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Tag Archives: hard rock cafe

Adventures in Amsterdam

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Wonky buildings – the city is full of them

I’m baaaack! Well, if you don’t follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter (and if not, why not? 🙂 ) you probably didn’t even know I was gone. But I was – I was in Amsterdam. Part holiday, part research trip, I spent a few days exploring the city. A city, it seems, with two parts. A smutty part, and a vanilla part. Here’s a brief run down of what I’ve been up to…

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum has recently been re-opened after a huge refurbishment. I hadn’t seen it previously, of course, so I don’t know if it’s any better, but I certainly liked it. I’m not the sort of person that will stand and look and read about every single piece, but I still had a good look round. The absolute highlight for me, being the library. I was under the impression from reading about it that you could only look at it through some glass – not true. You can go right in (on two floors) and look around. It’s huge, gorgeous, old-fashioned and even has free WiFi, which is why I was able to Tweet and Facebook from the very room! Recommended.

House of Bols

Recommended to us by our rep on the campsite (who was very helpful – if you’re reading this, Dan, thanks again!), we headed there after the Rijksmuseum as it’s just a few minutes’ walk away. Neither myself or my other half are big drinkers, but our rep said it was fun. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who goes, so let’s just say it’s more than just a bar – it’s an interactive, fun museum. Then at the end you get a free cocktail and two free shots – though of course they’re not really free as you’ve paid for them as part of your entrance fee. It’s something a little different, and fun, and made us a tad giggly…

Van Gogh Museum

We were still giggly after crossing the road to the Van Gogh Museum so we managed to go right through the place without seeing the famous Sunflowers, so we had to go back down and find it. If you’re really into art and paintings, this place is recommended. It also has works by other artists that Van Gogh knew, I believe.

Hard Rock Cafe

We try and visit this place in every city we go to (though somehow we missed the one in Paris – another excuse to go again next year 😉 ) and Amsterdam was no exception. They’re  not cheap places, by any means, but they do good food and nice big portions, which was nice after a busy few hours. And the staff are always lovely!

Homomonument

We passed this on the way to Anne Frank’s House. It’s a monument for gay and lesbians who’ve been persecuted. It’s simple and pretty, jutting out into the canal. We couldn’t see the whole thing at the time as it was covered in flowers, which I suspect is something to do with a GLBTQ festival that was on recently. An interesting monument, well worth checking out.

Anne Frank House

It’s very difficult to describe this place. You can’t call it fun, nice, good, or exciting. It’s just not appropriate, given the story behind it. It is though, very interesting, poignant, and quite emotional. Despite the fact you go around most of it in a line and kind of have to go at everyone else’s pace, I still found it quite tearjerking. If you’re interested in history at all, this is a very educational and fascinating place, and will probably make you go and buy Anne Frank’s Diary – I certainly did. I’m not saying any more as I don’t want to give it away, but it’s worth visiting. Though make sure you pre-order tickets online before you go, otherwise the queue is huge. We pre-ordered and got given a time, which made it much faster.

Westerkirk

We popped in for a few minutes, intending to climb the tower, but the tours were full as due to the narrow nature, there are limited numbers on tours. We didn’t want to stand around waiting when we could be out exploring other things, so we had to give it a miss this time. I suspect it’s brilliant up in the tower as it’s the highest point in Amsterdam, which isn’t saying much as the place is flat, seriously flat. The church itself is fairly plain compared to some I’ve seen, but is pretty much next door to Anne Frank’s House, so worth seeing if you’re in the area.

The House Boat Museum

We hadn’t really intended to go here, but we literally walked past it on our way somewhere else, so we popped in. Naturally, as it’s a canal boat, it’s not that big, but it’s very interesting to see how everything’s been designed to make it fit. It’s very very cute and interesting, and the man running it seems full of knowledge about house boats in general and how it’s a very expensive undertaking to have one!

One of the bazillion canals, taken from one of the bazillion bridges

One of the bazillion canals, taken from one of the bazillion bridges

Canal Cruise

It’s got to be done – Amsterdam pretty much thrives on its canals, and has more than Venice. The one we went on had headphones so you could select your language and hear the recorded tour. It was a little impersonal, but the man driving the boat was so grumpy I wouldn’t have wanted him to give a tour anyway! It’s interesting to be so physically low down and see what’s around you. I loved the fact that we went right up and around Centraal Station (which is the transport hub) and sailed between that and North Amsterdam on a great big lake. The tour was about an hour and ten minutes and really is a must, especially since it’s pretty cheap.

The Resistance Museum

We had to dash round a little as we got there with just an hour before closing. We saw everything on the ground floor – but aren’t sure what’s up the stairs! What we did see, though, was absolutely fascinating. Again, if you’re into history, this gives a real insight into World War II, mainly from the perspective of what happened in Holland/The Netherlands. I’d definitely go back there again and take it all in more slowly and check out the rest of the place. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Our Lord in the Attic

A clandestine church. In the 1660s, when it became illegal to worship certain religions, this chapel was built on the top three floors of a couple of houses. It’s intriguing, as, like Anne Frank’s House, it couldn’t be seen by the outside world. It’s much bigger than I was expecting, and very ornate, considering it was hidden. The whole idea is intriguing and it’s also slightly amusing that the place is pretty much in the middle of the Red Light District. Again, worth checking out.

Dam Square

It really is pretty much just a square, with buildings all around and a monument in the middle. Like Trafalgar Square, but not as pretty. Madame Tussauds is just off the square, too, as is the Red Light District.

Museum Van Loon

Basically a house museum. A very beautiful building, both inside and out, with lots of very interesting features and a lovely garden. If you’re interested in visiting historical properties, again, this is worth checking out.

American Book Center

For book fans, this is definitely worth visiting. It is, as the name suggests, full of books in the English language, with American versions of the covers – I assume the spelling is American, too. A lovely, higgledepiggledy shop with lots of variety (though a shockingly tiny erotic fiction section – though I found anthologies containing stories from myself and Kay Jaybee, which was very exciting!) and free WiFi. If you’re passing, head on in.

We also went into various bars and cafes (though not of the drug-selling variety – though just walking past them was enough to get you stoned), one of which overlooked an alleyway with the infamous red-lit windows. What we suspect many people didn’t know (thanks again to insider knowledge from our rep), though, was that the “ladies” in that particular establishment were in fact, transsexuals. It was a truly fascinating insight into the Red Light District to sit and watch people going in and out without them knowing. It was great for research! Look out for A Taste of Amsterdam – though of course I’ve got to write A Taste of Rome, first.

The Condomerie - where people mainly stood and giggled. Yes, I was one of them.

The Condomerie – where people mainly stood and giggled. Yes, I was one of them.

The Red Light District itself is pretty much what you’d expect – ladies in the windows in their underwear. The vast majority are not very attractive and are standing there smoking and messing around on their phones. Not sexy. There are lots of sex shops, too, many really tacky places like you’d find in London’s Soho. Thankfully, there were a couple of really nice ones, though the staff weren’t a patch on the Sh! Girlz. I found it really interesting from the perspective of research, but found it horribly seedy, but better from the perspective of the working girls. It’s heavily policed and there are CCTV cameras everywhere. If anyone misbehaves (i.e. football fans jeering and banging on the windows) the girls will whisk their curtains shut straight away. Can’t say I blame them, really.

Overall, it’s a city where you can pretty much do whatever you’re interested in. If you don’t want to see the seedy parts, then you avoid them. It is very confined to one section in the centre. There are museums galore, walking tours, a zoo (we purposely didn’t go this time as we know we’d have spent an entire day there), parks, etc, etc… I did find it much more difficult to navigate than London, Paris or Rome, despite the fact it’s smaller. I suspect the fact there’s only one Metro line (which was closed) didn’t help. Also, there are bikes literally everywhere. Crossing the road is taking your life in your hands – even more so than Paris or Rome as you can’t always hear the bikes coming!

So, that’s a snapshot of the city and what I did there. I enjoyed it and would definitely go back, but Paris still holds the crown for my favourite city in the world… so far.

A Tale of Two Cities

This blog post is hugely, hugely overdue, but things have just been crazy lately. They still are, but I’m writing this post regardless. So… a tale of two cities. Yes, within the last month I’ve been to Rome and London. Quite the jetsetter, aren’t I? Okay, I didn’t fly to London. That would be ridiculous, given I’d be hanging around in airports for longer than it would take me to drive. But, nevertheless, I have graced (*sniggers*) both cities with my presence of late. And although it has nothing to do with writing, I know my fellow travel lovers will probably be interested. So here goes…

ROME

I only had three full days in Rome (the days either end were mainly spent travelling), but still managed to pack quite a bit in, and according to the pedometer App my other half installed on his phone, we walked 20 miles in three days. No wonder my feet hurt!

Here’s the rundown:

St. Peter's BasilicaTuesday – Headed to The Vatican Museum (which was a smart move considering the crap weather). Spent many, many hours exploring, and bemoaning a lack of places to rest. Giggled in the Sistine Chapel at the members of staff going “Shhhhhhhhhhhh!” as loudly as possible – much louder than the noise anyone else was making. Wasn’t the only one leaving the Sistine Chapel and wandering through subsequent rooms saying “Shhhhhhhhh!” Headed out into the rain, then back around the outside of the enormous walls of the city within a city (okay, I technically could have called my blog post a tale of three cities. But it doesn’t sound as good) to St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. Enjoyed pretending I was in Angels and Demons, checking out the tiles on the floor that Robert Langdon uses to solve one of the puzzles. Fortunately, there were no dead people – prefiriti or otherwise – anywhere. Explored the basilica, wondering how I was getting away with spending so much time in holy places without being struck down, saw my first ever Swiss Guard (yes, they really do dress like that!), and then headed back to our accommodation. The marble floors throughout the Vatican, and the hard pavements are really not kind on feet.

The ColosseumWednesday – sunny, hurrah! Very fortunate, since the Colosseum was our first stop, and the place doesn’t have a roof. Breezed right through the queue thanks to our Roma Passes (seriously, if you go, and are visiting more than one place, get one. It’s worth it just to skip the queues and includes Metro and bus passes) and stepped into…. awe. The place is huge, as you’d expect, and despite the crowds, it still seems to have an atmosphere about it. We spotted lizards zipping about the place, eavesdropped on a tour guide and gleaned some information, took loads of photos and generally just wondered what it would have been like back in the day. Not such a  nice place to visit, I imagine.

Lucy Tree HuggingWhen we were done, we headed across the road to the Roman Forum (skip the queues using your Roma Pass again) and Palatine Hill. Again, the place was just incredible. It’s a mish mash of old homes, churches, political buildings, gardens, and much, much more. We spent a good couple of hours here and didn’t see it all. If you’re really interested in ruins and things, you could probably spend a whole day here. Also paused to take a photo especially for Bronwyn Green. See, the tree. As it was, we were hungry and knackered, so we cried off and headed for much needed nourishment… at The Hard Rock Cafe. Yes, it was a little out of our way, but close enough to our next destination to make it worth the detour. My beloved needed the t-shirt for his collection, I needed to eat something that wasn’t pizza or pasta, and we just needed to sit down (argh, the feet!).

The Trevi FountainNo further words are necessary for The Hard Rock Cafe. Okay, maybe a few. Burgers, memorabilia, very full up. Next stop, The Trevi Fountain. Managed to get there despite vagueness of map and some Italian roadsigns which were pointing the wrong way. Risked life and limb crossing the road (try and avoid crossing the road in Rome. Seriously.) and finally emerged into a square packed full of people. Turned around to see what they were all looking at. There it was! Way more impressive than I was expecting, The Trevi Fountain is so much more than a fountain. I was expecting water squirting out of the ground. But no, this thing takes up the entire backend of a huge building and is just a piece of art. You really have to see it to believe it. Or look at my photos on Facebook.

Spanish StepsNext stop, The Spanish Steps. More guesswork involving my map and sense of direction. And we got there, hurrah! Came out at the top of the steps and looked down. The view itself is not particularly impressive, but the steps are, and I found myself comparing the area with Montmartre in Paris. It seemed very arty and had a very laid back, bohemian feel to it. OH and I walked down the steps to see the view in reverse, lots of photos, then climbed back up the steps. Big mistake! If you head towards the Metro station from the bottom, if you go to the right, there’s a lift that takes you up to the top of the steps. Wish we’d known that before, especially since the Metro station is at the bottom, so we climbed the steps, only to get the lift back down. Rather dull, I know, but you’ll thank me for that piece of information if you’re ever there.

From there, back to accommodation. Just as knackered as yesterday, possibly more so.

Ostia AnticaThursday – sunny again, whoop! Didn’t go into the city, but at the recommendation of K D Grace, headed towards the coast and Ostia Antica. OMG. It’s an ancient Roman settlement which used to be on the coast, but due to shifting rivers and falling ocean levels, it’s now inland. Anyway, it was absolutely fantastic. Spent literally hours exploring the place. There’s very little of it you can’t access, and we climbed up steps, stood on buildings, saw complete mosaics, the amphitheatre, bath houses and tons of lizards (sorry, I love lizards). Think I probably scared some people at one point when I smacked my head really hard and turned the air blue, then almost threw up. Luckily my OH was on hand to kiss it better. And my head *sniggers*. Basically, many hours, many photos. Also covered by Roma Pass, and easy to get to using public transport. A brilliant time was had by all.

Sadly, my Roman adventures end here. I’m glad I saw Ostia Antica, despite the fact it meant sacrificing another day in the city. But I’ll go back again some time and see all the other things the place has to offer. I took away lots of photos, experiences, and at least three story ideas, so it’s all good! 😉

LONDON

The Queen, Prince Charles and CamillaVisited to take part in some of the celebrations for the Queen’s Jubilee. Monday night, headed to Hyde Park to watch the concert on the big screens. Pretty good, not all the music was to my taste, but it stayed dry, there was a fun atmosphere and then we ran away before Paul McCartney started making a noise. Tuesday, went to stand on the streets to wave at the Royals as they headed past in their carriages up to Buckingham Palace. Ended up standing pretty much opposite Downing Street. Plenty of men in uniform kept me entertained, while the appearance of one of OHs favourite female newsreaders did the same for him. All the standing around waiting was broken up by an arsehole of a “Cockney Geezer” deciding to pick a fight with me, then getting seriously narky because I stood up for myself. He then pissed off to the pub, leaving me smug, but still with achy feet and knees. So much standing.

Prince William, Kate, and Prince HarryBut… it was worth it! Saw The Queen and Prince Charles with his horse (also known as Camilla – the American girls standing in front of us did not like Camilla), then the lovely Wills and the gorgeous Kate (she really is gorgeous. Hate her. LOL), along with my future husband, Harry. Hey, Wills was my first choice, but he’s taken now, so Harry will have to do. Think him and his mischievous ways would probably suit me better, anyway. 😉 As soon as they passed by, we elbowed our way through the crowds. Some genius decided it would be a good idea to close Westminster Tube station (note for next time guys, why not just station police at the entrances and let a few people down at a time?) so we had to fight our way across Westminster Bridge and use Waterloo station. Back at our accommodation, we got in just in time to see the Queen on the balcony. Headed out to our own balcony to see the fly past in the distance, then quickly back inside again to see it on TV. Then time for some chilling out, some delicious food (OHs aunt is an awesome cook) and back up north.

So, that’s it! Two cities in less than two weeks. All those crowds, and smelly rude people, and I didn’t kill anyone! Aren’t you proud? 🙂