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Things to do in Amsterdam - The Pig E-zine
issue 43 - December/Christmas edition 2011



Getting Lost in Amsterdam

Matt Smith - Flying PigThere are many places in the world that are identical. Some are so indistinguishable from one another that they have no identity of their own. They leave no lasting impressions. Amsterdam is not one of those places.

It's so maroon from all those same colored bricks, and sometimes as dreary as any city could ever be. For me, it's like a mythical fairground that really doesn't exist on this planet. You have to travel to another dimension to get there. It's a place where the rules don't apply. Even time seems to move slower in Amsterdam. It's as if one single minute can stretch out as long you want it to. Night only comes when you get tired. Amsterdam is also a place that causes me to reevaluate how intelligent I think I am. That's mainly due to one thing - being constantly lost.

amsterdam u-shaped streetsIt is of course every bit my own fault, but sometimes I can't help but feel that the city was laid out as a practical joke for all of those bumbling about in altered states. First of all, it's built out of concentric U's, which is not something I have ever encountered in another place, fictional or otherwise. This new concept of a city already puts my navigational skills to the test before I've even ingested anything.

Am I on the inside of this U or the outside of that one? I have no clue because I've apparently left my smarts back at home. With the exception of a few areas, all those streets and canals look identical to me, making the task that much harder. Since no rules seem to apply here, I'm mildly suspicious that they change the names of the streets and canals from everyday, just to mess with the tourists (i.e. Me).

Those names don't make it easier on anyone either. I used to believe that I was a fairly competent and intellectual person, but the Dutch language and my lack of even a remote comprehension of it have called that opinion into question on more than one occasion. Again it's my fault entirely for not having taken the time to familiarize myself with it (due to laziness), but that doesn't change the fact that I find the names indecipherable.

Once, after a period of wandering with my bicycle and becoming annoyed by its presence, I decided to lock it up the first chance I got. I felt incapable of riding it and having to wheel it around at my side just felt like a burden. After finally coming across what I felt to be a secure location, I took the time to study the street name carefully. I repeated it to myself numerous times and walked away feeling confident in my ability to relocate it later. I don't think that information lasted an hour in my head. My brain simply rejected it and I only later discovered that bike again – purely by accident.

Trying to get oriented by the establishments that are nearby is of little assistance due to the fact that basically every corner has both a H&M and an Argentinean steakhouse on it. This prank could have only have been pulled off by a diabolical genius of a city planner. In my subsequent visits to the city I have become much more adept and familiar with things, but during those first moments in Amsterdam, I was clueless.

Walking around Amsterdam also provokes a great deal of wonder in me. It raises many questions, mainly about all of the other people wandering the streets (i.e. You). I feel curious about what everyone is doing and where they are going, and I hope they are having every bit as much trouble as I am, getting around. Every once in a while I encounter another befuddled soul staring blankly at that brain teaser that is the map of Amsterdam and I feel better. Hooray, I'm not the only confused one out here. I've even sometimes thought of suggesting a partnership to mutually benefit from our joined forces. Now that I'm more experienced I could probably be of great help out there on the streets, shepherding those that have lost their way.

Because of my inquisitive mind, I always want to know how everyone else's experience in Amsterdam compares to mine. Each visit I've made has been quite varied from the last, and because so many people make the journey there each year, it makes me think. I wonder if we're all doing the same things or if maybe my experiences tend to be more … unique. I wish there was some kind of identifier to let others know what drugs you are currently feeling the effect of, if any at all. A headband with little lights would do – lights that glow in distinct hues depending on what substance (or combination) is altering your reality. Similar colours would attract each other and open lines of communication about how the whole rollercoaster was going. Obviously, red lights would have to be removed from the spectrum, because in Amsterdam a red light suggests something different altogether.

- Matt Smith



Music Reviews From The Flying Pigs

This E-zine's Top Album Suggestions

This month in our musical round up the top album picks include Oneirology by Cunninlynguists, How I Got Over by The Roots and The Undisputed Truth by Brother Ali. Join Kristian Tate from the Flying Pig for an in depth account and have yourselves a little listen.

Band: Cunninlynguists - Album: Oneirology (2011)Band: Cunninlynguists
Album: Oneirology (2011)

Cunninlynguists are a hugely successful Hip Hop duo from the USA, consisting of Deacon the Villain, Natti and DJ Kno. They're a certain hit if you enjoy artists such as Outkast, De la Soul and Public Enemy. This album features incredible production from DJ Kno as well as great lyrical content about politics, war, religion and society. This is very well executed and the lyrical content along with the unique production creates a very thought-provoking listen.

My Favourite tracks include Embers , Get Ignorant open in new window and Hard as They Come open in new window.


Band: The Roots - Album:How I Got Over (2010)Band: The Roots
Album:How I Got Over (2010)

The Roots have been carving out a Hip Hop niche for nearly two decades now and even after nine studio albums, How I Got Over is their best yet. I feel this is a seamless record that must be listened to in its entirety. This album tells a deep and meaningful tale of a man on the verge of new stage in his life. How I Got Over is a must-have. It's easily one of the best albums of the year and the new decade.

The Fire open in new window, Walk alone open in new window and Dear God open in new windoware among my top tracks on this album.


Band: Brother Ali -Album: The Undisputed TruthBand: Brother Ali
Album: The Undisputed Truth

Brother Ali is a Hip Hop artist from Minnesota and The Undisputed Truth is the long awaited follow up to the 2003 record, Shadows On The Sun. Once again Ali has paired up with Rhymesayers Mega Producer Ant. Based on this, you can expect crafty beats based on Soul samples and catchy hooks! The Undisputed Truth captures Brother Ali's signature bite and his interesting bark with lyrics reflecting on politics and war. It serves up conflict, party vibes, introspective perspectives and more.

My Favourite tracks include Freedom Aint' Free open in new window, Letter from the Government open in new window and The Puzzleopen in new window

- Kristian Tate



Christmas Events

Winterland on Rembrandtplein – December 2, 2011 to January 8, 2012
Winterland prepairationsIf a little bit of over-the-top, winter wonderland fun is your kinda' thing, then head to the Rembreandtplein throughout December and into early January for market stalls galore, ice skating, heart warming drinks and much more. Winterland on Rembreandtplein is very fun so don't miss out!

Winterparade – December 21 to 26, 2011
Winterparade is the winter version of the summer parade! It's in the Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square and it's here where you can eat delicious treats at long tables. There's also live entertainment on the very same tables!

Christmas Shopping
Christmas year around If the retail therapy urge kicks in during your December trip to Amsterdam, head to Bijenkorf in Dam Square. It's similar to Harrods in London and they really go all out with the festive decorations. You should also check out Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, along with the famed 9-streets - for unique vintage clothing.

Christmas on Leidseplein – December 1, 2011 to January 15, 2012
Ice Skating in LeidsepleinFor fantastic food, mulled wine and an ice skating rink head down to the Leidseplein. Nowhere else in Amsterdam can you enjoy the Drag Queen Winter Olympics open in new window, where flamboyant outfits meets pure athletic skill. You can also rent a pair of skates and join in all the fun.

Christmas Market in Westerpark – December 18, 2011

Christmas marketThis is one of the funkiest Christmas markets in Amsterdam and you'll find it in the Westerpark. On offer you can expect 150 stalls with all kinds of unique and handmade paraphernalia including organic food (with free tasters), wool slippers, rugs, mulled wine and more! Entrance is free. open in new window



New Tattoo Museum

The Amsterdam Tattoo Museum
This place isn't your typical museum. The atmosphere when you walk in says it all – with friendly, enthusiastic and chatty staff who want to tell you all about this newly opened space. The grand opening was on Museum Night with a live and traditional Maori tattoo completed, as visitors watched on and milled around the space!

TatooThere are guest tattoo artists from around the world in place at all times, with the procedure room set up in a traditional way. Currently you can get a Japanese tattoo done by hand (it takes a long time and is extremely painful) but you can also watch someone else get it done too! For Western tattoos there's also a viewing area to watch the artists at work, or you can make an appointment.

The museum begins with the origins of tattooing in several countries such as Africa, Indonesia and New Zealand. Tattoos weren't just a form of artistic expression for the natives of these countries. They were also a ritualistic representation of the transition into adulthood, and belonging to a tribe. Most of all tattoos were a sign of respect in a group and were worn with pride.

Around the world the placing and meaning of tattoos differs slightly, but from the displays it's clear that tattooing was an important aspect of tribal life and a way to show the origins of a people, and keeping traditions alive.

In the museum you are drawn to this life of tattooing and the rooms where it all takes place. There's also something of a morbid past on show here with tattooed warriors and skull collections. Even the Tattoo Museum's logo is of an Iban rosette - a tattoo of a flower given to the Iban people of Indonesia as a reward for decapitating someone!

On the top floor the museum focuses fully on Western tattoo culture, where at first it was seen as a taboo. In days gone by, people with full body tattoos were only shown in freak shows, and were otherwise outcasts. You can also enjoy pictures of Army tattoos - a nice comparison with the ancient tribes, and equally a mark of acceptance, pride and place within a group.

With the nice visuals, relaxed atmosphere and cool history, this museum is a must see in Amsterdam. You can also get a souvenir from here that'll last a lifetime!

- Aly Coy

(Cost) 10 Euro
(h) 10.00 – 19.00 daily (Except December 25 and January 1)
(a) Plantage Middenlaan 62 (Across from the zoo) open in new window



News From the Beach

The City of Leiden

The chill of the autumn day nips at the end of my nose, as I stand bewildered, trying to decipher my map. I have been given a mission to explore the wonderful city of Leiden in The Netherlands by taking the city's famous walking tour. Before we begin I must confess that I am neither a walking fan or someone wears appropriate footwear for such adventures, but the opportunity to explore and sample some the culture seemed too hard to pass up.

windmillI began my day at the very top of the city. The streets narrow and often lined with canals, resemble many cities in The Netherlands, but the wonders I uncovered most certainly left a lasting impression.

One of the first stops that I was personally looking forward to seeing was the De Valk flour mill. This monument, which towers over the city is home to an interesting incite into the history and construction of Dutch mills, over the ages. The Windmill was under construction, so the exterior was hidden beneath a wall of scaffolding and green netting, but as I stepped inside I felt far away from the city bustle. The museum's layout takes you through what a typical occupied mill would have looked like, in this case keeping many of the original features of the last family that ran and lived at this mill. In one short, very informative film, I learnt why when thinking of Holland, we think of windmills. The steep ladder like stairs take you up seven floors, unfolding the secrets of the trade.

On I went, still unable to decipher my map but later. When I finally got my bearings I came across my second stop - the Pieterskerk Church. the BurchtI ventured in and above the throngs of students and proud parents visiting for an open day, I could see the fascinating architecture which encapsulated what I expected from the grand exterior. I managed to acquire a Leiden University T-shirt - I had to haggle with a student working the open day but he was more than happy to point me in the right direction and also recommended De Burcht.

This ancient medieval shell stands at one of the highest point of Leiden - the artificial hill, situated on the confluence of the old and the new Rhine, and now a public park. After clambering the many steps and a set of spiral stairs, I reached the medieval motte castle. Gothic highland church.I could see a view over the whole city and in particular a spectacular view of the Gothic highland church.

I had been asked to grab a coffee at The Bagels & Beans. Using all fair-trade tea and coffee products I was happy to sample some of the delicious confectionary they had to offer. Being British I opted for tea, since being in Holland I had been unable to find a good quality Earl Grey at a reasonable price. Being a backpacker you sometimes have to sacrifice tea for other home comforts. They used a delightful blend of loose tea, but when I asked the Barista for a drop of milk, I had to explain: "I couldn't possibly drink my tea without milk, I'm British." Bagels & BeansThe assortments of bagels and fillings seemed endless, the mouth watering muffins and sweet bagels were inviting, but considering the amount of walking I was planning I was not intending on ruining my hard work and put on pounds, even though I could feel the calories seeping through my pores. With a beautiful interior and aromatic atmosphere, this is most defiantly a pit stop, hot spot.

Back on the trail and the next stop was a ball of wool. I recently had dreadlocks and I was hoping to find the perfect colours to weave into one of my dreads, to remember my time spent in The Netherlands. n steekje losHidden in a suburban side street I found a place of wonder. 'N Steekje Los' is a quirky knitting shop - the array of colours and warmth I felt when I stepped in was overwhelming. I purchased a beautiful ball of wool, multi-coloured and reflective of my personality.

While wandering aimlessly I stumbled conveniently upon the Saturday market. The canals are lined with fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, clothing and fish, Herring to be specific. I'm not the biggest fan of fish, but I had been living in Holland two months and still I hadn't sampled the local delicacy. I wandered along endless market stalls, watched women de-boning and filleting the endless amounts of fish, and took in the salty smell in the cold air. I found a stall with a typical Dutch family and I asked to join them. I asked, may I add in Dutch, for two raw herring, the man was very impressed with my pronunciation. I brought the fork to my lips, the smell flew into my nostrils, I chewed quickly. First mouthful down, I wasn't going to give up even though the taste reminded me somewhat of a mouthful of seawater. The second mouthful was slightly easier - less chewing this time and more down in one. It's not an experience I wish to have again anytime soon, but fish lovers would be in their element.

click on the pic for photos of Leiden

I had almost completed my tour of Leiden and the afternoon had opened my eyes to the culture of this wonderful Dutch city. The endless streets of interesting boutiques, canals, market stalls and the bustle of the city really welcomed me. The walking tour had certainly been an adventure and it's a great recommendation to anyone wanting to see something different in The Netherlands. Although I was alone I felt comforted by the ambience of the culture, oozed from the streets. This traditional yet youthful city gave me a diverse insight into life here in Holland, something I highly recommend to anyone visiting this beautiful country.

- Laurie



Tollwood Winter Festival – Munich

From November 23 until December 31, 2011 Munich is home to the famous winter festival Tollwood. Showcased as a: "cultural delicatessen representing sensuality, the lust for life and ideas of how to make the world a little bit better" this festival is the winter version of the huge summer equivalent, and it's held at the same site as Munich's famous Oktoberfest.

This year there is the usual Market of Ideas and all cultural aspects from environmental campaigns to world affairs. All of this is accompanied with food, drink, music, DJs, vaudeville shows from Australian act - Cantina and a four course German Christmas menu – all organic of course.

Hofburg photo by  Peter Gerstbach
photo: Anton Brandl

The principle is simple and very similar to the Munich's Summer Tollwood festiva - just enjoy the aura, the live music, food you've never tried before, the hot Caipirinhas, and above all, the hot mulled wine - glühwein - which you can find in all flavours and tastes! This part of Tollwood is more important than you think as it gets people through the dark winter. You can spend time under a dark blue sky full of stars, chatting with your friends and watching the snowflakes falling slowly to the ground, before you go into one of the big tents to warm up. Here you can have a closer look at the super interesting, handmade handicrafts at the stands. Look out for hemp tea, jewelry made from wood or flashing semi-precious stones, one off winter accessories such as woolen caps and gloves, and more. Everything is unique and you may experience moments where you feel like you're on another planet! Be careful as you risk becoming addicted to shopping - so make sure you bring enough cash with you!

When planning to come to this awesome beer capital of Bavaria, make sure you have one day or at least one evening to visit the festival site – it's definitely worth it, to experience this more than special, fascinating world! open in new window

Where to stay: The Euro Youth Hostel in Munich Senefelderstr 5, 80336 Munich, Germany

More info and free booking at open in new window