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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 02 May 2008

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

MapQueen’s Day

Tuesday I knocked off work at 230pm and headed straight for Southampton Airport for a quick hop down to Amsterdam. I spent just as long getting to the airport, and then as long waiting for the flight, as I actually spent in the air! But in any case, it was just after 8 pm local time when we landed, and we were on a train to Amsterdam Central by 845 pm.

As we came out of the train station, it was starting to rain lightly and there was no tram in sight to anywhere near our hostel. We started wandering towards ‘uptown’ Amsterdam and came across another tram stop so jumped on there. Check-in and straight away leave for a long night of partying. Before 10 pm we were already out in the town, wandering around the sound systems already set-up near Leidseplein. These sound systems were simply stages that had DJ’s and live acts playing on them, and there were half a dozen or so placed in the squares around the city.

We wandered around rather aimlessly, deciding not to buy the Heineken in the street stalls, instead trying to find a bar or two. In the end, we hopped from one bar to the next, having quick half pints served in plastic cups; not so impressive, especially given the costs. Eventually we made our way back into the square, and the way too touristy Bulldog bar and coffee shop. But at least The Bulldog served pints, at a reasonable price, and in a slightly less flimsy plastic cup.

After enjoying The Bulldog, we sat outside at one of the bars that skirted the square, listening to the music coming from the stage and enjoying the table service from the waitresses. We ended up cruising some of the back alleys and bounced from one dodgy pub to another, including the rather scary ‘Plan B’, some what of very dark looking place with thuggish ruggish bone clientele.

On our meanderings, we were vaguely looking for the street markets that had been rumored to be set up during the night and stay there all Queen’s Day. Here you could apparently find a ridiculous outfit for all the days festivities at cheap prices. Unfortunately, we never found the markets. In fact we were repeatedly feeling VERY lost, with the canals arcing around and curving more than is easily realized, we found ourselves walking past the same place on many occasions. Eventually around 3 am we stumbled across the Red Light District, though many of the curtains were drawn back for the evening/morning, and all of the sex theatres and shops were well and truly shut. Potter was enthralled by the whole thing, truly in disbelief at the attractiveness of the ‘workers’.

We started wandering back towards uptown, making a couple more bar stops on the way, before stopping for one last drink at the hostel bar before heading to bed. That was at 430 am…

The alarm was set for 830, and we were up and at it immediately, grabbing breakfast in the hostel before making our way back into the streets. The sky was rather overcast, but the temperature wasn’t too bad. As we walked up the streets towards town, we got our first taste of what the 24-hour street markets were all about as people were setting up rugs and tables on the side of the road, selling anything and everything. It was our first opportunity to buy some silly hats etc., which we did, but it wasn’t just people selling orange stuff for Queen’s Day. We saw people that had made the trip from Asia with more knock off Gucci and Prada hand bags than I had ever seen. But more than that, blocks and blocks of the city was sprawled with some sort of fancy garage sale, with people selling anything they didn’t want to keep around the house. And then there was stuff on sale that was even further out of left field – throw eggs at wooden boards, throw darts at a dart board, and a peep show for 50c! Very bizarre!

As the day progressed, we spent it very much like the previous night, jumping from one bar to the next, watching bands on the stages, laughing as boats collided in the canals, and dancing along in the streets as bands marched along. The drumming bands were incredible, marching along the streets, making the beats as they went along, and the group with the matching white masks covering their faces certainly the best.

Eventually we found an Irish pub that overlooked one of the canals, and sat there having a couple beers watching the boats cruise the canals. And by boats, I mean that barges with 30 people on in, a generator to power the turn tables and mixers, as well as the amp and massive speakers that were on board. Add to that the cases of beer, and it looked like good times for all! Though, I would have added a BBQ, didn’t seem to see anyone with one of those.

As the day went on, we watched as people seemed to wander aimlessly. Everyone seemed to be walking to somewhere, but no one ever seemed to get to any particular destination. For a while we did just follow the crowd, expecting to get to some destination, but in this case, if definitely was all about the journey.

As the evening drew on, and we continued to consume copious amounts of fast food – the crown’s from Burger King got a good work out for a while – we settled down back in Leidseplein to watch the Liverpool v Chelsea match at the sports café next to The Bulldog, whilst listening to the DJ spin tunes on the opposite side of the square. After the game finished, we wandered around a bit more, as the sound systems were being taken down for the evening. Around midnight we started heading back to the hostel, with most of the street vendors starting to pack up. At the hostel, a quick night cap whilst trying to sort out a shuttle bus to the airport in the morning (unsuccessfully) and sleep. I managed about 5 hours, broken due to the fear of missing my flight. Thankfully, on one of the occasions I woke up worried I’d slept through it clicked that my alarm was set an hour later than it should have been… I changed it, and thankfully, made it to the airport with a bit of time to spare. All in all, a good 36 hours, but I think that to really appreciate this festival – which was cool if only for the fact it was full of locals rather than tourists – you need to get yourself a boat, some beats, beer and a BBQ and spend the day cruising the canals.