Thursday, January 07, 2016

20151019 Amsterdam with its red lights and pale brew

Day 3 started late.

We were supposed to catch the walking tour around the city but the residual headache from Day 2 forced us to stay in bed. That's the thing about free and easy trip, isn't it? You have the freedom to do what you want or don't want, stay as long as you like at one place, eat when you feel like it and sleep in if that's what you prefer.

Well, we missed the tour and it didn't cost us anything. Why? Because it's a free walking tour where you pay what you think your guide deserves at the end of the 3-hour journey. This (likely) gives the guide more incentive to do better, be more engaging, share more interesting tidbits of information as it relates closely to what they get paid. I tried this when I was in Paris and I found it to be a very informative introduction to the city. They will cover the popular sights, tell you the stories behind each, share juicy details of where which blockbuster was filmed and give you suggestions on where to go if you are looking for the most "authentic bar/restaurant/cafe/[fill in with whatever interests you].

Ok, quiz time!

Guess where we went for brekkie? Hint: We needed kopi!
Frothy, whitey 

Goaty, quichey

Porky, eggy

To give the most genuine review, we returned to Screaming Beans to make sure the first kopi wasn't a fluke.

It was't.

And it got better because the quiches were awesome too!

Prior to the trip, we were concerned about the cost of eating out in Europe. Turns out that the prices are similar to what you pay for hipster food and drinks here in Singapore. A latte is around 3euro while the quiche was 8euro. No additional charge. Yippee! If this is a price you are ok with paying and if you don't fancy your own food, your airbnb accommodation can omit the kitchen.

We experienced nothing but friendliness from the service staff at the places we visited. From the simple sandwich shop, to the more high-end Chanel, everyone was the epitome of friendliness. It may also be me choosing to remember the good bits of the trip. Selective memory. No, not really. I have a few friends who really, really like Amsterdam and I have no doubts that they will migrate there if they can.

With time to kill till the next planned activity, we walked around the city of Amsterdam, our self-serviced tour.

Note: Don't use H&M as your landmark as there are many H&Ms. Walk down this lane, there's two. Turn the corner, that's one more. Brands that are more "up there" to us are common there. Samsonite? Check! Ecco? Check! Oh yeah, these are Western brands and I'm in Europe. Meh.

Day 1 taught me an important lesson. Try your shoes before your trip, especially if you expect to wear thick socks. My shoes are my exact size and with thick socks, they're not. Being the miser I am, I thought long and hard before I decided to buy this pair of Ecco shoes to make the rest of the trip easier:

You know what the best part about this pair of shoes is?

It is 30-40% cheaper than the price in Singapore! Shiok until ah!

Actually, I lied. The best part of the shoes is it's non-slip soles. You will learn why when I reach the Iceland posts.

The 2nd tour of the day was supposed to be the Alternative Amsterdam tour. Noticed the words "supposed to be"? 买个关子. Tell you more later.

We were at the meeting point, National Monument at Dam Square, too early and decided to recce the area. There are lots of restaurants. bistros, cafes and souvenir shops here. And hence, many tourists.

These started calling out to us...
Pastries, cakes, breads, doughnuts, sandwiches

These, my friends, are not cheap. They are around the price of a Starbucks in Singapore. Hmm, judging from the queue at the Starbucks near by workplace, it might not be that expensive after all. Sorry, not a Starbucks fan.

Remember how I said Day 3 was supposed to be a chillaxing day when I posted about Day 2? It wasn't because our tour got cancelled!!! The guide was sick and we were left stranded. What to do, what to do? The dilemma of travelling.  You want to take it easy and just enjoy your time there.  Yet,  your time there is limited so you want to make sure you've covered the worth covering bits. Twiddle thumbs, twiddle dee.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonades. When your tour gets cancelled, you get...

That's us at the Heineken Experience. I don't drink so don't ask me what I was doing there. Nevertheless, we expected to spend 1 hour there and ended up spending over 2 hours. Each ticket costs 18euro and you can buy them online at 16. There are many tour desks in the city where you can also get your tickets at a slightly cheaper rate. This means that you can head straight in upon arrival, without needing to queue for tickets.

At the brewery, you learn about how beer is made (duh!) and the history of Heineken. We expected all these. What we didn't expect:

Old skool posters

Stained glass windows

Horses (see top left corner) 

Free beer and pop quizzes where you get, you guessed it, free beer

You can learn how to pour an e-beer or pour a real beer.

The tour came with 2 tokens to exchange for 2 beers. I don't drink and Peiying only drank one. We had 3 tokens to spare and we passed them to 2 guys who looked like that could handle more. Other freebies included in the tour were the digital booths where you can take digital photos and videos, which will be sent to your email.

According to JT, she was in a rush when she visited Amsterdam and her only to-do at Heineken was to engrave the glass for her husband and 1-year-old. 1-year-old with a beer glass? Hmmm.. 

The lady was very pro. So pro that I shall let the video show you her skills.
No hesitation, right? 

The glass is sitting somewhere in the house. Great for beer drinkers, not so great for people who don't drink in their own houses.

We were reminded by JT to try Kantjil & de Tijger, an Indonesian restaurant. Our next tour will start at 7pm and it was 5:20pm by then time we were done with Heineken. Knowing that we'll need to eat before we embark on the 2-hour tour, we started our mad dash a.k.a. speed walking. You know how Google map gives you ETA and you sometimes think "where got so long"? 

Sadly, Google is a smart one.

Luckily, we reached before the Friday crowd descended upon the restaurant. We managed to get a table promptly and almost immediately started ordering. We told the waitress that we were rushing for a tour and they also helped us chop chop curry pox. Even so, we only had a quarter of an hour to complete the meal. 

The very rushed 15-minute meal. 

Soto Ayam came with nasi which we didn't know. So we had 3 portions of carbs.

Some funny fried rice 

Dumplings with cannot-remember-what fillings

I don't think I have completed a meal that fast in my life. Practically shoved the food into my mouth and swallowed straight. 

Oh, since we are talking about restaurants, I should share about tipping. It is not essential to tip in Amsterdam. They don't give you the stink eye if you don't. My uncle is in the F&B business and when we met on the first night, I asked him about the Dutch tipping etiquette. The reason why it's expensive to eat out in most of Europe is because the wages are high. A server gets around 2,000euro monthly salary so tipping is not a must. This comparatively high wage is reflected in restaurant prices and also how the server-to-table ratio can be 1:10. I'm sure a generous tip is always welcomed though.

We walked/ran to the National Monument, almost puking our dinner out in our haste. After all the rushing, we were there too early. ("">_<) This is a crowded area at all times of the day, perhaps in part due to this:
A carnival!

For the last tour of the day, I spy something red. Can you guess? 

Red lights, XXX. What can it be? 

It's the Red Light District tour, of course. 

My friends said it's quite safe to walk around the red light district by yourself. Without a guide, you probably would not know the fascinating tidbits like their working hours and that the average number of customers is 8 per shift. The ladies have to rent their windows from landlords and the rates vary based on the time of day and also the spot. There are lanes for bigger women, transvestites, and an elite ally. You'll get to know about the Fokken Sisters, the 69-year-old twin sisters who were still earning a living in the trade. There was a documentary made about them a few years ago and you can take a sneak peek on YouTube

The rates start from 50euros for something simple and the girls can negotiate with customers who want "extras". Interestingly, they can refuse to serve customers and we actually witnessed one of them doing that. The man was already hopping on one foot, ready to unbuckle his belt. 

It was a tragic sight. 

At the start of the walking tour, we were introduced to the oldest condom shop in Amsterdam, Condomerie.
Quite a few of their condoms are just for display so read carefully in case you 闹出人命.

What do you think this shop sells?
It's not an Apple store.

Since I've shared some titillating information earlier, you probably zoomed in on the photo and saw the high-tech adult toys. There is a movement to clean up the red light district and this also means that window displays cannot be too explicit. In our walk around the neighborhood, we also saw that the ladies covered their bits up although there was little left to imagination. 

If you expected them to be working hard to entice you, you expected wrong. Many of them were using their phones, no doubt chatting on Whatsapp and updating Facebook status. By the way, you're not allowed to take photos of the girls although you can capture signs and shops. 

It was a rather strange experience to be in the neighbourhood. You see scantily-clad women alongside well-lit houses that were hosting dinner parties. Perhaps I expected the place to be a lot sleazier but I was surprised at how well-behaved most people seemed to be. Our guide shared that the girls are generally safe and crime rate isn't that high. However, you still need to be alert. One of the girls in our tour was wearing a tight-fitting bottom and was groped by a man who immediately ran away. So, watch your backs and asses and still be vigilant, ya'll hear? 

Think that there is nothing that exciting to see if the windows are kept 'clean'? You can go for the peep shows. At 2euro for a 2-minute viewing, it is probably the most affordable introduction to the pornographic world. Instead of me explaining it, you can read more about the Sex Palace peep show.

Day 3 has taught us a few important lessons:
  1. Don't fret if tours get cancelled. Something better will come along.
  2. Give yourself ample time to sit down and eat. Or risk puking when you walk/run after.
  3. Tipping is not compulsory. 
  4. While it's not dangerous to walk around the red light district, it pays to be vigilant.
  5. Don't taking photos of the working ladies or they might whack you. 
While there was quite a bit of hurrying in the evening, Day 3 was way better than Day 2 because we went back to our studio with our heads full of information on beer and prostitution instead of pain. 

Before I end this post, here are more long kang photos to share:
Long kang with flowers

Long kang with boats

Long kang with an outdoor toilet along its banks 
(that's the white tube-like structure on the middle left of the photo)

Long kang at night

Long kang with houses that have doors that lead straight out to long kang

On Day 4, we bade Amsterdam farewell again because we were flying to Iceland!