Today we left for Amsterdam and we should arrive there in a few hours from writing this. We took the coach to Dover and got on the ferry there. Dover is where, you guessed it, the famous White Cliffs of Dover are.
Once we got across the English Channel we arrived in Calais, in Northern France. We then hopped back on the coach and drove through Belgium. Flip told us there were two optional tours while in Amsterdam: the first was a canal ride and the second, which wasn't on the website, was a trip to the local sex-threatre.
In Amsterdam, sex-shows, prostitution and marijuana are all legal and socially acceptable. I don't feel right smoking weed or buying a prostitute -- which are two things my mother and girlfriend wouldn't be happy with me for doing, respectively -- so I just decided to go to the sex-theatre. But, since it's illegal to take pictures in the Red Light District and during the sex-show, to respect people's privacy, you'll just have to take my word on it that I actually went.
They have a custom on mainland Europe that I really like. To use the toilet (or, "toiletten" in Dutch), you must pay €0.30 ($0.38). This little bit of money is a tip to the janitor for their hard work. Much like tipping taxi-drivers in London, tipping washroom janitors is a must (actually, they won't let you use the washroom otherwise so it really is a must).
We're about an hour from Amsterdam and Flip is telling us about the Netherlands and Holland, like what to eat (eg: French fries dipped in mayonnaise instead of ketchup, or "kipkroket" which is miscellaneous deep-fried meat), what to drink, why most of the houses are tall and narrow (and sometimes very crooked) and how people in Amsterdam speak even better English than her (she's from Australia). She also warned us of a "beautiful blonde woman" that would invite people into a bar for a drink. After a few drinks, she would demand you buy drinks for everyone in the house -- which can lead you to spending over €8,000 ($10,400). Flip never explained what the woman's motives were, but I think perhaps the woman works for the bar.
Tomorrow morning we get to go shopping and I plan to go to the Anne Frank House. Tomorrow afternoon we leave for the Rhine Valley in Germany.
From our stop at a road-side food store, I discovered the Dutch are a very friendly group of people -- a lot more than the Brits! Maybe that's because of the weed, but I'd like to think the country of my forefathers is a very welcoming country (and it doesn't hurt that I'm Canadian).
PS: Flip said that along with weed, mushrooms are legal in Amsterdam too. However, I think I'll pass on those as well, even though she encourages people to use them because "you'll never experience it risk-free again".
PPS: Flip also says that if you get caught taking pictures of the "women of the night", they will summon a police-man or guard who will quickly arrive, catch you, smash your camera and toss you into the canal. I wouldn't mind being thrown into a canal, but after all the hassle my camera has given me, the last thing I want to do is have it smashed to bits.
After we arrived at the Hotel Nieuw Slotania and found our rooms, we were served an excellent buffet. I had pasta, salad, French fries (or "chips" in Europe; North American chips are called "crisps") and deep-fried chicken. I tried mayo with my fries today and they were pretty good! Although mayo isn't the healthiest of things to eat, Dutch people are the tallest in the world, so mayo can't be all that bad for you.
After supper, we went for our canal cruise. Amsterdam is beautiful at night! The shop lights glimmer on the water and it's stunning to see! Unfortunately, there was an open bar on the cruise ship and I used it a couple of times, so none of my pictures really turned out.
We had the option of red or white wine and I chose red. I'm not a wine drinker but Mark -- the guy I met in the elevator back in London -- took red wine and he told me earlier that he was a wine collector back home. I thought the wine was mediocre, but Mark said it was excellent. After my episode with Guinness in London, I'm starting to think that maybe alcohol and I just don't mix.
Before I discuss what I saw in the Red Light District, let me give you a brief history lesson:
The sex-trade is very popular in Eastern Europe. People from the east would come to the west and kidnap beautiful women and take her back to their country where she wouldn't speak the language and couldn't get help. Then, the kidnappers would sell her to the highest bidder and she'd be gone forever. The Netherlands are the half-way point between Eastern and Western Europe and Amsterdam is a capital of it, as well as the capital of the sex-trade. Or, at least, it was. Amsterdam legalized prostitution and offers medical-care and a decent wage for female and male "service people". Flip told us a story about a girl she once met that sat in a window of the Red Light District in a school-girl outfit while working on a laptop computer. Flip asked her if she was an escort or a student and it turned out she was both! She was using her working time to study and paid for her tuition and living allowance with the money she made through her, um, "study breaks". Amsterdam's Red Light District has drastically slowed the sex-trade and has, in a sense, won European women back some dignity.
Once we entered the Red Light District (the red lights mean a woman is available while the blue lights mean she's occupied) we saw many windows of scantily dressed women preening and flirting with the men who strolled past. I saw a few women get "purchased" and a few change their blue lights to red as men left their rooms. There were also many erotic stores in that area of town.
We finished our walk through the Red Light District and went to the sex-show at the Theatre Casa Rosso. We watched several "acts", some solo and some with partners, but all on a rotating table in front of a generic movie-theater.
The show did dehumanize sex, but before the show began we were told that all the couples performing not only knew each other, but were married! Twice during the show a solo artist called up a member from my tour group to help them with their act. Once on stage -- I learned later -- the performer informed the tour group member that they wouldn't have to actually touch anything inappropriate.
The final act was one where members of our tour group were selected to participate. The solo artist was a scantily dressed Hawaiian dancer. After scanning the crowd her eyes fell on me and asked me to join her on stage.
I declined. I didn't think my girlfriend would approve of me being at a sex-show, let alone being a part of it!
The solo artist chose five other people from the audience to join her. Once she got them onto the stage, she left for a few moments and returned, nude, with a banana. She then lied on the ground, placed the partly unpeeled banana into her vagina and got the chosen five to eat it. Although everything was clean and sanitized, I was very glad I didn't participate in that!
After the banana was finished, a person in a gorilla outfit with a very large, erect (obviously fake) penis came on stage. The gorilla flirted with the Hawaiian woman and the chosen five, walked to the edge of the stage and fired water (although it didn't seem like water!) from its phallus.
After making sure I got nothing on me, I looked back up at the stage to see the gorilla take off its fake mask and was stunned to see it was our female tour guide Flip!
After the show, we went for another walk through the Red Light District, this time through "Skinny Ally", which was not only a very narrow ally, but also contained very thin women wearing basically nothing at all.
Then we were shown the coffee shops, bars and cafes in the area. You don't buy coffee at a coffee shop, we were told. Instead, that's where you buy weed or space-cakes (which we were told to only eat half of, and then save the other half for later). If you want coffee, you are supposed to go to a cafe, and if you want alcohol you are to go to a bar.
Flip said we were on our own to get back to the hotel, but that she would be at a bar all night and if somebody was too drunk (many people were very drunk by then) to find our way home, she would take them back to the hotel later that night.
I decided I had had enough of the Amsterdam nightlife after that. Three other people (Kristi, Pam and Daisuke) and myself took a taxi back. It came to €18.20 and I gave the cab driver the change as a tip along with my best attempt at Dutch, "Dank u well" which means "Thank you very much."
Dutch is very similar to English and I wish I had more time to practice it. The phrases I know so far are:
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.
As I stood in the courtyard of Fort Henry, I heard screams emanating from within. Fort Henry was constructed to protect the Kingston Royal Dockyard from the invading American forces during the War of 1812. The threat was so real that the capital of Canada – which was then Kingston – was moved to Quebec to protect it. The docks are all that stood between the United States and the St. Lawrence River and both countries were all too familiar with how easily it would turn the tides of battle.
As the screams from inside Fort Henry faded, I turned to the man beside me. He had come with his family. We got talking, trying to calm our nerves as bloodied clowns and undead mimes began wandering out from inside the fort.