Thursday, 4 June 2009

Clogs, Red Lights and more!

Day 7.

Okay. Today was a big day. We did a lot and there is a lot to tell you. So hold onto your pants (oo-err) and get ready for some sweet story telling.
We woke up and had a really good free breakfast at the hostel – the first of many breakfasts containing chocolate, cheese and cold meats. Did I mention our hostel is situated in Vondlepark? Which we like to refer to as Fondlepark. We jumped on a tram and rode to Anne Frank’s house – one of the spots I could not wait to see. Her story gave World War II a human face – one of life and ultimate suffering. She was an amazing little girl and seeing the house is so emotional. Everyone seems to agree with me because the queue to get in was around the block and we were waiting for an hour and a half in which time Miranda and I realised that we could get further in Bejeweled if we worked together – level nine anyone? Once again we joked and sang in the line and had people turn and stare at us to which we then whisper to one another “xenophobe” which makes us laugh. This happened A LOT throughout the trip. Lot of us goofing off and a lot of people staring xenophobic - ly.

Okay enough of the queue we made it inside! The tour starts with a video about Anne Frank and there are quotes from her diary all over the walls – she was such a clever little thing and she had such an understanding of big issues like war and yet made them accessible... she’s seriously incredible. You go up some stairs and then there it is – the doorway into their secret annex – hidden behind a bookcase is the staircase. As Anne said in her diary you needed to jump and duck to get inside which is exactly right as there is a big world map above the door to eliminate all suspicion. Just entering the space made me a bit misty but it goes on. We went into the room where her parents and sister, Margot, slept and on the wall were pencil markings which kept a record of the girls’ height as they grew up in this annex. It’s just so real. I mean reading the diary was intense but it’s so hard to fathom it really happening and in the very space where I was standing! Then came Anne’s actual room. The little dear had glued all different posters about the room to make it “more cheerful”. Black and white photos of royal families and celebrities spied me as I inspected the empty rooms. The museum states that Otto Frank (Anne’s father) wanted the rooms to always remain empty. They had a lot more room than I expected in this faux tree house but it was so dark! They had covered the windows just as they would have when Anne was there and it would have been terrifying just being there. Waiting for impending doom to strike. And one day... it did. There was an anonymous phone call made to the police about Jews living in a secret annex and to this day this tipster remains unknown. In the attic of the house were all these television screens with an interview of a woman who had seen Anne for the last time before she died, in a concentration camp. She said she saw Anne just after Margot had died and Anne cried that she had no one left and nothing worth living for. This woman said that if Anne had known that her father was alive maybe she would have survived. If she had of lasted for just three weeks longer she would have been free. Seeing her journal was amazing as well. It’s the perfect example of a young girl’s diary with the little pictures, underlines and various squiggles – oh I’ve gone on and on about this but it was really special and one of my favourite things to see both in Amsterdam and the trip.

The awe struck feeling we both had was shaken off as we walked to the big “I Amsterdam” sign as the town has public urinals about the place and we just happened to see some guy using it. Keep in mind these things get full, burst and leak all over the pavement so remain vigilant!

Next stop was the Van Gogh museum where we saw the “Potato Eaters” and “Starry Night” which was pretty amazing. Though, in all honesty, I found that “Starry Night” was a bit underwhelming – don’t get me wrong – it’s beautiful and I loved looking at it right up close – I figured I’d never see all these people again so I stood right in front of it and inspected the brush strokes. You know how people say the Mona Lisa is underwhelming (which I totally disagree with) this is how this painting felt. Nonetheless it was great seeing it. At the end of the exhibition there is this great quote by him which reads:
“the sight of stars always makes me dream, in a simple a way as black spots on the map, representing towns and villages, make me dream. Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to go to Taraswin or Rouen, we take death to go to a star”
Pretty deep. And all coming from a guy who never sold a portrait in his lifetime and only had one ear. Woot. He painted a lot of self-portraits I noticed. Each of them with him wearing a different hat – apparently seeing himself in the mirror wasn’t enough.

We then went to Bloememarket (Bloom Market AKA flowers) And by flowers I mean tulips! Of every colour – including black and blue! We had a walk about the town and lamented the fact that this was our last day in Amsterdam and wanted more time. We did find some excellent clogs that Miranda and I considered buying given they looked so fetching... what do you think?
In the end we decided to complete the evening by taking a tour of the red light district! We were both really curious as to what it was like but no way in hell were we going to walk through their by ourselves. Miranda was nervous about this tour but when we arrived we were relieved as it was a big group including some older couples. Though we were in a big group Miranda and I linked arms and didn’t let go until we got back to the hostel hours later.
Now the tour guide we had was this mad Irishman called John who would give us different reasons as to why the red light district is red – and why they use the colour red. As he would tease us with different reasons throughout – I’ll do the same. The first theory is that in the story of Jericho God told Joshua to take over Jericho and in order to do so they needed a spy – so they chose this prostitute called Rahab. She didn’t want to be killed once they took over so she knotted a red scarf around her door so they wouldn’t kill her! That’s theory number one. By the way I’m sorry if I got that Bible story horribly wrong – I do apologise.
Continuing with the tour! We started at a spot where Chet Baker fell out of his window and died on the pavement. Fun beginnings. John (the guide – don’t forget) said that Chet did loads of heroin and had all his teeth fall out so he couldn’t play the trumpet anymore and then got false teeth and played his best ever according to several fans.
Moving on! He pointed out this church that was built in the 1440s and had a skeleton carving above the door which he figured would remind the people of this time that “life was shite”. Too right. He then talked about how prostitution came about and he said maybe in prehistoric times where cavewomen would offer themselves so they could have some delicious dinosaur or whatever – you get the idea. He also pointed out this pub (he was all over the place) where a sailor turned up, spent all his money and couldn’t pay his tab so the bartender said “never mind, pay me when you get back”. So the sailor does all this again and the bartender says “that’s okay”. The third time the sailor turns up and says “well... I don’t have money to give you but I do have... this monkey”. The bartender accepts this monkey as payment and word gets out that this guy will take monkeys as payment til the whole place is full of monkeys and today the pub’s walls are lined with monkey pictures. This is how the Dutch phrase, translated being “in the monkey” came about meaning owing money with no way of paying it – I thought that was a cute little story.
We walked down the oldest street in Amsterdam which is called “vegetable” street though everyone, today, calls it fruit street because all the gay clubs and what not are on this street. Also on this street was the Condomerie – sorry if you thought this blog about Amsterdam was going to be about... well... clogs and windmills. In this place are all these novelty condoms ranging from Big Ben to a scuba diver to the entire Simpsons family... Holland is weird.
Time for red light reason no. 2 – In the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, he and his troops were in Holland and his men had a good time – as you can imagine – but loads of them died from various sexually transmitted diseases. Hence forth Napoleon demanded that every prostitute be checked and have her health card displayed on the door outside. Now what colour was this card? That’s right – red. So that’s theory two.
We rounded the corner to actually see some of the windows where the women were displaying themselves! She seemed bothered by the passer men as she was on her cell phone which I thought was pretty funny... Now what’s next to these windows in the heart of the red light district but a ... kindergarten! That’s right these people are so open about their sexual history the children know too. There was a television crew who asked the children (who were about five) what they thought the women in the windows were doing to which they answered “selling kisses”. Awww...?
John then told us we were lucky to be in Amsterdam at this time because in just two years all the windows are being replaced with fashion boutiques and the red light district is outta there. You heard correct – Amsterdam wants a better class of tourist so they are ridding the city of this reputation so if you want to see it then you better haul ass to Holland.
This was about the time in the tour when John started relaying way too many personal anecdotes about his time in Amsterdam. The tour was so awesome up until this point... We were really enjoying the history and everything – why did he have to start telling us about his weird friends and so on. Urgh there was this awful guy on our tour who was just hanging off the tour guide’s every filthy word and was begging for more stories. Bleh. I’m surprised our tour guide didn’t get beaten up actually because he would verbally insult all the drunken men folk who stumbled past our tour group. Funny story – he said there was this man who kept following him on his tours and one time told him that he had seen this mushroom lamp and wanted to buy it and did John know where it was. John shrugged and told him to buy from where he saw it. This went on and on and was quite amusing.
Theory number three – The red light district is near a train station and men working on the trains would go and visit these women in the night taking with them the lamp lights they used at the train tracks – these lamps were red. Soon you’ll know the real reason – hang in there! I know this blog is long but a lot happened!
John took us to this particular place that finds the loophole in the law that states that the women must stay in their windows or else they’ll be arrested. This particular place had a slight roof that hung over one of the footpaths thereby being classified as inside meaning that the women were all in there walking about nudey dudey. John invited everyone to go in – they all did – except Miranda and I. Why would we want to see naked ladies? I mean... we both bathe. Yeesh.
Anyway the tour came to an end – 45 minutes later than expected because John had so many tales he just had to tell – we’re scarred now. Miranda and I had had dinner before we went on the tour but after walking around the red light district smelling nothing but marijuana – we were ready for dinner part two – quite amusing really. We would joke that everything in Amsterdam was laced with weed! Including the water! Amsterdam is a small town and we managed to walk from one end to the other quite easily. Back at the hostel Miranda and I noticed that the other girls in the room weren’t as coy as we were about getting changed and thus we have come to the conclusion that we saw more nudity in our hostels than in the red light district!
Oh yeah! The final reason about the red light – I’m sure you’ve hung on this far without just scrolling through all my hard work – seriously typing this has taken more than an hour. Okay so the actual reason why a red light was chosen – really boring and practical reason – because red light makes you look really attractive. It covers acne, scars and various other physical problems. There you go. Pretty straight forward!

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