16 Oct

As I walk through a particularly busy part of Amsterdam on my lunch break I notice two girls across the street. I’d seen them there several times before, every day in fact. They were always standing outside the shop where they work, both wearing aprons and holding a plate of free samples which they would offer to passers-by.

At this particular moment on this particular day they had attracted the curiosity of a short middle age couple who were walking towards them. One of the girls notices this, holds her plate a little lower and asks if they would like a free sample. The man who seems the most interested picks up one of the free samples and sniffs it cautiously.

Between them the two girls start to happily explain what it is and that their shop sells a lot more of them inside when suddenly he does something that (it seems) neither of them were expecting; he takes a great big bite.

There is a sudden look of horror on the girls’ faces. The man simply looks confused. The two girls suddenly start talking very fast, trying to stop him from doing it again. They are too late. As if in hope that the taste might get better with a second try he takes another bite.

But the taste does not get any better because these two girls are not giving out free samples of cake or sweets or anything else tasty or edible for that matter. No. They are giving out free samples of soap.

The man slowly starts to chew.

Suddenly realizing that he is a tourist who does not speak any Dutch or English, the two girls resort to sign language. One of them starts to frantically mime bathing with an imaginary bar of soap while the other repeats the word ‘soap’ over and over again in a desperate attempt to stop him swallowing.

This only results in the tourist looking even more confused as he tries to work out what on earth these two very strange girls are doing and why they would have given him such terrible tasting candy.

Eventually he decides that he has tried enough. He spits the mouthful back into his hand and shakes his head apologetically at the two girls as if to say sorry but in his opinion their baking is not very good. He walks off, talking to his wife in a foreign language (probably about the strange eating habits of other countries) and throws the sample in a nearby bin.

The girls, looking slightly stressed, breathe a sigh of relief.

I carry on walking down the street, chuckling to myself.

A few days later I returned to pick up my own sample for this photo. The first thing one of the girls said to me was, “Do you speak English? Don’t eat this. It’s not food.” It seems they are not keen to repeat the incident with the soap snacking tourist.

22 Jan

A Poem About The Netherlands
By Invader Stu

Holland is a country without mountains, hills or even a slight bevel,
That’s quite alarming when you consider everything is below sea level.

The terrain is large, flat and rather featureless you see,
That’s what happens when most of it is reclaimed from the sea.

But never underestimate its importance in the euro zone,
After all it’s where all the most beautiful tulips are grown.

Oh… And calling it Holland can make the locals quite stressed,
It’s The Netherlands. Not just that province to the West.

Tourists often come for a weekend full of booze,
But leave with a pair of souvenir wooden shoes.

The drugs here are legal and can provide a lot of thrills,
But is there really anything better than visiting one of the many windmills?

During the winter the climate can be cold and rather freezing,
But the Dutch do not mind, they find this rather pleasing.

In fact the Dutch spend the whole summer waiting,
For the winter, Elfstedentocht and a chance of ice skating.

I like living in Holland. I think it is very pleasant and rather nice,
Even considering Amsterdam is overrun and controlled by mice.

But never forget that the country is completely flat,
And if the dykes ever break we’ll all get een beetje nat!

15 Dec

If Amsterdam was ever overrun by hostile forces, evil doers or ill wishers the inhabitance of the city would be able to rest easy in the knowledge that these invaders would not make much progress, quickly lose motivation, soon give up altogether and returned home in a very disgruntled mood. The reason for this cannot be attributed to any superior tactical advantage or any well designed fortifications that the city has. It is because of one thing and one thing only; moving vans.

A single moving van is capable of blocking an entire canal street thus making passage by bike quite impossible without the risk of running over a pedestrian, cycling into a dinning set, being decapitated by a wing mirror and/or pushed in to the nearby canal by the driver opening the door.

The presents of a stationary moving van usually forces a diversion which will most likely turn out to be blocked itself by another moving van. In fact it is entirely possible to have your attempted detour continually thwarted one street after another until (before you realize it) you are cycling from East Amsterdam to West Amsterdam via Rotterdam. This also means that several moving vans working together could easily shut down entire sections of the city and bring Amsterdam to its knees if they so desired. Moving vans are above the law. They answer to no one. They are the law.

Things get much worse if you are unfortunate or foolish enough to be driving around Amsterdam because a single moving van is also capable of creating very long traffic jams.

If a car encounters a moving van the driver is forced to wait and watch as every piece of furniture is paraded in front of them like some kind of Ikea drive through. Although it might feel tempting it is important to know that beeping of the horn is ineffective at this point, especially if you wish to generate sympathy for your current predicament from those living in the surrounding area.

Only once a moving van has been fully loaded with furniture, unloaded, rearranged to fit an odd shaped sofa, reloaded and the movers have had their fifth tea break (in view) will the moving van finally be ready to move. Victory is usually short lived however as most of the time the moving van just stops again after a few meters to start unloading at the new destination. Amsterdam is a small city after all.

6 Jul

Crew Members Log:
Conditions on board the tour boat are harsh. We have been patrolling the canals of Amsterdam for 20 minutes now and supplies are running low. There are only two French audio guide books and none for the Japanese. Some of us are starting to wonder if we will ever see dry land again.

We just past the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, the oldest canal in Amsterdam and once home to 16 different convents and monasteries.

I’ve heard some of the men telling stories to pass the time, unnatural, dreadful stories that would chill you to the bone. They talk about a ghost ship that sails through the canals of Amsterdam known as ‘The touring Dutchman’. They say it is an omen of doom and the bringer of bad tourist season weather. Hopefully it is a ship we will never meet but judging by the weather I fear it might be trailing our wake.

We just passed the oldest Church in Amsterdam, originally built in 1306.

When we stepped on board this tour boat each one of us swore to loyally follow our tour guide without question (until the Q&A at the end) and defend the waters of this great country, its Queen and its people in keeping with the traditions of the of the great Dutch fleets of old but as tourists I wonder how much fighting spirit we truly have amongst us.

We just passed the former headquarters of the colonial East India Company, now home to the University of Amsterdam library.

I don’t know what I would do if we were ever to engage in combat. I try not to imagine it but the scenarios start to play themselves out with in my mind. Epic and bloody battles, the madness of war, our tour guide pointing out areas of strategic interest; “If you look to your right you will see a fleet of attacking Spanish tour boats, the largest known of its kind.”

Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me going is the promised reward of a souvenir photograph for the reasonable price of 12.99 (4.99 for reprints) in return for our loyalty and bravery.

The Old meets the new – The inspiration for this post

12 Sep

Children’s cartoons might have convinced some of you that they are nothing more then harmless, cute little balls of fluff and whiskers but I am hear to tell you the true dangers of mice.

Amsterdam has always had a mouse problem. The fluffy little creatures have invaded almost every building through out the city. If you see one mouse there are ten. If you see ten there are one hundred. If you see one hundred there are one thousand. During my time in Amsterdam I have seen a lot of mice and I have been doing the math.

We are out numbered. If the little squeakers become aware of their superior numbers and develop even basic organizational skills and a half decent battle plan we are screwed. They could easily over throw the human inhabitants of this city with their and no feline or Pide-Piper would be able to save us from the hordes of cheese hungry mice.

You might think I sound like the town crazy person whose only friend is a tomato he has called Bob but I am telling you that this threat is very real.

First they would take the cities supply of cheese by force leaving the Dutch café industry crippled with out any dairy products to put in their toasties. With the Dutch morale at an all time low due to the lack of toasties and other cheese based snacks the mice would have no problem driving us out into the surrounding towns in search of a bit of Edam or Gouda. Amsterdam would become a city of mice where no human or cat would dare set foot.

But what next you ask. What would these diabolical mice do with the entire city to themselves? Well I will tell you. They will start to live the lives we left behind. They will start to fill in the gaps left behind by the human inhabitants of Amsterdam.

Dam Square would become filled with living mice statues and other street performers trying to earn money from the tourist mice that come to visit the city. Teenage mice would spend their days in little mice coffee shops; smoking mice sized portions of weed, forgetting their names and squeaking ‘dude’ a lot.

Mice taxi drivers would ignore traffic lights and over charge drunk mice returning from a late night out at the DJ Mouse night club. Bicycle mice would be every where. There would be at least one eccentric mouse who wears bright yellow clogs as every day foot wear when going to the Albert-Mouse super market.

Girl mice would dress in bikinis and pose behind glass windows, bathed in the neon light of the red light district as groups of guy mice on a stag weekend stand outside and squeak dares at one another to go and talk to them.

Sintermouse would bring presents to the good little boy and girl mice in December while Zwarte Mouse will drag the bad ones back to Spain in a sack (and yet again spark the yearly debate about possible racism in the tradition towards African Dutch mice).

Worst of all; this blog would no longer be written by myself. That is right, instead of Stuart B it would be Stuart Little.

Heed my warning.