Amsterdam (continued)

Relieved to be back at the hotel I started my usual preparations for that night. Listened to live-streamed UK radio 4, a discussion about nudity – its cultural history & changing meaning.

After downing nearly half of the vodka I was finally ready to hit the town. My new self-assurance that tonight had to be the night. This time I found the red light area with no problem. A narrow street led from the canal. I vaguely remember a couple of women, one typically blonde, perhaps mid twenties in the usual skimpy underwear. But she hardly got off her stool, since there as I reached the door approached someone dark skinned and considerably older. I can’t say whether she was black or mixed; her maturity was the main thing I noticed about her. I even asked her age and she told me 35yrs. Well, maybe she’d lived a hard life; many sex workers have, let’s be honest. In any case I doubt she was older than me. [A section of text has been removed for inappropriate content]

After exiting I realised I’d put my jacket on inside out, so dipped into a quiet side-street to correct it. As I strode to the end I nearly bumped into a group of lads at the intersection. I stepped back in to let them pass. But they instead turned towards me. One of them kicked me in the shin, and all three of them seemed to laugh at that. He hadn’t used much force but it was enough to be annoying after the initial shock. Surely they were on something; alcohol makes casual violence easy, and I felt the urge to search them out and be violent back (though thankfully I didn’t). I don’t see myself as the type to get picked on; I’m not big but at a glance I could pass for a middleweight boxer. It was the first time anyone has shown violence and it hasn’t put me off visiting dodgy places, which is probably inevitable with what I seek out. But then Amsterdam, for all its tawdriness, reputation for drugs, doesn’t feel like a threatening place.


The next and last day I returned to the city centre. It seemed a more gentile and tourist-friendly place, but still very crowded, mostly under 30s. I considered visiting another sex-worker, with 50euros still in my pocket. And maybe I would have done but for the lack of them at early afternoon. Difficult to know in the harsh light of day, albeit mildly intoxicated, whether I would have gone though with it.


Generally the rail system works well, but Amsterdam station could maybe do with a simpler information display. There are so many different types of train. Had to ask one of the staff in the end which platform. The return journey was by high speed back to Brussels. The most interesting part was when a couple got searched for drugs. A team including sniffer dog. This is passing through the Schengen countries so it’s a good opportunity for smuggling. They returned to their seat. Maybe just a bit of hash, not enough to warrant arrest but still hardly worth what they must have gone through.

In conclusion, Amsterdam is not somewhere I’d ever want to revisit. Maybe great if you’re looking to experience the weed, some tulips, or just the culture. Not (IMHO) the best place to visit for [text removed for inappropriate content]. Amsterdam’s very reputation, attracting millions of tourists, makes it seem over-hyped and caricatured. Perhaps a victim of its own success.

Surely there are many like me who discovered, or had it confirmed to them, that the idea of this city is better than the reality.

To read the complete version:  Sin Cities (Amazon UK)

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Rotterdam, Amsterdam… and the troublesome travel bags

Rotterdam central is within easy reach by Eurostar. The advantage of rail – other than the carbon saving – is you can take a comfortable amount of luggage, not have to spend hours or days refining your choice down to what that just-flight-legal cabin bag will hold without breaking its zip. In February I’d really struggle with that for a three nighter.

Had an embarrassing incident at the St Pancras terminal after I’d forgotten to zip my bag’s back pocket. Travel passes and a spare phone fell out seemingly just after I’d walked the few metres to the queue with it on my back, I only realised when other passengers had picked them up. I must have been distracted by the surprise announcement, and lost in some discussion on streamed radio.

Embarrassed at my carelessness, I decided part of the problem was with my cheap eBay bag – I now would always associate with that embarrassing incident, so decided to buy a new one. Spent half an hour or so looking through sports discount store rucksacks. Well, it passed some of the time. After dark, the journey really dragged. No sense of the 200+km speed cross country. Still, one train journey from London to the Rotterdam central can’t be bad.

Only one night in Rotterdam before moving on to the capital. Glad to arrive late enough I wouldn’t feel the need to go out again since that meant notifying the hotel proprietor on return. How different from the capital!




Next day it was chilly, breezy, and not much sun; the kind of coldness just enough to be uncomfortable in the one jacket not too warm to wear inside a station. Hours before my bus was due. Much cheaper than train if you book in advance. Relieved to get out of the cold rain. Then at the destination I climbed out and made for the luggage area of the bus, and could not understand why it was closed. No one else taking their luggage. Then opened and shown to me it was empty. I was baffled, until he pointed out my bag was behind me. But how had I not noticed it? Surely it hadn’t been there the whole time? I know my peripheral vision is not the best (I’ve passed by a friend on the street completely unrecognising more than once). But to not see it at all. Still baffles me. It was as if this luggage bag had developed some power to make me seem foolish beyond its cheap appearance. My dislike of it became hatred. It was definitely going get dumped for another.

The budget XO hotel turned out to be impressive, other than its dimensions. Though it was away from the city centre. I could have upgraded to a double for under 2euros but that somehow seemed unnecessary. The room itself was impressively well-equipped with tech, for a 3star: a coffee machine, huge TV and luxury shower.

That evening I searched for a Lidl, hoping to find some cheap vodka. But nothing more than beer. Carrying basic supplies I headed back, still hoping to find an off-licence near the hotel as most shops were closing before 7. I ended up in a ‘night shop’. The cheapest bottle of 70cl was 21euros! Normally a discount supermarket in Belgium or Germany would sell the same for no more than €9. It had to be tax. I’m happy to pay loads of duty on spirits in the UK, but on holiday it leaves me feeling exploited. Nevertheless I bought it. I drank nearly a third that night.

That night I took a train into the notorious city centre. After drinking over a third of the vodka it seemed like a good idea. But it was getting late, approaching nine. The old town was crowded despite it being a cold winter Tuesday night. Somehow the red light district eluded me. But that night was, you might call it, a dry run, though I was there too long given my ticket only lasted an hour. No choice, it seemed, but to walk the entire 5km journey back. This is when you are glad of the alcohol in your system.

Second morning in Amsterdam, slightly hungover and tired-legged I set out to buy my new luggage bag. Train fares are way simpler than most other countries, not least the UK. I got one ticket that lasted 24hrs for 8euros. Amsterdam Noord Park first, where I went for a walk, yes, around the park. With the sun it felt pleasant to eat my grated cheese sandwich and cereal bar.


On to Noord town. I headed for a Decathlon store and picked up the rucksack I’d thoroughly perused online. I think I’d had a quick check of the zips before taking it to the counter to pay in cash, rather than self service. There was a queue so I had a look around and picked up a cheap bottle. Another embarrassing incident followed. The cashier asked me: ‘Is their anything inside?’
‘I’m not sure,’ came my honest response. Somehow I hadn’t noticed how it was filled out.
He unzipped it to look inside. And I can’t remember his exact words. But I remember the word ‘shoplifting,’ said both for me and his assistant who had suddenly appeared. He then started pulling out these little boxes, and commented: ‘Those would set off the alarm.’
But soon he realised they were just empty boxes, mostly flattened. Though he still seemed perplexed. I pointed out they must have been used to fill out the rucksack. At this point, I don’t know who was the most embarrassed. I hadn’t fully processed whether he was seriously suspecting me of attempted shoplifting, more concerned was I about making up the right cash. After I’d paid he said, ‘have a nice day.’ And I left with the burgeoning realisation that I’d been suspected not only of attempted theft but of being a rather stupid thief.

…to be continued.

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Stuttgart – the return!

Stuttgart was a place I had to revisit for a number of reasons. Not least the vast forests that stretch for 10s of kms. It is always tempting to walk too far just to see what the next section brings. So many paths that branch off. I failed, though, to find my route from last year where the colours were stunning! This year I arrived two weeks earlier in the season. The best time I think is early November. But with the fear of crashing out of the EU on Oct31 I booked for those last few days before. Weather was OK, mostly cloudy. One thing that struck me: the absence of any wild animals, not a single bird. A strange subdued atmosphere, calm, that can become quite eerie when the light fades.


Still quite a few people about, some with dogs. More cyclists than before, causing a tinge of envy – you can get a sense of unlimited trails but of little progression, and occasionally the monotony. So I decided to try the narrow cross trails. Even along those you can encounter a mountainbiker, but I ended up on the more extreme gradients – and really felt the burn in my calves! Found myself on a wooded hill with no trail visible except on my phone map, thinking how without that I’d be starting to panic.


IMG_20191030_142259.jpgEventually I ended up near a station. So it may well have seemed logical to take a train back. But no, that would just have felt like a failure. I’d gotten into that mindset of seeing a way to navigate back. And back on the main path felt good, what makes using a GPS map enjoyable. Only: the hills, they take their toll!

Finally, in the hotel. That sense of relief and accomplishment. But my legs were near gone. And this wasn’t good news for my night-time plans,

Continue reading of my Euro adventures here from UK

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Hot in Dusseldorf!

Düsseldorf was hot. The kind of heat you have to submit to or it can drive you crazy. For me it nearly did.

Düsseldorf was hot. The kind of heat you have to submit to or it can drive you crazy. For me it nearly did.

Another record-breaking summer in Europe. This was climate change in action. I tried to offset my carbon when booking the flight and buying travel insurance. Well, it’s only an hour by plane from Stansted to Weeze, but until there is a decent rail link there’s no other option. Not the main airport – Weeze is tiny and it’s a long way from the city centre, about 80km. It hadn’t occurred to me there’d be two but Düsseldorf Weeze has a good train link and the airport was generally less aggravating than Düsseldorf international.

Return journey pic.IMG_20190828_151137

It did start well. I even got a free train journey, offered by a student I met at the airport who said she’d include me on her pass – which covered the replacement [for the bus] taxi. I must admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed, not only by her kindness but also her preternatural attractiveness (that is, not just physically). She was, though, with a man also in his early twenties, and there was another young traveller she made the same offer to. Not that I would ever have had a chance with her under any circumstance. Even in my dream she was completely unobtainable. Rightfully. I would have thought had I been her age on meeting her I’d have been totally tongue-tied, but here I was talking about the heatwave and discussing Euro travelling. When she removed the band and shook her blonde hair free I felt myself go weak at the knees. In her short denim shorts and vest she must have known the effect she had on men. But being such a warm night there seemed nothing inappropriate in that. I think there is something about the heat that intensifies feelings.

After an awkward parting, I made it to the hotel. Late check-in was ok: pick the key – actually a contactless fob – out of a safe, to open doors. It’s the future!

Next day a long walk in the heat through wide trailed woods. Good to shelter under the canopy of trees. What a contrast the weather made from last time.


A woman runner passed me. And very soon I heard her gasping for breath and groaning. Turned round to see her doubled over. She sounded in a desperate state. I was surprised not least because she looked like a professional athlete. Yet there was no way I could have ignored her. But when I asked her if she was all right suddenly she stood up straight, a slight look of surprise. After a few words of German she was very much ‘I’m fine.’ I offered her a drink but she assured me she was very near her friend who had a drink. The incident left me bemused. It seemed as if she had been exaggerating her state of exhaustion, that she wanted to catch my attention. But then once she got a good view of me – or at least knew I’m not German – had second thoughts. I felt embarrassed afterwards and took an alternative path and waited out on a bench. A troubling thought then: the situation could have been construed that I was trying to take advantage of her. Approaching a lone woman on an isolated path is not something I’d normally do. But if I hadn’t I’d have felt bad. The heat has strange effects.

Left it respectably late to buy my usual in Lidl. Then finally back to the hotel – a relief! The room was way too warm so I took a cool shower. Started drinking the booze from about 5:30, and eating, possibly too much of either. Large packets of snacks not designed for one person.

Then something happened that left me shocked and disturbed. Not so much that I fell asleep. It was more a total dreamless unconsciousness. I’d got through two thirds of the bottle, and it seemed as a result knocked myself out. I don’t remember anything after about 7pm. Woke up at around 3am. I’d lost a night – as if the time had never existed. What would have been a very important night. I wondered: was it too late? Maybe I should have wondered: could I have died? I did wonder: could that be what it’s like to be dead? Pointless thoughts. Dark thoughts. Nothing else but to go back to sleep and hope I can make up for my lost night.

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