Amsterdam - a city famous for its night life, party scene, weed, red light district, numerous museums, world famous canals and of course cycles - and here I was a complete teetotaler, non smoker, non party person on the streets of Amsterdam at 5 am in the morning - yet somehow completely feeling at home. I guess travel does that to me, the moment where I feel lost and alone in the city is where I start discovering the surroundings. And I guess the same thing happened with Amsterdam as well.
All i knew was that I had one night booked in a hostel in Amsterdam with a day and half to spend in the city and its suburbs. What I was gonna do in that time, I was clueless. So a quick check-in in to the hostel (where they didn't actually let me check in), a quick breakfast later (thanks to the kind guy at the front desk) and a couple of walks to Amsterdam Central, I felt comfortable about finding my bearings in the city. A skipping competition (Organized by the hostel in order to raise awareness about saving water) won me a chocolate bar (which would later serve as my lunch for the day) and I proceeded to Dam Square for a free tour (which cost me 20 Euros) of Amsterdam.
The free tour was an eye opener of sorts. Not only did I get a chance to meet a few interesting people - Kendra - one of the tour guides and a marathon runner who didn't want to visit India due to the crowds and the sweaty atmosphere, but felt confident that she could easily gel in as she knows how to play cricket. Then came Tim - my Amish tourist guide who also am sure had some long lasting relation with Pune (Where else would you find people who are so sarcastic yet so likeable :P ). The tour itself proved to be great fun - Jist being - Everyone is welcome in Amsterdam to do whatever business they want to do - as long as the city/government gets its dues. Then it doesn't matter whether you are setting up a red light district or a small hotel. "Yaha sab chalta hai " Another popular saying proved itself that day " If you don't like the weather in Amsterdam; just wait for a bit and it will change!" In half a day, I experienced everything right from bright sunny morning, to a chilly breeze freezing people over and torrential showers!
So after the tour where a 10 Euro tip was accepted as 20 Euros and having a chocolate bar for lunch to try and save up on the money (after all i was on a budget trip and that too a first one in Europe) I returned to the hostel to finally check in. The evening plan in place - a guided tour of red light district , I just had to figure out a way to spend the afternoon. Well what better than walk around again. So when the rains subsided, off i started in the direction of one of the biggest parks of Amsterdam - VondelPark. More than halfway across the town, this beautiful park proved to be a centre for activities like jogging and cycling and other exercises. Thank god for the huge camera bag I was carrying which made me control my urge to join them! Else god only knows what would have happened to the injury!
Finding your way across a new city is never easy, specially when you are hard pressed for time and are hell bent on getting back on foot, with no idea how far is the destination. (Ya, the network sucked). But then an added advantage was that you get to see the hidden sights of the city which are not so popular and capture them.
The Red light tour turned to be a dampner of sorts but the tour guide katie (also a Thai Yoga masseuse) - a lovely person, talked to us about her project with the sex workers and how the entire business operates and made the evening interesting. Now the effect of 2 days of travel without sleep was starting to show and after trying to search for something to eat - first a search for a non weed cafe, then a less crowded one, and then for one where there might be some decent food - I ended up in a small Italian cafe having soup for dinner! A walk back to the hostel felt as if it would never end. Finally with a promise to myself, to wake up early morning and visit Zaanse Schans, I went to sleep.
The next day morning arrived with a heavy gloom in the air and incessant rains. And yes when you have a comfortable bed to sleep after 48 hours of rigorous traveling, you end up catching those extra 40 winks (which usually end up being 40000 winks). Another quick breakfast where I almost took out the griller by trying to grill a cheese salami sandwich, and then figuring out the ride to Zaanse Schans... I was off on my way. Luggage safely stored away in the railway locker ( damn these are way more expensive than the hostel ones)
Rains, rainbows, windmills, pretty cottages and fresh pan cakes summed up Zaanse Schanes for me. An upclose view of the windmills, and a scrumptious meal of Apple cinamon pancake later, I finally started my journey towards my next destination - "Straphorst" or Mapple and to meet the sweet and best host ever Minke.
If there was one place where every house seemed like a fairy tale along with pretty gardens this would be it. Unfortunately heavy rains kind of spoilt the experience, with no chance of photographing the same - but Minke and her house made up for it. A perfect place to experience your first Air BnB, everything else will seem just Okay in comparison to this. Add to it Minke, the perfect host. Exchanging gifts, catching up on what could be the plan for the next day and taking some information about the village, i set off in search for dinner. A small, Arabic place served a huge quantity of shwawarma and i for once struggled to finish it off. :) Back to the house and the cozy bed in the attic, it was time for bed. A bed under the stars with the skylight giving the perfect star gazing experience.
Ignoring all the warnings about the weather (it was supposed to rain heavily), i coaxed Minke into lending me one of the many bicycles that she had in the garage. (Fortunately for me the only thing came to was a bike chain). And off i set in the direction of Giethoorn. One thing that was definitely in my todo list for the trip.Cycling on special tracks was kind of overwhelming and I did try and veer on the main road to feel close to home, but was chased away by many of the bikers who were too willing to help to put be back on track. Finally the 30 km through villages decorated as fairytale stories and rock and roll bands, meadows, fields and waterways I finally reached the Venice of the East.
Giethoorn - a village set on the banks of an 8 km canal with no access allowed to cars or motorized vehicles. The only option was walk, cycle or take one of the electric boats around town. Each house better than the previous one, and each one making you want to own each one of them. A couple of hours later, it was time to cycle back to Minke's place but this time the journey ended pretty quickly . Minke really made the day memorable by adding my photograph along side my testimonial. Then it was time so say goodbye. Catching a train to University town of Groningen, to spend my last few hours in Netherlands.
Groningen did not offer much to do, but then a brisk walk around the canal in search of food, opened up the city vistas in from of me. The next day I had to get up early and catch my bus to the next destination - Copenhagen. But that is a completely different story!
Now writing for each and every photo may not be possible, however I urge you to take a quick look at the Netherlands that I discovered! Enjoy Reading and do let me know how you felt! :)