Amsterdam

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Amsterdam, Holland.

Amsterdam. The final city in our three city whistle-stop holiday, which sadly was all over far too quickly; both the holiday and our stay in this wonderful city of canals and cobbled streets.

I deliberately chose to go to Amsterdam on a Monday rather than over a weekend, I’m not a party person and the thought of a city full of stag-dos and hen parties was horrifying. I want some semblance of peace and quiet while I holiday and don’t want to be lumped in with the louder drunken English tourist.

All our inter-city travel has been via train, it’s long been my favourite form of travel. Headphones on and gazing out the window as we move through the world is one of the true joys of travelling. I like to take photos through the window as we go, mostly unsuccessfully; a lot of attempts went into a virtual bin to get a couple that I liked. The countryside is mostly flat and rural, I was looking for olde worlde windmills but didn’t see anything other than large modern wind turbines; though there is a beauty in those as well; I’m glad I don’t live near them though.

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We loved Amsterdam, as in Brussels and Gent we stayed outside the centre but within easy walking distance; though we really didn’t do much in the centre, a quick walk through and that was it. We missed all of the central city attractions, mostly deliberately. I’m not that sort of tourist.

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We walked past Rembrandt’s house, I knocked, though he wasn’t in.

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The view from our hotel room in the Jordaan.

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We spent most of our time walking around the canals that fringe the centre of town. Canal side walking was such a joy, just like Gent the inner suburbs were dominated by cyclists and pedestrians. There were cars, but few and they all seemed to give way to those not in tin boxes, it was quite civilised. I don’t recall the constant blaring of horns at any minor inconvenience caused by someone cycling slowly up a cobbled single lane road. The Heineken sign is above the door of my favourite bar of the whole trip.

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One of things that I found very amusing was the number of (often white) vans parked on bridges, I have so many photos with unexpected and unwanted vans in them.

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I took a lot of photos of canals and bridges. Did you expect anything else?

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There were some great houses here, though not all of them were straight. I like the variety of residential architecture in the different European towns and cities I’ve visited over the years; different weather and environmental conditions has led to a different style of building. This makes urban walking so much more interesting.

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I loved these tiny cars, there were a lot of them about, some powered by cranky old petrol engines that sound like they’re held together with gaffer tape and ancient congealed grease and street dust, the newer ones are electric and silent; neither seem to move very fast. I’ve not seen these anywhere else.

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As in Gent and Brussels we found a number of quite chilled cafes and bars (not the ‘special’ kind’) to hang out in, mostly out of the main tourist areas. There was a bar round the corner from the hotel that I spent a couple of hours in over a couple of small beers while I read my book and listened to the dub reggae they were playing. It was the local bar I dream of having where I live but have never found. I guess everything looks better through the rose-tinted glasses of a holiday. On our last night we found a whisky bar that had a nice range of whisky based cocktails, we stayed for a couple; the music was good and they place felt nice; admittedly there weren’t many other customers. Like the gin bar in Gent on our first night this place also had ladderlike stairs going to the toilet, not a place for cocktail wobbly legs.

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When we planned the trip we intended to visit the world renown Rijksmuseum art gallery, but wow, it’s expensive!

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We decided we would visit the MOCO Modern Art museum instead, it was a bit cheaper and was focused on street and pop art rather than the classics. Amongst the Banksy and Warhols they were exhibiting a couple of Stik paintings, the kind of thing you normally see painted on city walls.

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MOCO was in the same precinct as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, another nice part of Amsterdam about 30 minutes from where we were staying.  There were quite a few people here, probably the largest volume of other tourists we’ve seen. A lot of accents and languages being spoken around the coffee and waffle cart tables.  It was nice and I miss that sort of thing quite a lot; I find a joy in being amongst strangers, who have all come to somewhere else to gather a drink coffee. Of course I don’t talk to them, that would be madness.

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All too soon it was time to head back home; a week away was enough to refresh, and enough for a taste of the low countries, but I left wanting more; which is a good thing. Like most other places I’ve visited, I would willingly come back.

The train back to London was really busy and I really should have checked out seats before we left, our view was, um, limited. At least we were near the bar.

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The “sleeper” train

Days 138/139, Monday/Tuesday 21/22 May 2012, Vientiane to Bangkok

Happy birthday mum !

It was a much quieter night last night thankfully so I managed some sleep ahead of the overnight sleeper train ride tonight, though given my poor record I am sure there will not be a lot of sleep happening. I slept in till 8.00 again and mooched around in the coolness of my room after breakfast for the rest of the morning, but I am up to date on emails, blogs and plans are all done – I even glanced at a few jobs sites. And then the internet died again, before I could actually upload the blog post I completed.

I had to check out of the guesthouse by 12.00 mid-day, but the bus to the Thai border and the train station was not until 3.00. I had planned on visiting the last of the key temples in Vientiane and then moving on to the national museum when it re-opened after lunch at 1.00. However with a massive flash and a loud bang the rain came down so I decided to hang out in a cafe instead – and the wifi didn’t work there either. Oh well.

Once the rain passed I wandered up to Sisaket, which houses the oldest remaining temple in Vientiane, the Siamese sacked all the temples with the exception of Sisaket in the late 1800’s
Sisaket had some quite nice frescoes but in a terrible state of repair, though we were not allowed to take photos.

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What it did have that I really liked was a massive collection of buddhas going back to the 15th century in the cloisters, some recovered from other sites and stupas around Vientiane. The bulk of these are small and contained in small niches around the walls, but there are a large number of bigger Buddha figures, some made of wood and some from stone.

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I took a lot of photos…. possibly the last you will see of Buddha figures for a while, maybe ever – who knows.

After Sisaket I went up to the national museum, I had read was largely disappointing and in that I was not disappointed, as it was – largely disappointing. Not a great museum for non Laos tourists – and not even a huge amount of information for the Laos people either. I will say, given the poverty in Laos, a museum is not their foremost priority.

I hung around the GH for a while waiting for my ride to the bus station, to get the VIP bus to the border. This turned out to be van that arrived forty minutes late and took me and some other confused tourists to Thana Leng train station, just inside the Laos border where we joined a large bunch of other tourists and caught a small train across the Mekong and into Thailand.

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Laos – I liked the way the train tracks were in the middle of a road bridge, and they just stop all the cars.

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Thailand

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The ride arrived in Nong Khai before it officially left Thana Leng, where we had an hour long wait for the train to depart for Bangkok.

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I was in a second class sleeper carriage, car no 3. This comprised of two rows of seats that faced each other, that folded down into a single bed, with another bunk that folded down from the wall above. Fortunately – and selfishly, I did not have to share my two seats with anyone so could sprawl in the air conditioning until the train left, which it did nicely on time as well at 6.20 PM.

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The beds started coming down almost immediately, it was far too early for me to even consider considering going to sleep so I drank the two cans of beer I bought at the station and watched the view until the sunset and it was too dark too see any more. The windows were way too dirty to consider pictures – and to be honest it wasn’t all that exciting !

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Once there was nothing to see out the window I popped my current favourite travelling music on my walkman, Japanese post-rockers – Mono and spent the next hour and a half knocking off the last few pages of Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 trilogy. I really enjoyed the books – though cannot explain why, not my normal reading, it was different !

I then spent the next eight hours not sleeping in a train….

We arrived in the outskirts of Bangkok soon after sun up and I was foolishly thinking we would therefore arrive on time at 6.25 AM, but no, ridiculous thought Phil. We arrived in the station at 7.45, having spent most of the preceding hour stopped at various points in suburban Bangkok. I am going to say it is not like the suburban Auckland I lived in.
I decided to stay one night in Bangkok as two sleeper trains in a row is too much for this old man, so before leaving the station I booked my ticket to Chumphon for tomorrow night and then went in search of lodgings. I couldn’t see anything immediately around the station so ended up jumping on the Metro and going to my old haunt the Hostelling International hostel in Sukhumvit. Sadly they are renovating at the moment so I ended up in a dorm room, one night cannot be too bad and at least it is cheap and easy.

As I am in Bangkok and have some nice cheap shopping handy I have decided to ditch a few of my more ‘used’ possessions. I spent the afternoon in MBK mall looking for bright shiny things to buy. My lovely Keen sandals have pretty much given up the ghost, though I am still tempted to get them repaired, though I did grab a pair of $40 Converse sneakers as my new day shoes – when I am not wearing jandals/flip flops/thongs (for the Aussies). I will decide on the Keens tomorrow – they have been faithful friends and I feel bad even thinking about leaving them in the dorm hallway. I am not going to do any more trekking type walking so the day pack I picked up in Miri (Sarawak, Borneo) is goneburgers , it is pretty stuffed and utterly feral even though I have washed it a few times. I picked up another messenger type camera bag that I can use when I am Europe as well as a new wallet.

I loved these shoes in a shop in Siam Centre, reminded me of my days in London in the 80’s.

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I snapped some sticker art as I went.

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I got back to the dorm to find it fairly full, so had a feed and chatted to a young English guy for a while and then went to bed. In the dorm room there is this really weird older (I think) Japanese guy. He was asleep most of the afternoon and kept coming and going for most of the night, when he leaves the room he turns his video camera on – i kept covering it with a flannel. I am not sure what the hell he is doing – but he is one weird dude.

Goodby old friends, hopefully someone will find you useful.

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