Although I’ve been lucky enough to score a dorm room all to myself, said room is wedged in the center of large dorms packed with a field trip of hipster teens gleefully shrieking in Germanic hyperbole. My jaded self can’t possibly imagine what cause they have to be so excited about anything.
I’m only teasing. Admittedly they are kind of annoying me, especially as their shrieks rattle in my ear as I’m trying to sleep (I am apparently the only person in Amsterdam who values an early-to-bed, early-to-rise agenda, sigh), but I’m actually a bit envious of their unbridled excitement about anything and everything. They run about the hostel–free of authoritative chains–and stumble in at all hours of the night. They sport tee-shirts with American slogans and sing Taylor Swift songs in unison. They are excited about Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Actually, I admire their optimistic paradigms so much, It breaks my heart to have to tell them to shut the &*^% up after midnight. 🙂
Today was filled with things authentically DUTCH. After catching up on much needed sleep (an unprecedented 10 hours!), I trekked across the entire city to the famous Amsterdam Central train station, checking out some cathedrals along the way. Although the Dutch architecture is something out of a storybook, the churches and city buildings don’t boast the same grandiose as those of Barcelona or Paris. The Dutch are more understated in all things. Widely protestant and anti-royal, Dutch culture radiates casual, progressive and inclusive. There is a even a monument dedicated to persecuted gays, and many establishments–not just gay-specific ones–proudly wave the rainbow flag to show their acceptance.
Anyway. Walking a total of 15 miles today, I veered off the tourist track to the quaint bohemian Jordan district. (Thanks Rick Steves for the free audioguide! Seriously, guys, he’s the BEST). Although there are cars in this city, the narrow, canal-lined streets aren’t conducive to motorized traffic. Amsterdam’s 800,000 residents own more than 800,000 bikes. It’s the main method of transportation in this Venice-like city and the residents here have perfected it to an art. It’s actually terrifying as commuting bicyclists whoosh by from every angle without consideration of pedestrian traffic. The bikes always have the right away here. I’ve seen businessmen talking on cell phones on bikes, people with groceries in little baskets, a mother with one child in a baby seat behind and one riding the handle bars. It’s impressive. And the Dutch are remarkably fit! Not an overweight person in site. They are also environmentally conscious and do everything to minimize their carbon footprint. I’m really loving this city!
I tried my first pickled herring sammy, complete with pickles and a heaping pile of onions. It was actually quite yummy–can’t say what it did to my breath though, yikes. Then I spent a couple of hours relaxing in Vondelpark–an expansive city park with an impressive lake, miles of greenery bursting with spring colors, and a of course a couple of little bars to waste away a sunny afternoon with a Hoegaarden. The Dutch don’t take life so seriously all the time–it’s really refreshing.
My final adventure to my packed day was a journey to the infamous Red Light District–Amsterdam’s seedy underbelly where anything goes. Full prepared to what I was to see (and coming from San Francisco) I can’t say I was SHOCKED by any means, but it’s certainly a bizarre experience. Scantily clad ladies of the night stand in street-level windows displaying their wares to passing buyers. Sex shops and leather daddy fetish bars cozy up to “coffeeshops” (weed bars) and “smart shops” (stores selling psychedelic drugs), and it’s all perfectly legal and regulated. It’s actually fascinating to see how the Dutch have approached what they consider harmless crimes. When you take out the illegality to prostitution and minor “harmless” drugs, you eliminate pimps, the spread of venereal disease, drug lords and trafficking. For being a sleazy hood, the Red Light District is actually a clean, well-lit and camera monitored corridor filled with funky character.
Tomorrow is my final day and I’m kicking it off at the Anne Frank House before boarding a six-hour train to Berlin. Prost!