Amsterdam Day 2

25 May

Our first stop today is a cheese and clog-making factory in the countryside. We get a rundown of how the cheeses are made, then shuffle through to the clog-making area. A young man carves away at a chunk of wood as he talks, bit by bit fashioning it into a wooden clog. He tells us they are working shoes, for keeping your feet warm, dry and protected. I guess they are the Dutch version of steel-caps. What I find hard to believe is that they are comfortable and when I ask, he quotes figures for how long they’ve been used and how many people still wear them. He lifts his foot to show he’s wearing them, too. He does concede though, that it takes about a week to wear them in.

Of course, next we walk through their shop. He’s impressed me sufficiently to try on a pair of the modern version, with a wooden sole and leather upper. They look nice, feel comfortable, and seem to grip well, so that they don’t slap like thongs. Yes, I can’t believe it, I actually buy some clogs for myself.

Out in the farmyard, there are 3 ginormous rabbits in a hatch. There are a few chooks pecking around and a big rooster, who crows for us.

“That’s a good size cock,” I say to Ros, who tells me I’m disgusting.

Steve, typical male, is fascinated by a tipping trailer he notices in the yard. It is lifted by a hydraulic ram in the centre and can be tipped in any of 4 directions, depending on which ball joint you latch up. Clever.

We go to a little fishing village next, which Ashley says serves great seafood from the stalls along the waterfront. It’s a lovely seaside town, only it’s not really the seaside, it’s a lagoon, kept below sea level by walls further out, and the weather is glorious yet again.

One thing Ashley said about the Dutch is that they are passionate about neatness, and having things “nice”, leaving their curtains open so you can see how lovely their houses look inside. The fishing village was a good example. The houses were pretty and gardens neat. A big dog lounged on a seat outside one cottage, like a holidayer at the seaside. When we called to him, he flopped off his chair and came over to the fence, but gave a warning bark when someone tried to pat him.

Steve doesn’t eat seafood, so we stopped at a cafe and just had a coffee. We had a wander and a quick look at souvenirs, stopping at a statue of an old lady to take a photo of Steve throwing a leg over.

The next stop was a diamond factory.

“Do you want to duck off when they go to the diamond factory?” Steve asks me.

“You bet,” I say. Diamonds don’t impress me. I love things sparkly, but a good crystal sparkles just as well, so why pay thousands for something that is indistinguishable from a crystal?

We wander around the local area, sussing out the shops. There are shops openly selling marijuana seeds and all manner of paraphernalia for enjoying the evil weed. We go back to the diamond factory and reboard the bus. It drops us in front of the station, our meeting place for later.

Some of the people are keen to have some dope. While in Amsterdam, they want to do what the Amsterdamians do. I’ll be a bit vague with names, to protect the non-innocent. I’m not interested in having any. I know I don’t like dope, but I go along for the fun of it, and figure I can look after them if they need looking after. A group of us head for the Sailor’s Quarter and some go into a sex shop and emerge with brown paper bags.

We pass some of the special coffee shops, but Steve reckons they are seedy and not a good place for all of us ladies to go into. Steve has become the protector of the ladies. He’s usually the only guy, surrounded by the single ladies, and, young and old, they all love him. Somebody says someone told them the coffee shop Betty Boop is awesome, so I look it up on google maps and we attempt to walk towards it. Trouble is, I’m not very good at orienting myself, so I’m not certain whether we’re getting closer or further away.

After a bit of wandering, we see Ashley again, and ask him to point us in the right direction. A couple of streets later, Deb is fed up with walking. We decide that any coffee shop will do and head into one.

Steve was right about them being seedy. Inside is dark and smoky and a handful of people sit around the edges of the room, smoking and vegging out. I’m feeling suffocated by the thick smoke, and when we’re directed upstairs I’m relieved that it’s not so thick up there. Linda decides she can’t manage the stairs and says she’ll wait outside. In any case, we’re stopped at the top, and told we can’t go further unless we buy. And they don’t serve food or coffee.

By now I’m starving. We ask about cookies, but the guy says (with a sneer in his voice) that the places that sell cookies don’t open until later because it’s too close to the school. He relents and tells us that the biggest coffee shop in the area is just up the road and they may have them. So Steve dashes off to check it out, a couple of people stay upstairs and have a smoke, while the rest of us browse the nearby shops.

When we’re all together again, we find a normal coffee shop (called a cafe to distinguish it) that actually sells coffee and food, and I finally get to eat – yummy (normal) waffles  – while certain other people nibble on the special muffins that Steve has brought back. The ones who had the smoke are clearly affected, quiet, red-eyed and gone within themselves.

By now the weather has turned to rain. It is sprinkling when we leave the cafe, but when we reach the meeting point it begins to pour. Luckily there is a temporary shelter set up on the wharf that is a few steps down from the footpath so we all huddle down there until the bus arrives.

There’s time for another rest, or snooze, back at the hotel before we go out for the “last supper”, our last meal together. As we pull up in the pouring rain next to a restaurant, we dodge traffic as we step from the bus, then wait on a crowded pavement as around 50 people pour from the restaurant. They from are another Trafalgar tour and tell us the food is excellent.

We file up a narrow set of stairs, someone wondering aloud how we’re going to get back down them when we’re drunk. The we go up an even steeper, narrower set of stairs into a dingy room decorated with old tiles carefully stuck, misaligned, over the walls.

We are given a shot of liqueur to start with and we wait impatiently to down it all together. When no one gives the cue, I decide to give it, and the people at our table toss it down. A couple of minutes later, Ashley proposes a toast, so we drink the toast using wine, which has now found its way into our glasses.

My first course is ham and melon (watermelon the waiters call it, but it’s honeydew melon.) I’m not a huge fan of ham but the others love it. For main course I have grilled salmon with lobster sauce, and it’s delicious. Dessert is crepes and ice cream, also delicious. We’ve barely been served dessert (some are still waiting for it) when Ashley begins hurrying us up – some problem about the bus having to go pick up another group after us, so we need to be out by 10. We grumble a bit about not being able to get written off on our last night together, but cooperate and go carefully down the 2 flights of stairs.

Back at the hotel, Steve says he doesn’t like goodbyes and he’s just going to duck off. He’s leaving the tour in Amsterdam, not returning to London as he’s going to hire a car and visit a friend in Germany. We all disperse to our rooms.

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