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Netherlands

Super Bowl XLIV: Partying Just Above Sea Level in Amsterdam

The continuing saga of watching the American football Super Bowl in places that aren't America.

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Ah, February rolls around and a young North American man’s mind turns to one thing. Cheerleaders... Oh, and chicken wings, and beer, and the hail Mary pass and nickle defences. Okay, a young man’s mind turns to more than one thing, but they are all wrapped up in the same event. Super Bowl!

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Yes, it is time for that annual celebration of all things American and bombastic! Fireworks! The Who! Queen Latifah singing! Six hours of pre-game coverage!

This year I took myself to Amsterdam to watch the big game, a continuation of my silly “Super Bowls around the World” quest that has seen me watching American football in such non-American places like Costa Rica, Chile and Tanzania (though not so successfully there).

Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, and is known by North Americans mostly as a place to get sex and drugs. The city is famous for it’s raunchy nightlife, mostly centre around the red light district.

A red light above the door means you can look into the window and decide if you want to spend some time with the young lady working there. Sometimes, though, they are old ladies. And sometimes, they aren’t ladies at all, though they look like ladies.

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If sex isn’t your vice, then there is always the dope. Coffee shops are quite popular in Amsterdam, where you can go and buy and smoke marijuana.

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What Amsterdam is less well known for (at least in the circle of friends I ran with back in Canada) is the pretty town centre with it’s canals, narrow streets, even narrow housing and even windmills!

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I, however, was there neither for the sex nor for the drugs nor even for the pretty sight seeing. I was there for the American football. This year featured the Indianapolis Colts against the New Orleans Saints. While the pundits put their money on the Colts winning the game, the Saints were emotional favourites for most people. The city of New Orleans obviously has been through a lot in the past five years, and I think most people felt like they deserved some good news.

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I watched the game at the Satellite Sports Cafe on the Leidseplein, a square in the south-west part of the centre of town.

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The bar was jam-packed, with folks even sitting on the stairs between the two levels to get views of the game. I made friends with a group of guys sitting at the bar, and when one of their friends left before the game started, they offered me his stool. So I had a nice front row seat for the game.

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The group included two Dutch and one American. Myself, the American and one of the Dutchmen were cheering for New Orleans - as was most of the bar. The other Dutch guy, though, was cheering for Indianapolis. I don’t think he had a decent reason to cheer for them other than being contrarian.

“They are the better team,” he said to me. “Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the game. They have a very potent offence.”

“True,” I said. “The Colts do put points up on the board. However, they are too good. It’s boring - like cheering for a bunch of accountants. They are probably really good at their jobs, but it isn’t always exciting to watch.”

An American girl came around selling “squares.” Squares is a form of gambling, where you pay money to buy a square on a 10 by 10 grid, with each axis being one of the two teams. After all the squares have been purchased, the number from 0 to 9 are revealed along the axis in a random sequence. At the end of the half and the end of the game, the person who has the box that matches the last digits of the score wins some of the money.

I bought two squares for a euro each. When the numbers were revealed, I had Colts: 8, New Orleans: 2 and Colts: 0, New Orleans: 6. The first square wasn’t great, as there aren’t too many scores where it is easy to get a 2 as the last digit. American football scores in 7s and 3s, so you want to look at multiples of 7s and 3s and their combinations.

My other box was pretty decent, though. 0 and 6 are both easy numbers to get in football. Zero is were both teams start (obviously), so a team not scoring gets a 0. A touchdown and a field goal are worth 7 and 3, respectively, so scoring one of each gets 10 (which ends with 0, and thus in the “0” box). 6, similarly, is two field goals.

The half ended with Indianapolis up 10 points to 6 for the Saints. That was 0 and 6, one of my squares, so I got 50 euros paid out! Awesome - especially seeing as pints were going for 5 euros each.

The Super Bowl spectacle included a number of big musical names this year, as usual. Country singer Carrie Underwood sung the national anthem, and Queen Latifah sung America The Beautiful before the game. At half time, The Who came out to play - doing a medley of their hits and even breaking out the green lasers just like the video for Baba O’Riley. Pete Townshend even windmilled on his guitar - no doubt a reference to my watching the game in the spiritual home of the windmill - The Netherlands.

The game continued, and New Orleans took control in the fourth quarter, scoring a touch down on offence, and then picking off and scoring during an Indianapolis offence series. New Orleans ended up winning 31 to 17. No more squares money for me, but I was more than happy to see the team I had picked to root for win.

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I wandered out into the Amsterdam night - actually early morning - and back along the canals to my hotel. I smiled, thinking about the party in New Orleans. I realized that I had watched the game and cheered for New Orleans in a city that shares a lot in common with it. Both are known as party capitals and both are places where the waters are only kept at bay by lots of pumps and dykes. They really could be sister cities.

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I end, then, with congratulations to the city of New Orleans from her spiritual twin - Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Posted by GregW 04:15 Archived in Netherlands Tagged sports events superbowls_around_the_world Comments (3)

Dikes of Waterland

Riding north from Amsterdam, Netherlands and hitting the wall

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View EuroTrip 2007 on GregW's travel map.

Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Perhaps one of the most liberal cities in the world, and a huge draw for tourists and backpackers for the laid back attitude, openly available red-light ladies, crazy sex shows, "coffee shops" selling marijuana and general crazy party atmosphere. Heck, I walked by one "after hours place" that opened at 7 in the morning and went to 2 in the afternoon. Now that's really after hours.

And so we find a blog entry about Amsterdam with a salacious title, but readers looking for sleazy will only find themselves disappointed. Like my last entry on Amsterdam from 2006, which had the lascivious title of What XXX Means in Amsterdam but was about St. Andrew’s crosses on the coat of arms of the city, this blog entry is not about lustful lesbians frolicking in some watery oasis, but rather about a leisurely bike ride around the quaint area of Waterland, north of Amsterdam.

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Waterland is the municipality located north of Amsterdam, on the borders of the IJsselmeer lake containing a number of small villages and a lot of open farm land. Waterland, like much of the province of North Holland which it is in, consists of land "reclaimed" from the sea. These areas are known as polders, which is a low-lying tract of land enclosed by embankments known as dikes. The dikes keep the water out, and pumps drain water out of hte area to prevent the water table within the polder from rising too high. In The Netherlands, many of these pumps are run by windmills, which is why you see so many of them there.

Amsterdam is really a pretty flat city, a trait it shares with Waterland as well, so it's a pretty decent place to get on a bike to get around. One of my travel mates had a Lonely Planet guide that suggested a nice, 3.5 hour, mostly flat 37 km ride through north of Amsterdam and through the mostly rural area of Waterland. There are so many bike places around Amsterdam renting bikes for 10 Euros for 24 hours, it seemed an excellent thing to do on a sunny but cool Friday.

The route was briefly described in the Lonely Planet guide with just a very basic map, and we didn't have a detailed map of the roads in Waterland, but I have a pretty decent sense of direction, so I figured we'd be fine.

We started out by catching the free ferry from behind Central Station that takes you across the IJ river to Amsterdam Noord.

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From there, the book described in two sentences the route out of Amsterdam Noord. Seemed simple enough, but turned out to be a little harder to follow. We soon found ourselves biking through an industrial area, sharing the road with semis and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of oil refineries and fish rendering plants. Eventually, after a few false turns, we got ourselves back on track and out of town, heading on the Schellingwouderdijk and Durgerdammerdijk towards the small village of Durgerdam. Dijk is the Dutch word for dike, and probably where the English word originated from.

Durgerdam is a pretty small little village, a row of houses along the dike on the banks of the IJsselmeer.

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We stopped here, about 7 km into our ride for a quick lunch and some drinks at the West End cafe, a nice little place. I ordered a ham sandwich, which was two pieces of bread and a slice of ham, nothing more. Sandwiches very basic here, but the price was very good at only 1 Euro 30. After a quick break enjoying the sun and finishing my half-pint of beer, we headed back out on the road again.

From Durgerdam, we headed north along the dike road towards Uitdam. The sun was out, the wind was at our backs, and no part of me was aching yet, and it was a fine ride. And, as there was only one road, surrounded at many times by water on both sides, it was very hard to get lost.

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At Uitdam, the Lonely Planet suggested a detour further north to Monnickendam, but we decided to skip the extra bit and head directly west towards Broek in Waterland. This is where things started to come apart, really. As soon as we started heading west, the wind was in our faces. The bikes we rented were only one-speed bikes, and the one gear they had was not sufficient for me to keep up a steady pace in the wind. Soon I was lagging behind, frankly at a speed that I think I could have walked at faster.

My legs started to ache from the strain of pushing against the pedals, and my mouth was soon dry as a bone. I planned to stop at the first sign of a shop to purchase some water, but the only thing at the side of the road was grass and cows. I contemplated trying to draw milk from one of the beasts, but decided against it, as I understand that cows can kick. Instead, I suffered along in silence.

Now, those who are readers of some of the other bloggers on this site will recognize that my little 31 kilometer ordeal hardly stands up to the punishment of Gelli's recent 6 day ride with killer mountain climbing and all, but all pain is relative, and I was relatively sure I had hit a wall. My legs just couldn't move any faster, and I was reminded of my climb up Kilimanjaro right before I got pulmonary edema how slow I was moving. I started to wonder if there was some sort of low country sickness that I might be suffering from - a lack of altitude sickness if you will.

Of course, really it's probably just because I am out of shape.

The final insult, though, was my bottom, which was complaining bitterly about having to be forced to sit on the uncomfortable seat for so long. I tried shifting positions, but that just slowed down my already glacial pace, and standing was no good, because my legs, tired from the ride, were starting to shake with disapproval at the concept of bike riding. So my poor ass was forced to remain on the seat and ache in quiet desperation, like a good Englishman.

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Anyway, I lumbered on to Broek in Waterland, where we found a cafe and I had a Coca-Cola Light. It was good, but everything here is served in such small bottles, I was done in two gulps, and we were off again.

Now, the Lonely Planet gets even more vague with its directions from Broek in Waterland, saying simply "its a straight shot down to Broek in Waterland to the ferry" (or something to that effect). It wasn't, though, such a simple task, especially seeing as we continually ignored the signs pointing the way back to Amsterdam and kept riding off in other directions. Eventually, after 3 more wrong turns, we finally figured out to slow down and read the well marked sign posts before charging off (plodding off, really, in my case), and finally found our way back to the ferry docks.

The approximate route we ened up taking was about 31 km, according to the mapmyride.com map I created.

We dropped the bikes back at the rental place, and then came my favorite part of the ride, the patio aftewards.

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Yes, a couple of pitchers of beer, the sun shining, a cool breeze, a very comfortable chair (or at least much more comfortable then sitting on a bike seat) and everything in the world starts to seem right again.

If you choose to go on the ride, try and choose a less windy day, or get a bike with some gears so you don't have to struggle so hard against the wind. And, if you are feeling a bit peckish after the ride and want something to go with your well earned beer, may I suggest a nice herring sandwich?

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Really, nothing like a little oily fish to recharge the engine.

Posted by GregW 12:48 Archived in Netherlands Tagged bicycle Comments (3)

What XXX Means in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands


View Tanzania 2005 on GregW's travel map.

What a sight I must be in Amsterdam. I am wearing the same jacket I wore on Kilimanjaro, and it is still covered with mountain mud. My pants are the ones I wore on safari, and they are covered with dust from the Serengeti. I have just gotten off a nine hour flight from Tanzania, and my hair is sticking out in all directions. I must look like a homeless man wandering the streets of Amsterdam.

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Not the kind of dirty I expected to be in Amsterdam

It’s interesting being in Amsterdam so soon on the heels of being in Zanzibar, for they have a lot in common. The streets here are very narrow, some too narrow to even accommodate cars. So many people ride bicycles here, much like the bicycles that I saw in Zanzibar.

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Lots of bike racks in Amsterdam...

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...because so many people ride bikes...

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...because the streets are so narrow in Amsterdam.

Not everything is like Zanzibar, though. The Islamic Zanzibar wouldn’t stand for XXX shops, weed friendly coffee houses or windows where the girls ply their trade. It’s only 10 in the morning, but a few of the windows have women in them. In an attempt to say something nice, I will say the women working must have very nice personalities. I would suppose that the women working at night at of a higher quality.

The other thing I thought that was different than Zanzibar was the lack of people trying to guide me around. In Zanzibar every 15 minutes or so someone would try and offer their services as a city guide or driver. That wasn’t happening in Amsterdam, I was thinking, just when I heard a voice. “Hey mate, looking for a hostel?”

I turned around and saw a scrubby looking man. “No thanks,” I replied.

“Do you know where you are going?” he asked, seeing me looking up and down the streets of the red light district.

“Just looking around,” I said.

Soon I was being offered directions around the red light district, offers of history of the place. I eventually was able to brush off the British tour guide, but not before he asked me for some change. I had no euros, so couldn’t give him anything. “Even a single Euro?” he asked. But I had none to give.

It seems I can’t escape the touts anywhere.

Everywhere I look I see XXX. On garbage cans and lamp posts there is XXX. “Wow,” I think, “Amsterdam must be very proud of their raunchy reputation.” But then I start seeing it on garbage trucks and flags and shields on old buildings. There must be something more to this. I later learned that the coat of arms of Amsterdam has three St. Andrew’s crosses on it.

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Three crosses form the core of Amsterdam's city crest. These are St. Andrew's crosses, named after the apostle St. Andrew who is said to have been martyred on such a cross. The shield on which the crosses stand consists of three vertical stripes in the colours red - black - red. The crosses are in the black stripe. (From Amsterdam City Site)

How’s that for ironic?

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After more touring, I needed to get something to eat. I wandered into the DeWaal bakery and ordered a Saucijzen Broodje, which is basically a pig in a blanket, but it was REALLY GOOD. If you are in Amsterdam, check out Baker De Waal and get yourself one. Best deal for 1 Euro 30 Euro cents.

The other food I had was not that great. I saw so many places called Steak Houses that I figured that they must be a great Amsterdam food tradition. So I decided to check one out. I went into Los Latinos, where Jon Bon Jovi once ate, so it must be good, right? For 13 Euros and 30 Euro cents, I got a tough steak with soggy fries. If in Amsterdam, avoid the steak houses. Just eat more Saucijzen Broodje.

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Yum

Posted by GregW 20:38 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

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