Friday, July 14, 2006

Somewhat travel-stained

I'm back. A week and a half in Portugal (great seafood and the best squid i have EVER had) at conference. Mostly at a conference. The couple of days i had in Lisbon before and after were fairly nuts - Lisboans are crazy drivers, hard sellers, pathological ice tea drinkers and very fit... The city centre is right on the river (10-15 km wide 'river') and consists of a dozen or so neatly arranged blocks on perfectly flat land and then slopes up gradually away from the river and incredibly steeply either side. 10 minutes walk (virtually vertically mind you) brings you to terraces with uninterrupted panoramas of the whole city. Stadium seating has nothing on Lisbon. Nothing!
Oh and there is a castle too. With resident peacocks and cats. (Aww...)

The conference was at a town 3 hours to the north - beautiful place called Aveiro - where noone got up or opened a shop before midday and even midweek the restaurants didn't close before 2 am. They really know how to live up there. The can't be bothered having a siesta in the afternoon - they prefer to get it over and done with first thing in the morning. No, seriously, the streets are empty until after midday.

ANyway, then i went to Amsterdam. (Caught a 2:30AM flight from Lisbon airport. And i thought the Perth to Sydney red-eye was bad.)
Amsterdam is possibly one of the prettiest cities i've been in. It has canals. I didn't know that. And it is flat flat flat. It possibly has more bikes per capita than Beijing. The major crime is not pickpocketing, but bike theft - locals use 2 or 3 chains on good bikes, or just settle for bad ones no one wants to steal.

And it is true: the prostitutes parade in their lingerie behind full length windows lit up in red. The red light district is spread out over most of the heart of town, and what seems kinda openminded and happy on a saturday night seems down right strange at 10am on a Tuesday morning.

Also, it is true: Amsterdam has cafes that sell coffee and coffeeshops that don't. (Actually, they do sell coffee, but that's not the point. They are called 'coffee shops' because part of the hash/marijuana licencing bargain is that they don't sell alcohol. If that "Coffee and Cigarettes" movie had been set in Amsterdam it would have been somewhat different...)

I feel bound to reassure people that i am not a stoner and in fact will normally decline the occassional offer that floats my way, but Amsterdam just does things to people. I give no apology. It's virtually cultural when you're in Amsterdam, and we all know that the main point of travelling is to experience other cultures first hand, don't we? :-) So i made the most of it.

My four-day sojourn in Amsterdam was basically a constant litany of coffee-alcohol-pot-coffee-pot-alcohol-tea-pot-alcohol etc etc etc with occasional episodes of sleep and food on the side.
And marathon 3 hour sessions of intense Backgammon in a particularly cozy coffeeshop off the edges of the map.

Here is part of an email i sent to the Boy. Enjoy.

Ah, You should be here!!!!! This place is insane, you'd LOVE it.
All i keep thinking is that i ought to be running around the city stoned with you, rather than my crazy friends. Or with my crazy friends, but definitely with you. The city is so pretty, really pretty, like a perfectly flawless apple with a rotten core. So very very good. The city functions totally happily interwoven with its licentious (and very popular) spirit. The streets smelll like pot, they have a dozen different types of bud and a dozen types of hash in every 'coffeeshop', beer isn't too expensive, food is multicultural but very expensive, and you don't have to go too far to get out of all the craziness.*

I really wish i'd brought my black pants though - there was the second of two trance parties last night, the first being the Sensations White party last weekend and last night being the Sensations Black party. Strict dress code, of course, and it was at the Amsterdam Arena so rarely sells out before the night (5000 people) so i would have probably gotten in if it wasn't for my total lack of black pants. Sigh. So i just ran around the city with crazy dan smoking too much. Fun!

*apparently, only 30 min of cycling will get you to real tulip and windmill country. Something to do next time i go.

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