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Friday, August 19, 2005

Amsterdam, The City of Sex, Drugs, and Heineken!

One evening while glancing at one of my favorite websites, SNCF (the French train system website), I came across a fantastic deal to take Thalys to Amsterdam for the months of July and August. Not being one to pass up a great deal I started planning immediately and went to work the next day to ask for a Friday off so I could enjoy an extended weekend in Amsterdam. A few days later I purchased my tickets, found a hostel and was set to go to Amsterdam for the weekend of August 12.

Later on one night at a work party it came up that I would be going to Amsterdam for a weekend by myself and somehow as a result of that one of my coworkers, one of my supervisors actually, decided to come with me. This would add a new twist to my traveling as now I would be speaking in French for the whole weekend with my travel buddy.

So Friday finally came and we met at the train station and off to Amsterdam we went. We arrived early in the afternoon to find it pouring down rain as well as being quite cold. Despite having read that it would be chilly and rainy before I left, I had still opted to wear the flip flops and tank top determined not to accept that summer might already be on its way out. Needless to say I was freezing and miserable upon arrival. Thankfully I had at the last minute thrown in a sweater (as you should always do when traveling in Europe I’ve come to learn) so once I changed into that and put proper shoes on I was ready to go. By this time the rain had thankfully stopped and I was once again content.

The first excursion for the trip would of course be to the Heineken brewery to take part in the “Heineken Experience”. With the price of admission we were given 3 beers (25 cl) and a free Heineken glass. Well worth it in my mind and a great way to start off the trip. After finishing up our beers we then headed over to the Van Gogh museum. I enjoyed the museum a lot, although I feel it was rather expensive for a museum as well as rather small and several of his more famous works were on loan in Asia somewhere. Once we had finished this we then wondered back to our hostel, dropped our stuff off and went in search of food. After walking all over to find a place to eat we wound up back at the hostel and ate at the bar there. Not ideal but it seemed to be the only choice we had besides continuing to walk around forever trying to find a place that was affordable and had what we both wanted.

The next morning we woke up and meet up with a company to do a guided bike tour of the city. I can’t remember the last time I had ridden a bike so I was a little nervous, but as the saying holds true, you never do forget how to ride a bike. We had a great 4 hour ride where we visited a windmill, a cheese/clog farm, and much of the city and some of the country side as well. A little pricey for the tour but I was happy to pay as I really enjoyed it (even met two people from Houston on the tour!). After the bike tour we did the other typical Amsterdam tourist trap and took a boat ride along the canals. Not exactly that great, but seemed to be something you just had to do. We did one that allowed you to hop on and off so that enabled us to take it over to the Anne Frank house were we hopped off and encountered and enormous line. We waited for quite some time in the line and eventually got in to see where Anne Frank hid away with her family for two years before being taken away. Not quite what one would expect to see, but worth visiting nonetheless.

That evening we again set out for dinner and it was at this point my travel buddy started getting on my nerves. Despite being French and having only left his country for one day so far on this trip, he had it set that he wanted to go to a French restaurant for dinner. When I suggested we try a Dutch restaurant you would have thought I just suggested we go jump off a bridge into the canal. So we set out in search of a French restaurant, or at least something close enough to have “true red wine” (aka French wine). After walking for quite some time we found something that seemed to suit his taste (the menu had a French translation (the only one we came across)) and we settled there. During the dinner and throughout the trip he had to keep pointing out how American I was because I drank beer and liked Hamburgers. He also had to point out what was “missing” from the meals he had during his visit to NYC, namely the cheese and bread (perhaps more but I cut him off there). This started getting on my nerves quite a bit and at times I wanted to scream at him and point out how contradictory and how French he was being, but I resisted and let him go one being an idiot.

The next morning I think it was obvious we weren’t compatible travel companions at least from my side it was obvious. However, we continued on together and finished up the boat tour. This took longer than expected and since he had an earlier train home than I did he had to leave after the boat tour ended. So off he went to the train station and I was content to have some time to myself. I headed back over to the museum district and went to the Rijksmuseum which houses a large collection of Dutch art including Rembrandt. Once I was finished with the museum I still had some time to kill so I went to the Plaza area we had been to the day before on the bike tour and had lunch. Since I enjoy sitting in large outdoor Plazas like that I took a table out on the terrace. Moments later it started raining and only continued to get harder. I however stayed outside somewhat protected by a large umbrella. By some miracle it actually stopped raining by the time I finished my lunch and I was able to get back to the hostel to grab my stuff and get to the train all while staying dry. I boarded the train and by late that evening I was back home in Paris.

Despite my wish for a better travel buddy for the trip I had a great time and had great practice with my French. I loved Amsterdam and found it an absolutely charming and relaxing city. It was such a wonderful change from Paris and I would love to go back there one day for a week just to hang out. I did see the red light district as I was staying right in the heart of it and I must say it wasn’t at all what I imagined. Yes there were the prostitutes and drug dealers, etc. but it all seemed so much more tame and calm and not threatening in any way. I think it was this feeling about the city that I enjoyed. Nothing seemed rushed or sketchy as it can seem in Paris, it was just very tranquil.


lori said...

I want to go back to Amseterdam so badly. I was only there for one night but we didn't get in until about 11 pm since the French decided to strike (seems like a thing they like to do) so because of it, they closed the ferry port on their side of the English channel. To sum up, I really didn't get to experience Amsterdamn besides the Anne Frank house. I did get to eat some REALLY good pizza. (I'm an american, I didn't branch out and try Dutch food...yet another reason I need to go back!)

Anonymous said...

Next time you'll need to partake in the casual festivities of stoned people watching.