Monday, April 12, 2010

Europe Trip Part 1 - Amsterdam

It's time for another long overdue blog post from your favorite procrastinating kid-who-is-in-Spain. I've recently been inspired to try to update more frequently by the revelation that one of my Spanish friends reads my blog to practice her English. I don't mean to slight my loyal readers in America in the slightest (haha!) but this is an enormous opportunity to expand a young lady's mind. Also, you guys deserve it too, so I'll try to work more towards getting caught up. Also, my new-found didactic purpose means that I will be trying to use more complicated words and phrasing (when I remember to do so) because this is the advanced course, suckers!
My trip started off poorly, when I missed the 6 euro bus to the Asturias airport and had to take a 50 euro taxi to make my flight to London. I was pretty bummed about that for most of my travel day, but I got to Stansted Airport around noon, told customs I would only be in the country for three hours ('cause they asked) and caught my connection to Amsterdam, arriving there around 5 in the evening. I got into the actual city of Amsterdam around 6, eventually found my way to the hostel and checked in, and then set back out to get some grub. Then I wandered around the Red Light District for who knows how long, but we'll get to that later. That's probably enough narrative to start, check these pictures.

My route - the curved lines are planes and the rest are trains

First picture I took the whole trip, and also the first of many funny words I would see

Wisselende Stamppot, the traditional Dutch winter meal. Nothing out of the ordinary here: mashed potatoes with gravy and a sausage.

You know you're in Amsterdam when you look down to see what you tripped on and it was a bronze boob

The window displays

Walking through the Red Light District is like just arriving in prison (according to the movies), all of the "ladies" tap on the glass of their doors at you and if you make eye contact they open them and try to get you to come over. In my opinion it's actually the men who feel like more of pieces of meat than the women behind the windows, because you are just a walking wallet to them. I'm sure it's no walk in the park for the actual prostitutes either, especially the ones who are there because of human trafficking, so I guess my point is in the Red Light District there are no winners, unless perhaps you're shopping for what they're selling.
My mission every time I was in the Red Light District was to take pictures of prostitutes, mainly so I could show my dad, whose interest was peaked by some photos my Uncle Doug sneaked (rhyme!) of a few unattractive ones. I knew this was taboo but wasn't sure what the potential consequences were; would some bouncers appear out of nowhere, smash my camera, and throw me into the canal? No, turns out if the prostitutes see you taking pictures of you they just hide behind the curtains they pull when they are with a client, and if you are close enough they yell at you in whatever Eastern European language they happen to speak. Once I learned this lesson the hard way, I found a bar on a corner that had the view you see above and periodically took blurry pictures without the flash between beers. But with more beer the pictures became increasingly blurry, until I eventually tried to go back to the hostel but got lost in the maze of whores and canals. But I finally made it out, and went to bed in preparation for a planned day of museum visits.
The next morning I set out to the Museum District to see the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum is one of the world's largest museums (I think, I made that up but it probably is) but unfortunately the majority of it was closed for renovation. They had selected the "masterpieces" and put them in a little three room wing, but you still had to pay 14 euros to get in. Not cool, Rijksmuseum. The Van Gogh Museum was better but it was still only one floor of Van Gogh paintings and the rest were paintings by his contemporaries like Gauguin. After the museums I bought a Holland scarf because my neck was cold and a 3 euro towel because I forgot to bring one, then went back to the old town to see what it was like in the daytime. Don't worry, potential Amsterdam visitors, the prostitute windows are 24/7 operations. When it started to get dark I decided to go back to the hostel early because I was tired and read my new Tom Clancy book for the rest of the night. So here's some photos from Day 2 in Amsterdam.

One of the canals near the hostel

I dare you to try to walk around Amsterdam without almost getting killed by one of these. They're silent! Except for the bells they ring . . .

Cool house near the Rijksmuseum

Entrance to the Rijksmuseum, look carefully and you will see an awesome action shot of a landing pigeon

"I Amsterdam"? Or "I am Amsterdam"? Either way it doesn't really make sense. Out of character for the Dutch, really, because they speak English real good. Way gooder than I do.

That's the floating flower market on the right, in the middle of the picture is the canal upon which it is floating

Another canal, this was the first ring canal that delineated the old town from the rest of the city.

Yeah, I got a cone of fries

Interesting name for the shop, given some of their merchandise . . .

I'm guessing this translates to "Not Normal", and quite frankly I have to agree

I went to McDonald's for dinner, and got a McRookworst. It was kind of spicy, mostly from the mustard.

My final day in Amsterdam, I got up early to try to beat the rush to the Anne Frank house. I got up medium-early, but nature helped me out and I didn't really see anyone else on the street on my way over there. BECAUSE THERE WAS A BLIZZARD!!

Building right next door to my hostel. If you can't tell, that's Jake and Elwood Blues dancing on the roof.

The snow was even accumulating on the backs of the ducks! I remember thinking it was a bad day to be a duck, but then trying to figure out if there would be any days where it would be good to be a duck. I figure best case scenario, some days being a duck is just OK.

The funniest part of this snow storm was the inability of Dutch drivers to cross the bridges over the canals for lack of traction, because the bridges are like hills. Bad description, but I think you get what I mean. Tires were spinning, cars were sliding, and passersby were pushing. Not me though, what does this look like, Guatemala? (maybe my mom will get that reference, and no one else)

I guess it wasn't actually a blizzard, because it only snowed for about an hour and then it stopped completely. That church is right next to the Anne Frank house.

Anne Frank Huis. I didn't take any pictures inside, because it didn't seem right to be so touristy in a place like this. I don't really have anything more profound to say.

The National Monument in Dam Square. It's on the site of the former dam on the Amstel River. Amster-dam, get it?

FEBO is an awesome restaurant where the food is behind a little window staying warm and you put in correct change to be able to open the door to get what you want. It's like a mix between a vending machine and those newspaper boxes, and there is a counter at the back to get fries and possibly other stuff. The food is pretty weird; I had croquettes with some sort of green gooey filling and ham chunks inside.

I followed a guided tour around for a while and the guide said that these houses were built leaning on purpose because they were warehouses and it made lifting goods from canal boats up to the top floor easier. Until someone figured out that they could get the same result by mounting the pulleys they were using on poles that stuck further out from the front of the building.

The Oude Kerk (Old Church), consecrated in 1306 and now in the heart of the Red Light District

Me and the Oude Kerk, kind of

OK so I haven't been narrating for a while but as you can see after visiting the Anne Frank house I strolled some more around the Centrum and then took a tram out to the Heineken Brewery. Well actually you can't see that yet, but you're about to, if you just look down a little bit.

No windows in a brewery, apparently

Entrance to the Heineken Experience

Empty tanks they used to use for cooking the mash

Heineken had the idea to create stackable bottles that people could recycle to build houses in impoverished areaa. Kind of a neat idea, but they never produced them on a large scale.

After my two free pints of Heineken on an empty stomach I walked out of the brewery and right into a restaurant in the square to get some pancakes. Because what moderately drunk, cold person can turn down a sign that says "Pannenkoeken"? Not me, and not you either.

To round out my day in Amsterdam I headed back to the Red Light District to look at some more prostitutes. Because I had kind of run out of things to do at that point. Along the way I saw some interesting things of a bicycle nature, as can be seen in the following two photos.

This is a good representation of Amsterdam. There are bicycles everywhere, they even have their own lanes on most roads which are separated from the car lanes by a raised curb. If you don't get hit by a tram in Amsterdam, you still have a pretty good chance of walking into the path of an oncoming bicyclist, because it's not something we've learned to look out for when crossing the street.

A cargo bike. You guys are so creative!

Luckily the Red Light District backs up to Chinatown, so I found a Japanese restaurant and had some beef udon soup and shrimp tempura. Oh and a coke with a straw, because come on, this is Europe.

I successfully got a photo of this particular lady because she was doing her hair for some reason instead of trying to attract clients. Or maybe that's her game, and she's going for the clients who are into a woman who is indifferent to them? All I know is I didn't get yelled at in Slovenian for this, much to my delight.

Last picture I took in Amsterdam, of the crazy Dutch stairs in the hostel I had to climb 5 flights of to get to my room. I'm just glad I didn't have very large luggage.

So that was Amsterdam pretty much, lots of cold weather and hookers. My train for Brussels left the next morning at 8:30 so I had to get up really early to catch the tram. I'll try to write about that before I go to London next week.


  1. Since blogger ate my last comment:


    I could put other commentary, but this is a public forum.

  2. Yea...what she said! ^^^^

  3. Who are you, anonymous? Bunch of ingrates . . .

  4. ". . . a maze of whores and canals. . ." That about sums it up for Amsterdam - well put. I went in the winter, too, and I have never been so cold. I'd like to go back in the spring when everything's in bloom. And the bikes - I couldn't believe they were still all riding them in the freezing cold! Looking forward to your next post.

  5. I totally agree with your impressions of Amsterdam. We were there at the beginning of November and it was already freezing and the wind never seemed to stop blowing, so I don't know when, if ever, it is actually warm. Maybe it's something to do with water everywhere! With bicycles, trains, beer, drugs, and prostitutes aplenty, it's a wonder we have all lived to tell about it!!!! Looking forward to your next post. Aunt Connie

  6. Nice post!
    By the way, if you have any attentions of visiting Red Light District, you should check out The Amsterdam Red Light Guide

  7. Ah,Amsterdam.Such good memories...We had a long layover, 8 hours, coming home from Kenya so we decided to ride in and tour the city.Saw the Ann Frank museum and walked a lot.Pretty nice there in August. But I'll best be known for leading our church youth through the Red Light district. Accident I swear! We saw tons of guys and girls dressed in tuxes and nice dresses out on the streets.Never figued out what was going on.Almost like they were shooting a commercial or tv show. Had a nice breakfast in a cafe. would go back again...Tim