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Five Days in Amsterdam


Four cyclists from New York who had been on the G8 Bike Ride with me were planning to visit Amsterdam before returning to the States, and not having a job to return to I thought I might as well join them. We decided to take my car on the ferry from Harwich, which worked out at a fairly reasonable £52 each for a 5 day return. We left London early on Tuesday July 12th and got to Harwich in good time to board the Stena Discovery which whisked us to Hoek van Holland at the absurd speed of 40 knotts. Driving in Holland was not a problem until we reached Amsterdam Amsterdam where the profusion of cycle lanes and tram tracks required a little getting used to. Once we reached the Centre it became clear that bringing a car may not have been the best idea! Parking cost over 3 Euro per hour and we were advised that enforcement was very strict. So I waited while someone went to get directions to a squatted bakery where we were hoping to stay. This turned out to be on Zeeburgerpad where parking was free after 19:00 (which by then it was) so we were OK till the morning.

There were a couple of other Americans staying at the bakery who I had already met in Scotland during the G8 Summit. There was also a big pile of bike parts along with a few complete ones including a couple of tall bikes. Amsterdam really is a Mecca for cyclists and we soon regretted not having brought our own machines. We could have rented bikes for about 7 Euro per day but that seemed too touristy and in any case we were doing this trip on the cheap. Another option would have been to buy second hand bikes which are apparently available for as little as 10 Euro, but we didn't want to prop up the vast trade in stolen bikes so we ended up walking everywhere. Another thing we learned was that by taking the car up to the North through the IJ tunnel we would be able to find free parking, and that we could then get back to Central Station on one of the frequent free ferries. Staying at the bakery was not encouraged but was OK for one night so we settled in and I set my alarm to get up and move the car before 09:00 at which point we would either have had to start paying through the nose or risk getting it towed.

In the morning we dumped the car in the North, bought some supplies from a supermarket and walked to the ferry to get back to the Centre. Having recently cycled 800 odd miles I was quite happy to spend the day lounging around in the sun next to a canal and watch life go by, but eventually we had to think about a place to stay. We had heard about a squatted campsite somewhere in the North and at the Fort van Sjakoo Bookshop (Specialized in libertarian and radical ideas from the first to the fifth world and beyond...) we narrowed down its location to Kinselmeer. We returned to the car and drove out past Durgerdam and along the dyke till we found the place but unfortunately (due to a number of recent evictions in the city) they were "full" so we has to come up with a new plan (I suspect that if I had been on my own I would have been able to stay - travelling in a group of five has it's downsides). We thought about rough camping but that would have involved the risk of being moved on by the police (or even fined as we were warned by some people) so we decided to go back and check out Camping Vliegenbos which we had spotted earlier. This was not optimal since it would require spending money, but we reduced the cost by paying for a tent and two people and then having three undeclared guests magically appear (fortunately I had brought a jumbo sized tent).

On Thursday we were determined to sort out the accommodation situation so we headed back to the bakery where someone recommended Camping Zeeburg, but before going to check it out we popped in to ASCII (Amsterdam Subversive Centre for Information Interchange) currently located on Javastraat. OK, so finally we got to the campsite and it seemed pretty cool - cheaper than Vliegenbos too - but by now it was getting late and the tent was in the car all the way up in the North. We returned to the bakery and explained the situation. It was agreed that two of us would make the long trek to fetch the car, but that we would then all spend the night in the bakery and move to the campsite in the morning.

On Friday morning two of us got up before 09:00 again and drove the car to the campsite where we booked in and put up the tent. We paid the extra 4 Euro to park on site and with everything sorted we were free to enjoy the rest of the day. After a leisurely breakfast sitting by a canal we made our way to a shop that sold mushrooms and purchased three 30g portions of a variety labelled "Ecuadorian" (two of the Americans were abstaining from hallucinogens and left the rest of us to get on with it). A quick visit to a nearby Coffee Shop for a gram of weed and we were ready. It took a while to chew through 30g of mushrooms and if you have ever done it you will know that it is far from pleasant:-) Then there is the 40 minutes or so of anticipation waiting for them to do their magic. By the time I felt the first rush we were on a free tour of Brouwerij 't IJ which is a small brewery located in a windmill - quite a challenging environment for a trip! It was interesting but I was happy to get outside at the end of the tour and sit in the sun sampling some of their excellent beer. Eventually we all ended up back at the campsite and I fell asleep under the stars.

Saturday morning we broke camp and took the car back to the North. After another ferry ride and long walk (goddamit!) we arrived at Jonas Daniel Meijerplein for reclaimsterdam! which was a demonstration organised as a response to the eviction of Pakhuis Africa in particular, and the gentrification (for want of a better word) of Amsterdam in general. After a few speeches we set off on quite a long march through the city, lead by the excellent Infernal Noise Brigade from Seattle. The march grew to several hundred in number but the policing seemed pretty low key by UK standards. We ended up at Museumplein where the local Food Not Bombs group (at least I think it was them) provided free soup and bread for everyone. Here we learned that the Infernal Noise Brigade were doing a gig later at a party on a ship and it seemed like that would be the place to be!

The instructions to get to the party were simple - just take the NDSM ferry from Central Station and there you are. It turned out that the ship in question was the MS Stubnitz which had just arrived in Amsterdam the previous day. The admission fee was 3 Euro, which I paid while some of the others managed to sneak on board. The Stubnitz was pretty amazing, with a couple of bars, lighting, projections, crazy welded steel sculptures etc. A perfect venue for the Infernal Noise Brigade Infernal Noise Brigade who marched on board and played for a while on deck before descending progressively down into the bowels of the ship. Whenever they weren't playing DJ Marcelle van Hoof provided an eclectic mix to keep the punters happy. Having to drive the following day I thought it wise to get some sleep so I left the ship while the party was still going on and laid my sleeping bag out on some waste ground at the edge of the docks. I could hear the Infernal Noise Brigade get stuck into another set as I drifted off to sleep.

Sunday morning we left Amsterdam first thing and drove down to Den Haag where we spent a couple of hours wandering around before heading to the ferry and back to London. All in all very good trip, but it would have been better still if we had gone by bike. Ian Gregory 2010