Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cheers to Amsterdam!

Honestly I didn't know what to expect when I went to Amsterdam. Apart from the major sights to see and a brief viewing of the city map I really didn't know what I was walking into. More than anything I think I had a wonderful education in the area of acceptance and tolerance. Although I am writing this post fairly far after I was in Amsterdam, I must say it is my favorite city I have visited so far. The essence of Amsterdam truly cannot be explained in words. I have tried. Many times and couldn't find the words. Tolerant would probably be the one word to best describe the city. Most people you ask would probably use that same word. That being said, there are some things on this part of my trip that I really can't put into words. I encourage everyone who reads this to visit this city at some point in their life if they have not yet done so.

I arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30 AM. I walked out of the train station straight to the information desk since I really had no idea where in the city I was in relation to my hostel. I purchased the 48 hour tram pass which I learned was extremely good to have. I went straight to the hostel to drop off my luggage and have some breakfast. I found there was a walking tour given by the same company that I had been with in Brussels. I decided that would probably be a good way to learn the history and layout of Amsterdam rather than wandering around on my own. The tour left from the hostel at 10:40 and we headed straight toward Dam Square where the tour would officially begin. Again, I think the tour was a really good idea. The tour guide was from England, not the Netherlands, so I think she wasn't as good as my tour guide in Brussels, but she still did a good job educating us on the city. Unfortunately, for the entirety of the tour it was pouring rain. I quickly learned that my umbrella was useless and basically was destroyed by the wind within the first hour. After the tour finished, our tour guide invited us to have a traditional Dutch meal called Stamppot. Basically this is just a plate of mashed potatoes with vegetables mixed in and your choice of either a pork sausage or beef meatball all covered with gravy. It was not the most appetizing looking meal, but it was very tasty!

After lunch I walked around the city for about an hour and then I decided to go back to the hostel, shower and change into warm, dry clothes. By the time I was ready to head out again (with my raincoat this time) it was almost time for dinner. I found a really nice restaurant that was nearby the hostel. I had decided to sign up for another 2 hour walking tour of just the red light district that started at 7 PM so I had to eat fairly quickly and then make my way to Dam Square. On the tram ride over, the tram I was on was hit by a minivan and so they made everyone get off. No one was hurt, which was good. I just could not believe that happened! If you ever have been to Europe you probably are not too surprised because of the way that the tram is set up on the roads. I started running to make sure I didn't miss the tour. This one was not free!

The tour guide was from Alaska originally and she was very funny. She told us all about when and how the red light district was developed and how it is going to slowly disappear in the next four years. Currently it is a pretty large part of Amsterdam. The city has decided that they want to limit it to one road rather than several. One thing I did not know before coming to Amsterdam was that prostitution is legal. One of the reasons why I say that Amsterdam is tolerant. We learned all about how the industry works there. I was also amazed to learn that the city had spent $4 million on security cameras throughout the red light district making it an incredibly safe place to be. There hasn't even been a murder in Amsterdam in 5 years! One of the reasons I think I liked Amsterdam so much was because I felt so incredibly safe the entire time I was there. Unfortunately, I have not felt this way in every place I have visited (I just compensate for this by heading  home early). After the tour I walked around a little bit more and then finally headed back to the hostel. I sat in the lobby until about 11:30 so that I could get wifi and touch base with my family and friends before going to sleep.

On day two in Amsterdam I was lucky enough to be joined by my college roommate Jamie! We planned to meet at the Anne Frank house at 9 AM (right when it opened) to beat the crowd. It was really an amazing museum and I highly recommend it to anyone planning on visiting Amsterdam. From there we went to the Rijksmuseum. Neither of us liked the museum very much, but it gave us a chance to walk around and catch up which was nice. We decided that it was a good time to find lunch after the two museums so we found a mexican restaurant nearby which was very good. After lunch we continued our day of museums and headed to see Van Gogh. I decided to buy the audio tour which was very interesting. We spent about an hour and a half in the museum and then next went to our final museum for the day, the Heineken Experience. We had fun learning the history of the beer and how it was made. We got to experience firsthand how the beer is made in "the brew you ride". We finished the "experience" with a sample of Heineken!

In the evening I took Jamie into the red light district to walk around and explore. We stopped at a restaurant to get dinner where they proceeded to lose our order making our dinner take much longer than anticipated. We went into a couple shops and explored the essence of the red light district at night. We walked around for a couple hours before heading back to our hostels for the night. I was very happy to have the company for my second day in Amsterdam.

The next morning I had to catch my train back to Grenoble at 10:30 which gave me plenty of time to get to the station. Definitely was worth the trip! I highly recommend it. If I had more time I would have liked to see Bruges in Belgium and Rotterdam.

 Au Revoir!


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