Niederlande – Amsterdam

We arrived early in the evening to Amsterdam Central Station. I had slept on both of our trains on the way here because I had not been feeling well. Thankfully Mike had given me some Aspirin and I was feeling a little better, though I was still groggy from my napping. We got off the train and wandered down to the metro under gound. There were ticket machines here, but they wanted a 7.5 Euro fee for a reusable card which we didn’t feel was worth having. So instead after some looking around we found the transit information office where we were able to buy a 3-day pass. Armed with our tickets, we entered the Metro area only to find the lines we had been expecting didn’t run here. It turns out that we really needed to take a tram, so we exited the metro area and walked across the street. At least we weren’t paying for each entry.

We found where our tram would be stopping and waited patiently as the stop grew more crowded. To our dismay, the driver of the first and second trams let people get off, but refused to let anyone on-board for reasons unbeknownst to us. We were able to get on the third tram however, so we crowded on with the rest of the mob of passengers and were on our way.

The tram dropped us off a short 5-minute walk from our hostel, so we went and checked in. We dropped our bags in the room and took a minute to figure out where we were headed for dinner. We settled on a nearby seafood place and headed there, only to find there would be a 45 minute wait for a table. Not to be put off, we left and went next door to a beef place where we got some skewers. I was a little relieved because my stomach was not 100% from before; the beef was tasty and I liked the veggies they served with the dish. We had no wait which was the most important thing, but I think the restaurant was agreeable overall.

After dinner I was feeling a little better still, so we decided to do a bit of exploring downtown in the red light district. Neither of us intended on partaking in any of the drugs or sex sold there, but we were both curious to see what the area was like. I was surprised to feel safe there. The streets were bustling with visitors, couples, and tourists, many of whom were presumably there out of curiosity, just like us. Women in the windows tapped on glass and a few tried to lure us inside, but many more were busy on their phones, presumably texting or surfing the internet. I was surprised at how casual it all seemed. We passed by more than a few windows with curtains drawn, which presumably meant someone was busy with a client.

We had many questions about the sex trade as we wandered the streets. Did the women work for someone or were they self-employed? How were STIs limited? How did pricing work? If you pay for time, what happens if you don’t need all of it? I think it interested us simply because of how different it was from most western societies we’d encountered before.

You’re probably wondering what my ‘overall take’ on the Red Light District was. While I don’t like the notion of objectifying women’s sexuality and am personally opposed to the use of recreational drugs, I think the Dutch laws may be beneficial in some ways. It’s a reasonable argument to say that the sex trade in Amsterdam is safer than in other cities where prostitution must take place in secret, and drug use in a regulated economy is safer than drugs off the street from criminal outlets. I later found out the women are self-employed. While you could certainly say some have been driven to prostitution by circumstance, I would believe that others are simply in the business for what they consider easy money. That’s empowering in a way. If you believe that prostitution will always exist, then there is something to be said for letting women make a free choice to engage in it and ensure they can do so safely and legally. For example, “Red Light” streets are often under surveillance and the women have means of signaling for help if they should need it. Additionally, there are licensing and STI testing regulations which workers must pass in order to practice legally. As for the Marijuana I think a similar argument can be made. Rather than force people to buy sketchy drugs on the street, regulate and tax the trade to ensure people have access to it safely and responsibly.

I was woken up very early on my first morning in Amsterdam. Some British guys came stumbling into our room at 5AM, reeking of alcohol and being very loud with the light on. I was a little annoyed but then again I suppose I was the one who opted to be cheap and book an 8-person room. Ah well, I got back to bed before one of them started snoring with impressive volume.

For breakfast we went to a nearby bagel shop. We had a good simple bagel and I ordered all of their juices mixed together, which made for a tasty blend. After breakfast we went to go try to see the Anne Frank house, only to find that it was booked all day and that walk-ups were only being admitted after 2:30PM. I knew the site was popular but hadn’t realized what a tourist draw it would be. Mike really wanted to go see it, so we decided to try again later in the day.

We hopped on a cheap canal cruise which was departing nearby. The tour was not fantastic – rather than a live guide there were corny pre-recorded audio voice-overs for the different stops. At least it was a good way to explore the town and get a sense of direction, and the voice-overs did point out a few things I wouldn’t have looked for otherwise.

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After our cruise returned, we had a few hours to kill before we wanted to get in line for the Anne Frank House. We wandered the vicinity a bit, went to the sex museum which was pretty gimmicky, and grabbed lunch. I had an ‘ABC Club’ comprised of avocado, bacon, and chicken. It was a simple sandwich but I had not heard of that combination of ingredients before, so I ended up liking it.

After our meandering and our meal it was time for us to get in the (long) line for the Anne Frank House. We waited about two hours, during which we talked and observed the tourists around us. A pair behind us were clearly Americans; they brought up Pokemon Go more than a few times during our wait. A couple in front of us smoked several joints. I didn’t appreciate the secondhand smoke, but to each his own I suppose.

We were rushed through the Anne Frank House but it was still fascinating to see how refugees hid from the Nazis and the extent to which the family made sacrifices to endure. Seeing Holocaust sites is never easy, but this one was easier than many others for me, I think because the focus was on the family’s courage and struggle rather than on their ultimate fate. We were shown out after a brief lap through the house.

After the house visit we returned to our hostel to drop off our bags. The best part of our hostel was its proximity to the museum quarter. In the evening we took full advantage of this and made a ~2 minute walk over to the Van Gogh museum. There, we followed the exhibit as it traced through the life of the artist, noting changes in his technique, style, and corresponding changes throughout his life. It was a really personal way to experience the art, and I really got a feel for how he expressed himself through the artwork. I am a fan of Van Gogh’s stereotypical style and use of contrasting colors, so this museum was a highlight for me. I ended up buying a poster which I’m happy to report survived the flight home intact, so you can expect I’ll have a recreation of a Van Gogh art piece hanging in my apartment whenever I return stateside.

It was fairly late by the time we finished up in the museum. Since we were nearby we thought we’d try again for the seafood restaurant from the night before. My stomach was feeling better by this point, so I ordered a seafood dish: my plate came loaded with raw and smoked salmon, shrimp, eel, and crab. It was a little expensive but I do miss good seafood living in southern Germany. We are pretty far from a coast, after all. We didn’t venture out after dinner, instead opting to turn in after a long day.

The next morning I was again treated to an early ‘wake up call’ from our British friends. I was able to get back to bed, but it took me a little longer this time as I didn’t manage to fall asleep faster than the loud snorer. Whenever I did want to wake up I was reminded again that an 8 person room is often inconvenient. Whenever you find a room at a hostel and it says “en-suite,” this is normally a good thing. It means there is a bathroom in the room and you don’t have to walk down the hall to shower, etc. But when you have an “en-suite” room with 8 beds, well let’s just say it can get a little hectic in the morning. Someone jumped in the bathroom seconds before I was going to use it – I had been waiting to see if one of the girls who had just left would need it again. Curse my courtesy, apparently.

We wanted to try somewhere new for breakfast, so we set off aimlessly. We ended up walking quite a ways away before we found a place called Cafe Blond. It was a cute little diner with decorative plates and bright colors everywhere. I had a salami sandwich with chips and really enjoyed the orange juice they squeezed behind the bar.

Our breakfast finished, we had a plan to go to the Rijksmuseum. Right by the museum is the “I Amsterdam” sign, so we stopped to grab a few pictures despite the mobs of crowds. Afterwards we headed inside to check out the museum. Our time there was divided between maritime artifacts, arms and armor, some neat timepieces, and Dutch paintings. The most famous works we saw were by Rembrandt, although many of his contemporaries were on display as well and some of them were equally impressive. Although this museum was nice with a lot to see, I would say I preferred the Van Gogh museum.

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It was a gorgeous day whenever we stepped outside. Due to the warm weather and sunshine we decided we had to rent bikes and go exploring through the city some more. With our hostel just a short walk away we dropped off our bags and walked over to a bike shop, paid a small fee, and were on our way. Biking in Amsterdam really gives you a different perspective; I had never ridden my bike much in an urban environment, but you got a sense that the infrastructure was in many ways bike-centric. Dedicated lanes, traffic signals, and cars that yield enable bikers to get around fast. I wish we had rented the bikes earlier than we did. It was a lot of fun and a great way to get lost in town. A few times we were scolded by locals; we think we had violated some traffic regulations. Oops.

We had to return the bikes before the shop closed. After dropping them off we headed back to the hostel to chill for a bit and decide on dinner. There, we chatted for awhile with the American girls about travel, the room, and the annoying Brits. Mike picked out a place for dinner which I thought was mediocre. I had a steak with fries – the highlight of my meal were the grilled veggies my steak was served with. Curious about what our bar-friend in Bruges had told us, we both ordered Heinekin on tap. Compared to the Belgian beers it tasted awful. I am not a Heinekin man. Finishing up dinner, we made our way back to the hostel and packed up. We both had flights the next day – this was the end of Mike and I’s trip together. Sleepy from a long journey, we went to bed.

 

On Sunday, I went with Mike to the airport in the morning so that he could catch his flight. My own flight was not leaving till the mid-afternoon, so I had several hours to kill. Rather than spend them at the airport, I took advantage of a shuttle service to a nearby attraction where I happily wandered for a few hours: Keukenhof. Advertised as “Europe’s largest flower garden,” Keukenhof was a massive explosion of color. I spent several hours exploring the gardens and enjoying some peace and quiet. I’m really glad I opted to go there. Pictures to follow.

After the gardens I made my way back to the airport and had an uneventful flight back to Stuttgart. Trip successful. I had to prepare for my next adventures; my mother and brother were scheduled to land in Germany in just a few days’ time… More on that later. Until next time,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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