We flew into Amsterdam about 630 local time on the 22nd. We were in the air only about 50 minutes, and I was able to catch a glimpse of the western shoreline of the Netherlands. We taxied on the runway around the airport after for easily 20 minutes, and then walked all throughout the airport to get to a passport checkpoint and to our luggage. I overheard a British guy about the same age as me say he was ‘pretty sure people in the Netherlands spoke Norwegian’, and i laughed a lot on the inside. I paid a few euros to get 200 euros converted from my checking account (later found out ATMs are free to do the same), and we hopped on a bus going into central Amsterdam.
We were smarter this time and had a hotel booked, but we still needed wifi off of the bus to help navigate there. After a couple wrong turns and a lot of walking, we made our way to ‘The Golden Bear’ hotel, which was really close to the center of downtown. The stairs going up to our room were absurdly small and steep, and the hotels wifi was down our entire 2 day stay, which made planning slightly more difficult. Our faulty wifi password was ‘goldengaybear’ if you were wondering. We dropped our stuff down and went to a fantastic Chinese take out place called Wok to Wok. Then we headed for downtown as it was getting dark. After going through the art district which we would return to tomorrow, we looped around the cozy networks of canals past shops, cafes, endless restaraunts, and ‘coffee shops’ which sold your standard marijuana. Our last stop for the evening was the infamous Red Light district. The main area spanned a city street between a canal, and on either side were women ‘advertising’ themselves in luxury rent out rooms with glass doors and the signature red lights. It was a really busy area of the city, with lots of crowds and packed businesses of all kinds. Although the area was far less sketchy than either of us thought it would be, on the way back that night and the next night we were offered cocaine several times by less than subtle dealers; cocaine and other hard drugs are illegal in the Netherlands,
The hotel stay both nights was alright. It was a little warm, cramped, and fairly noisy because of the downtown proximity. The price was fair, but breakfast was not included, and they charged 10 euros for a laughably small selection of yogurt and small items. The shower and bathroom were really nice and modern though, so that was a plus. The shower at the hostel in London was small and kind of gross, and i was rushed when I woke up, so Amsterdam was my first really good shower since leaving home.
The next morning we ate at very nice street cafe down the street from the hotel, and then went over to a nearby park near the art district. The park was pristine all the way through, with scores of people laying out and relaxing. We saw several of the buildings we saw before but in the light, and we also went to the van goh museum, which had a large number of his works available to see for 20 euros.
Then came the tour of the Heinken beer factory! As we were in line to buy the 20 euro ticket, a foreign woman offered to sell me her extra ticket for 5 euro, which sounded a little weird, but I took a chance and she was very nice and offered to stand inside the building until i was in, and it worked out! There was a lot of info about how great Henry Heinkein–the founder– was for the community and his workers. They made sure to detail all of his progressive labor policies that coincided with his booming success, which I liked very much. We saw some interesting presentations of how the beer was made, and then got 2 free glasses of fresh Heinken when we were finished in a sort of party lounge.
I wanted to go to the zoo after that, but it closed just as we were leaving the factory, so we headed back dowtown to check out the canals and buildings before dark. For dinner we ate at a nice pasta place off one of the main roads leading to the train station. I had easily one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had at this place, and it was only about 10 euros! We passed through a 17th century canal area that led past the Jewish Quarter of the city, which also housed a film institute. Our last stop before heading back through downtown to our hotel was a little park with a fountain and some nice trees on the side of a canal. On the one side, however, was a memorial to the jews and gypsies of the Netherlands that had been killed at the Auswitz concentration camp during WWII.
Amsterdam is an amazing city that is as relaxed as it is culturally vibrant. The center, where we were most, is ringed with canals which made all of the shops and residences feel close and warm. I honestly feel safer in downtown Amsterdam than I would have in parts of downtown Chicago or New York. Cars were very sparse; most of the traffic is foot and a LOT of bikes. They have a separate lane on main roads dedicated to bikes, as well as separate road crossings for biking pedestrians compared to foot pedestrians. The city just felt very friendly and welcoming. A lot of the signs, menus, and instructions were in english, and most people we encountered spoke fluent english. Weed is a part of the culture, but I felt it was one that was not so much a core of life as it was just another routine like smoking cigarettes. It is heavily advertised to a western audience in many spots though. Travel and getting around was more comfortable and relaxed in Amsterdam than it was in London. We were getting the hang of getting a layout of the city and the transit, and we weren’t weighed down by the exhaustion, jet lag, and necessity for non-stop moving that we had in London.
This is continental Europe. The culture and people here are entirely new to me, and it is incredibly exciting.