Amsterdam--the Venice of the North

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February 12th 2010
Published: February 14th 2010
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sarah holding a map. she did this a lot. haha, thanks sarah!

My day started at 5:45am. Somehow I woke up before my alarm. Cyntia was asleep in the other room, and I was somewhat jealous that she would be starting her day much later than me. I had conviced her to stay the night with me at Christine's house, because it really close to the train station. We watched New Moon and then went to bed around 12:30am. Soon I was dressed and out into the snowy streets with my backpack to catch the bus.

At the train station I caught train #1 to Paris. I slept most of the way, but was woken by the conductor coming over the speaker to say that we would be about 30 minutes late. Uh oh. I only had an hour between my train to Paris and my train to Amsterdam, and I needed to take the Parisian metro to a different train station. And now I only had 30 minutes to get there. I hopped off the train, and ran downstairs looking for the way to get to the RER regional trains. I stood in line for a while, waiting to buy a ticket, and when I got to the front, I

Sarah on the boat!
realized it wasn't a machine that sold the RER tickets. I looked at the clock, 10:12am. I decided to go upstairs and see about catching another train, since there was no way I could make it. After some waiting in lines and then waiting some more, the train guy told me to go ahead to Gare de Nord and talk to the train company. TGV is usually really strict about missing trains, but clearly since it was their fault I had missed my connection, there would be no problems here.

After train #2 to Gare du Nord, I found out I would be taking the next train, two hours later. So I waited around and grabbed a sandwich and a coffee. The area to wait was outside, but there were some large space heaters placed around the platform, and I hudled there with the others trying to stay warm. It was in the 20s after all, and when your outside for two hours in those conditions, one gets a little cold. Finally they announced that my train to Amsterdam had arrived, so I went to find my car. BEcause my ticket had been changed I had no fixed seat.

Me on the boat!
The train guy told me to go to car 5.

In the car, I played musical chairs because I would sit in a seat, and then someone would arrive and claim that seat. Each time I politly explained that I had no fixed seat, so I was just trying to find one that was occupied. After moving four times, it started to get pretty old. I had my travel backpack after all. As we rode through northern France and entered Belgium, the countryside became less snowy. Soon we arrived at Brussels.

In order to continue to Amsterdam I got off of the train and went accross the track to the connection. On train #4, I played more musical chairs, and at each stop when we picked up passengers I had to move again. When your train is booked almost solid, it's tough to find the three or four free seats! Finally, with the help of Sufjan Stevens on my iPod we reached Amsterdam! I went into the atrium of the station and texted Sarah to let her know I had arrived.

We texted back and forth for about 40 minutes trying to find out where we each

view of the canals
were, and getting befuddled as to why we weren't seeing each other. "You're at the starbucks, right?" "Yeah, were are you?....?" That's when we realized that I was at Schipol Station at the airport and NOT Central Station, where my train ticket had promised I would be arriving. Hmmmmmmmmmmm. No one could tell me why, but nevertheless I dashed downstairs to catch train #5 to the Central station. It was about a 25 minute ride downtown and then Sarah and I finally found each other! (well, if you want to know the truth, she snuck up on me from behind, hahaha)

SO, after 5 trains and 1 bus, I made it to Amsterdam! Sarah and I headed to the hostel and dropped off out stuff quickly because we had reservations at the Anne Frank House. We made it there late, but the lady let us in anyways. The exhibition was incredible. The Museum is in the actual house that the Franks hid out in, and it was really emotional to walk through the rooms, which still had original drawings that Anne had made on the walls, and pictures that she had pinned up. It was a special experience to

Amsterdam at night
be reminded that this part of Europe has a lot of painful history connected to WWI and WWII. My feet, which had been killing me all day, were becoming so painful it was almost unbearable. In a moment of weakness, I had chosen to only bring my French high heeled boots with me. BAD IDEA. After walking from train to train and all up and down Amsterdam's streets, my feet were DYING! Each step was excruitiating. Sarah was really sympathetic, and we stopped every so often so that I could rest.

After the museum, we had to rush to find something for dinner so we didn't miss the evening canal cruise I had booked. We went into a bar and ordered sandwiches to go. While we waited I had a beer. Both Heineken and Amstel are Dutch beers, and you can even visit the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam. We didn't have time to each our sandwiches, so we ran to the boat and barely made it. I was so happy to see that it was covered with a glass ceiling--it was cold out! I took my boots off to let my feet relax. Sarah asked if it was okay to eat our sandwiches on the boat, and the lady looked at her as if she had asked if she could smoke a bong on the boat (which ,haha, probably would have been okay, as pot is EVERYWHERE here, but more on this later....)

As we cruised through the lovely lit canals, we enjoyed some delicious white wine. The guide told us about how when the canal houses were built in the 1700s that the wealthy families had shown off their wealth by building staircases in front of their houses--staircases were heavily taxed. We also saw the Seven Dancing Houses, a line of 7 houses that are seriously crooked! They all lean in on each other so drastically that it looked like you could stand on one side of a house and let a ball go and it would roll down to the other side! A lot of the 18th cen. houses are crooked in Amsterdam because (like Venice) the natural land is marshy and the supports of the houses tend to rot and sink into the ground!

After our lovely and relaxing cruise, we walked back into our part of town. My feet hurt especially after having been let loose from my boots during the cruise. We stopped at H&M and I bought some black flats for 10 euro. What an investment! At the hostel I changed into them and we ate our cold sandwiches.

Then we went out for a walk in the notorious Red Light District, which our hostel is located in. You know you're there when you see, well, a lot of red light. The neon signs of the various businesses are illuminated, and there are rows of sex shops, porn dealers, and brothels. The brothels are easy to pick out because they have large windows lined with red tube lights. In each window stands a woman, scantilly clad in a bathing suit or some other outfit meant to attract the passers by. Sometimes they dance and look at you seductivly if you make eye contact. Other times the women are texting on their cell phones or watching TV. When a customer decides he wants a specific woman, he approaches her window and rings the bell. She open the door, invited the customer in, and then closes the curtain. When the curtain is closed, it means that the woman is working currently.

trees up for winter, and a rikshaw
Sarah and I walked quietly. There were large packs of men moving up and down the streets, and not many women out who weren't bathed in red light.

Interspered between the sex shops in the red light district (and all over town for that matter) are what are called "coffeeshops". In Amsterdam, that means a place that sells marijuana. In the Netherlands, prosititution, pot, mushrooms, exstacy and other hallucinagins are legal and sold in the open. All of these businesses are heavily regulated. Prositutes have unions and work towards a pension. The coffeeshops are always advertised by neon green lights, and as you walk by, you can see the people inside lighting joints, smoking bongs, or eating what are called "space cakes" (baked goods that have pot or hash in them). The smell of pot in everywhere in the streets of Amsterdam, and usually you smell a coffee shop before you see it on the street.

The fact that there are sex shops, porn cinemas, and marijuana bars all over amsterdamn contrasts interestingly with the scenic canals, lively flower markets, and tall friendly Dutch people. It's a place living in dichotemy. Or perhaps, the fact that these things

red light district
are legal doesn't make that much difference in Dutch society. One might think that having these businesses in the open would make Amsterdam a seedy place. However, it's one of the 25 safest cities in the world! After all, it seems like a lot of crime in the states is a result of the black market of drugs and the sex trade.... Anyways, I never felt unsafe there for one moment. People keep to themselves, and though I held on to my purse tighly, I doubted that anyone would try to rob me.

Sarah and I walked back to the hostel around 11pm and turned in for bed. We had a busy day ahead of us!

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15



the green sign in the background is an example of a traditional coffeehouse here

"The Sex Palace"

a sigh at a coffeehouse

another example of a coffe house sign

there are lots of shops windows with sex toys and marijuana pipes on display

15th February 2010

Natural Home
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often. Susan

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