Published: October 20th 2008October 10th 2008
How's that for an eye-catcher of a blog title?!? For those of you that don't get it, read on :) Amsterdam is a beautiful town and the Dutch people are SO friendly! However, in addition to the wooden shoes and the Anne Frank house (which I'll tell you about in a minute) Amsterdam has legalized drugs and prostitution and they're not subtle about the fact that it's there either. It's difficult to find stuff in the souvenir shops that doesn't have anything to do with marijuana or the Red Light District on it. There are even shops that sell pot, pot plants, and seeds!
But enough about the bad parts of Amsterdam. If you're not easily offended Amsterdam is a gorgeous town. As I mentioned, the people are so friendly and everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) speaks English there...and great English too! Their accent is minimal and they're very easy to understand. I think I had one man say "thank you" to me in Dutch (which is "danku wel" pronounced "dahnk-oo vell") and other than that everything was in English. It was great :) Amsterdam is called the Venice of the North because of all of the canals. Venice doesn't
have any cars at all but Amsterdam does...not very many though as compared to other large cities. The majority of the Dutch ride bikes. We saw a multi-level parking garage by the train station packed with bikes! Bikes are locked to anything that will stand still long enough and, sometimes when there's nothing to lock them to, they just lock them together. Germans ride their bikes a lot but nothing like the Dutch. You'll see a dad on a bike with his 4 year old on a seat behind him and a toddler bike seat on the handlebars with his 2 year old in itt. It was crazy but very quaint in a way. It took us a while to learn to look for the bikes when crossing the streets. You get very used to looking for big cars when you're crossing and it's easy to overlook a bike. We had it down pretty good by the end of our trip though :)
We took the train into Amsterdam on Friday, October 10th. We had a 4-day weekend for Columbus Day. We could have driven to Amsterdam but just didn't feel like dealing with the drive. The train makes
it so easy, even if it does cost more. Our hotel was Singel Hotel only a few blocks from the train station. The staff were super friendly and it was right in the middle of everything. We pretty much walked everywhere all weekend and didn't need to use the trams or subway while we were there. We arrived in Amsterdam and found our way to our hotel around 2pm. We checked in, left our things in our room, and just went out exploring. We decided just to wander that first day and see what there was to see. We ate lunch at a place called Burger Bar where you select what kind of burger you want, what kind of bread, and your toppings (think Subway for burgers). I got chicken, of course, and it was really good and cheap. Amsterdam has a lot of cheap food to go...burgers, pizza by the slice (that was dinner later that night), a place called Wok to Walk which was Chinese to go, and lots of bakeries. They also had a cafe about every 10 feet or so. You have to be careful with the cafes though...sometimes they're the kind that allow you to
smoke (and I don't mean cigarettes) and serve magic brownies. We liked the ones that said "No drugs" on the door and stuck to those :) Amsterdam has become completely non-smoking indoors (I'm referring to cigarettes here) which was great. With my back being so bad these days we're always stopping to have a soda or a cup of tea and it's nice to not smell like smoke at the end of the day. We stopped at one little place near the end of the day that had a counter looking out to the street and met a very interesting Irish man who loved to discuss American politics with us. A lot of Europeans love to discuss our politics. Sometimes it's interesting and other times, like with this guy, it can get a little bit annoying.
Saturday morning we started walking over to the Anne Frank house and found a great market on the way. They had all sorts of fresh fruit, fish, bread, and cheese as well as clothes and junk. Matt found a great handwoven basket (there's a basket story later) and we got some dried fruit to snack on as we walked. When we got to
the Anne Frank house we saw our downstairs neighbor from here in Mannheim, Lane, waiting in line with her kids! We knew they were going to be in town that weekend but how funny to run into each other. They had already been waiting in line for an hour and let us get in with us (thank you Lane!). We don't have any pictures of inside the Anne Frank house because they won't allow you to take any but it's not so much what's there as just being there, if you understand what I mean. It's amazing to think that eight of them lived in that place for two years...and with only the one tiny bathroom! There's no furniture in the room anymore. Anne's father had it all removed when he came back after the war and said he didn't want it to be furnished ever again. But her pictures that she put up on the walls are still there and we got to walk through the bookcase that hid the doorway to the upper floors. It was a pretty incredible experience. Before leaving Lane and her kids we warned them to stay out of the souvenir shops. They were
staying outside of the city and had only come in for the museums so really hadn't experienced much of Amsterdam itself yet. She told me later that she appreciated the warning :)
Amsterdam is a wandering city, so a lot of our trip was wandering through the streets and checking out the little shops. We found a really cool Australian shop that sold didgeridoos (in case you don't know what they are here's the Wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didgeridoo) and the guy there showed us how to play them. we found all sorts of cool stuff like that. We also found our way to the Red Light District, which was quite an experience. Prostitution there is completely legal. The prostitutes are registered with the government, pay taxes, and even have unions. I guess Amsterdam couldn't get rid of them so decided to find another way to regulate it by legalizing it. They rent these rooms that basically have storefront window where they sit in a chair or on a stool, pretty much advertising themselves. It makes you wonder how someone can do such a thing and grateful for the life you have. We also visited the Flower District...a much better district
to see than the Red Light District!! It's pretty much a solid block of nothing but bulbs, plants, and flowers. They have some other stuff too though and that's where we finally found a pair of wooden shoes that we liked. We decided to just get one pair (they're not cheap) and, since the price goes up as the shoe gets bigger, we got them in my size.
Sunday we took the train 15 minutes outside of the city to Zaanse Schans, an open air museum. Many of the old windmills fell into disrepair as they weren't used anymore. A historical society rescued some of them, restored them, and relocated them to these open air museums where you can still see them being used now. There are also some neat little shops that demonstrate how to make cheese and wooden shoes. There were some really cool goats there that were very friendly too. What is it with my fascination with barnyard animals??
Zaanse Schans was a great little day trip for us and it gave us a chance to see something outside of Amsterdam. After finally going to the Netherlands I've finally been able to get Matt to
agree to come back in the spring for the Tulip Festival! There's another open air museum 30 minutes or so outside of the city that's supposed to be way better than Zaanse Schans that we can visit when we go to the Tulip Festival. We didn't go to the art museums. As many of you know, Matt's not big into the Art museums. I got him into the Louvre in Paris but not because it was the Louvre...mainly because it was raining outside and we needed an indoor activity. If we have nice weather like we did in Amsterdam then museums are out. If I ever go back I would like to visit the Van Gogh museum though...it would be interesting.
Sunday night we had Wok to Walk for dinner (yum!) and finished our souvenir shopping. Matt and I got matching t-shirts, which we never do, but we just happened to both like the same one. They're orange with a white peace sign and say "Amsterdam" on them. The peace sign just seemed fitting for the city :)
Our train left Monday at 12:30 and, to save money, we took a less direct route home than the one
we took to Amsterdam. I promised you a funny story about Matt's basket. You can all appreciate Matt's sense of humor here...Matt's basket was a decent size. Not huge but not a tiny little thing that we could squeeze into our backpacks like all of our other souvenirs, so he had to carry it. Well, he got more than a few looks from people walking through the train station carrying this thing. On my way up the stairs I heard two girls say something to each other about how he probably had snakes in it. That gave Matt an idea. He started walking with the basket held as far from his body as he could. He got way more looks when he did this and embarrassed me to no end, which is probably why he kept doing it. I laughed, of course, because how can you not laugh, but it was still embarrassing lol. I took a picture of him holding it to show you all. We met a really interesting Russian woman on our last train and we spent at least an hour talking to her. She was from St. Petersburg and was extremely well-traveled. She traveled all over
Europe performing marionette shows and was working on getting a job in the U.S. She gave us her number to call when we visit St. Petersburg so she can show us around while we're there. If I don't lose it I think we might actually give her a call :)
Overall it was a great trip. I am glad that we ended up not going to Amsterdam last year for New Year's Eve. I think it would have been a little bit too crazy for us but Amsterdam in the fall was just perfect.
There are more photos below