Friday, July 18, 2014

48 Hours in Amsterdam

I gave up some of the time I would have spent biking around the tulip fields of the Netherlands in order to visit Reykjavik, which I don’t regret. I’m glad, though, that I made time to see Amsterdam, despite some original hesitance.

How Long: I arrived late in the evening on the 10th of July and left on an overnight bus to Nuremburg late in the evening on the 12th of July.

Overall Impressions: I had an image in my head of Amsterdam and what I means to be a tourist there. Certainly, all of the things I imagined are happening and it’s not hard to find brown coffee shops, the red light district and drunk, often costumed American and British men all around. But you can also lose yourself over and over again wandering in the winding streets around the canals, enjoy delicious food and coffee and soak in the ambiance of this cosmopolitan city.

I can see why it has always drawn in outcasts and wanderers – by allowing anyone to practice their religions and cultural practices even back in the 16th and 17th century when this was really not possibly in Europe, by being the home to so many artists and merchants, and by never really having a monarch until recently. You can feel something in the air and culture of the city that is opened and accepting to a live and let live, fun loving style of life.

I may not have created the most common Amsterdam trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What I did: I wandered. Really and truly, this is mostly what I spent my time doing. Each street is different, and each house its’ own. I wandered into farmers markets and bought some fresh fruit and I stopped every few hours for a cup of coffee or some food, to rest my feet and write a bit, then I kept walking. I could really feel some new callouses forming on my feet by the end of the second day. My hosts did recommend the canal tour – though touristy, it is a whole different perspective on the city. I didn’t end up doing it, but I considered this.

The kind of umimpressive City Hall and Royal Quarters
I stopped into the current exhibit within the church in the Dam (center square of town), hoping to find something a little like Westminster Abbey. And I suppose it was a little like that, but not nearly as gaudy and full of splendor and grave stones as I may have liked. I did learn a lot about the royalty of The Netherlands (a monarchy only going back only some six or seven generations), as well as the change from Catholicism to Lutheranism in Amsterdam. The church used to be painted and adorned on every wall, now it is a plain white, and many of the religious statues around town or in other churches were destroyed at the time the Catholic priests and nuns were expelled. I also visited the Amsterdam Museum, which I enjoyed as a historical look into the city and country. 

I wanted to go to the Anne Frank House, but the line was hours long and with only 48 in town, I didn’t want to waste my time (you can buy tickets online but when I looked a few weeks in advance they were sold out for my particular days). There are also some fantastic museums devoted to amazing local artwork, but I tend to favor history (dare I say narrative story, surprise, surprise?) over art, so there I went. I also think the Jewish historical museum would have been interesting, but I did not have much time when I was in the Jewish quarter.

Where I stayed: I decided to forego the hostel experience – certain to be full of a particular type of tourist, I imagined – in Amsterdam and couchsurfed with a fantastic couple, Samantha and Jeop and their three lively dogs. Both from The Netherlands, they have also lived in the United States for about 9 months. 

Samantha studied history and Jeop has done enough work in the United States in his line of internet security that he sounds like a Texan when he speaks English. They were so welcoming and answered every question I had about the past and present of The Netherlands – which were many, it turns out.

I stayed up and watched TV with Samantha on Friday night and caught a show made by a Dutch man who is married to an American woman called “My America” in which he discusses things he’s learning about the United States from a European perspective. I happened to catch the show about government and elections (super pacs, benefactors giving hundreds of thousands of dollars for a photo with the president, you know the tales) and man, was that interesting to watch with Samantha, even though she had lived in the US and assured me all politics is the same around the world.

Along with a million suggestions for how to spend my time and a home cooked dinner before I left for my overnight train to Germany, the experience of staying in someone’s home and really developing a bit of a relationship is a very good one.

What I ate: Samantha and Jeop took me to the “best fries in Amsterdam” which I would have no idea how to tell anyone else to get to. We drove across many bridges, near the main river. Near the public beaches there was a little shack on the side of the road with all things fried and delicious. The fries were certainly good and drenched in mayo along with plenty of fixings if you wanted them. I also ate a croquette, which Jeop described as “80% butter and some meat”. It was deep-fried, breaded and fantastic. Basically, if we had been really drunk (or, I mean, it’s Amsterdam, so stoned), these two dishes would have been great, but sober they were good too.

Samantha suggested that I visit Winkle, a lunch café near the Anne Frank House for a piece of the best apple pie in The Netherlands. With thick whipped cream and a latte, it was worth a stop.

Total Costs: I don’t feel so broke after Amsterdam, especially since I did not pay for lodging. It’s still a major city, so meals and coffee and beer are not particularly cheap, but more in line with what I imagined. Being in the Euro zone where I can more easily add costs to the dollar is good too.

What I wish I known: Amsterdam aligned and met all my hopes very well, I must admit. If I had more time (maybe I should rename this section “if I had more time here”) I would have enjoyed seeing more of the country, renting a bike and visiting Rotterdam the Hague and villages in the countryside, or seeing the farther reaches of Amsterdam by bike, though I walked very far each day as it was. 

How many photos of canals and bikes and old buildings
can I post before I become redundant? It certainly wasn't redundant to walk around!

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