Richard and Weez Excellent Adventure - October 1999...
Wednesday 27th October
On Monday 30th August, Vanessa sent us a wonderful Email and wrote...
"Have just been in for a peek at your web site, must be about time for another goss update from Richard (hint hint)."
How's that for pressure? I'd only updated it three weeks before!! Since then I have felt under enormous strain... ;-) to write something new and exciting but time just hasn't thrown itself in my direction. I have had the most fantastic time over the last three months. We have done so much and unfortunately, I have also forgotten so much of what we have done. So this months update is going to consist of a brief update on a particularly busy last month chasing the Rugby World Cup around England, something of our trip to Amsterdam and finally some ramblings... thoughts I have had (scary!) and found the time to jot down. Bits of this I am writing from recollection, other bits I am importing from My Psion which I wrote at the time of the event... so if things seem a little disjointed... don't worry, I'm not losing it! Given that I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, my recollection may be a bit erratic!
In fact I think I'll start with Amsterdam since my Psion is right here in front of me and it seems to be full of things I don't ever remember writing... but since it's there I must have written it... unless it's suddenly sprung telepathic abilities and I'm rambling already so scroll down...
Well, we're sitting at Amsterdam Airport after a wonderful long weekend. It started on Saturday morning at 3.30am when we got up to ensure we got to Heathrow in time for our 6.40am departure. We had ordered a mini cab the night before to pick us up at 4.40am. We don't often use mini cabs but this time we figured we would rather pay £17 to a minicab driver than £35 to a black cab. How lost can a mini cab driver get trying to find Heathrow after all! We will use a black cab from Heathrow to home this evening because it is almost a certainty that a minicab driver will get lost trying to find our house and we don't want to be sitting in the back seat with the A-Z trying to give directions.
Anyway, we left so early because we got a last minute deal flying British Midland provided we left early Saturday morning and returned late Monday evening... no problem. The plane flight here was perfect... fine weather... smooth flight, in a nice Airbus C320. Hmmm, I'm sure they are the fly by wire planes.
Arriving in Amsterdam, it was a crisp 10 degrees C, beautiful blue sky and clean fresh air. It stayed that way for the whole weekend... fantastic. Making our way into the centre of the city was easy. Amsterdam is a very English friendly city. The people here speak perfect English and just as easily swap to their native language. We caught a train and in twenty minutes we were standing in the Central Train station. We crossed the road outside, minding all the trams and purchased 3 day travel tickets and then set to just wandering the streets until 12pm when we were able to check into our Hotel. Amsterdam is a city of about 800,000 people with a nice small town feel. Off the main streets as we have found in so many of the places we have visited, it is quiet and 'life as usual'. Like scooters in Rome, push bikes are all over the place here. Not mountain bikes or ten speeds, but older 1940's looking bikes built in the 90's. Everywhere you walk you can spot an abandoned bike, wheels buckled, rusting away, usually still chained to its last resting spot.
We checked in to the Hotel Koopermoolen just before twelve. The Koopermoolen is only about 100 metres from the heart of the red light district and 5 minutes walk from the main train station so it is very central to everything that is 'happening' in Amsterdam. For what we thought was a very reasonable £76 pounds a night we got a very nice quiet room which was off of the main street and a very good continental breakfast in the mornings. You would be hard pressed to get a room of this quality in London for the same price. In saying this however, the price is only very reasonable given the strength of the British pound. If we were flying in from New Zealand we would have been paying 225NZD... a lot of money... and we would have been considering sleeping under one of the many bridges in the city! If you make it to Amsterdam, I would recommend this hotel.
Being tired from late nights during the week and an early start we took the opportunity for a Siesta to try and recharge our batteries. Getting moving again at 4pm we made our way across to the Seks Museum for a history lesson. This is one museum that parents, in-laws and the squeamish should pass on! The Van Gough museum may be more appropriate in this instance. After seeing the odd exhibit that even rocked my mind we moved on to something a little more historic, Anne Franks house.
We hadn't intended to visit the house today - we were just going to check out the location and opening time. However, when we got there there were no queues and it was an hour to go before closing time so we decided to go in. Taken from the brochure we picked up...
'Anne Frank was born in the German city of Frankfurt in 1929. In 1933, the National-Socialist party led by Adolf Hitler came to power. The Frank family decided to move to Amsterdam. Amsterdam was a safe haven until 1940, when Germany occupied the Netherlands. Step-by-step the Nazis drove the Jews into a corner. On July 6, 1942, Otto and Edith Frank went into hiding, with their daughters Margot and Anne'
The house and exhibits were very well presented. It would be a shame to visit the house at peak times because you never would have got a feel for what it may have been like for 10 people to be in hiding for all those months, forced to keep quiet during the day to avoid suspicion from the warehouse workers below. We were lucky - there were only about 10 of us in the hiding place as we looked around. I would have gone mad.
'The hiding place was betrayed on August 4, 1944. The people in hiding were deported, and only Otto Frank survived the extermination camps'
The sun was beginning to fade and it was getting colder so we headed on over to a Thai restaurant close to our Hotel which we had walked past and we thought looked nice. After ordering our food, we ordered drinks, only to be told...
'What? Not even wine'...
Aaaarrrrgggghhhh. Coke it was then! As it turned out, the food was OK to fill a gap but nothing too flash.
It was dark by this stage so we thought now might be a good time to explore the red light district. It wasn't hard to find and we set about wandering the streets. We were surprised at how beautiful most of the girls were. Some were very beautiful. We were told that they rent their windows for between 100 and 150 Guilders a day. 50 to 100 Guilders should see you right as a client (although we did see one girl hold up a sign for 200 Guilders... which must have been an extra special service) Louise dragged me kicking and screaming into a couple of dodgy establishments and we ended up in a popular Amsterdam theatre Casa Rosso. We were there for about an hour to see the full show which really was a bit of a laugh, especially with some of the audience participation! After the show, we made our way back to the Hotel.
We slept in on Sunday but got up early enough to make it across to the other side of town for 12.30 to meet up with Mikes Bike Tours. As we left the Hotel, it was apparent something was going on and as it turned out, it was the Amsterdam Marathon. A lot of the streets were blocked off and much of the public transport was not working so we took a nice half hour walk through town. Unfortunately, due to the marathon, the bike tour also had to be called off for the day because much of the tour cut through the marathon route. So, we rescheduled the bikes for tomorrow and decided to visit a couple of museums instead.
First stop, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. Now, Louise's Mum is an art teacher and I've seen some pretty weird stuff come through their house (I've also seen a lot of stuff I like) but I thought most of the exhibits at this museum were absolute crap! Louise summed it up pretty well when she said to me 'You'd need to educate the cleaners pretty well at the museum to make sure they didn't throw out the wrong stuff!'. We had a nice lunch there and moved just down the road to the Van Gough Museum.
I really enjoyed the Van Gough Museum. It has the worlds largest collection of works by Vincent van Gough: more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 letters. The museum also houses an extensive collection of works of art by other 19th century painters and sculptors. But for us, we just viewed the Van Gough exhibition. We each picked up a recorded commentary of the exhibition, something I rarely do, and was glad that I did. The commentary followed the exhibition around the room starting with Van Gough's early paintings right through to one of his last ones, Wheatfield with crows, before he took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. I though Van Gough was an artist for most of his life. As it turns out, he produced most of his work in the space of just ten years... well over 800 paintings, more than 1000 drawings, as well as sketches and water colours. Incredible.
To cut a long story short, Sunday evening consisted of humungous pots of mussels in a wonderful seafood restaurant, hot chocolate and chocolate cake in a coffee shop afterwards.
Monday morning. Last day :-( We had a big breakfast and I wandered on over to the train station to see what the luggage storage facilities were like and to de-stress while Louise continued to get ready... and if you know Louise, she spends a lot of time doing that! There were plenty of lockers left and the facilities looked good so I decided to leave our bags there for the whole day to save us lugging them everywhere. This is something we are increasingly doing as we travel. We have found most train stations to have very good storage machines and I trust a locker controlled by a computer more than hotel staff. Anyway, we finally got away and caught the tram this time to meet up with Mikes Bike Tours again. Mikes Bike Tours provides an entertaining introduction to the Cities sites and the surrounding countryside. We rode through town, stopping at points of interest, into the country past a windmill to a cheese and clog factory and back into town to relax at a local pub. This four hour tour was well worth the 35 Guilders we paid. I am sad that we didn't do it the first day we arrived. If you are a new visitor to Amsterdam, this is one of the first things you should do. You will get far more information from the friendly guides on whatever you want to know (and I mean EVERYTHING) than you will trawling through all the local guides... you only have to ask. One thing I got from the tour was that we missed the most important Museum in Amsterdam... the Heineken Museum!! Arrive early, tickets sell fast. So, that was basically Amsterdam. A great long weekend.
I'm getting a bit tired of writing now and the day is drawing to a close so here is a quick summary of other things I remember we have done. A picture speaks a thousand words, so to cap it all off I will provide a slide show. More work for me but at least it's not writing! (2 hours later... couldn't quite get the slide show working... maybe next week!)
Rugby... Bristol for NZ Vs Tonga, Twickenham for NZ Vs England, Huddersfield for NZ Vs Italy, Edinburgh for NZ Vs Scotland...
Cricket (That was a while ago)... the final day of the final test of NZ Vs England which we one. We only saw two hours but the 16 quid for the ticket was well worth seeing all those England wickets fall...
Shows... Miss Saigon (Brilliant), an open air show in Regents Park with Brian and Susan followed by a BBQ London / Style
Till later, take care
Rich and Loz
It is something both Louise and I have noticed in ourselves now for a while in that it is surprising how much living in a big city like London changes you. I am currently working for The London Fire Brigade and Civil Defence Authority. To get there, I take a couple of tubes to Waterloo Station and from there a Number 77 bus to Albert Embankment. Anyway, back to the point. Today as I approached the bus stop I noticed a whole load of rubbish on the pavement next to the bus stop. In the middle of it was a young guy, possibly 25 or so, obviously been sleeping rough for a fair while, can of bear for breakfast next to him. He wasn't begging as one might normally expect. Instead he seemed quite engrossed, oblivious to the people around him, building something out of the things he had found in the rubbish bin. Just what he was building I couldn't quite figure out... but it seemed to me that what he may have been imagining he was building and what he really was building were universes apart! This guy was prepared too. He had with him a small box, perhaps his only possessions, which contained some coloured felt tip pens, a scrap of paper with what looked like addresses on it, a single gold coin, a few coppers and a pair of scissors. The bus was late so for 5 minutes I was fascinated as he battled to use his scissors to cut the top off of a plastic Coke bottle and then more hair raisingly try and remove the plastic tamper ring around the neck of the bottle. His actions were so awkward and uncoordinated I expected at any minute he was going to slip, cut his wrists and lie bleeding to death on the footpath. Thankfully he didn't, the bus finally arrived and everyone left him building his masterpiece.
The point of all this? A year and a half ago, I would have avoided this person... scissors in the hands of a dodgy looking person could be dangerous. I probably would have felt sorry, wondered how he could have ended up like this, wondered about the world and why anyone ends up like this... and yet today, as with any other day now, I felt little apart from the fascination of trying to imagine what he was seeing in his minds eye. People I pass sleeping in doorways or in the underground now seem as normal as the sun going down... invisible even. Now, to me, it all just is...
This piece I write about a month after the previous paragraph. We are in Bristol this weekend to see NZ play Tonga in the Rugby World Cup. Bristol is a city of about 400,000 people - much smaller than London. In the period of half an hour we were begged by more young people in the centre of the city than we would be in a whole day at London. The one beggar that epitomised this whole thing for me was the one who was begging right by the window of an employment agency. This agency had loads of jobs in the window. Sure many of them required skills but there were also many semi or unskilled jobs all paying over the minimum wage in this country. The work is there - I guess it is just how badly one wants it. Perhaps he saw begging as his job and both our perceptions of work are worlds apart... a view that seemed to be shared by George Orwell in his book 'Down and out in Paris'
I'm sitting in Hyde Park at the moment, here to experience my first total eclipse of the sun... well from here we will get a 98.7% eclipse but that is close enough for me. The strange thing is the rest of London seems totally oblivious to what is happening right above them. The park is not crowded, people are sitting reading, biking by, walking as if they don't know or just aren't interested? I don't know. Well, if they don't know now, I guess they will at 11.11 when I'm hope it is going to get pretty dark. Right now, it has only just started.
I bought some glasses to view it through on Monday. Yesterday, most of Louise's workmates decided they were a good idea, so off I got sent to get seven more pairs from WH Smiths... which were all sold out. So from Finchley Road, I disappeared back into the tube to surface again at Baker Street and get a message from Louise that everywhere is sold out... apart from a supermarket at Goodge Street. So, back into the underground to reappear at Oxford Street because the coordinator assured me that if I surfaced there I would just be able to walk across to the right end of Goodge Street. As is turned out, I was at the wrong end so a short trek pursued.
Arriving at the supermarket, I was half expecting a frenzied sale on the little cardboard goggles. The only frenzy going on was the usual battle of office workers buying their microwave meals for the evening and trying to get through the checkout as fast as possible. Sat alone in the corner I found a box of the tracked articles. No one paying any interest to them except me... until I picked a hand full of them up and took them to the checkout where I received more than one strange look! Mission accomplished.
Well, that's it! The Park did suddenly fill with office workers as the eclipse approached near totality, where suits and the rest of the city shared their glasses and pinhole devices for a few short minutes. It didn't get dark as I had hoped. It did however fall strangely cold, and the light faded to a level of something close to mid evening. Just something didn't seem right. Although the light resembled evening, the shadows from the trees were in the 'wrong' place... quite eerie. I think for the full effect, you would want to be somewhere where you get the Full Monty. The sun is so intense that the extra 1.3% of coverage that we didn't get was still enough to provide plenty of light. So, plans are now in motion to visit somewhere overseas where we will get to experience totality... after all... the next one here won't be around for eighty years or so... neither will we no doubt!