August 15, 2003

Amsterdam to Ireland

The next day we packed up and said our goodbyes and made our way to the 2 pm train to Hook Van Holland. The train was very confusing because the front went to a town nearby and the back split off at the second last stop and then went to the Ferry Terminal. We got on the front then rushed to the back at the last minute after realising. Turns out we could have gone from the back to the front of the train as they waited before it split, but anyway it worked out. The ferry terminal was totally in fog and much colder than amsterdam. There was a large 'check-in' building with a huge lineup inside and a no-bicycle sign.

Here we are now in Ireland. We left Amsterdam last Friday.

After my initial slight dissappointment at not finding instant Utopia when I arrived in Amsterdam, I began to appreciate more how deep the bike usage is there. While I was initially finding that on the surface the city was not super different from Munich and Koln, I later realised how much it really was. Bikes are deep there. Literally. I think the German cities made a lot of effort to accomodate bikes. Equally however they tried to accomodate cars. I think the removal of cars from the downtown city core in the German cities was accompanied by building of very large (public?) parking lots, so people could drive downtown and then walk. These cities have large electronic signs around the city which display how many open parking spaces are left in the 3 or 4 major car park areas. Sometimes it would read more than 2000 spaces in a single lot unused at night time. Very much the stereotype of Germany being super organised. Germany is also one of the major centres of manufacturing of automobiles. There are loads of fancy cars there, all made in Germany. Hitler made Volkswagen, the Autobahn, idealised Henry Ford... He basically started the automobile age in a popular way that Eisenhauer in the postwar USA continued and expanded upon. The German Autobahn served hitler's ideal of the Nazi superman with super mobility in - each man his own auto. However the German are not so radical about it as the americans were, they also accomodate bikes, and they are organised enough and can afford to do a good job with the bikes. The Dutch thing is different, I don't know the history so well there. I do know there is still a big resentment remembered from the Nazi invasion when bikes were taken and melted down for armaments. They also could not dig down because they are basically at or below sea level. So there were no underground massive car parks to be built. They are not trying to accomodate cars. It is both the carrot AND the 'stick' which is effective: good bike facilities and 'punishment' or non-accomodation of automobiles. (even though I don't think non-accomodation really counts as a punishment, though most Car-minded North Americans would think of it that way). Anyway it was lovely biking there.

The next night after I last wrote we went to the Africa Squat with Anton and Carla. Anton was going to try to true the wheel of a Bakfeits that was there however it was so old and rusty he could not and he decided he would have to return sometimes with a heating torch to expand the metal and allow the spokes to turn and be trued, also he did not have the right size spoke wrench for the old fashioned obscure oversized spokes. Anyway we went in with the two of them to the Africa building for a tour. This building is a large warehouse built in 1890s out of concrete and now 'preserved' because it was historically unique at the time. It is right on the water that used to be connected to the ocean, the edge of amsterdam right next to downtown. This perticular warehouse was for storing Coco and it still smells awful (no, not like chocolate). The concrete is fireproof. There are loading doors all th way up so Coco could be loaded onto cranes and then swiveled around and dropped down into a Cargo Boat. Since the building was 'historical' the couldn't tear it down even though they wanted to build a 2 lane bridge accross the water there, only a couple years ago. So they cut out the support pillars and installed a 'temporary' metal hanging structure so highway goes right underneath. Then some people noticed the building and the one beside it (both Africa) were empty and they came to squat it. The city tried to evict them saying it was 'unsafe' however they dropped the position for now because if they said that they would have to close the road under the building and they don't want to do that so for now the Squat is safe. We climbed up the very narrow staircase and looked at the large cavernous rooms. It was dark and musty and the squatters' living room setups in the middle of the floor of the large rooms was comical. It was about 7 floors up and quite a climb. Unfortunately there are no water mains anywhere nearby so they haven't hooked up the plumbing. The electricity is from a car battery. We saw on the top floor a large rubber water bag which holds about 5000L and is normally used on boats for drinking water. They hadn't filled up the bag yet however. There was on the roof a computer and wireless internet installed already. It was a grand view of the city from the roof and amazing that this was a squatted building right next to downtown, flying a fed and black flag and all sorts of funny political slogans painted on the roof. That night they were having a punk show in the ground floor which was much more fixed up and had new wood and glass doors.

That day Jane and I were riding Antons classy old fashioned tandom bike, a beatuful antique, build like a granny bike, new 5 speed hub, chains totally enclosed. We took turns riding front. Jane was better than me at riding in the back and not getting nearvous trying to steer the bike when I couldn't. We also dropped by ASCII which is an activist computer centre. They offer free internet usage most days of the week in a squatted storefront building. They also sold for 2 a CD which had a version of linux ("knoppix" or something like that) that you could use to boot your computer straight from CD-ROM. This program is also on the internet but it save the trouble of burning yourself and makes it much easier for newbies to be introduced to Linux. I bought one and we'll see how it works in Vancouver.

That night we went out to the Vrankyrijt (pronouced Frankwright) which is a squatted bar in Amsterdam which is quite old now. It was nice, a regular bar. We went with Steven from England (who was at the CIA earlier) with his roomate and co-worker (at a anti-globilisation research group kind of like the Vancouver Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) named Claudia (from Uruguay) and her friend ... from East Germany. We all had a lot of fun and drank a lot of tiny beers (that were only 90 cents each) until it closed at 1. We went to another bar that was kind of snobby and it cost 2 euros for the same tiny beer but it was open until 3am. Jane and I gave the two women rides on the back of our bikes (steven had his own bike) to get home. It was amazing, many other people were doubling home on bikes. There was a women carrying a man much larger than her and they were both fairly drunk so it was funny to watch. But not so many cars, only bikes. Amsterdam people asked us why we were wearing helmets. We got home fine.

It was very hot all week. The next day we made some dinner for everyone in the house: a mushroom sauce pasta. That night it was showering a little even though it was still hot at 10pm. We jumped in the canal for a swim with Anton and Nina (last name Holland, currently building robinson crusoe tree forts near amsterdam to prevent logging). After the swim we rinsed off in the showed because even though they regularly flush out the canals there is a lot of dirty garbage on the bottom and people were talking about duck dying of Botulism swimming in overheated stagnant park ponds.

Thursday, our last full day, we tried to go out for Pannakoek in the morning for breakfast. However the restaurant in our cool guide was closed because of the heat. We tried to find another place and eventually found a place which had pannakoeks but not nearly as fancy as the ones in Vancouver. It was good nevertheless. In the evening we went back to Africa for a swim by ourselves. The people already swimming in the lake there (the former sea, cleaner and bigger than a canal) were very friendly and the water was warm but refreashing. The bridge had a conveininent pedestrian ramp so we could climp up it and jump off into the water. Three other boys and I jumped off at the highest point (9m) of the bridge where it was very deep. A private swimming dock for the squatters! That night Nina put on a birthday party for herself and we had a fire and feast in the 'garden' (squatted abandoned lot) with a lot of other people. We didn't swim but it was lovely. Talked to the people in the activist marching samba (percussive) band that nina plays with.

The next day we packed up and said our goodbyes and made our way to the 2 pm train to Hook Van Holland. The train was very confusing because the front went to a town nearby and the back split off at the second last stop and then went to the Ferry Terminal. We got on the front then rushed to the back at the last minute after realising. Turns out we could have gone from the back to the front of the train as they waited before it split, but anyway it worked out. The ferry terminal was totally in fog and much colder than amsterdam. There was a large 'check-in' building with a huge lineup inside and a no-bicycle sign. We figured that you don't need to check in your luggage as a bicycle and you bring your bike on with the cars. However we did have to buy a 10 euro each ticket extra for the bikes which was not included in our train fare. Anyway we rode out bikes on and showed our passports. The ferry did have a good area for securing bicycles and motorbikes, seperated from the cars, so at least we didn't pay for nothing. The ferry was a twin hulled 'fast cat' ferry. Probably similar to the BC ferries of the NDP fiasco. We got up there and it was commercial disneyland. There were only two small sections with regular seating. All the other seats were in shops or stores or a 'disco' or a 'casino' or movie theatres... Mcdonalds... Blah. You could only go outside in this tiny little area at the back which seemed to be located right under the engine exhaust. Everything was a rip off, supposedly the biggest/fastest ferry in the world whatever that combination means... They had a puppet show for the children halfway through, it was a Punch and Judy show. Apparently this is a traditional British Puppet show with always the same characters, a man with a stick beating his wife and an alligator biting her: the more the kids yell the more violent it gets... That was a long 4 hours. Especially because we thought it might be three only but there was a time zone change. The one good thing was that we were goiong to an English speaking country.

On the otherside we got off first with the bikes and I got my passport stamped then we went to the train. We had to load our bikes on the last car in the cargo hold area. About 6 cyclists from the ferry all got on and we all sat together on the mostly empty train. The conductor was very nice. He didn't check tickets and he let us eat food off the concession cart (chips, pop, candy bars) for free. We talked to the others, young London cyclists going home, they said the train system was terrible and the perticular company that owned the train were on was one of the worse ones.

We got into Liverpool station and went outside and rode our bikes Southeast (without a map) until we got to London Bridge station. It was confusing to ride on the left! There were some small painted bike lanes here and there which were a little confusing and not much to mention after Amsterdam. At London Bridge we asked and found that bikes are not allowed on the subway. We went upstairs to take the overground train, it was confusing and at first the train person thought it was going to cost 13 pounds each... about 60 dollars, in fact he heard our destination wrong and it was 3.30 each. Also the phones were a rip off and swallowed my 50 pence when I got a busy signal! The train was very packed at 10pm on a Friday and there was no designated bicycles place, so we squeezed on. We met Marion (my second aunt) at the train station. We went to her house and saw My great aunt pat who was very lively and talkative, even if quite small and not very mobile. We had a good rest and got up early to try to figure out our transport to Ireland. It turned out the trains were very expensive and supposedly don't run on Sundays in Ireland. We phoned RyanAir and after a lot of waiting on the phone we booked a flight for both of us and our bikes at 150 euros total. However it didn't leave until 7am the next day. So we had a relaxing day with pat and marian, did a jigsaw and crosswords. We dumped a lot of luggage we didn't need there. We had Chinise take out for dinner which was quite good, better than what we ate in Koln. We got up super early saturday morning and Marion kindly drove us to the airport north of London at 4:30 in the morning. We were worried because they said to bag out bikes but said they didn't sell bags there. We were going to try to put a contraption of taped garbage bags on it but at the airport check in they said it was unessesary so we had to turn the handlebars and bleed the tyres only. The airport was only for Ryanair and EasyJet, two budget airlines and it was kind of a strange, one brand only airport. We bought a lunch of two sandwiches and a tiny chocolate pudding for 8 pounds or about 20$$$! The flight left only 10 minutes late. The seating was first come first serve not assigned seating. Jane and I managed to get two seats together in the emergency exit row at the left wing of the plane which has more leg room. (but the ramrests don't come up). They only offer food at a price which was fine for our 1 hour flight. We got into Cork Early but discovered Jane's bike was damaged. The front wheel rim was seriously dented and the frame was also dinged. We filled out a form.

We rode our bikes towards Rosscarbery where the family lives. The roads are narrow with no sholder and there is traffic. It is stressful on the left. The scenery is beautifully green. We managed to take a less busy route one third of the way. The air is fresh and cooler than London, though still sunny and pleasant.

Posted by rusl at August 15, 2003 07:36 PM
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