Netherlands 2004 - Day 2

Edam -> Hoorn -> Zaandam -> Amsterdam

PeopleLong before I found myself standing in a sea of orange in an Amsterdam pub, watching The Netherlands vs Portugal in Euro 2004, I began the day with a hotel breakfast in Edam.

It hadn't occurred to me just how much my dietary habits had changed over the past few months until I sat down to a bowl of cereal and a glass of OJ. The tea, coffee, cold meats and cheeses didn't interest me; even the lure of croissants and jam wasn't enough. So cereal it was, lightly bathed in full-cream milk (which tasted surprisingly rich after making the transition to soy a couple of months ago) and a couple of apples which I pocketed for later.

With an hour and a half until the traditional kaasmarkt demonstration I amused myself by wandering around Edam watching it come to life.

The demonstration proved remarkably similar to last year, and I left after an hour to catch a bus further north. I had decided to visit the ancient fishing village of Hoorn (Cape Horn is named after this town, which hints at its former glory as an important trading port) about 19km north of Edam.

With few stops and little traffic the bus trip was a short one, affording only the briefest glimpses of cows staring at each other across canals, as if wishing they could jump.

Hoorn was a mixture of Sunday markets and picturesque harbour, with remarkably few tourists; leaving it with a pleasantly untouched feeling. I was enjoying the aimless wandering far too much to stop for lunch, and I contented myself with the two apples I had saved from breakfast.

As nice as it was, I had explored Hoorn to my satisfaction in a couple of hours and decided to head south again.

The thought of windmills suggested a visit to Zaanse Schans, a little north of Amsterdam. The trainline from Hoorn passed through Zaandam (buses weren't much more helpful, unless I was up to a few trips) so I grabbed a ticket to Zaandam from one of the stylish vending machines and board an Amsterdam '_Sprinter_' (a stoptrein with only 2 stops) for a quick - and somewhat crowded - journey.

Apart from forming the basis of some shamefully poor Jean-Claude van Damme jokes (which I'll be nice enough to spare you - just this once) there was little to keep me in Zaandam other than poor signposting. After following the road vaguely hinted at by the one sign I found so much as mentioning Zaanse Schans, I ended up in rather familiar territory having circumnavigated the inner city. The fact that it commenced raining at this point did little to stir my waning enthusiasm for a walk of unknown length, and I returned to the station for a short trip back to Amsterdam.

I toyed with the idea of catching a bus from Amsterdam south to Aalsmeer, but as it was already after 5pm I figured a quick check at the hotels for vacancies might be in order. The 'vol' signs were still out in force, and the VVV had already closed. Looked like a bus to Aalsmeer it would be then, with hopefully some form of accomodation or decent weather, soft grass and a tree or two. Upon reaching the bus-stop I could see the 'Botel' - certainly the biggest hotel-on-a-boat I've ever seen - and decided to check. Fortunately they had a room, it was a twin room on the side of the boat closest to the trains, loud enough to keep me awake if I wasn't already incredibly tired; but it had a bed, shower and cable TV. Watching the dutch version of The New Price is Right was almost as funny as the ancient re-runs of Skippy that were showing on another channel. It was time to head out and explore Amsterdam at night.

Not being the world's largest football fan I was acutely unaware of the fact that The Netherlands were playing Portugal in the Euro, commencing a few minutes after I left the Botel. I decided to forego the map and test my memory of inner-city Amsterdam, following two girls in hypnotically tight jeans in the general direction of Leidseplein. Along the way the number of people wearing orange, sounding air-horns and generally being patriotic steadily increased. Pubs were adorned with 'Hup Holland' banners, flags, footballs and all manner of things orange. Girls were playfully attacking guys with orange inflatable clubs, English football anthems had been translated into Dutch and were now at the mercy of drunken crowds spilling out from pubs, and local police joined the crowds to shake their fists at giant TV screens.

Restaurants without TVs were empty, and starving (my stomach not entirely satisfied that two apples constituted a meal) I sat myself at a table outside a tiny Thai restaurant; opposite a pub where the constant 'ooh's and 'aah's kept me informed of the score. The waitress was a Thai girl who had only been in Amsterdam for two years and ran to see a TV in the shop next door each time there was a promising shout from the pub opposite. My enthusiasm had reached a new high and after dinner I found a pub with large outdoor screens and watched the remainder of the game amidst drunken guys in orange suits, girls wearing flags and a line of police who seemed more intent on watching the game than crowd control (to be fair, the crowd was pretty well-behaved at that point).

The mood changed slightly at the proclamation of Portugal as winners (2:1), and I headed back towards Centraal Station just as armoured police vehicles, followed by officers on horseback, forced their way through the crowd toward the pub I had just left.

I arrived back at the hotel around midnight, exhaustion finally calling an end to the day's explorations.

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