Thursday, 6 May 2010

Alice, Amsterdam and the Friesland

March 30th--Day 1: First day in Amsterdam with Alice
On Tuesday, after an amazing tour of the swiss alps and week with my mom, I headed off to Amsterdam to meet up with my friend Alice. I had an early flight and a long wait in the Amsterdam airport, but by mid-day, Alice and I were on the train heading towards central Amsterdam planning out our 3 exciting days to come. We arrived at the central train station by mid-afternoon and the adventure of finding our hostel began. We had a print out of our hotel confirmation that said which dock we had to find (now would probably be the time to mention that our hostel was a house boat....) so we headed to the main docks to hunt down The Friesland. Our directions took us through the main parts of the city, so the walk ended up being a nice introduction to the city.

Amsterdam was different, again, than any other European city I've seen. The city is cut up by canals that run every which direction, and there are more bike paths then car lanes and sidewalks. Every type of person you could imagine was on a bike too: lawyers, old men, pregnant women, little kids, college students...EVERYONE has bikes there and no matter the weather, the streets are dominated by them. It was pretty impressive to see a city run on bikes and canals like that. Pollution wise, obviously the bikes keep the city clean, and I liked the idea of biking around all day. The states should really try that system out. Architecture wise, I loved the narrow buildings that were stacked on top of each other lining all of the canals. I kept thinking that the buildings looked like they were leaning on each other, slightly tilted one direction or the other. To me, Amsterdam looked like a city straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, or at least a suitable place for Dr. Seuss to reside, but Alice never agreed with me on the tilted buildings, so maybe it was just all in my head.

Buildings stacked on top of eachother--see, they are tilted!
Anyway, we finally made it to the docks after dragging my ripping suitcase halfway through the city, but The Friesland houseboat-hostel was not on the dock it claimed to be on our print out. After checking all of the other docks, we finally found our boat on the last dock in the harbor, right next to a huge pirate ship and outside of a very strange-looking, massive green building that was called The Nemo. We would never quite figure out exactly what The Nemo was, but after many hours spent debating about it and analyzing the crowds that we would see going in and out of it, we figured it was some sort of children's aquatic museum. By the time we located our home for the next 3 nights, both Alice and I were already regretting our decision to book a room on The Friesland. We walked onto the boat and got to our room on the bottom level of the boat, and the regret just kept getting worse and worse. Our room was tiny. Tiny, in fact, may be an understatement. The room consisted of a small closet, a sink, and a set of bunk beds....basically, if one of us was doing something in the room, the other either had to move outside or climb onto the top bunk to get out of the way. Our window, a tiny circular opening, basically provided us with an underwater view--if the seas even got slightly rough, we would have had water pouring into room. BUT, having said all of this, Alice and I decided to make the best of it, unpack our stuff, and hit up the town immediately. In the end, the Friesland would treat us well, and to be able to say we stayed on a boat in Amsterdam definitely made the whole thing worth while. I chalked it up to yet another crazy experience of Europe.

THE FRIESLAND!!! Our amazing house-boat/ hostel for 3 nights
Alice and our tiny room on the boat.
So our first afternoon in the city began with a stroll through the central district of the city that eventually ended at the Heinekein Museum. The walk was much longer then we expected it to be, and we got caught in a little rain on the way, but in the end, we made it to the museum and proceeded to learn about the history of Heinekein, how the beer is made, and we even got a free pint at the end of the tour. The vintage Heinekein posters and beer labels were my favorite part of the tour, and we even had a celebrity citing in the museum to brag about. Of all the people to see in Amsterdam, Alice and I spotted non other then MINI-ME during the Heinekein experience!! That would prove to be our first and only celeb spotting during our trip, but we were pretty happy with that one. Once we were done learning about beer, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city and exploring all of the crazy shops, coffeehouses, and cafes Amsterdam has to offer. The day of traveling finally did catch up to us though, and by early evening we called it quits and retired to the Friesland, hung out there for a while, and went to bed wayyyy too early.

Day 2: Museums and Hail-Storms
The second day in Amsterdam was dedicated to museums. We woke up pretty early and found our way to the Anne Frank house to start us off. The line outside the house was super long, but we waited and it turned out to be fairly fast moving. Once inside, it hit me where I was, and it was a pretty intense tour from there on. The first floor is dedicated to stories and diary entries that explains the context for Anne Frank's diary, and then the tour leads you into the Secret Annex where Anne and her family spent years in hiding while World War II was being fought outside. Having had Anne's diary as assigned reading for many years as I was growing up, it was a very strange reality to be standing in the place where all of her writing took place. The annex was kept exactly as it looked after the Gustapo came and cleared it all out, so no furniture remained, but it was pretty crazy to imagine how upwards to eight people stayed in the dark rooms all day and night, having to remain perfectly silent. It was emotional, but in the end, I'm glad I was able to see the Anne Frank House.

Next on our museum list was the House-boat Museum. We figured we needed a little lightening up after Anne's annex, so we headed down the canals to find our next stop. The museum was pretty cool--very small and not too informative about life on a boat, but the best part was the video at the end of the tour that showed pictures of all the different types of house-boats that exist in Amsterdam. They come in all shapes and sizes...some have grass on their roofs during the summer, some look like actual houses that are just sitting on water, and some have ice-fishing events as their backyards during the winter. The message that the museum was trying to project was that house-boats were a part of dutch culture, not just an alternative way to live. It was interesting to see it that way, and cool to try an imagine growing up on a boat everyday of your life.

The canals break up the city, and are lined with house-boats and side streets
Next, we saw some pretty cool modern-art museums. We tried to find a couple we had heard about through guide books, but two of them had moved or had been shut-down...this only meant more walking around and more exploring. We did manage to get ourselves slightly lost a few times, but with our trusty map and excellent directional skills, we always managed to find our way around the canals in the end. We did end up in a residential neighborhood at one time, and finding our way back on track wasn't look too good for a while, but we made it out in the end. We knocked off a few photography museums before deciding we had been productive enough for the day, and proceeded to further explore the other aspects of Amsterdam-culture. We found some weird shops to go into, including a junk-yard turned supermarket that had a mexican twist to it, the china-town area shops that we didn't know existed, and lots of drug paraphernalia shops scattered along the streets. However, our exploring didn't last too long because once again, we got caught in bad weather and it actually started to HAIL at one point. Needless to say, we found our way all the back to the Nemo, and after trudging through the hail and rain for 30 minutes, didn't really feel like going back out in the storm. Again, we hung out in our tiny room for the night and chilled, and proceeded to fall asleep early. BUT, day two was a definite success...lots of Amsterdam culture, museums, and exploring checked off the list.

ALL of the bikes lined up
Day 3: Van Gough and Red Lights
For our last day in the city, we decided to wake up early (again) and go out for an amazzinnnggg breakfast that we had heard about. At Barney's Uptown, Alice and I sat down for probably our first real meal since being in Amsterdam--a pancake burrito of scrambled eggs and bacon. Literally, one of the greatest things in the world. Afterwards, we headed towards the Van Gough Museum to spend some quality time with the art. It was the nicest day we had yet, so we lingered in various parks and coffee stands on the way to the museum, and just continued to soak up all the bikes and crazy shops we saw everywhere. The Van Gough was incredible. I loved the majority of paintings we saw there, and learning about the artist's life was also really interesting. Not knowing really anything about art, I realized I really like Van Gough's style overall. However, once we were done with the museum, the only other things we had planned to do in the city were finding the IAMSTERDAM sign and seeing the Red Light District at night. The sign was not difficult to find, and in fact, we found two of them! We waited for a while to see if the massive amounts of tourists would disappear enough for us to get good shots at the sign, but that proved to be quit difficult.

In front of the sign
So, the Red Light District. THAT was an experience. I thought I knew exactly what to expect when we ventured over there, but once we got there, I was completely shocked by the entire environment. I think what put me over the edge was actually watching someone choose a girl for the night, and proceeding to go into her glass room after 'shopping' for a while. Once we saw that, Alice and I basically ran for our lives to get back to some normalcy, and concluded that our stay in Amsterdam was officially complete with some of the weirdest and craziest experiences and sights we'd ever seen. We headed back to The Friesland, packed all of our stuff up, and got ready to leave in the next morning. All and all, I loved the city, and I had incredible time conquering it with Alice, but it was something I'm not sure I'll ever do again. But, that's the way all great experiences should be--do them once, do them need to repeat!

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