Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Waterworks: tacky beaches, canals, canals, canals.

Other than football [but I decided that needed it's own post] we've done a bit of exploring in other towns while we've been here.
Our second day, while the weather was still nice [which we were firmly instructed NOT to get used to] we took a trip to Scheveningen, the 'most popular beach in the Netherlands'. And what a monstrosity it is. The beach itself is nothing to write home about, it's quite large, flat, reasonably nice sand through most of it, calm water... but then there are the shops, stalls, bars, restaurants... and the beach chairs. Now, any sane New Zealander, when going to the beach, will tend to sit on a towel on the sand, looking at the water [when they're not out enjoying the waves, that is]. But this beach was absolutely crammed full of little huts and covered chairs, umbrellas, even some beds... all of which you had to pay the staff of the bar or restaurant your chair was in front of before you could use them... and all of which were facing away from the beach!! So this is how to appreciate the nicest beach in Holland... don't sit on the sand, don't look at the water, don't let any sun get through your shelter... Why you'd bother to leave home in the first place, we couldn't fathom. But we did have a nice walk up the beach, and even almost got a tiny bit sunburnt, so it was a pretty good day out for us.
Later that week we took a day trip to Delft, home of the famous Dutch blue and white painted ceramics. It was a very pretty town, with [of course] the characteristic canals and bridges everywhere, and hundreds of places where you could purchase said blue and white souvenirs.
We also eventually took our first trip into Amsterdam. And it pretty much lived up to all the hype. The smell of smoke [of the green variety] was considerably stronger than in Leiden, Delft or The Hague, and the 'coffeeshops' were much more blatant and tacky. We took a short stroll down the red light district canal [just because you have to say you've seen it once] and even though it was early afternoon, it was still fairly shocking. Window after window full of pouts and flirty smiles... though we have been told that it is a far less peaceful stroll in the evening, when those on both sides of the windows get more pushy... but we decided hearing about that was more than enough! The Amsterdam canals are quite spectacular - they are as prevalent in the smaller towns, but much smaller, so they don't leave quite the same impression. Some of the old buildings were as impressive, particularly the tiny narrow houses that are left over from when rates were charged based on how much road frontage your building took up - one house is a mere 2.02m wide!! We went on a canal tour, and the city certainly has a lot of charm to it, particularly when seen from a peaceful viewpoint on the water.
But overall, we felt it lacked a lot of what we like about the smaller towns due to the general big-city-feel, though of course it always has it's points of difference [dubious though they are].

For now though, it's time to get excited about Belgium and all the awesome music we're going to see this weekend at Graspop....bring it on!

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