Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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We explore!

Wednesday 24 August 05

It's just after 8:00 am, Graham has had a cup of coffee and gone off to find the conference. He intends to register and find out what's going on, then he will sneak away and we will meet by the Central Station and go exploring. Don't know where yet; I'm hoping to find some guided walks because they were a good way of finding out about intersting things when we were in Copenhagen last year.

Wednesday 7:30 pm

We found a walking tour and my legs are tired. We are now back in the hotel, relaxing and considering what to order from room service. I want something to eat; Graham is still not hungry, but he had a huge cheeseburger in McDonalds at lunchtime and I only had a veggie pitamac (pitta stuffed with assorted veggies and cheese). Anyway, neither of us want a big restaurant meal, but I need a little something or I will be hungry and fretful by bed time.

So, what have we done today? Been all over the centre of Amsterdam, seen the most famous sights and bought one of the things that Amsterdam has long been famous for. It wasn't a tulip from the flower market (though we did go there) and it wasn't anything from the Red Light District (though we went there as well). Neither was it a pair of clogs or a mind altering substance.

But before this I did some mundane shopping and bought green tea bags and coffee because the hotel supply doesn't make enough cups of tea and coffee for our needs. Also shampoo for Graham because he is fussy about his shampoo and is suspicious of that provided by the hotel. I failed, however, to find a bag to replace the one with the broken strap. I did locate a tourist information place, or so-called tourist information place. It was more like a booking office for hotels and tours and nothing like the excellent tourist information place in Copenhagen where I bought my delightful Moomin mugs last year. But they did have a leaflet giving information about the walking tours.

By now it was time to meet Graham at the Central Station, so I hopped on a tram and got there three minutes early to find him waiting. He had sorted out his conference things and had discovered a much quicker way to travel in and out of the centre, to whit the Sneltram. Because I had bags of shopping and Graham had all the conference bumf, I suggested that we return to the hotel to dump the things we didn't need and have a cup of tea/coffee before embarking on the afternoon's sightseeing.

This was when Graham revealed that he had solved my bag problem. Possibly.

It had become something of a family joke that at every conference Graham attends, he is given a bag. Some are little more than zipped folders, but this was the best bag ever, one of those rucksacks with a single shoulder strap. It was a really useful bag -- except that it was bright red!

I tried it on and felt rather like a post-woman. On the other hand, it was just the right size. So I transferred everything from the broken bag to the rucksack and we set off on the Sneltram back to Central Station.

Lunch was eaten in McDonalds, quick, cheap and cheerful, which left us just time to walk down the Damrak to the starting point for the afternoon walking tour.

In Copenhagen the tour leader did the tour in the persona of Hans Christian Anderson, dressed in blue tail coat and top hat. The woman who led this tour was nowhere near as tall or flamboyant, also the streets of Amsterdam were much more crowded, so one had to concentrate to avoid being left behind.

We all trooped through the Red Light District, past sex shops and pizza places and semi-naked women displaying themselves in windows and bars and various restaurants and cafes and churches -- yes there are four churches. It was all very jolly and strangely unerotic. I have very ambivalent feelings about prositution, but it did seem that the Dutch organise it better than the British. Having stayed in Manchester in a university hall of residence that was right by Manchester's "Red Light" area, where we were warned that we women might be approached by men looking for sex and the men might be approached by women offering it, I felt that the window rental system had a lot to recommend it.

Anyway, the tour was well worth it because as well as the Red Light District, our leader took us through hidden corners that we would never have found for ourselves, like a little cut through a roofed alleyway hung with pictures of the city guard and leading to an old building which had been an orphanage, opposite which were the old lockers where the boys kept their belongings. Neither would we have found the beautiful little square of old arms house, a tiny oasis of peace (apart from the trooping tourists, of course!) in a noisy and busy city.

Our final destination of the day was the Gasson diamond factory where we had a quick tour in which we were shown how the diamonds are cut and polished. The names of the different cuts were explained and then a saleswoman demonstrated the different sizes and colours with real diamonds extracted from little paper packets and deployed on the desk and manipulated dextrously with tweezers. Definitely a case of "Ooh, shiny!"

And it was when the woman brought out trays of sparkly rings and pendants that I glanced down at my engagement ring and remembered that I needed a diamond.

Some time ago, probably getting on for a year now, I noticed that I'd lost one of the tiny diamonds from my engagement ring. The main stone in my ring is an emerald, but it's surrounded by eight little diamonds, one of which had gone awol. I'd kept meaning to take it in to be mended, and kept forgetting, but there I was, sitting in a diamond factory where they had loose diamonds of all shapes sizes, colours and qualities to hand.

So I tentatively asked, and the woman took my ring off somewhere, and then came back, and phoned someone up, and then gave us a price of 15 euros (I said it was a tiny diamond, didn't I?). We said fine. (We probably couldn't even have got a jeweller to look at in the UK for that price). We paid and then she said that they were fitting it and would we wait in the coffee shop? I hadn't expected them to fit it; I'd just thought they would give it us in a tiny package and I could get a local jeweller to fit it at home. The only problem was that we were supposed to be getting a boat back to the Central Station with the rest of our party. We found our tour leader ad explained that we were waiting for my ring, so not to worry if we didn't appear on the boat. But just in time, the woman from the diamond factory appeared with my ring, now all sparkly, with all diamonds present and correct and we made it to the boat in time to complete the tour.

We took the sneltram back to the hotel where, because we were too tired to go down to sit in the restaurant, we ordered dinner from room service (as mentioned previously) and ate in our room while watching TV.

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