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Michael’s Travel Diary

Monday, 26 Jun 2006

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

MapEntry 41 - Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and the Rhine Valley (16th - 21st June)

Firstly, that's why I hate soccer - 94 minutes, no score, someone dives, Aussies out... that sucks. Just watched the game in Nice, France. Should have the website up to date (maybe even photos) over the next three days. Three nights here, 3 in Barcelona, 2 Madrid, 1 in San Sebastian before hitting Pamps on the 5th - at least that's the new plan!

If this entry sounds like an advertisement, I will explain. Since we've had the car, we've been telling people we are travel writers (when it suits us) for discounted stuff... And scamming in any other way possible. It will make more sense later this entry, and in the next diary entry. If anyone wants to see the website, I need to show the something with company name's and prices in it!

Three nights in Amsterdam, on a weekend in June... Who's idea was this? I do believe it was Clint's, but can't be sure. Either way, I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I got. I don't know if I really enjoyed myself there, but there is one thing that is for sure - I couldn't wait to get out of there...

From the moment we rocked into the hostel, I had walked into a world I was not accustomed to. I'm not gonna say that I'm the purest person on the planet, but my entire life-time use of cigarettes (besides the second hand stuff, thanks mum), the average smoker would chew through in an hour. So when we opened the door to the hostel, and the smoke flowed out as if there was a blazing fire inside, it was kinda off putting. Add to that the special scent of the smoke that immediately signifies that it wasn't cigarette smoke, and it was even more surprising. On the lounge in the front bay windows people were being their social best with joints hanging out of their mouths, and bongs in their lap, eyes closed and the only form of communication being grunts, ooohs, ahhhs, uhhhs and uhhh maaaan. It felt like I'd taken a wrong turn and walked into the dope room at a high school party... This trip is about new experiences.

Having said all of this, the Flying Pig Hostel (Downtown) was in a great location, and had great facilities. A full kitchen, so Clint and I could star getting our cook on, free net and wi-fi, and free breakfast, at about 28 euro a night for a 14 bed dorm. It also had a bar with the cheapest beer in town - my kinda drug! Thankfully there was no smoking in the breakfast room, or bedrooms too.

After checking in, we wasted most of the avo wandering round town, rather aimlessly, except for trying to find a supermarket for supplies.

In the evening, The Netherlands were playing their second WM2006 pool game, so we went to the bar, where we found out that jugs of beer (1.5Lt) go for 6 euro during the soccer games... Awesome, 2 euro a pint! We met Veronica, who was staying in our dorm room, who traveled all the way from Chirnside Park... unbelievable!

After the game, Veronica to Clint, myself, and two other girls from our dorm to the Red Light District (she'd been there a few days and knew best how to get there). The girls went to a peep show, and Clint and I headed to Cassa Rosso, apparently the best live sex show in Amsterdam.

I knew what to expect, kinda. Clint had no idea and felt, at least marginally, ripped off. The door price is 30 euro for the show, or 45 euro with 4 'free' drinks, whatever you want. Being half cut already, and half stoned off second-hand smoke from the hostel, we figured we needed more to drink! Before I get to the show, I'll explain how we used our free drinks: Michael 4x Vodka Red Bulls (getting my money's worth!); Clint 1x Vodka Red Bull, 2x lemonade, 1x Red Bull, last three drinks without alcohol... Hope that was worth the extra 15 euro!

Now the show, the LEAST erotic or sensual thing you have ever seen! The show is choreographed down to every stroke, it's like you can see the performers counting to themselves! Suck, 2, 3, 4, roll-over, pump, 2, 3, 4, switch to doggie, 2, 3, 4. Yes, there is real-live sex, real-live oral, but yes it really is critically lame, and amusing, but it is 'a must do' and a 'tick in the box'. Won't be doing it again though...

After the show, where Clint was about to fall asleep (or pass-out?), we headed back to the hostel after being up for 20 hours, and fell asleep quickly.

Oh, yeah, and there were heaps of hookers in little rooms that had red lights on inside, some attractive, others much, MUCH, less attractive! Then there were those in the blue light rooms, who often looked rather masculine, similar to those in the red light, but with a little (or maybe big?) extra surprise.

The following morning, on a beautiful Amsterdam day, we headed for a bike tour of the city with Mike's Bike Tours. It cost 22 euro for the four hour tour (19 euro students). The guide gave us all the information regarding sex and drugs in Amsterdam, as well as a great city tour and history. But, the stuff we want to know about: sex and drugs.

SEX
The sex is super regulated, with a union set up for the workers, monthly STD tests (miss a test and you can no longer work), and a drug test each night you want to work. The rooms are hired from 400-500 euro for a day on the main strip, and as low as 70 euro a day for the 'career women' on 4th floor down an alley, where the worker already has a clientele and isn't 'advertising'. There are 2 silent alarms in each room, and the police response time for any issue is a maximum of 1 minute, so there must be heaps in the area, obviously a lot of them plain clothed and dressed as drug dealers and bums. A 'suck and f--k' goes for 50 euros (so I'm told) and lasts 15-20 minutes, obviously depends on the person, and other factors, like how much they've dabbled in Amsterdam's other trademark...

DRUGS
Not illegal, but decriminalised. Essentially it has taken the drug dealers off the street by allowing licensed 'coffee shops' to sell marijuana in a safe environment. The most in any one transaction is 5 grams, which can be smoked in the shop or taken away. The prices range from 8-12 euro for a gram (I think), or pre-rolled joints start from 5 euro, or 3.50 euro mixed with tobacco. The are 350 coffee shops in Amsterdam, and if you want a coffee, you have to look for a café!

Somewhere along the line they decided that magic mushrooms are also 'soft drugs' and decriminalised these too. These are sold in Head shops, or Smart shops, and give you different effects depending on which ones you have. The start from about 9 euro for a 20 gram pack, or 14 euro for a 35 gram 'share pack' or 'now and later'. The prices go up from the for more exotic stuff.

So, the bike tour was cool!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muv95U8omhk

After riding round the city, we headed out to the country side and saw a traditional Dutch windmill. From there we continued on to a farm that made cheese and wooden clogs - an interesting combination! On the way back to the city, we went past the Amsterdam Hotel, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono did their famous series of interviews, naked, from their hotel room bed, and it is also mentioned in some song they recorded about staying in bed for 7 days. At the end of the trip, sorry, ride, we ended at a bar for a beer, then had to get back on the bikes to take them to the shop - a tough ask given the Amsterdam bike traffic, but we made it unscathed in any case!

Back at the hostel we put our daily dose of soccer behind us, and a jug of beer and went out for steak. That was a monster mistake. Whilst the stuff was good, it was more like a steak salad, with a whopping serve of greens next to a pre-sliced piece of steak, in fact it was almost like the pre-sliced stuff you get for stir-fry's. We were kicked out of the restaurant at 7pm on a Saturday night, so they could close - go figure!

After dinner we were walking back past coffee shop after coffee shop, and figured we were gonna be sucking the stuff in back at the hostel, so if we can't beat 'em, join 'em. Besides, I always wondered what life was like on the other side of the glazed eyes. So Clint & I, two long time smoking pros, wandered into a coffee shop and asked for the menu. What comes out? A menu with coke (cola), milkshakes, juice etc. on it, so we were confused and ordered two cokes.

Clint, always the people person, headed up to the 'other' counter, and consulted the 'other' menu. Finally, after a good 5 minutes he comes back and says 'Damn, you need an engineering degree to understand that. There's just so many choices.' Looking like he'd returned empty handed, I asked if he wanted me to go up and impart my expert knowledge (ha) on the situation, when he produced a pre-rolled joint (cos neither of us would be able to figure it out, degree or not), mixed with tobacco. Whatever it was, it won a Cannabis Cup award in 2001 and 2002 - whatever that means.

Then we lit it... And following Smokey's words, "Puff, puff, give - you're f--king up the rotation" we smoked it. My knowledge of weed extends from the movie Friday, and bad high school parties where I ignored the smokers. Soon we were both looking at each other with puzzled looks on our face, and the catch cries of our trip, since the start of Contiki, came out. 'This tastes like ass', and 'This joint's f--ked' are Clints two favorites, and both were used. Whether the joint he was referring to was the coffee shop, or what we were smoking, I'm still not sure. But we both downed our cokes, and even bit on the lemon to try and get rid of the taste in our mouths.

We left the shop, not feeling any less communicable, nor weary eyed, and wondering what the big deal was. We headed into town and bought a beer, something we knew how to do, at an outside bar in Dam Place. At 6 euro a pint, we had one, and went back to the hosted for 6 euro jugs! What were we thinking?

Back at the hostel we drank some more beer whilst watching Italy vs. USA, with Veronica (Italian parents), and it was a pretty spiteful game, so interesting for soccer! Eventually, around midnight we gave up on the night and headed to bed - maybe the weed had finally kicked in, like 4 hours later, and we got some shut-eye?

The following morning we met Veronica at breakfast, and she had been to the train station to pick up her Croydon friend who'd just arrived - Danielle Pepping(?), former Ringwood Red Rooster manager. She said I looked familiar, and it took the best part of half a day to figure it out, when Clint blurted something about Rooster and it all fell into place.

After breakfast we headed to the former Heineken brewery, for the Heineken Experience. 10 euro gets you entry to the place with one of the most interactive self-guided tours imaginable for a brewery, and really quite cool, as well as 3 beers and a free gift - a bottle opener. The tour was cool, and they weren't lying when they say that the Heineken, which a really don't like, tastes best in Amsterdam.

We wandered back to the hostel, about an hour on foot, and had a relaxed avo waiting for the soccer. Decked out in our Aussie gear, and with my newly purchased air-horn, we waited for something to cheer about (besides the 6pm start of happy hour), but unfortunately went down 2-0 to Brazil, and the air-horn remained silent.

Later that night, after being called a racist (Me, Clint, Veronica & Danielle) by a Brazilian, Clint and I went with some Americans to try another of Amsterdam's special pleasures - mushrooms. Conversation went like this:
USA - hey you guys wanna go shrooming?
Clint - huh?
USA - wanna go shrooming?
Clint - huh?
USA - shrooming?
Clint - huh?

You get the picture. Eventually we wandered along for the ride with them, and they bought some stuff that the guy at the counter said gave you 'happy' effects. Well that's what the blackboard said, others gave you energy, hallucinations, viagra effects? After Clint asked if he could get his on a pizza, and was kindly told no, he decided not to have any. Me on a try anything (almost) once binge, decided this was a better place than any, and opted in.

As Clint later said, it looked like I ate the half box (one person share) in record time and I must have been hungry. On the contrary, again the drugs 'tasted like ass' and I wanted to get them put away to avoid a lingering taste. Maybe that can be a new add campaign - 'kids, don't do drugs, they taste like ass'.

Clint ended having a few left overs (there were 2 boxes of 35 grams between 4, with Clint and a couple others looking on) and we took them to the Red Light district. After wandering around for a while, feeling no effects what-so-ever, we headed to a peep-show on advice from Veronica, for 2 euro, a whole lot cheaper than the 45 euro we'd paid for the sex-show.

For those that don't know. 10 booths in a circle, with a window looking into the middle where there is a performer. Expecting a couple, as told by Veronica, we were shattered to see an ugly chick in some form of self-gratification. Walking out, we see that the couples perform on the hour. We had half an hour to kill.

We met Danielle out the front, wanting to go in, but nervous to go alone, so we said we'd take her in. When the hour came up, the bouncer told us to wait, and grabbed 10 minutes later and said the fore-play was over, go in now. Thanks for the heads up! Again it was choreographed, but this time was much more amusing.

See, the windows aren't one way, in fact, you can see the people in the windows opposite yours, and the performers can see everyone! So when you go in a booth with a chick, the male performer gets a bit more interested, and starts being suggestive towards the chick. If he's not suggesting that the people in the booth emulate what's going on on the stage, he spends the rest of the time 'performing' for the rare female audience. It was actually quite amusing.

After we'd dropped enough euros into the booth, we headed back to the hostel via our last slow stroll through the red lights. Back at the hostel, two of the Americans suddenly felt the mushrooms apparently kick in, me still feeling no effect. Then some guy at the hostel informed me that if you have any alcohol in your stomach, it will neutralise the effect of the mushrooms - handy to know that before I bought the mushrooms. I'd just watched Aussies vs. Brazil, of course I had some alcohol in my gut, not a gut full, but certainly not an empty gut.

So, in case of emergency, like the hostel bar shutting, we attacked our stash of Russian vodka and took that downstairs and had a great night. Kicked it in around 4am.

The next day we checked out, and said a welcome goodbye to Amsterdam. There's still some this I'd like to do there, like head to the Boom Chicago improvised comedy show, spend a day at the beach etc., but I was glad to be gone, as was Clint.

We jumped on our train, and headed for the two least interesting days of our trip to date besides a couple highlights.

Firstly, we met Pommy soccer dick heads, some call them hooligans, head first, when they caught the 2pm train with us from Amsterdam, absolutely plastered - and in their 40's.

Secondly, while I snoozed, Clint decided he'd heard the words Dusseldorf station, woke me and we scurried off the train, only after did we realise he'd heard Duisberg, and that is in fact where we were. Some random English/German talking, and we were on another train half an hour later, free of charge.

Hostel in Dusseldorf was okay, but price had gone from 20 to 30 euro because of world cup, even though the nearest town with a game was a 40 minute train ride away. Having said that, the place was packed with people going to the soccer.

Went to pick up rental car the next morning from Europcar, but it was in fact rented through Alamo - Clint had booking reservation, not me. After being told the office was a half hour away by train, we decided to get our bags and head there, rather than drive back to pick them up. I found a new Alamo office on the way back to the hostel, it had been open two weeks, and we got the car through them, an Astra sports-wagon, bigger than we could have hoped.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFziEbwVst4

We opened the car up on the German autobahns, hitting 180km/hr, and still getting over-taken by Porches, Mercedes, BMW's, and even Daihatsu Charades! Incredible, I was happy to let Clint do the driving, besides, I wouldn't trust him with a map!

We got to St. Goar on the Rhine in the avo, and took a ¤10, 2.5hr round trip cruise, up to Boppard, back down to Loreley, then stopping back at St. Goar.

We crashed the night in one of the coolest looking hostels ever. It was a former castle on the Rhine Valley, in a town called Bacharach, and cost less than 20 euro a night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBk8ogBVqqE

Facilities were minimal, it had just one shower in the whole place, but the view was spectacular. As we checked in, we Clint have enough money for the room, so we paid for the buffet dinner, and said we'd sort the accommodation out the following morning.

The next morning, with a different person at the counter, Clint convinced them I had paid, and only he needed to pay. I thought he was gonna try and scam something, the way Clint has been known to do, so kept my mouth shut. Clint honestly thought I had paid, so his conviction was incredible. The girl was so confused behind the counter she let us go with just Clint paying. That's a saving of almost 20 euro!

We spent most of the morning driving, and made it to the border with Switzerland and pulled into the Swiss capital city of Bern for lunch. Really not much to see or do there, and off to Interlarken... Incredible.

Miss you guys,

Michael

Next Issue - Entry 42 - Interlarken: the hidden gem (well not so hidden, everyone seems to go there), paragliding, canyoning, more Socceroos, and a casino - again.