Kiri and


The city of water-retaining ‘amsters

May 6th, 2014 (by Steve)

Since starting this trip, we’ve viewed campsites as easy options for overnight stops; you pay a bit more for the convenience of it all. You certainly don’t expect to have to be towed by a tractor, or be hit by a flying duck in the middle of the night. We experienced both of these things at the Fawlty Towers of campsites outside Amsterdam… but strangely enough, we’d still recommend it as a good spot for seeing the city!

A short walk along a dyke followed by a couple of short bus journeys and we were in the heart of Amsterdam. We had heard many stories about this city and what it was like, but we wanted to make our own minds up about it. The best way to get the lowdown? A free walking tour. I’ve been on several of these walking tours before in Munich, Riga and Budapest and because the guide’s only payment is tips at the end, its in their best interests to make the tour engaging, informative and humorous. This one was with the same company that operates the Munich walking tour and our guide was a local Dutch guy (who’s also a drummer!); Robbert van Hulzen, who succeeded on all 3 counts.


The tour took us on a historical tour of Amsterdam, taking in places such as the location of the first multinational company in the world, the house of one of the oligarchs who ruled the city, the controversial red light district, the “coffee shops”, a gated community of single females, the house of Anne Frank, a cheese shop, finally ending up in the slightly Bohemian Jordaan district. All the while, Robbert was talking honestly and candidly about his city, his country, his people and their outlook on life and living with others. The main philosophy that we heard about many times spoke of tolerance, acceptance and support within a city full of diversity.


On the surface, this approach to life seems great and indeed it’s this way of living that has allowed Amsterdam to be a place of refuge for many people over the years. It also led to a general strike when the Jews were being rounded up in WW2; neighbours putting aside differences and uniting against the Nazis. However, Robbert was very sensitive in also revealing the darker side to this openess. Apparently without the openess and co-operation with the Nazis when they were an occupied city, far fewer Jews may have died. The “coffee shops” (establishments licensed to sell cannabis) sit in a very complex place in the legal system; what they are providing is a decriminalized product, yet the growing and the procurement of said product is still illegal. And then there’s the red light district. It’s a jarring place. My mind couldn’t process that the mannequins were in fact human. I can accept that it is a safer place for prostitution than where we saw it in Spain; on the sides of main roads. Yet I still can’t get my head around it.

I’m in no position to judge how someone lives their life… in fact I don’t think any human has that right. So I can see where the acceptance philosophy fits in, but how do you avoid the dark side (without being a Jedi?!)? I think the first step is love for others (in a brotherly sense of the word), but I don’t know what the next step is. Is it possible to express sadness at what you perceive may be a damaging way of living without that sounding like judgement? Is the mere action of perceiving something to be a damaging way of life an act of judgement? Most people have an idea of the concepts of right and wrong… how do you reconcile differences between those moral codes though? Too many questions. Not enough sufficient answers. Amsterdam (and Robbert) have got me pondering further on topics I’ve been grappling with for many years.

All that pondering aside, Amsterdam really is a cracking city. It’s a bit like a stack of stroopwafels; it’s got so many layers. It’s not just a party city. It’s not just a city built on international trade. It’s not just a cultural and artistic hub. It’s so much more than all of that and I don’t think that a short visit like ours got to the toffee centre, although we did see some beautiful details.


Just when we thought Amsterdam (and the campsite) had given all they were going to in our short time there, there was one more little nugget. Another Talbot Express motorhome. Not just in Amsterdam. Not just in our campsite. Parked right next to us! Sadly they were just coming and we were just going, so we didn’t get to talk to them, but still, it’s ANOTHER TALBOT EXPRESS!!! I’m going to try to calm down and have a cup of tea and a stroop wafel now.

All posts about Netherlands

Cheesy clogs

The city of water-retaining ‘amsters

What’s the Dutch for “Sikaflex”?

Jousting and windmills

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