The hotel we're staying in, the Amrath, is an ex-shipping company offices which was built in 1916 and has a stunning Art Nouveau interior and exterior. There something quite Gothic about it. This is the view from the lobby up to the skylight above the fourth floor.
But today was actually about getting out and about, despite the greyness of the day and the coldness of the air. Bikes were hired, and we were out onto the mean streets. And mean felt about right. Mel actually saw a scooter driver elbow a girl on a bike in front of her (I was in front again) to get by in the moving traffic. And the cars felt so close in comparison to the UK (where I complain about them passing closely). If I'd been hoping for the serene ride about the city that we got in Copenhagen a couple of years ago that notion was blown out of the water very very quickly.
Of course chatting, later in the evening, with Marc van Woudenberg, an (up until then) online cycling contact, the man behind Amsterdamize, we then got some tips on Amsterdam cycling and realised that I was certainly taking to the streets with a British mindset, and really needed to go with the flow a little more. It made sense. But retrospect didn't help with what was quite a stressful experience at the time. But sitll, we managed to cruise around a fair amount of the city (including the Vondelpark to see the wild parakeets, as well as a couple of firsts for me - an Egyptian Goose and White Storks). But overall, be it the weather or the experience on the bikes, we weren't feeling too enamoured with Amsterdam - helped less by the walk to an Indonesian restaurant in the evening (Indonesia being an ex-colony, so this being a great place to sample it). The restaurant itself was great, but situated in an area surrounded by British pubs and the like, and this is the land of the stag party.
One group of young lads walking the same way had a repertoire of two lines. "High five!!!" to every cyclist going in the opposite direction, met with ringing bells lest they be run over; and "Ho do you feel about me inside you." The tacky and sleazy side of Amsterdam isn't that far below the surface, and given the relaxed sex laws, the stag parties that pitch up seem to see sexual predation as a right in the city. Allegedly 40% of the city's prostitutes' clients are British... Forty percent.
Anyway, this group of lads were pretty much maintaining the wonderful stereotype of European traveller from Britain that we've cultivated.
After dinner we acted on a recommendation from Marc and visited the stunning Theater Tuschinski - a restored cinema just off the Rembrandtplein, where the restaurant was. When it was being restored they stripped back the walls inside to find elaborate paintings and the like. It's utterly fabulous.
Hitching a Ride
p.s. the year ago image today is one of my favourites, another building, this time in London.