Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Day at The Hague

Ah, The Hague. A city with its very own article. You have to love a city that is so sure of itself that it's not Hague. Oh no – it's The Hague. Imagine being from The San Francisco, or The Toronto. Or, just for fun, The Mexico City. There can be no others.

Yes, The Hague (and don't you forget to capitalize) is a place that most of us have heard of. If only because every time there's a war criminal on the television, they end up in The Hague. I used to think that it was a place. A jail. A court room. Nope – it's a city. And if you're in Amsterdam, one that is definitely worth the trip.

For less than twenty euros I managed to grab myself a ticket across the country. Well, alright, not that far across the country. But I ended up in another major city: living in Canada has really messed up my sense of location, on a world scale.

When I got there, my first move was to find the tourist information office, located ten minutes from the central station. But fear not, future travellers, there is no worry here because many sign posts point out the way. Once there, you'll be offered the purchase of a number of maps, and walking tours of the city. Please – who wants to by a map of a city that you can see all of in under three hours? So go straight to the The (c-c-c-combo breaker) Hague magazine and rip out the last page. Don't worry, this is the one free thing in the whole place. I think. Well it was free for me, and no one chased me out.

Now in your hand you have a delightful map of the downtown area. Now, let me tell you all the places you need to see, in order to say that you've “done” this city.

Step one, march on over to the art gallery with Girl With a Pearl Earing. If you like art, you can even go inside and explore the gallery. Otherwise, you can simply enjoy the giant banner of it hanging from the outside. Or, you could just enjoy one of the numerous replicas around the city, and in the brochures. Still – you can't really say you've seen it, unless you've seen it.

I have not seen it.

Next, skip through the giant arches to check out the political seat of power for the country. It's an odd thing – because the seat of government is not in the capital. You know what other country should try something like that? Canada. Yeah, you're cute Ottawa – but we all know that Toronto is where the life is. Or just for kicks, make Quebec City our capital and watch those French try to declare sovereignty then!

Once you've taken a picture or two there, you can move on. You're going to want to walk up up up. Stop at the palace, take a picture of it standing on the blocks under the tree for some delightful framing, and then walk further north to the Peace Palace. This is where all those nasty men and women get put on trail, and ordered to who knows where.

Yes, the Peace Palace. What's not to love? It's gated off. It's hard to book a tour. It's full of tour buses. What a magical place! On the other hand, you can see the World Peace Flame. It's a little eternal flame that has rocks from every country in the world surrounding it. Yup, it's the first time every country in the world has ever gone in on one project together. So my question – why is the flame so ridiculously small? Ahh – the flame represents our hope for world peace. Yes, I understand now.

But then, what if a new country is formed (come on Tibet! Lets go Taiwan!) there's no expansion room to add these new rocks. Ohh well, they're cut. On the plus side, Canada has a pretty spectacular red and black rock in the works. And then you look at portugal, who have arranged 9 cubed rocks. They form a checker board. Ohh I'm sorry Portugal, didn't you understand? ONE rock. But they didn't want to be rude, so they added them all. Way to go seat of Government in Portugal. What will the citizens be like under such rule? And showoffiness!

O.K. so you've seen those big four things. Head back down to the tourist center, walk up the street a bit, and walk through “The Passage.” Yup. That's what they've named their shopping arcade. The passage. Because it's a passage. If you look at the names of other buildings in the Netherlands, or paintings here – you really start to realize how lazy these people were. They need to hire some Australians to add more flavour. "[The Passage]; that's a silly name. I was going to call [it] chizzawuzzas.”

The passage will also lead you right back to the central station. Convenient!

But wait – stop in at a McDonalds first. You'll never forgive yourself if you don't try a McKroket. Yes, I do love sampling local treats at various McDonalds, and this is one not to be skipped. It appears to have been a friend patty stuffed with mashed potatoes and steak, covered in horsey sauce. It's an Amsterdam specialty, and not to be missed.

But don't give up your 25 euro cents to the mean old dungeon keeper at the washroom. Seriously – how does a whole continent say it's ok that people charge them to pee? What we're paying for the lady to keep things clean. I tell you what – I'd stage my own protest. Sure, I'll pay your fee – but you're gonna damn well work for it!

But no – I will not pay, so what did I do? Did my pants require a good washing afterwards? (well they do – but not for that reason. Shirts, I can change every few days... but the shorts. The poor poor shorts.) I simply went to a Burger King. They have free washrooms, like the whole world should have! Are you listening Europe?! Washrooms should always be free! Especially if you're a paying customer – McDonald's. Do you hear my ire McDonald's?!


And then it was back on the train, returning to Amsterdam.

The Hague: been there, done that, almost bought the postcard.

Marijuana is Illegal

You know, you try to tell people that marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam, but they never listen. Did I not write it on my first entry? I'm pretty sure I did. But, no, people say – the movies say it's fine. And people smoke it in the coffee shops all the time. What could possibly go wrong?

Well the thing is – the police will let things go if it's good for the economy, good for the people, and safe. And hidden. That's the important part. There's a reason that they're called coffee shops and not marijuana dens.

But, last night as I was walking home, I saw two people in the streets smoking up. This was unfortunate because I was walking in the safe wake of two police officers. These two offices, having the same field of vision of myself, also saw the two tokers.

The police had a nice close talk with these two gentlemen, reminding them that there was laws in this city. They also asked who sold it to them, where they got it. I guess one answered correctly, because he was sent on his way, looking sheepishly over his shoulder at his buddy who was being led away in handcuffs.

I can only assume he answered wrong.

Remember kids: Marijuana, only legal in some South American counties, and India – provided you buy it legally, and use it for religious purposes.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Delayed Delayed Train Post

A Day at the Museum

Now, in reality I don't under value this point, but I can see how it may come across in my writing, as if I do. Amsterdam, is the first city I have been to that actually “feels like somewhere else.” Yeah, Scandinavia was great and all, but I kept feeling as if I could round the corner and find myself at Yonge and Dundas square, just in time for whatever ridiculous festival they had going on to close down the summer season. But here – here, I feel that I could walk for hours and never see a single thing reminiscent of anywhere remotely close to home.

It's a feeling that is at once alienating, and encapsulating. I am part of nothing, and because of that I am part of something. I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty peachy. The city is one giant geometric shape that I still haven't managed to wrap my mind around, and try as I might to explore outside the inner canals, I haven't managed to find my way out there. And not for lack of trying either. It's just that I somehow have managed to lose myself in this 2,5 KM in diameter city.

Today, the effort will be made to finally get to the rumored parks that lie just beyond Nassaukade. Why, I've been told there's a Vondelpark that is spectacular. Though how spectacular anything an be under these blanks of grey skies is beyond me right now. I knew as I watched the blue overhead, stuck on my most delayed train, that that would be the one day of nice weather. I hoped against it, but – you know – that's just how it is some times. Every now and then, the weather gods smile upon you, but more often than not they hate you, and want you to remember that fact. Lest we forget, and what not.

But my first mission for today will be exploring the Anne Frank house, as I have mentioned a number of times previously. I've built it up, so – in theory – it could end up crashing down in a pile of disappointments, but I'm thinking it won't. Somehow, I reckon that if the ghosts of old vikings were enough to stir me to feeling in Oslo, those that roam this property should be quite evocative.

Ahh – in yesterdays post, you may have noticed our most excellent tour guide posing beside what looks like a metal rhombus. Is that the right word? A rhombus? He's standing beside a giant metal four sided object that is not a square. Let us just leave it at that, and move on to the question of just what it is. They can be found in most 90 degree corners. What could they be, do you think? What are they for? They're slanted. They have other slates coming up at random angles?

That's right! They're so if you feel like peeing in the corner on the way home from the bar, said piss will come splashing back all over your pants and your shoes, and everything else within a terrible terrible splash zone! How ingenious. But then where do people offload their urine when they are in the most dire of situations late at night?

There are these green cylinders that you walk into in the middle of the street. Trust me, you'll know them when you smell them. There, you simply stand inside and go onto the ground. Yeah – that's right – some cities have pits, or constructed toilets, or even those standing urinals like in London. But here? Nope – get inside the green cylinder and pee on the ground. Why not, yeah? Because if you value your shoes, you'll stay far away.

Apparently 200 women dropped their pants and started to pee off a bridge in an act of protest, some decades ago – as they wanted their own. So the city agreed, and built large yellow cylinders for the ladies. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of sexual assault, and therefor they were shut down in the seventies.

Fun fact – a good game, while drunk, if you're a local is picking up bikes that are not securely locked to anything, and chucking them in the river. What fun. The game enters play, as you need to see whom, yourself, or your mates, can make a bigger splash in the water.

Well, once again there was little to no exploring. After the Anne Frank museum, it was raining. Not a big rain – but rain enough, to send me straight (well not exactly) to the library to test out my brand new North America to European plug converter which will actually fit in the sockets here. Works like a charm. For the next two months i can charge batteries, and use my computer at the same time! Magical! I'll have to buy a new one for the other countries too though. Ohh bother.

Despite the rain, it did cause me to write a haiku:

The raindrops fall
like snowflakes caught in an
early winters breeze

That's enough of that now. So after the Anne Frank house, I went to the train station to book passage out of this crazy place. I took a number, after being told I could use the self serve ticket machines to book my own ticket. I knew this was a lie, but I grabbed the number anyway. By the time I had finished explaining the system to an Italian guy beside me my number was up, and I figured I'd go talk to a real person anyway. You'd think these events – me taking the ticket, and me being called – happened almost instantaneously. You'd hardly think that there was a twenty minute period explaining a simple online form. But, considering his English wasn't that strong, I'm surprised he got booked where we wanted to go. By the way is Milano actually Florance? Well that's where he's going – and he seemed happy with it, so very well then.

And then it was on to the library, where I discovered my parents had discovered how to use skype. Fast forward and hour, and I'm uploading video, and pictures, just like a champ. And with all this direct power, there's nothing that can stop me! Nothing. Well, I guess closing hours could stop me, but we're not there yet. I think we're still three and a half hours off.

On that note, I should start to upload the train videos.

So how was the Anne Frank house, you might be asking. Powerful. And strange – very strange.

I'm glad that I did this museum at this stage in my life, and not a day sooner. Being so close to, and touching, history is always a hard thing to get ones mind around. Even if you know – you understand – that something is true, it's really hard to actually know... it's true.

Walking around the first building, where Otto Frank ran his business was a chilling experience. This was the very place where his factory was run. This was not a recreation. This was not moved to a new location. This was the very same floor they worked on. And this was the very same place where footsteps overhead might have been heard, had the Frank family ever failed to tread lightly.

Walking in, the first thing you notice is – what a lovely area. What a beautiful place to live.

And from there you go from room to room in the office, and the factory, watching videos along the way, and looking at a variety of items that had been collected over the years. Identification cards, forged documents, shipping orders.

Then you reach a room with nothing in it but a bookcase. The bookcase. The movable bookcase that the people living in the annex had to creep out of when they wanted to leave their hiding place. When Anne writes about having to duck and jump every time she wanted to leave... well, so to did you. And the words come alive. Because, this is not some place made similar to her world, as if you were experiencing the life of another Anne on Price Edward Island. This was the very house, and the very floorboards, that she walked on, not that many decades past.

Just before you head through to the secret quarters, you look out the window, at the canal below, and are once again stunned by the beauty of this place. In my mind, and many movies, the nazi's only rounded people up on overcast days, in decrepit ghettos. But here, in beautiful Amsterdam, they were pushed like cattle through multicoloured streets, under blue skies, with reflective waters all around. This is real life – seen more or less as it is, rather than through a tainted lens of pathetic fallacy.

In the Annex you step first through Otto's room, and then into Anne's. The map Otto used to track the allied invasion from Normandy still hangs on the wall, as too do the markings of the two Frank girls heights, as they grew throughout their stay.

Anne's room is decorated with posted pictures from magazines, and cards. She wrote that it made the room a little more cheerful. But now faded, and slightly torn, they only add to the haunting atmosphere that permeates the entire building.

Then it's up the stairs, to the main room, where menus typed out for special occasions are preserved near the stove, and various texts find themselves placed in glass containers. These are the things from their daily life, novels – prayer books – that would have very little significance if not for the events that took hold of their lives.

There is no furniture here. Nothing to show how it would have looked. For that you can only look at a model near the entrance. When the Nazi's came, they had the place stripped bare, and when Otto - the only survivor from the camps – returned he asked that it be kept that way.

Then to Peter's room, and finally you can peek up into the attic. The very attic where Anne stole her first kiss, watched the world outside, and was able to escape – spend time away – from the rest of the family below. Though you are not permitted access, mirrors give you a clear view of the entire area. This is not a room quite like what was described in the text. This was that very room.

And then you exit. Exit the Annex, and return to the house. And there, you see the final few artifacts. One of which is the German paper confirming that the Frank family had been fully moved to the concentration camps. And you can watch a video recorded by one of Anne's friends who was in a neighbouring camp, who threw rations over the fence for her.

Then the final staircase, where you can see the original diary. The red tartan covered book, with the girls own writing within.

And you realize how strange it is that this matters. And how strange it is that you care this much for one girl's story. Because she was only one of six million. And then you exit the museum, send a video email home, from the terminals provided for just such a thing, and you're gone. And the experience fades, and you can rejoin the world outside, rejoin the modern times, and perhaps go for an ice cream, or a beer, or something of that nature.

Because you start to forget – and you have to. Otherwise...

One of the more interesting things is an exhibit at the very end of the museum called freedom2be or something like that. Basically they show videos and ask tough questions such as “should head scarves be banned from schools.” And you push a red button, or a green button to agree or disagree. Then the stats come up for who said what in the room, and who said what over all time.

What's most fantastic is that this program proved why democracy is stupid. And how easy people are to lead. One of the questions began: “Free speech is a fundamental freedom, blah blah blah, should people have the freedom to express their thoughts.” 90% yes. Next question “should people be able to self-publish text on the internet denying the holocaust.” 8% (I think just me) yes. Ugh – most of the audience just contradicted themselves.

Look – I'm not saying that it's a good thing that people deny the holocaust – but at the same time, I'm glad that I live in a country where people are allowed to express that opinion. The same group then were 50% in favour of “should rappers be allowed to express anti-gay statements in their music?” Well come on people. Where is your consistency? They're all the sae question. Vote with your wallets here, and your attention. If people express wacky ideas you disagree with, then either show them as such, or stay away.

Freedom of speech – its a great thing. And 50% of people seem to think so... 66% of the time. Ai ya.

Well – that's that. I'll stay in the library until I get all my media online. Tomorrow – perhaps tomorrow I'll finally explore the city!

Amsterdam Graffiti

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 2 in Amsterdam

Well it's my second day here. And if you're reading this before my day one post (not the - supposed to be short - one, but the real one... Well then, hopefully I'll be able to change the date and get everything back in order. Bear with me. I do so dislike not having my own computer. Big shout out to Gap Mike who sold me his eeepc and made all this possible.)

So what have I bee up to today? Well, why not start by saying that I'm in the library right now at 6.30 in the afternoon. There seems to be a big radius around me, free of people. Do you think it has anything to do with my travellers musk? You could bottle that scent and sell it to the rich, without a doubt. If Tyler Durden could sell them that soap, I could sell that most delightful, rich in what are they called? Those things that make animals like other animals? Well - there you go. I'm sure I could.

Now I will say that it has been three days since my hair has been washed, but by brushing it 100 times on each side, I've given it a most lovely shine. And it's not my fault that my hair hasn't been washed! I've wanted to. Three days ago, I missed out, because I had to make my check out time. And then, I was on a train. Today the shower I jumped into was stuck on "Way to bloody hot, and scalding" and it was all I could do to simply use my delightful neon blue shower gel to destinkify the rest of me. Tomorrow though - tomorrow I will wash my hair (actually, probably when I get back tonight. Because when the smell starts to bother me, then you know there's a problem. Like grade seven students, not yet educated in the wonders of proper bathing habits. Or hobbits, too.)

I headed out on a walking tour of the city today. You know, one of those free ones where you feel guilted into tipping at the end. Well, today it wasn't really a guilt thing. I just really did feel like I should tip. Sadly, all I had was three euros left on me by that point. But couples were giving five euro for the both of them, so I figure I'm ahead, yeah?

The tour started in the main square, and walked us through the red light district. We were warned not to take pictures. A week ago a man from Malaysia didn't listen to that warning. He found himself being chased down the street by a woman who burst from her window, grabbed his camera, and smashed it down into the ground. Make sure your gear is insured - buy it with a Mosaik credit card for one years protection!

In the ground, just outside the alleys - there are always alleys, aren't there? - a brass sculpture had been placed in the ground. It is of a mans hand clutching a breast, with a lock and chain attached to it. When it was first installed, the city tried to remove it, but there was so much protesting by the people, and the workers, that it was put back. There is also a statue erected in support of sex trade workers the world over.

From there we wandered past the various prisons, both men and women. Each had a sculpture of a man or woman being whipped by a nun on it. The men's prison has been turned into a clothing mall, so - still punishment for the men then isn't it?

There a girl was pooped on by a pigeon. Made worse by the fact that our guide pointed it out to our whole tour, as loud as he could. You know, in some ways he reminded me a lot of myself - except more Australian. Should you find yourself here, look for Ryan the tour guide. He'll be in a red shirt, at the central square, 11:15 every day (except on his days off, of course. Others will be there in his stead.) The tour runs in Spanish as well, if that's your gig.

A stoned man just Baahed (like a sheep) as loud as he could. He is being escorted out of the library now.

There were also post offices, and royal palaces, and other such things of importance on the tour. And there were the coffee shops. Apparently the best and safest is the one from Oceans Twelve. I don't know. I've never seen the movie - but if you check it out, you'll know the one. Apparently Matt Damon makes quite the fool of himself there.

The tour ended at the Anne Frank House (closed today form Yom Kippur.) The church bells, which Anne wrote brightened her day, began to play as we heard the store of the Dutch Civil resistance to the Nazi's. The only non-jewish civilian resistance - outside of the various cells - in the history of World War II we were told. Ten died, including the mayor, because of this. over fourteen thousand stood strong.

From there, I set out on a quest to find a plug converter - without success - in three electronic stores. Each sending me to another in a log line that would have, without a doubt, eventually led me back to the opening store. Instead I stopped the cycle by buying a bag of fruity smarties (skittles where I'm from) and heading off.

I toured the various alleys of the red light district once more. During the day this time, and it was much like I said before. Interesting, but more of a show than something lude. It's like they say, when something is allowed, the fun is just stripped right away from it.

This whole town feels like a Disney ride. It feels almost - safe. And maybe that's because it is, so long as you stay where you are supposed to, and obey the rules laid out for you. And if that's not a way to just take the fun out of something, I don't know what is.

That Cool Kid From High School

Marijuana smoke wafts through the streets like a London fog; but, a modern London fog, not one of those yellow, thick, pollution enhanced ones from T.S. Eliot's days. And sure, half naked girls dance in windows, but there are more Chinese restaurants than there are enticing prostitutes.

Remember that cool kid from high school? That one that all the girls wanted to be with, and the one who all the guys looked up to? That's kind of what Amsterdam is like. But let us walk a little bit farther into this extended metaphor, shall we? Look back with a critical eye – did all the girls want to be with him? Did all the guys look up to him? Well you didn't, I'm going to assume. Not that I'm type-casting the people who sit around and read blogs all day, but, you know – I kind of am. And was he really that cool? Sure he bragged about having sex when he was thirteen years old, and he smoked before anyone else. And yeah, he even knew how to crack a beer using a lighter, instead of an opener by the end of grade nine. But lets be honest, did that make him a cool cat, or just a product of poor child rearing?

And look at him now – odds are he's got the pot belly, the sagging muscles, and is forever living off of reputation, and brief glimpses of his former glory. Seriously – that's Amsterdam.

It's pretty alright, with its canals running through a network of pedestrian streets, and delightful architecture. It has its share of tourist shops, but those are outdone by the number of actual stores selling products that one might actually have use for (unless it's a sticker to put on your laptop, in which all stores will leave you wanting.) And the number of museums? There are more per square mile here than anywhere else in the world.

If this was any other city, it would be a dream (to use a term Marty McFly's mother might have used when she was in her high school days – just as an aside, has anyone ever really thought about the end of that movie? You know when George McFly hires Biff to wax his car – I get that that's supposed to show that their roles have completely reversed. But, doesn't anyone think it's weird that George hires the person who tried to rape his now-wife to help him out? And that his wife seems to be o.k. with that arrangement? Seriously. Ponder that for a moment, will you?)

But this is not any other city. This is Amster-effing-dam! And there is only one reason people come here. It's for the coffee shops, and it's for the red light district. That's what Amsterdam is about – right? It's about half naked window in every window, and the smell of legalized Marijuana on every corner.

Here's the thing though. Marijuana is not legal here. I don't care how many people tell you that it is, or how many times you've watched Harlod and Kumar. It is not legal in Amsterdam. I tell you what, you come here, walk by a police officer with a spliff hanging out of your mouth, and you see what happens. Enjoy international prison my friends.

But, the coffee shops will sell you weed, and you can smoke it – free from fear – within those buildings. One again, it's not free, but it's accepted here. Also, the weed you get there is said to be some of the best in the world, and some of the purest. My tourist guide told me so. Just don't buy from street dealers. They are a wee bit more shady. Like that guy in the trench coat who hangs around outside your school during lunch break.

So yes – there are a lot of perma-stoned people here walking around. But is that a fantastic and magical thing? Not from what I've seen. From my own impressions, it leads to twenty five year old male tourists pointing at your beard, and slurring words that I don't think would have meaning in any language. And it leads to shop keepers being sexually harassed, and some female customers being groped, by the fifty year olds who don't know which way is up, who stumbled in from the coffee shop next door. (Do you think these coffee shops actually sell coffee? Where do you think one can get a good Cup o' Joe here?)

This world where marijuana is legal everywhere – let me tell you, I've seen that side, and it's less than fantastic during the day. At night it's better. It's a different crowd. And it's more relaxed, and suitable. Think of it like you would the bar scene. Sure you get more drunken youths wandering the street at night, but you're ready for that. It's the aging alcoholics during the day that are the real annoyance.

So we've established that the who coffee shop scene is no different than your friends shag-carpeted basement, complete with – i don't know – Phish record, and black lights. It's alright, but it's nothing to write home about. So now let us explore the red light district shall we?

Yeah, I get it, the lights are red. That's cute. If you want to see half naked girls (anywhere from the legal age of consent – 16 – and up) just look for the lights, and wander towards the windows. There they'll be gyrating around, knocking on glass, motioning for you to come over, and drop your forty to fifty euros for fifteen minutes of sex (numbers, again, taken from my guide book. Remember – the worst souvenir you can come home with is an STD. Sure, these girls get tested four times a year. But I'm sure prostitutes that pay two hundred euros for an eight hour window rental have sex with a lot of different people in those three months between testings.)

So there you are, in the district, walking the streets surrounded by lots of other tourists, and oh my god is that a family of tourists, with their eight year old children?! Oh never mind, there's another, and another. Huh. If anything points towards that fact that the red light district is not what you've been led to believe it is this. And look, there's a tour group of twenty Asians, aged forty to sixty following a man holding an umbrella on a guided tour through the entire area.

Forget all that for a moment, shall we? Let us walk up to one of these windows, and take a peek inside. There you will find a girl who looks either like the most beautiful angel you've ever seen (it has to be said, these are probably some of the most attractive prostitutes you'll ever be able to afford, unless you have one of those jobs where you work comps you them for an overtime project well done.) Or – like one of the most beautiful women you've ever seen, whose face got all mixed up in the blender that is the birth canal. I honestly don't know how else to explain it. Eyes point in strange directions, located high on cheekbones that aren't quite right. And noses that have – you know what, lets just forget their noses. Still – the bodies are after market pride and joys (like an Japanese drift racing car.)

So there she is in front of you, through a pane of glass on street level, gyrating around – wait – no she's not. She's just sitting back smoking, looking completely disinterested. Alright next window – there's the blender face. Skip. Next window. (I'll give you this, you choices are seemingly endless.) Alright, there she is wiggling around, tapping on the window, calling you forward, trying to start negotiation. But you're not here for that. You're here for the voyeuristic tourist purpose. So you look her up and down, and then it strikes you: she's wearing a metallic bikini that covers up more than most of your friends cover up at a backyard pool party. You know you're hyperbolic when you think it, but you can almost recall pictures from your grandmothers era that show more.

The more you look at her, the more the uncanny valley works in reverse. She becomes removed from that of a living being, and seems more like an image from a magazine (so perfect is her skin, that you'd swear she was photoshopped.) The more you look at it, the knocking becomes nothing but an animatronic response to programming, and as you walk the street you see the same thing over and over and over. Sure they're pretty girls – but you've seen pretty girls before. There's nothing sexual about these girls (until you pay your fee, and walk through their glass door, closing the curtain behind you, I'm sure.) These streets are less titillating than that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue that you found when you were eight years old.

With the invent of the internet, and the sheer number of topless and nude beaches within Europe, and even my hometown of Toronto, there is more to see there than you would ever find here. The red light district becomes more like the fast food auto-mat down the street, where you insert your coins, open a window, and take your hamburger.

Did I just compare a woman to a piece of meat? Absolutely I did. And I would compare any other person who presents themselves in a giant vending machine the same way. Because that's all the red light district is. It's a giant vending machine that lasts for three or four blocks. Put in your money, open the door, and take your product. When you're done with it, the window closes, and the machine becomes restocked.

I understand the importance of the profession, I understand the need for it, and I definitely believe in the legalization of it for the protection of users, and workers. But that doesn't change anything about how it works here.

Get out of the way, eight year old kid. This is my standing spot! And that's what's wrong with this place. It's so tame. And sure they have sex shows for thirty euros, but for that price I'm told it's better to watch someone play ping pong in Bangkok. At least that way you'll see something you couldn't watch on late night television.

The porn DVD sales are staggering in this city. My final point on the red light district is this: Five men were talking about what new DVD they wanted to buy, looking them all over, one after the other, while right behind them four women (two together) were trying to call them over for some more fleshy fun. They'd have none of it.

That cool kid from high school. That's what Amsterdam is. It's a city living off a past reputation, trying to rekindle moments of former glory. And thinking back, you realize that he probably wasn't that great. And you're almost positive his life is without now. But, there was something about him, wasn't there? Some reason why you still know his name. A reason why, when it comes to gossiping, his name is still thrown around the circle. And that's what Amsterdam is.

It's a city you need to come see, even if you realize that it can never live up to its greatest of promises. There's still something about it. Something that calls to you. Something that says, come on – just check it out, if only for a little while.

Plus, you know, it has the Anne Frank House, and that's a fantastically historical and powerful sight to see. Bet that guy from back in the day never had that!

A final note on prostitution:
Half the clients are female. One of the most fantastic things about Amsterdam is how pro-homosexual it is. There is a statue to homosexuality (three pink triangles) that was erected over twenty years ago here. The city had (has?) an openly homosexual mayor. 10% of all marriages are same sex. The gay clubs have high numbers of straight people, and are some of the trendiest, and the straight clubs are not empty of homosexuals. Imagine that, a city of tolerance hidden between hookers, lax laws, and clouds of smoke. Or maybe it exists because of that? There's your reason for legalization right there.

Editors Notes:
The author was a little bit cranky when he wrote this. Any piece written on the first day in a city, before a big breakfast, and after a god awful train ride, may not be viewed through the same eyes as a refreshed individual. Stay tuned for tomorrows re-review of the cities night life, and everything that it has to offer.

Also, the author just “doesn't want to be cool” and refuses to use drugs. Who comes to Amsterdam if they don't want to smoke weed (or, more commonly, inhale through a vaporizer) or take 'shrooms, on sale at oh so many well marked shops.

Finally, you'll not find pictures of the red light district, or the girls in the windows, because you will get beaten up, and have your camera smashed if you foolishly take a picture. So get on a plane, and come see it for yourself. It's worth the trip.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Teeny Tiny Amsterdam Post

Hey everyone. This is me, writing to you. The thing is, I've ever so hungry, and as such words, and what not, are lacking. I have not eaten for a full 24 hours, and while normally this is not such a big thing for me, it is today. So I will quickly need to be off to find food.

Why, you might ask, have I not eaten? Am I falling into a new lose weight quick technique (that provides results, as the cost of your health?) Why no. It's because German Rail hates me. That's just how it is.

I was more than prepared for the 15 hour train ride. The 20 hour one, not so much.

See, the other thing is that that post is all in videos. Which I can't upload. Why can't I upload? No free internet here in Amsterdam. This is of course a lie, because I'm using free internet now. At the public library (behind the chinese ship just down from the central station.) But - there is no USB port, so I can't upload files. And the hotspot here is uploading at 0.23MB That's bad.

Also - I think I blew a fuse trying to plug my laptop in. There were lots of angry shouts in a language that I don't know.

Questions to ponder:
1. Why is The Netherlands Holland?
2. Why is someone playing My Heart Will Go On on the library piano?
3. Why does the library have a piano?
4. Where can I get a Big Mac in Amsterdam? Seriously - I've craved one for a month.

Finally, I would like to point out that a good number of people do appear to be perma-stoned. This is not for me, you see, as I dislike all drugs - never using illegal, and rather distrusting perscription as well.

Oh good, they've started to play My Heart Will Go On again from the top. I was just thinking, man - I wish he would play that song again. Home Country pride and all that.

O.K. so I'm a little loopy now.

But here's the thing - I can't upload pictures, or videos, which means I'll either write posts and just hold off on them, or post the posts, and then add the images and videos later, when I have the means.

Alright - that's it for me. Off to find some food.

Ohh - I bought my ticket to the Anne Frank house. I forgot the poster that some of my grade 12s did on that book last year which features a scantily clad Anne Frank advertising the book, with slogans such as "read about the sexual excursions of Anne Frank."

Seriously - did they even read the back of the book? (Hello, to you if you're out there.) How I wanted a picture of myself holding that poster infront of the house. Ai ya.

Ohh - if you are out there, and you have the image file, email me and then it can still be a reality.

Final, final point: Holland is a region in The Netherlands

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sleep In Green Hostel: Copenhagen

I'm staying in the hostel Sleep In Green, and I would highly recommend it. Good times, good people, good common room, and good internet access. The price isn't bad either.

But what is a hostel? What can one expect to find there? Well – I've been staying in a lot of hosteling international places, and I think that will come to an end very soon. And I'll tell you why – they're clean, and orderly, and that's why you get the old people and the families and the school groups. Places like this my not be so clean, but they're down to earth. And they make sense. And they attract the type of traveler that I want to attract. So, thank you very much HiHosteling, but I think it's time we part ways. I'm not old enough for you yet. Also, you're kind of pricey.

So this hostel has a great common area with couches, flat screen tv (which makes me wonder why rappers on Cribz always point out that there tv is a flat screen as if it's two thousand and two, and that's some sort of novel wonderment.)

But the real meat of this place is down below, in the dorm. It's all one giant dorm with thirty beds, but each area is broken into four bed areas with dividing walls. Each area is painted, or decorated by who knows whom, and it's really quite lovely.

There's no perks here – no kitchen, no fridge, no bed where you won't bash your head on the top bunk each morning. But it's quaint, it's lovely, and for the moment – it's home.

They've also wallpapered their washrooms with comic book pages, and I think that's just fantastic!

Sticking to a Budget

These last twenty four hours have not been good for sticking to a budget.

I hear the words my mother once said thirteen years ago. How do I know it was thirteen years ago? Because I distinctly remember them being said while a commercial for Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood was playing in the background. This fact is completely unrelated to everything – but still important for chronological purposes. She said, “sometimes you need to spend money to have fun.” And this is true. This is what I keep telling myself when I go over budget. I'm staying in hostels for a reason – so I an afford some of the better things in life.

I met two girls in the hostel sharing the same quad as me. I'll explain more about this when I talk about the hostel lately – just assume that they're roommates, more or less. After watching MTV with them for two hours (Cribz, Gs to Gents, Hogan Knows Best – two episodes) they suggested going to the pub. Problem – the pub was half an hour away, by the central station. Solution – they rented two bicycles. Sure there were three of us, but hey, they could be like the locals and try to sit two people on one bike.

So jumping on the bikes, headlamps secured to our foreheads for safety, and potentially legal, reasons we headed off. Biking in Denmark? So different from biking in Toronto. Not once did I fear for my life. And that, that was a good thing.

At the pub I decided that I needed to have a pint of Guinness, seeing as how it was the two hundred and fifties birthday of the beer. Sure I was in Denmark, but two hundred and fifty years. How can you fight that?

So there I was at the bar, enjoying my drink, listening to the live music, and it really hit me just how strange it is to be in a foreign country, where English is not the local language, but still being able to reasonably expect to enjoy music in that language anyway. If I spoke any language other than English, travel would be so much more difficult.

After having one inebriated gentleman try to “twist and shout” with me I was saved by one of the girls I was with. Apparently she's a tango dancer back in the real world, and it was quite impressive. Nothing like the Icelandic events.

And then we were biking back, across the city, once again without fear of being run over, once again with headlamps strapped to our foreheads, and returning to the confines of the hostel for yet another night of sleep.

In the morning it was decided that we should head to the Carlsberg Brewery here in Copenhagen. Why not? So off we headed to return the rented bikes, and then to central station to grab a a four dollar bus to the plant. Of course we couldn't find the right bus stop so we grabbed a train instead. Same ticket, no worries. Checking the map, though, I noticed that the train station was a kilometer from where we wanted to end up.

Jumping off at the station, the word Carlsberg in giant letters was clearly visible from the station, no more than fifty meters away. Why would the map have it showing as a kilometer? That did not make sense. Step, step, step, and we were there. Standing at the gates – but these were not the pedestrian gates, oh no. These were the gates for the trucks, and the workers, and the – well the not us-es. But not one to be deterred we headed in anyway. Certainly if we kept walking we'd find or way eventually, correct?

In the course of out kilometer walk (of course, so the map was right) we ran into two other men searching for the same thing. “Look for the two elephants” they told us. It was assumed this was a language barrier. Their accent was rather thick, and they couldn't quite possibly mean -

Ohh look, there were two statue elephants guarding the entrance. Very well then. Good for them. One of them had a swastika on its side. Man, the Nazi party really made it awkward for anyone who used that Indian symbol of luck as a logo. I wonder how many companies were forced to alter their logos after the forties?

The brewery was a guided tour that took us through the history of Carlsberg, without showing the actual plant. The location where the magic happens is still a mystery to me though I feel I got a good look at it already, walking in the back way.

There was a video that Carlsberg made in the thirties as a commercial for their beer that they had running on endless loop. It supposedly showed the history of brewing. The casual nudity was quite shocking. I can't imagine North American commercials, today, including such things – let alone seventy years ago.

The little mermaid was also there. I definitely did not sign the whole song. And the two people I was with, did not join in to keep it going either. It could have been worse. I could have been doing it on a water taxi in the Caribbean, trapped with twenty people I didn't know, not using my indoor voice.

The tour terminated with a foosball table, and then stairs leading up to the bar where you could claim your two drinks free with entry. Two drinks for sixty kroner might just be the best deal in town. I wonder how many people just make their way to that bar, rather than anywhere else in town.

Just as a note, if you plan on going to a brew tour, make sure you don't do it on an empty stomach. And then make sure you don't go with girls who don't want to drink their beer, and as such have you clean it up. And then make sure you don't order the eight percent beer, just because it has banana in it (banana's are good.) Results may vary.

Taking the bus back into town we found a buffet. Tap water? Three dollars. What fun! But the food was plentiful, and once again I am full. So all in all a good experience.

Back at the hostel, I said goodbye to my two Toronntonian bunkmates, as they were leaving Denmark on the same train I'll be taking tomorrow night. And then it was out to meet a friend from back home.

I do not have a cell phone. I didn't think I'd need one. I knew where to meet, and when to meet. Things did not go well.

Forty minutes late, I was finally able to track down a pay phone. I had used three previous, without success. I dialed the number and waited. And waited. Then Danish text came up, and my money was returned. Did I dial wrong? Was he not there? Did I make another mistake? Who could say. On I went to another phone. It also didn't work. Then I asked people if I could use their cellphone for a local call. In Canada I've let people use my cell before – it's what you do. You help people out. Not here.

Finally, I tried calling the eight digit number without the two previous. All that could be heard was the same weird sound – busy signal mixed with, I don't know what. Right as I was losing hope, it connected! Many apologies were expressed, and I made my way back on track. I was only five minutes from where I needed to be.

And then good times were had. Despite my feeling foolish at getting lost in such a small, collected, city. Such is life, I guess. Nothing like a nine dollar pint – but, in all fairness, the beer is better here. Not nine dollar better, but better. It's a cultural experience. That's what I'll tell myself. Anyway, after the two dollar pay phone call, nothing can possibly seem expensive!

Tomorrow I shall wake up, check out, and head to the train station. Amsterdam (and lower prices everywhere) here I come. Scandinavia, you've been a blast, but it's time to finally move on.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nine to Five

Just like Dolly Parton (or was it Doralee Rhodes?) I'm working nine to five.

Up out of bed at 8:00 – the rest of the hostel seems to be still asleep, despite the sun flooding through every available window. Time for a shower, a change of clothes, and thank you very much sir, but it's time I got a move on.

Last night I planned myself the master tour of Copenhagen on one of the many free maps available at the hostel. This would be the 11km walk that should take me past all the major sights, sites, and attractions. 11KM – that's not so bad. You could probably walk that in what? Two to three hours, with stops. Not a bad start to a city.

So off I went. And then it started to rain.

But this was, once again, much less of a problem than one might think. You see, Copenhagen seems to suffer from Reykjavik rain. Sure it drops now and then, but a few minutes later it will be gone, your clothes will be dry, and you'll only remember it having happened if you think back really hard on it.

Bikes of Copenhagen
I had a flatmate once, in the before times. The long-long ago. He would find any girl attractive so long as she had one thing – a bicycle. Now when you combined an already attractive girl, with a bicycle, it became nearly too much for him to handle. Finally, if you add an attractive girl, on a bicycle that is also somehow magically attractive his mind would be blown, and one could only assume he would be reduced to a pile of drivel slowly seeping on a downward slant, wherever the floorboards directed him. He should never come to Copenhagen.

You see, Copenhagen is a bikers city. And not in the way that Helsinki was, bent on my destruction. Copenhagen is a place where few people drive, but everyone has a bike, and the city is set up for just such an occurrence. It's fantastic really – so long as you aren't walking down narrow roads, with dozens of bikes parked on the side. To be fair, I only knocked over one. Oops?

There are bikes here – bikes the likes of which you've never seen, unless you have... In which case, good for you. There are bicycles, tricycles, penticycles. There are bikes with baskets, bikes that seem to only be basket, bikes with babies attached through all sorts of wonder and technique. There are low riders, high riders, bikes that seem to be missing a beam or two. There are old people bikes, young people bikes. Just about every type of bike you can think of – it's here. I would like to see how this city functions when it snows.

After clearing this labyrinth of two wheeled heaven/hell I headed to my first stop of the day.

Look at this stuff, isn't it neat?
In Copenhagen the home of Hans Christian Anderson? I think it is. I think it is! So what do they have out in the harbour, perched upon a rock? Is it my first true love? The one, the only, the little mermaid?

Now, to be fair, this is not the red headed harlot you may recall from Disney. No this is not the naïve waif who brought Disney into their first era of sexualized cartoons (about which I have read, and taught, much feminist philosophy.) This was the original little mermaid who bled from her feet with every step she took, she wanted to walk on land so much. This was the one whom ended as sea foam floating free. Never the less – there I was, with the little mermaid, or as much of one as you could expect.

I had been told that the statue was tiny. I had been led to believe that it would be microscopic, barely visible. Every tourist brochure and pamphlet prepares you for this. One even states that you should try to hide your disappointment at the scale when you see it. I don't know what people expect, or what they desire, but it was the perfect statue. It wasn't towering high above. No, it was simply there – life sized – on a rock in the water, as it should be. Not all that dissimilar from the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

Fortifications overlooking the harbour
Near the harbour was a fortress. A five pointed fortress, allowing for the best possible defense of the time. Not all together unlike the one in Halifax. Although I will tell you the difference between historical military locations in Canada, and in Europe. In Canada they are all run by historical actors. In Europe, if you see someone in uniform – they are in it for a reason. All the old forts are still military outposts to this day. Through the windows you can watch the soldiers eat in the mess, if you should desire. In Canada fortresses are so few and far between that we charge exorbitant prices for entry. In Europe they are everywhere – and mostly they are free.

I walked the ramparts, and then out through the main gate, continuing on my journey – which would take me to the Royal Palace. Here I would see more of the military in action, as they performed the changing of the guard at noon. Noon? It had already been three hours? Waiting at the Little Mermaid statue for the hordes of people flocking, like locusts, too and from their tour buses certainly didn't help speed anything up. But clearly I was in no hurry. Which was good – because there was still a lot of my day left.

Having seen more impressive changing of the guards, I decided to leave when they hit the “everyone stand still and confuse the tourists for ten minutes” part. Sadly I'll forever be confused. Perhaps some stealthy recon will be in my future. You see, wearing my Scotland Rugby sweater, I blend right in. Indistinguishable from the enlisted men.

A Time of Divergence
Walking the colourful, Halifaxesque, canals of the city, I realized that I would need to change my plans. Certainly I had planned a grand walk around the city, but I had neglected one crucial place. Christiania.

Freetown Christiania flys a flag of three yellow circles on a red field. Trying to explain Chrsitiania is a big ol' cluster fu... Well, you know what? It's better if you just read the wikipedia article on it:

Basically it's a commune. A hippy zone. A place where laws, aren't quite the same as they are outside of it. This really is a special zone. You enter through gates that say Welcome to Christiania on one side, and Now Entering the EU on the other.

This is a place where people roam free – literally - there are free range teacup humans stumbling around bringing themselves up here. Dogs also walk the streets at their own leisure.

The graffiti is fantastic. Unfortunately, most of it is found on Pusher Street. There are a large number of signs and paintings saying No Photos on pusher street, and a lot of heavies there to make sure you keep to this. While it seems mostly peaceful, the last few years have seen shoots, grenade attacks, and Molotov cocktails hurled about. And while these are isolated incidents, walking around the compound you certainly do get a sense that things could break down into mob mentality very quickly.

I fit in. Physically I look the part. Mentally, I do not belong. To be honest, the whole place was terrifying in a Mad Max / Escape from New York kind of way. It's nothing more than a bunch of cafes, shops, music halls, and open air markets – but I am not a fan of hundreds of potentially undereducated people living by their own laws. I could honestly see the peace ending in an instant. And as such, I decided I would make my exit, having toured around the area.

As I neared the gate, sirens burst out, and a dozen police rushed by me with dogs at the ready. I turned around, trying to leave another way – more police rushed by blocking my path. At this point I figured, hey – why not follow them? Back in the centre of town, the police had some of the residents on the ground, searching them, and yelling at others to stay still. Some of the officers were filming the actions. From five directions parades of officers flooded into Freetown, and started grabbing people, and searching them.

Next thing I knew, people whom I thought were the uneducated masses, walking with their unwashed baggy jeans, and hoodies – hemp scarves, and homemade skirts, started taking out concealed yellow vests, and putting them on. Aside from the forty uniformed officers, there were nearly two dozen more who had been wandering undercover waiting for this moment to act. (There's a lesson here about judging the education level of someone by appearance. You'd think I'd know that already.) This was a raid on a scale of which I had never seen before. There must have been one officer for every ten residents. Off through bushes, paths, and buildings they ran.

After a few minutes things started to calm down. The immediacy was over, and a slow search began. The police chatted with residents, searched garbages, and patrolled the area. My fear was dissipating. I took a moment to snap a picture of Pusher Street, and the going ons. I then promptly left, and returned to my planned itinerary, quite glad that I had chosen just those moments to visit Christiania.

Through the Green
My way home took me past some shopping areas, and pedestrain streets, and allowed me the opportunity to step in some dog poop – but what was most important was the Kings Gardens. This is a park that would have been most impressive, had I not recently been in Oslo. Apparently during the warmer months men and women sunbathe topless here, and enjoy delightful picnics. Today – it offered me a water pump, with which I could clear the aforementioned dog poop from my shoes. Most important indeed.

The second green area worth exploring was a large cemetery. Apparently during the warmer months men and women sunbathe topless here as well. Good for them. What made this cemetery worth the walk was that it houses the tombstones of Hans Christian Anderson, and Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. Both of the tombs were easily spotted from proper signing and markers. Oslo, if there's one thing that Copenhagen has on you, it's the cemetery navigational system.

Then, with bottle of pear soda in hand, and what I thought was potato salad, even though it didn't say potato salad on it, in hand – I headed back. Time to crash for the evening. The salad, which was more like peas carrots and onions mixed with margarine was thrown away. I should have bought another hot dog instead (point of order: good, but not Iceland good.)

What will tomorrow bring?

Graffiti Desktop Backgrounds from Christiania, Denmark

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