August 2nd – Van Gogh

Woke up this morning to the worst weather I’ve seen on this trip so far. I slept through a (very quiet) lightning storm that was lighting up the skies last night. This morning, the heavens had opened. Ironically, I wanted a shower this morning, but I had to find some shower gel first. It took me almost a whole hour just to find a shop in Amsterdam that sold that sort of stuff!

I wanted to do one main thing today – visit the Van Gogh Museum in the ‘museum quarter’ of the city. Determined to walk there and see more of the city, I travelled to the train station tourist office in the rain, dodging trams and bikes all the way. I was looking for a map, but found that every single map inside the office came with a price tag. After heading back outside, I bought an umbrella for seven euros.

With the tourist office being an ‘epic fail’, I went back to my hotel and picked up a map from the reception desk. The janitor, of all people, gave me directions. Then, I set off walking, and about ten minutes out I accidentally stumbled upon the Amsterdam Flower Market. The market has surprisingly few flowers in it – most products were bulbs and seeds with which to grow your own. I picked up some nice keepsakes from nearby shops though, and continued on my way to the museum quarter. I walked past the Rijksmuseum, and also stumbled across another thing I’d wanted to see – the ‘I Am Amsterdam’ sign that so many people have had a photo with (I just wondered where the heck it was!)

The queue for the Van Gogh museum was just a couple of people short of full-blown ‘ridiculous’. It took an hour standing in the newly-revealed sun before I finally got in, only to then be relieved of my umbrella and hustled through a metal detector. There were two Spanish people in the queue next to me, and I realised I could understand what they were talking about (so it’s nice to know learning Spanish played a part at some point during this trip!) Inside the Van Gogh museum, you got what it basically said on the tin. I learned about Dutch art (they mostly used browns in their paintings, which is why their historic artworks are usually dark and gloomy), and saw some of the Van Gogh classics – the sunflowers, the bedroom in Arles and The Potato Eaters. It also showed you how he got inspiration, and how his work progressed as he matured as an artist.

The higher floors were to do with art after Van Gogh had died. It all paled in comparison to his work (so in essence, since you start on the ground floor, by this point you’ve already seen the best bit), but it was nice to have a little variety. I walked out the museum an hour later into blazing hot sunshine.

The rest of the day was rather relaxed. I went to La Madonna, as I said I would, and had my same onion soup and lasagna that I’d ordered here eleven years ago. The food was really great, but just couldn’t handle the pressure (it was a meal I’d been looking forward to all week!). At the end of the day, it’s still a great place though, and if you ever go to Amsterdam, it’s next to the train station down an alleyway full of shops (about five minutes from the station and the Victoria Hotel – right side).

I went back to the hotel to drop my umbrella off, and the janitor asked me if I’d found the museum okay. I found that I was sleeping alongside two different people in my dorms tonight, but ‘the asian guy who reads books’ is still sleeping below me. I have to jump like a ninja to get on the top bunk – I no doubt wake him up. Oh well – he chose the bottom bunk (probably couldn’t jump high enough). Having performed my own Olympic performance getting onto my bed, I spent a few hours writing up my experiences, before taking a return trip to the flower market, and wandering aimlessly around the plethora of canals.

Canals – There’s a lot of them.

After a few blog uploads, I decided to take another walk around the Red Light District, but I was wanting some food this time. There was a party taking place down a canal, and I went down to have a look. But I was quick to realise it was full of men, with lots of pink flags (remember a film yesterday called Pro Gay?). It was Amsterdam’s Gay Pride Festival. I got outta there so fast, I’m sure I got checked out at least five times. (‘And it felt fabulous’!)

I was humouring the idea of going to ‘Moulin Rouge’ (another infamous sex show / club / thing) but decided against it, as it was probably more of what I’d already seen the night before. I did, however, find a shop that sold marijuana tea, but the people selling it looked ‘well dodgy’, so I gave that a miss as well. Next to it though, I found a Dutch pub, with a dish called Boerenkool (‘Farmer’s Cabbage’) on the menu. It was mashed potato and cabbage mixed together with some herbs, with a giant meatball in ale gravy. This hands down won the best meal of the trip so far. Real Dutch food – all those saying there’s no great national dishes, NO. There were loads of variants of mashed potatoes and beef and carrots and things. It was great to have found genuine cultured food from the Netherlands finally. Indeed, they share similarities with British dishes… but that makes it easier for me to cook when I get back! 😀

Dutch Food – Yummy yummy! Best food of the trip, complete with the essential Heineken, brewed right here in Amsterdam!

I called it an early night, but found that ‘the asian guy who reads books’ was actually on his way home from university, and he stayed in hostels in Amsterdam frequently (hence his lack of enthusiasm!). It was time to rest up – I had a big day for myself tomorrow!

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