Z is for Zaandam
05.06.2016 - 07.06.2016 25 °C
Sunday morning rolled around, and found us still safely tucked in our bunk beds. We got up and had what could barely be called a shower – it was barely warm, and barely wet – before standing on the deck to watch the shores of Amsterdam approach. The bus trip from the ferry terminal to the city centre was interesting – we shared the bus with mostly British men who had possibly enjoyed the bar facilities on the ferry a little too much the night before. We were initially overwhelmed by the vast number of bicycles and Vespas getting around – and then we walked into the train station and got overwhelmed all over again. Amsterdam won the prize for most difficult to navigate public transport system to date, but we triumphed eventually and made our way to Zaandam and our Airbnb for the next five nights.
Our luggage safely deposited, we were free to roam the streets of Zaandam in the sunshine. We found a café table strategically floating on the canal and enjoyed our first experience of food in the country. Apple tart = excellent. We then thought we’d follow the signs to the tourist information centre and try and work out the best train strategy for the rest of the week. The signs pointed to a dead end, past a hotel. We asked at the hotel, and were pointed down the other end of the street. No information centre to be found – and the signs all pointed back the other way. We followed the signs to the Zaanhopper boat, and found no information about that either, but there was a helpful parking lot assistant, who pointed us back the other way for visitor information. On our third attempt, we finally found the information centre (not in the direction that the signs had indicated) and found information about the Zaanhopper… but unfortunately we misread the timetable and missed the boat! Gah. Never mind – it had been excellent weather for people watching, cyclist dodgy and information hunting. We wandered home via the supermarket. Never underestimate the entertainment that can be derived from grocery shopping in a new country! We learned that nasi goreng is quite popular here, marvelled at the three litre containers of chip sauce and enjoyed the experience of walking into a fridge to buy yoghurt. We perused the knoflook, azijn, olijfolie, tomaatjes and broodjes and somehow acquired the necessary ingredients for chicken stirfry. Dinner was accompanied by Darts World Cup followed by 462 consecutive episodes of Undercover Boss Canada and that was our first Dutch day done and dusted.
On day two we had more success with public transport and navigation – and we continued our run of excellent touring weather. On our way to the train station we spotted bus 391, which proudly announced it was heading to Amsterdam Centraal and so on we hopped. It took a bit longer than the train but was infinitely more scenic – and quite relaxing.
The next transport related success story was the FREE ferry across the canal, which we shared with cyclists and scooterists of every possible description. Everyone rides a bike, motorised or otherwise. We saw women in short skirts, women in long skirts, people in crocs, people in stilettoes, people with tattoos, tattoos with people, old people, young people, tall people, short people, people with hats, people with suitcases, people with small children… we saw it all. Once we had arrived freely to the other side, we got the obligatory photo with an “I Amsterdam” sign (not the one in Museumplein being swarmed over by tourists) and then went to the EYE film museum which was, of course, free, and also happened to be highly enjoyable. We free ferried back across the canal, and went for lunch in what used to be the city gate, and then joined our free (tips welcome) walking tour for the afternoon.
The tour group was one of the best we’ve had so far – we traded travel tips with a senor from Seville and a chap from London in between learning from Dutch Monique about the history of Amsterdam. The overall theme was tolerance – tolerance of drugs, prostitution, and Catholicism. We saw a secret church, wonky houses, wide canals, narrow houses (anything to avoid paying tax), bikes, student architecture, squat houses and Big Mama Alley – I’ll leave you to work out which district that was in. And we got to sample some cheese. Win.
After all that learning of stuff and things, we needed somewhere to just chill out and obtain refreshments. So we went to the library. As you do. On the seventh floor, there was a café with beautiful views overlooking the canal by Centraal station. A most perfectly peaceful place to contemplate life, the universe, and everything. Ahhhhh, serenity.
Day three was anything but serene – it was Lots of Other Tourist Day. We caught the train into town and decided against the expensive hop-on hop-off tourist bus in favour of a completely FREE half hour walk to the Rijksmuseum. Because a) nink and b) sunshine. The Rijksmuseum was busy – apparently heaps of other people also wanted to see famous art and stuff – but we didn’t queue because we had bought tickets online because a) smart and b) don’t like lining up unnecessarily. The Rijksmuseum contained art and artefacts from the medieval period right through to the present day, and I completely surprised myself by enjoying the 17th century paintings the most. Cheers for that, Rembrandt. After following the audioguide tour for the first 90 minutes, I then proceeded to get completely lost in exhibits of a religious nature, exhibits of a Van Gogh-y nature, and then exhibits of a Dutch East Indies nature. Thankfully one of the Dutch words that I recognised was ‘uitgang’ and I was soon standing in an exit kind of situation, ready to find my husband and then my lunch.
We had intended to get frites for lunch – and we did, sort of. Sweet potato frites, with red capsicum (‘paprika’) and almond sauce. Ermagerd. Amazeballs. Sweet potato fries are quite possibly the best invention EVER, which is a big call from someone who likes SodaStream machines as much as I do. We followed the SPF with calzone type things from the bakery next door, and then felt sufficiently carb-loaded to take on The Heineken Experience. This certainly provided a very different cultural experience from the Rijksmuseum, but we felt that it was important to sample as many varieties of Culture as we could find while in Amsterdam.
Now, if you were looking for serious information on the serious matter of beer production – Heineken wasn’t going to give it to you. There was some background information on the development of the company – and their core values (Respect, Quality and Responsibility for anyone at CAH who was desperate to know). There was a big room with big copper vats and little to no information, and then there was a stable with horses and no information at all except a man with a uniform who said “have you got any questions?” At this point, Simon and I did indeed have a question, which was “why are there horses in your brewery?” The answer was “promotion”, and that was pretty much it. The horses go out every day and advertise Heinken around the city. Bizarre.
After that, things got a little bit silly. We got turned into beer in a ride that actually came somewhat close to explaining the brewing process, and then we enjoyed all manner of interactive exhibits with flashing lights, rugby balls, bike riding karaoke, and beer tasting. We finished the day with a spot of people watching in the park back near Rijksmuseum followed by several near death experiences on account of cyclists on our way back to the station. We got on a train to Zaandam and Simon was asked by TWO people if it was the train to somewhere an hour out of Amsterdam and even when he tried to explain that he wasn’t a local and therefore wasn’t 100% sure they just kept on asking him. In the end, he just said yes and hoped for the best. We got off before them – so we made it home, and I just hope they did too!