Due to our ungodly hour of departure we were forced to take a taxi to the airport. Our driver was a friendly and sincere man who passionately disliked the corrupt police who as he correctly predicted stopped us at every chance whilst dozens of other cars passed unhindered. He was entirely prepared for the hassle though and passed through each check point without paying a penny in bribes. We waived him off just as he got called into the final checkpoint.
The airport was relatively well organised despite a concerning lack of security. We boarded an hour before departure which was later explained by an announcement stating that we would be picking up President Kibaki from the pavilion. Whilst others were excited I was a little nervous to be flying in the same plane as a highly unpopular world leader. My fears were further compounded my the fact that our flight path included Sudan, Libya and Algeria.
Along the way I dubbed our plane the "flying matatu" as, amongst other things my seat would not remain upright, we ran late and the entertainment system did not work.
Schipol airport was a great reminder of all things western, above all else there was a working train system which ran straight from the airport to the city. We disembarked in the centre of town and went straight to the tourist information. Decidedly unhelpful and with more hidden charges than a modern bank account we left stupider than when we had entered.
We walked the streets for a few minutes and found a hotel offering cheap rooms, they were full but the man behind the counter pointed us in the right direction. He was a friendly sort of guy who chatted briefly with me about the weather and were I was from. He was a certainly a much better ambassador to the country than the staff in the information centre.
When we found the street he was talking about we knew we had come to the right place, every second sign read Hostel (the other ones all said sex, or coffee shop). We booked in to a cheap hostel and took a walk around outside. Amsterdam is an incredibly beautiful city, it has the charm of Paris and the canals of Venice as well as some well known characteristics making it a city unto itself. Filled with classic buildings, slow moving (non-stinky) canals and weeping trees I immediately felt at ease on the streets.
We had a quiet beer in a backpacker bar before settling down in a cosy restaurant for some much longed after western food. We had chosen an Italian restaurant but could have selected from any of the several dozen international cuisines that were represented on our street.
Whilst most people were still on warm up drinks we were already heading back to our dorm.
Thanks to our early night and our African timetable we were up before the streets had begun to stir. That said it was still around 8 o'clock, an hour when back home the average person has already started work. We began our tour of Amsterdam by walking to the Ann Frank house. The route there was typical of the city, made even more serene by the fact that we had the place to ourselves. We were surprised to see that when we arrived there was already a small line.
Amongst the first ten through the door we were able to enjoy the museum in relative serenity. The building looked like any other house along the canal, and for the most part it was. The difference was that this one had hidden a family of Jews during the second world war. The front of the house was a jam manufacturing warehouse but there was a secret part to the house out back who's entrance was covered with a false bookshelf. In this area the family had lived throughout the entire war before being denounced just months before the wars end. Despicably all except the father were executed. When he returned home after the war he found a diary written by his youngest daughter, Ann. He later read and published it as an account of their experiences.
A couple of hours later when we left the house the line to get inside stretched around the corner and the exhibits inside were hidden behind masses of people. Dianne was embarrassingly keen to do some shopping so for much of the afternoon I was dragged from shop to shop whilst Di tried to spend the little spare money she had.