Once again I am writing a blog post in the train. We are heading to Cologne from Brussels. Since it is a high speed train we have assigned seats and there was a bit of mix up because someone else had taken one of our seats. It appears Dennis and I bought the tickets for 19th of JULY instead of 19th of JUNE (the controllers must have laughed very hard at 2 stupid Canadians). At least we were offered to buy a NEW ticket at a slightly higher price instead of paying a fine and our original tickets are reimbursable… Back to the subject; Belgium.
The original plan of visiting Belgium consisted of visiting Brussels… However, some people told us smaller Belgium cities were well worth a visit. 20E train ticket took us from Amsterdam to Antwerp or Antwerpen as they say.
Once out of the train we headed to meet Randi who we met through CS (read more about CouchSurfing here).We took a tram but weren’t sure where to buy the tickets so we didn’t. Apparently if you get caught in a tram without a ticket you’ll have to pay a fine of 75E or so, we got lucky. As we were told later, the ticket control happens on very rare occasion – I guess this shows that Belgians are honest.
We met Randi and her family and we were invited to their friends’ BBQ the same night and so we went. People were very welcoming and friendly, the food was amazing, all in all our first night in Belgium was very memorable.
The next day Randi and her boyfriend Gregory took us around town. Antwerp is a small yet very charming city with lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs, historic building, a beatiful cathedral and few very interesting monuments ans statues.
After supper at home we went back to the center to try some Belgian beers. At first I was surprised that a lot of women drank beer since in Canada ladies usually prefer cocktails but when I tried Belgian beer I understood it all. You see, Belgium is known for its beer and they produces so many kinds and varieties of different tasting brews that every single person would be able to find at least one beer they like. Needless to say, I liked them all.
The next day Randi and Gregory were leaving to Latvia so Dennis and I decided to move on to Ghent and Bruges. Our plan was to see both towns in one day and we’d have leave Antwerp rather early. Of course we overslept and when we finally woke up we realized it was impossible to visit both that same day.
Gregory gave us a train pass to faciliate our traveling. Train ticket prices vary quite a bit in Belgim and Gregory gave us a 10 ticket pack (with 5 tickets still unused). The 10 pack usually costs 50E, so 5E per trip. Buying individual tickets at a train station normally costs from 6E to 15E so if you are planing on taking a lot of trains in Belgium – head for the 10 ticket pack.
We finally arrived to Ghent at 4pm or so and went looking for some food. I was suppose to meet Mihai, a friend of mine (whom I first met when I visited Bucharest) but as he was at work until 7pm, Dennis and I had a lot of time to kill. Ghent is another relatively small city however, it was very different from Antwerp. We found one of the main squares, had some cold beers while sitting on the bench and just enjoying life. Europe felt good.
Later on we decided to see the town a little more so we walked towards cathedrals, as we noticed usually where there is a cathedral – there is the city center. We were right. The whole historic center of Ghent seemed to be under construction and restoration. While admiring the old Architecture we noticed a huge screen on which a football match was broadcasted. People were sitting on the ground, drinking beer and cheering, once again, Europe felt good. This is something that is hard to explain and as they say one image is worth 1000 words… I guess one video is worth 1000 images? And those who visit Alex Traveling Facebook page have seen the video.
We finally met Mihai, took our luggages to his flat and went out to have a few beers. Of course when East Europeans meet, it never stops at just “few” beers. The drinks kept on coming, we kept on talking to people and eventually it was the closing time. Instead of going home we went on to another bar; Peanuts. It seemed like a pretty popular place to go in Ghent; full of people drinking, dancing, having fun… Eventually, somehow, we got home and as you can imagine the next day none of us was in the mood to do anything, so we had a lazy day, staying at home and planning the rest of our Euro trip. Unfortunately Mihai couldn’t have a lazy day and spend his day at work.
When Mihai came back we cooked some “Patates a l’ail”, had supper and went out to see the city, or at least some parts of it. Ghent at night looked very nice and a lot of people were out, terraces were very lively and people seemed to have fun. We walked around the center, had a drink on one of the terraces (no one felt like repeating the previous night’s experience) so we took it slowly. We were surprised to see “Amsterdam’s Red Windows” in Ghent… Not many people know, just like in The Netherlands, prostitution is legal in Belgium. And just as in The Netherlands, Belgians try to centralize such activities to one small part of the town – hence the red district.
Thursday we left Ghent and headed to Bruges. Not because we have seen the movie but because a few people referred to it as “Venice of the North”. I have never been to Venice so I can’t compare however, we were more than glad that we decided to visit it. Bruges is very calm and very beautiful. Narrow streets with old houses where one car can hardly pass add to the charm of the city. The main square was surprisingly full of people. Mostly tourists, of course. Unfortunately Bruges is pretty small and could be visited in a few hours, so a few hours later we were on our way to Brussels.
Brussels is another story and it deserves its own post, which I will write as soon as I get the chance. For now, keep in mind; Belgium is not just Brussels, Belgium is Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and many other beautiful cities. When you visit this country, make sure to visit at least a few cities which are all different and charming in their own ways.
Amsterdam offers great nightlife, especially from Thursday to Saturday. Leidseplein is one of the best places to check out if you want to go for a meal or a drink. The Leidseplein square is full of restaurants, cafes, bars, pool rooms, coffeeshops… and of course the famous Boom Chicago is situated right there. As we were passing by we were handed a flyer inviting us to see a comedy show at Boom Chicago, we were hesitant and the promoter (the gir was from Alaska, how cool is that?) offered us a discount. Instead of 24€ we were offered to pay 15€ which will also include a free beer, so we went for it. I haven’t laughed so hard in a VERY long time. Very, very long time.
If you are in Amsterdam – visit Boom Chicago and go see their Comedy show. It’s a must. It is worth mentioning some of the SNL cast also started at this comedy club! Later on, after the show you might be handed a coupon offering a free shot, we went for “Death by Jager”.
Next stop – the Rembrandtplein. A big change of atmosphere from the Leidseplein. This place if full of clubs, dance pubs, coffeeshops and they party until dusk. If you are into clubbing scene, Rembrandt will make you jump with joy.
Coffeeshops in this area are much more fun; full of people, they serve alcohol and overpriced food. Oh, don’t eat there, their food is bad.
After spending 6 days in Amsterdam we decided to move on to Belgium. Of course we went out the last night but we didn’t want to go hang out with all the tourists and loud crowds of Rembrandplein and Red Light District, so we found a small bar right next to where we were staying. Bar BLAZE was empty when we went in but the music was good and the bar seemed cozy, smoking was also allowed inside. We got a few beers from Georgia, very friendly and good looking young lady running the place. Then we had more beers, after she offered us some shots and some more shots – it was a great night after all. All this to tell you that small bars could also be fun!
Amsterdam is well known for its drug culture and legal prostitution… well, both things could be found in other cities all over The Netherlands. When you come to Amdam – come for other great aspects of the city.
Getting around Amsterdam… Everything is walking distance. This could mean 30-40 minute walk, but usually in 20 minutes you’ll be where you need to be. Taking trams is not cheap, 2.6€ per ride although you can purchase tram cards that offer unlimited rides for 24-48-72 hours, costing 7€, 11.5€ and 15.5€ respectivly. Taking a cab should be out of the question; 7.5€ once you get it, although this includes first 2 km. Renting a bike is one of the most efficient ways of getting around and you can get a bike for under 10€ per day.
Let’s begin with museums… Reijmuseum should be your first stop. It costs 12.5€ to get in and if you haven’t visited Reijkmuseum – you haven’t visited Amsterdam. The museum is dedicated to promote the history of at some point, European trading capital. The war with the Spanish, the Chinese influence – it’s all there. Even if you don’t like museum this one is still worth going to. If you really really dislike museums, go to a coffeeshop first and then still visit Reijkmuseum.
The Van Gogh museum is another cultural discovery for many. The name speaks for itself. We didn’t visit it this time because I have passed a few hours in it back in 2008. I was a little upset because many paintings are not Van Gogh’s but rather from painters inspired by Van Gogh – still worth a visit.
Anne Frank’s House is a museum that many go to see, if you don’t mind waiting in a long line than you might want to check it out.
The famous canal tours… I think there are several dozen different boat tours in Amsterdam but we opted for something rather special; The St. Nicolaas Boat Club of Amsterdam. Group of people running this club offer “free” canal tours on their old boats. The goal and purpose of this boat club is to perserve and restore old boats (some are almost 100 years old). They need money to keep these babies afloat, eventhough the tour is free – a suggested donation of 10€ will be more than appreciated. The tour is about 1 hour long and if you go, try to get Neil as your tourguide – fun guy who knows Amsterdam very well.
One of the original Heineken breweries offers inside tours where you will learn quite a bit about one of the world’s most known brands. Unfortunately it is no longer a functional brewery and you will not see beer beeing brewed, however they will explain it to you, show it to you and you’ll even experience what it’s like to be brewed (I won’t tell you more, just go and experience it). The 15€ entrance fee also includes a lesson on “how to properly drink beer” (beer included) and 2 extra beers at the end of the Heineken Experience tour. Sure, Heineken is not the best beer in the world but since you are visiting Amsterdam – visit the brewery.
There are many local markets from Monday to Saturday where you could buy cheap clothes, fresh vegetables, fruits and meat and very tasty Dutch vaffels. If you don’t feel like spending any money at all – a simple stroll around the Vondelpark or along the canals is also great. Amsterdam is a beautiful and interesting city.
Before I forget, DO try the marinated herring. The word “delicious” would be an understatement!
This post is going to be a little bit of a taboo, so if you don’t want to read about drugs and prostitutes, please do yourself a favor and skip this post.
A lot of websites offer lots of info on these subjects but a lot of them are outdated, this post in recent (summer 2010) so here it comes…
Smoking weed is pretty much tolerated anywhere in town… most terraces allow it, a lot of people smoke it on the street, of course inside the coffeeshops and some regular bars also allow smoking marijuana. Selling pot outside of coffeeshops is illegal… and simply not worth it. “Street dealers” (and you’ll see a lot of them in the Red Light District) would not sell cheaper than coffeeshops, you never know the quality of the product they are selling and you are running the risk of getting caught by cops, so please, use coffeeshops.
Prices vary from 4€ to 18€ per gram, all depending on what you are looking for; weed, hash, energy, relaxation…etc. Legal limit of marijuana that you could have on you is 5 grams, coffeeshops aren’t allowed to sell you more than 5 grams as well…
Many harder drugs are illegal, however not all. For example, magic mushrooms got banned in 2008, so now people are selling magic TRUFFLES, which do not fall under the mushrooms category and therefor are completely legal. Smartshops (that sell magic truffles and other soft drugs) are not as easy to find
Red Light District Window Shopping
And now about the famous red light window girls… a 3 minute walk from the Central Station will bring you to hundreds of red windows that feature half-naked ladies from all over the world… super skinny, overweight, Eastern European, Asian, African, top-model-looking, ugly as hell – all of them are here.
Many guys are wondering about the prices of the Red Window services… well prices have been stable for a while now, 50€ for a s&f (suck and f*ck). This will usually happen in 15 minutes or less. As far as my “research” goes, the prices are non-negotiable and pretty much all the girls charge the same price, regardless of how they look. When entering a window, you need to however discuss all the details in advance; what exactly is offered as service, where can you touch, etc… Another option is “privéhuizen” or “private house”. It’s basically a brothel where you can chose a lady to your taste for a private session. These places suppose to offer a better service and lower rates (something like 50€ for 30 minutes) however the ladies might not be as good-looking as the ones in the Red Light District. Regardless of where you go, condoms will be provided.
From time to time you might stumble upon a “street-lady” offering her services, but just like it’s recommended to buy the herbs at coffeeshops it is also recommended to stay away from these “street workers”. Prostitution in The Netherlands is legal, however it is being monitored and the ladies pay taxes, this is why, I think, street-action is illegal.
Another thing you might be interested in is Sex Shows. Quite a few places in Amsterdam offer LIVE sex shows which could be worth checking out. Try Cassa Rosso (rated #1, tickets @ 30€) or you can also check out the Moulin Rouge which is second best but also comes with a lower price tags and you could try to bargain with the promoter at the door for an additional discount.
That is all that comes to my mind right now, if you have any questions on the subject of drugs/sex in Am*dam, feel free to leave a comment right under this post.
At the moment of writing this I am relaxing by the water at the Vondelpark park located right next to Museumplein, probably one of the most beautiful parks in the country. Loads of people are walking their dogs, biking, sunbathing, smoking pot and two homeless-looking guys near by are listening to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” – the atmosphere is great.
So let’s start from the beginning. If you are flying to Amsterdam, there are a few different ways of getting into town from the Schiphol airport. There is always a taxi cab at about 40€ and it takes about 30 minutes to get to town. There is also a shuttle bus at 15 € and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the center of Amsterdam, the shuttle comes every 30 minutes.
Now, the fastest way of getting into town is also… the cheapest way – train! The “inter-city” train comes every 10 minutes, takes only 15 minutes from the airport until Amsterdam’s Central station and costs… 3.80 € . I think I made a mistake and bought a wrong ticket (Amsterdam L instead of Amsterdam Centraal) so the ticket actually cost 2.80 € . There were no controllers in the train, however I would strongly suggest to PAY for the ticket and not risk getting a hefty fine from an occasional controller that might pass by.
Best way of buying a ticket is probably buying it at the YELLOW stand that sells tickets. The stands at the luggage carouselles in the airport only accept credit cards, however once you passed the duties, there are more vending machines in the terminal that also accept E coins. Please note, they don’t accept any paper bills; only coins or credit cards. If for whatever reason you decided to pay for the fare with a bill – get ready for a LONG wait at the lines for the cash.
Once in Central Station, Dennis and I decided to walk down the “centrum” streets and to check out the city beore heading to the place where we’d sleep for free (more on that later). Since we flew from Canada, Amsterdam’s 10 am meant 4am for us (Montreal time), so we bought a few cans of beer and drank them on a bench. (We later found out that drinking alcohol on the streets is not permitted in Amsterdam; we’ll know better next time). Even at 10 am there were girls in the red windows and people were smoking weed on the streets and in the coffeeshops… Amsterdam might not be a city that never sleeps but it definitely wakes up early!
After a beer we had a coffee on a terrace not far from Dam square… when we finally sat down, started enjoying our coffee and looking at thousands of people passing by bikes, mopeds and scooters – we started realizing that we’re finally in Europe. Another interesting fact (something that would never happen in North America), you only pay when you’re ready to leave… No one asks you to pay for your beer or a coffee in advance! Tips are included in the final bill, but feel free to add an extra tip when you’re leaving, usually 0.5E-1E would be more than enough. By the time we finished the coffee it was lunch time and we were starting to get hungry… We headed towards our “hotel” and picked up a Doner Kebab sandwich for 3 € . It was very delicious. One suggestion here – try to stay away from Kebab places located smack downtown, the food is overpriced and doesn’t taste that good. Walk 5-10 minutes West of Dam Square and you’ll find much better food 40-50% cheaper than downtown.
One last tip for those who are planning a “budget” trip to Amsterdam. The accommodations here aren’t cheap. About 60€ and up for a 2 star hotel, 20-30€/person for a hostel (where you share the room with 6-8 other people) but there is a cheaper way to travel! www.couchsurfing.org is a non-profit service/website/community where people from all over the world welcome you to their home FREE of charge. However, you have to be friendly and respectful… although it is free to stay at someone’s place, it costs them money (electricity, water, food if they feed you) so if you do use couchsurfing – try to help out a little, buy some food, maybe some beer…
This is exactly how Dennis and I are visiting. Alessio accepted our CS (couchsurfing) request and well – we’re sleeping at his place! His brother Alexandro and Vaio, sheppard-like dog live here as well. Alessio is very welcoming and nice, he makes us coffee in the morning, sometimes he takes us around town to show around and so on!
Well that’s pretty much all for the first day of Am*dam, more to come later!