Amsterdam ...

And so we returned to Belgie only to be back out on the road within 24 hours ... The 150km drive to Amsterdam turned into a 200km trip due to a closed piece of highway and a road lacking signage. We travelled about 60km without any kind of reassuring 'Amsterdam' indicators ... ahhh like Belgium, it seems the Netherlands runs light when it comes to marking the way. We arrived at the hotel and caught the train into the city. With memories of Heidelberg still in my mind, first glance Amsterdam didn't impress. It has something of the crazy chaos of Istanbul but lacks Turkish friendliness. We made one or two mistakes, jumping on the first canal boat ride we saw ... shop round on these because some are like buses and not pretty to ride on. On a happier note, we had 3 kiwis from Auckland sitting behind us and we chatted about 'home' between views from the boat.


We made a few mental notes ... check out Anne Frank's house (who knew her story happened in Amsterdam, writes the ignorant kiwi); visit the van Gogh Museum; eat at one of those cute canal-edge cafes and to wander the streets behind the dirty old city centre. It was after 6pm when we climbed off the boat and the city life had deteriorated into 'kind of sleazy'. There were groups of guys on what seemed to be stag weekends and some of the groups of women would have a 'bride' in their midst ... I guess the Brits come this way before marrying. We went back to the hotel on the train and 'ate in' with wine, beer and bakery food, saying bye to Al before heading off to our room.


The next day Al had a 4am start and was on the plane home before Gert and I were awake. We picked up ML and headed back into the city on a wee bit of a mission. The cobblestone canal-hugging streets were deserted and delicious at 10am ... the memory of the previous night seemed like some other city. We joined the huge queue outside the hiding place of Anne Frank, with me quietly stunned to be finally visiting the home of the girl whose movie story and book gave me nightmares when I was a child. We were able to explore all but the attic and really, the exhibition moves one to tears in places. It's a sobering visit as the extreme right in Antwerp take a political lead of 34% in the polls today, even after the recent racially motivated murders here. We had lunch in a charming little pub then jumped on a bus to the van Gogh museum, which was lovely although our feet ached from all we had done to them in the previous days. Van Gogh's painting Pavement Cafe At Night was elsewhere but there were stories of his leading us into each new section of his art ... he even spent a few months painting in Antwerp, a fact that I hadn't known.


More walking back into the city, arriving too late again, missing the shops and meeting the sleazier aspects of evening and Amsterdam. All was saved by dinner in a lovely little Italian restaurant with a delicious carbonara and pizza. Italy beat France in the World Cup that night and we were delighted, although later curious to know how Zidane was voted best player of the tournament. Perhaps the Italian said something wicked but they were only words and isn't that all part of the game ... headbutting someone in the chest seems kind of absurd when you put it into 'real life'. Imagine the carnage at the local District Huis if I could headbutt all who were rude and provided terrible service??? Anyway,we checked out of our hotel the next morning and popped into the huge Arena football stadium/shopping complex - pricing digital cameras without the high Belgian tax. The Dutch, while having less tax seemed to have the Canon EOS at a similar price ... oh well.


We meandered home, via the Delta works ... the flood protection for Zeeland in the south of Holland, required after flooding killed 1850 people and 200,000 cattle back in 1953. It's a fascinating area with a huge system of dams that hold back the sea during storms and high spring tides, releasing river water when necessary. You can visit the site here . We lunched in the pretty little village of Zierikzee, eating ice cream in the shade of a large umbrella while watching the people pass by. And so it is that we're home again ... today is a rest day before we head out on the Flanders Field auto route, taking in the museums at Zonnebeke and Ieper ... ML was a history teacher back in the States and taught all this war stuff to her students. She's kind of delighted to be seeing it, most particularly the Anne Frank house. Tot ziens.