the flowers? The fields are nothing special they exclaimed! Indeed, for many young Dutch people, flowers and flower harvests have always formed part of their everyday lives.

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We walked towards the bus stop that would take us to Keukenhof – the world famous flower gardens. Not a single Dutch person that I spoke to afterwards had ever been, but all had heard about it. Tourists however were clearly flocking here in droves. We had to queue for an hour and wait for three buses in order to finally be able to board the bus. The cost of the park was 23 euros, but that hadn’t seemingly deterred anyone from going.

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As we arrived I noticed that Keukenhof was undoubtedly a favorite destination for the world’s older citizens. The downside is that you will find yourself amongst a sea of blooming flowers and grey haired pensioners and with this come the usual problems associated with old age – endless waiting for pictures to be taken, due to lack of camera or phone agility, pile ups at the best photo spots  and of course old person queue jumping. To see a nimble granny grin from ear to ear after somehow squeezing herself in between yourself and your friends and then quietly trying to persuade others to do the same, kills me every time. However,  where there is age, there is also wisdom. The beauty of Keukenhof and the garden landscaping is breathtaking and unmatched by any other which I have ever seen. So if you are young, be smart, follow and learn from your elders who know life and what is worth seeing and put this on your list of things to do whilst in Holland.

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Keukenhof is the world’s second largest flower garden.  The reason for the price is that this is literally an all day trip. The park is massive, approximately 32 hectares and there are multiple entrances, shops, indoor displays and activities. Restaurants and bars adorn the side of a large lake around which the park extends out into the fields. Watch Dutch people dangle herrings above their heads and then devour them with open mouths, and see the beer tents, wooden clogs and women dressed in traditional costumes. There is a great elevated place which enables the visitors to get a fantastic view across the flat tulip fields (which unfortunately were mostly dead by the time I arrived!). It is said that around 7 million flower bulbs are planted each year!

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Keukenhof features a variety of different gardens and garden styles. For example, the English landscape garden features winding paths and unexpected see-through points (designed by Zocher in 1830, the garden architect of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, among others). The historical garden is an enclosed garden where you can see many old types of bulbs. The nature garden consists of a water garden where shrubs and perennials are combined with bulbous plants. The Japanese country garden is a non-traditional garden in a natural environment. This place looks just like a something from a fairy tale. I could have spent hours wondering around, taking pictures, admiring the colors and beautiful carpets and rivers of colour flowing through the trees. The lake was wonderful, with beautiful sculptures and statues. Unmissable and would highly recommend it!

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