Flying southern China airways was fine. It was compact but that meant you got on and off easily. The service was grand, the seats ample and the customers pleasant. I did have reservations about being on a plane with a whole heap if people, who would be constantly walking around, swinging their arms, puffing on make believe cigarettes and spitting into cups! But this was an unfounded misconception. Although arriving in Guangzhou International -Airport was a very unglamorous affair. It was kind of like being stuck in a bunk as you were being shipped off to a South China Sea island. 2 coffee shops, the occasional duty free and oddly enough a restaurant claiming to be European, not just European but Greek - the European Cellar for Fine Wine! 7 hours here was somewhat of a trial and I had wished that I had brought a packet of crisps or something with me. Even the Lindt Balls I ended up buying weren't quite right! But anyhow.
I have arrived! A Paris. And yes let it be said, even though everyone can tell I am an antipodean, I still make the effort to speak my best French, remembering all the lessons that I have been given over the years by my very tolerant Gallic friends. It just gives me a small thrill to pretend that I am bilingual, but also when they actually understand what I have actually said!
I am surprisingly awake and attentive. I actually slept on the plane - though fitfully, but I reckon it will just top me up until I get to Amsterdam. Flying in over Paris, there is that expectation that you are arriving in Europe. The villages are cute, petite and look like the doll house fairy tale images they are supposed to be! There is a very real impression of it being "picture perfect"
Day 1 - Amsterdam
WOW - what a city. It is just so ridiculously picturesque. I mean anything on the water is going to make you feel a bit serene but this place has these gorgeous little doll's housing that makes you feel like you are stuck in an episode of Hansel and Gretel. AND there is even a pub that goes by that name. Its too tranquil. The stately buildings obviously haven't suffered too much during wars and actions over the past few years, perhaps because there is a certain advantage to not challenging despots. The people are delightful and the bicycles are running everywhere. 'Must remember to look R not L when crossing over. There is something to be said about the euro culture and how it radiates and oozes a certain relaxed calm. You don't go fast and you don't go too hard, but with that you also don't get helmet hair - there is always a trade off.
Oh - and it's summer! And everyone is out and about - the streets are alive and pumping with people and toursits - mainly american and heaps of germans who are all in holiday mode. The most interesting aspect of landing in Paris this morning was how aggressive the French Africans are - and its the women. They don't pull back. Hilarious..
But I have to admit - I am bloody loving this city. The canals make for very serene walks along the city centre and everything just sort of ambles past! Funnily enough - its Pride weekend this weekend in Amsterdam. I may have to decide to stay as I am sure that it is fabulous. But everyone just has an air of culture and relaxed acceptance. The art here is amazing - its on every corner and its beautiful. There is so much tranquility and colour in the afternoon setting sun with EVERYONE out and about and the lights and the fashion. AND THE MEN - they are gorgeous. They look almost scandinavian which is not surprising considering that we are only a few degrees south of Copenhagen.
So with some jet lag firmly in place, I have been out walking and discovering and trying to get bearings. There is obviously so much that I want to see and do here = I think it won't be nearly enough time. But I am hopeful and looking forward to discovering. So - on my second glass of Sauvignon (it would be rude not to) I shall bid adieu. Funny thing is - I haven't had to try to figure out how to speak the local language as everyone just starts off with English with me!
Day 2 - Exploration
What a day of activity. I woke up this morning after a really, really, really deep sleep. I must have put my head down on the pillow with intentions of reading my magazine and listening to BBC live which always reminds me I am on holiday in a foreign country. Well I woke up at something like 3am with the tv on and the lights all on and me in my undies and a t-shirt on top of the covers. I must have been out. I slept until roughly around 5:30am when the first light began to shine and was grateful for the fact that I had a full nights sleep.
I took to the streets straight away. I had no idea where I was going or what I was trying to find. I had impressions of finding a lovely cafe to sit in and enjoy the morning rush and have a coffee. But nope! Amsterdam doesn't seem to do that. Actually, I wonder whether anyone in this city actually works? Obviously not where I am staying. The streets were nigh on deserted. None of the cafes were open and street sweepers were everywhere at 0800. I was amazed. People were on bicycles but no-one seemed to be going to a job!
I did find a 'bakerei'. It was open and it was cute - Ok so the guy behind the counter was REALLY cute, so I went in and got a bad coffee and a pain au chocolat... and a ham and cheese croissant because he was cute. Hey, come on, it worked for me with Mecca and that relationship has lasted 6 years! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the coffee was nowhere near as good and it almost scalded my mouth when I had a sip. But I was grateful for it for the next 1.5hrs were spent wandering around getting my bearings and finding parts of Amsterdam that were not that romantic and splendiferous. I ended up at the Central Station (which is the most amazingly impressive train station on a par with St Pancras/Kings Cross London - ok maybe even better!) In short - I got lost. But wow, what a journey.
I did panic slightly when I realised that the bad coffee had gone straight through me and oops, how do I ask for a toilet in Dutch? Against all my better learnings and apprehensions, I pulled out the tourist map - SUBTLY I might add. And upon going to sit down and consult it, only to see three rather shabbily dressed men all looking at me in a 'not so cute' way, I though better of the idea and kept walking. I finally found somewhere to sit and get my bearings. I was quite a way away. I knew because when I googled the train station and got the distance to my hotel, I knew that it was 4.2 km away and that wasn't a 10min walk. I pretty much ran the last 800m to make sure I got back to the hotel on time.
On my walks yesterday I passed a parkland and marked it for today. It turned out to be the most wonderful and fabulous park to walk amongst and partake in some gentle strolling. The Vondelpark is at the back end of my hotel and is a glorious span of walks and gardens and people on bikes, ducks, water-features and puppies, puppies, puppies. Each one as crazy as it's owner. Puppies here are the most interesting of characters, the Schnausers, the Sausage dogs, the wolf hounds. I could have spent the entire morning doing a stroll though it as it was THE MOST glorious day with warm sunshine streaming over everything and everyone out basking in it.
It cracked me up to watch the bikes. These guys are crazy. Not a single bike is worth stealing so nobody does! They wobble, creak, tinkle and downright grate with age and even I was thinking, 'get some oil on that chain'. And the drivers do the most amazing things on them. Women wear glamorous carry bags over one arm as they ride, they text, no-one wears a helmet, and they even tow luggage on it! YEP, don't let the fact that you ride a bike stop you from taking that 13.8kg capacity suitcase on wheels... just tow it beside you on your way to the station! CRAZY.
The day progressed and I was in two minds about finding the Rijks Museum which has just re-opened after 10 years of renovations. I mean the sunshine was just so glorious, you don't necessarily want to spend it inside in a museum. I was in the vicinity so I thought I would check it out. As I got closer I discovered that I was also right next to the Van Gogh museum. Only problem was the line was a 1.5hr wait. NO - I don't do lines - even for a crazy Dutchman. The Rijks Museum was impressive. A grand building whose collection gives you a brief overview of Dutch Art (which is completely massive) over the past 1000 years. They only have 3 Van Gogh's but the Rembrandt's OMG. They were behemoth to behold. SO impressive and you really can see the tones and colours, especially in the Romantics are quite unlike other painters. But take note - there were thousands of people. Jack Jeffrey you are so lucky we are going in September.
After that, it was definetly time for a coffee and lunch. AND - I found the best coffee I have had thus far. This little boutique place called Stach which did gourmet sandwiches and coffee. I sat on a tiny bench, just outside of the shop in the streaming sunshine and had a cheese and rocket sandwich. Obviously my Dutch is terrible because I could have sworn there was some salami or something in there. Anyway, it really was sufficient. And then I did get into the swing of being on holidays and took a note out of Adam Mitchell's book and got a gelato. Walking back along canals with a gelato in the sunshine - yeah life is sweet.
I got back to the apartment and did some downtime. One of the things I knew I wanted to do was actually get some exercise in. Call me crazy but it's an indulgence to exercise, not just a necessity for me. So i found a gym and it was right behind my hotel. Good choice Wally and Mike! I am slightly however in danger of becoming a gym snob. Yes - I am the one standing in the corner checking you out as you do your poorly executed squats and half depth bench press - and far from admiring your overly developed pecs, that tut-tut sound you can hear is actually my indignity at your poor choice of personal trainer. Gosh - such a gym bitch. But then again - I am 40 now so I am allowed to be cynical - aren't I?
Other observations today are the lovely quaint canal tours. I nearly got on one today, but as the afternoon laboured on, I couldn't help but laugh at all the sunburnt English gits who were getting wasted on these boats. A good choice to avoid that one. But a small point of order. WTF is going on with Australian Sport Teams. Why is it that everytime I go away, they perform so abominably bad that I have to endure mocking taunts from old, fat English bastards about how we are gettin whipped in the cricket? Please, I have never followed the game, don't really care for the game and aren't interested in the on field drama between Watson and Clarke - but could someone PLEASE SORT THEM OUT so I can hold my head high as an Australian abroad please?
Amsterdam is warming up for it's Canal Pride Parade this Saturday. The GLBT community is out in force and there are rainbow flags everywhere. Its kind of a good PR thing by local businesses as you do find yourself looking for them when you are part of the community. It's rather lovely with Amsterdam's very liberal community being so in touch with it, even though people say the city is losing it's diversity and acceptance, I am certainly seeing a lot of good welcoming spirit in the town.
So here I am sitting in another pub, with random cats appearing underneath my feet and sun-kissed people all out in force. I am unusual in that I am eating before 8:00pm but its a great atmosphere out on the streets. So much activity and life. Tomorrow is my final day of being a solo traveller. The team begins to arrive in Amsterdam from all over Europe and even Australia. So - let the games begin!
Day 3 - Finding your niche.
So today I found out that doing Amsterdam on foot is one thing - but on a BIKE - FUN FUN FUN! This morning I went for a brief breakfast and then plunged in and hired a bike. And what a bike. It's an old style dragster (or is that DragSTAR) similar to what I used to have when I was 3 or 4 (Cath help here - coz you always stole it). Now I have ridden on the streets of London, which was scary, the streets of Sydney, which is downright dangerous - but for some reason I was even more frightened about riding on the streets of Amsterdam. Having watched these guys for the past couple of days, I have seen how they are fearless in the case of cars. And the cars don't give them any grace, but everyone seems to know intrinsically who has the right of way and who doesn't. It's like they all are connected somehow. My biggest issue was remembering to stay on the R side of the road!
But the morning in Vondelpark was quite stunning. What a treat, to be part of the local scene and trading around the English style garden with these impressive manor houses backing onto the parklands, and pretty much all of Amsterdam out and about walking dogs and riding as well. What a sight. What a pleasure. What a time. It did remind me of Hampstead Heath in London so I was interested to learn that it was designed along the lines of an English Park - an idyllic natural landscape amongst the hustling city environment.
And today I managed to find something that I haven't done in such a long time and that I really wanted to do on this trip! I found my yoga again! I parked in front of the pond and there was a beautiful grey Egret in front of me. So I stripped off and started a practice. It was heavenly and made me remember what it was like when I used to do yoga outside. There is something incredibly indulgent doing poses with the sun twinkling through trees and onto your upturned face. The peace and tranquility was sublime. I only did a standing practice as I didn't bring a mat or towel with me but it was glorious. I sweated it up but felt such a wonderful sense of elation and peace at the end of it. Then to jump back on the bike and take off into the park again - sigh. Holiday checklist getting completed.
The other advantage about having a bike in Amsterdam is that it is so much easier. If only my poor feet had found this out yesterday instead of today I reckon I would have served myself so much better. Today I got the area that I mistakenly discovered yesterday (ie I got lost) and found the little coffee shop that I walked past. And all in 5min of relaxed bliss. SO GOOD.