Published: May 24th 2011May 24th 2011
We took the train from Paris to Amsterdam, only 3.5 hours. [Nick Note: For this train I wanted to try a first class train instead of second class. In India there was a huge difference between 1st and 2nd class trains (though 2nd are perfectly fine) so I wanted to see the difference in Europe. It was nice that we got free wifi to use and free drinks and croissants, but in reality the difference wasn’t as huge. Still it was nice.] Man, the U.S. really needs to put some infrastructure into high seed rail. It’s a great way to get around and way more comfortable than a plane! Anyhoo, we got into Amsterdam and it was cold and rainy, so we waited it out in a Starbucks and then strolled down the Damrak to Dam Square. Central Amsterdam is a hub for tourists – everyone ranging from the pothead hippy to the retired couple in their 80s. It’s a wonderfully open and liberal town with an attitude of: “to each their own.” It’s a nice change from some of the hypocrisy and conservative attitudes in the U.S.
We met up with Henny & Andy and it was
so great to see them again! Henny & I used to work together at the aquarium in Long Beach. It’s been 2 years since they were last in the U.S. and they are so happy now that they’ve retired in Amsterdam; they really love it here. It’s nice to see them so happy. [Nick Note: Any and Henny are great, so much fun, and were great hosts.]
Now that we’re staying with Henny & Andy in Amsterdam, it’s so nice not to have to hit the pavement each day to try and see as much of the city as possible before heading to the next town in a couple days. They are great hosts and they have a great apartment just outside the main part of town. (AOP folks, you REALLY need to come out here for a visit!) We’ve been able to sleep in everyday, watch tv, check email, do laundry, buy our own groceries & play with the cat! It’s been a good way to relax now that we’re headed towards the end of the trip.
There’s so much to do here, though; as nice as it is to relax and take it easy, it’s a
shame there’s not enough time to see everything! We made sure to visit the Van Gogh Museum, though. It’s a huge collection and they had a special “Picasso in Paris” exhibit. Anne Frank’s house was also a must see. [Nick Note: I was actually surprised at how large the Franks’ and others’ hideout was. Yes it is not huge and we don’t appreciate how nice it is to be able walk outside but at least there was enough room for everyone to have their own bed.] It’s interesting to see all the changes that have been made since I was here last. There are a lot more interpretation tools and a mini-lecture at the beginning of the tour to explain the history behind the house and Anne’s diary. It’s a very sobering experience but a tremendously inspiring story. Henny & Andy were also nice enough to give us their unused tickets to go see Panic at the Disco one night. The concert was at a cool, small venue but holy crap the Dutch are giant people! I know I’m kind of short and am used to having to stand on my tiptoes at shows, but this time I was surrounded
by nothing but 6+ foot men on all sides – I never had a chance to see the stage! [Nick Note: The Dutch are the tallest people on Earth, with the average Dutch man being 6’1”. I am 6’4” and in concerts I usually can easily see above the crowd, but here I was blocked by lots of other guys just as tall as or taller than me. I don’t like it, I will instead move to Vietnam where I can be the tallest person in the whole concert hall Still the concert was fun.]
Sadly, we never got a chance to bike around town – Amsterdam is built for cycling! – because the weather was mostly cold and rainy. But we did have one nice, sunny day when some friends of Henny & Andy took us out in their boat to get a personal tour of the canals. It was great to have local ex-pats take us around. We bought some fresh bread, strolled around the flower market and checked out the new city library which was gorgeous! The most beautiful and user friendly library I’ve ever seen; if I lived here, I would be there every
weekend. And if that wasn’t enough, we got to join Henny on his Red Light District Tour that night. We were in a group of all Americans (apparently very rare for Henny), mostly in their 30s & 40s, with one older couple in their 70s/80s. You could tell that the experience of seeing scantily clad women behind glass doors was a little unnerving for some of the tourists but the older couple was hysterical – they seemed to be having the best time. Henny, of course, was a superb tour guide! [Nick Note: I had heard that Henny was a superstar interpreter at the Aquarium but I had not had an opportunity to observe first had, but it is true! In what is kinda an uncomfortable subject for many, Henny was able to put everyone at ease and make everyone comfortable with a non-judgmental approach as he gave us all sorts of interesting information about the Red Light District and Amsterdam in general. I was very impressed.] Not only did we stroll through the Red Light district, we learned about the history of the city (I had no idea the concept of XXX – for porn – came from the
city symbol for Amsterdam, first country to allow porn through the mail) and ended the evening at an historic pub (first gay bar in Amsterdam), where we got to sit and talk with our fellow tourists and had a great evening with Henny :o)
We took a couple day trips outside of Amsterdam, as well. We visited Keukenhof, which is famous for its flower gardens. I can’t count the number of tulip species we saw in bloom and they had one of the few remaining working windmills in the region. Plus, there was a small zip line in the children’s playground that Nick couldn’t get enough of ;o) We also visited The Hague to see a sand sculpture contest, which sadly was underwhelming with only 3 sculptures, and we visited Delft, which is known for its blue painted ceramics. Delft was a cute little town, but Amsterdam is a much more interesting city than any other place we visited in the Netherlands.
Hanging out with Henny and Andy, either at home or at the bars, was by far the highlight of Amsterdam. One night we were treated to a home made spaghetti dinner; we strolled through the Saturday
Market; we even bummed around and watched old movies and Eurovision, which was a very strange European experience in and of itself! [Nick Note: It was funny to see Andy and Henny get into it, they are great to hang out with.]
Sunday was a day that Nick had planned well before we arrived in Amsterdam ;o) This was the day of the Ajax vs. Twente soccer game. One of Nick’s former hometown players from Costa Rica, Bryan Ruiz, now plays for Twente [Nick Note: He played with Liga Deportiva Alajuelense, the greatest futbol club in Costa Rica and who this weekend wrapped up their second consecutive Costa Rican championship. In his first season last year he led Twente to their first ever Dutch championship and is considered the team’s best player. So while I am not a Twente fan I was rooting for the team with the Costa Rican.] and Andy is a huge Ajax fan, so we headed out to a pub to experience a game in Amsterdam. Sadly for Nick, Twente didn’t win [Nick Note: But Bryan Ruiz had a solid game.], but it was quite a sight to see all the Amsterdam fans going crazy
after Ajax’s win. The guys in the pub were jumping up and down so much you could feel the bar shaking and the streets were filled with colored smoke bombs after the game.
On our way home, we stopped by “Our Lord in the Attic Chapel.” This is one of the Netherlands’ last remaining hidden cathedrals. In the late 16th Century after the Protestant Reformation, when Catholicism in the Netherlands was outlawed, wealthy Catholic families built small churches in their attics as a place for their community to worship away from prying eyes. Fortunately, there are a lot of old buildings, some dating back to the 16th century, that were spared from German bombs in WWII. The old buildings are pretty cool, as Amsterdam used to charge higher taxes based on how wide the house was facing the canal. So, the people got smart and made very narrow houses at the canal-facing facade that extend pretty far back off of the street – they’re like towering mazes on the inside! And many of them are leaning this way and that – some on purpose to help lift furniture through high windows, others look like they’re about to sink into
the canals if it weren’t for the neighboring buildings holding them up. Just another feature of Amsterdam that makes it a really unique city. [Nick Note: Surprisingly the city that Amsterdam reminded me most of in our trip is Kathmandu. Both are made up of very old brick buildings and for both the buildings are leaning this way and that as they have shifted through the centuries. Of course the Amsterdam buildings are in much better condition and as we learned they keep the old look on the outside but inside they might be completely new and modern buildings. Oh and the canals in Amsterdam are just amazing, a very livable city.]
Our last day in Amsterdam was a hard one – I didn’t want to say goodbye. I’m sure Henny & Andy are glad to have their place back all to themselves, but we had such a nice time with them, it was hard to say goodbye. So I said goodbye the only way I know how, with food. We made them a big taco dinner with all the trimmings (mmm, tacos!) and it was good. Thanks for a great week guys! Can’t wait to see you again
and, hopefully, see more of this great city!
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