A Weekend in Western Europe

Trip Start Mar 02, 2003
Trip End Jul 04, 2005

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Tuesday, March 8, 2005

I had the fantastic opportunity a couple weeks ago to meet one of my best friends from high school, Dan, in Amsterdam. Dan has been doing some work in Mannheim, Germany for the past month and called me up to see if I could potentially meet him up somewhere in Europe. We'd played around with the idea a few months ago during his first trip to Mannheim, but unfortunately things didn't work out.

So, with some much-needed financial support from Dan I bought my plane ticket on a Wednesday, sent one of our project drivers to pick it up on Thursday (yes, I know, it's pretty embarrassing that I sent a driver - but I honestly didn't have time because we were having a really important meeting in the office that day), and on early Friday morning I boarded the Ukraine International Airlines direct flight to Amsterdam.

Three hours later I landed in this very clean, very western country and set about to make my way from the airport to the Central train station and meet Dan whose train was arriving around 11am. One of the first things that I noticed in Holland is that everyone is really nice and smiley, not to mention that everyone seems to speak English. I bought my ticket to the Central train station without a hitch and the woman behind the counter actually wished me a pleasant stay in Amsterdam.

I arrived at the Central train station about 45 minutes before Dan's train was scheduled to arrive. I took a little walk around the neighborhood and made my way back to the station when I thought he would be walking out. Unfortunately, the announcements at the train station are done only in Dutch so I didn't hear that his train would be arriving 15 minutes late. As I stood there watching the throngs of tourists disembark I started to get worried that I wouldn't be able to find Dan and vice versa. I thought, "crap, this was not a good time to cut your hair, Maggie, he's not going to recognize you since all the pictures on your travelpod you have long hair." Thank goodness Dan did finally find me and we set about finding a place to stay in Amsterdam.

The weekend was very busy (as I would assume most weekends are in Amsterdam) and we finally settled on a hotel on the periphery of the center of the city. It was about 5 tram stops away from the train station and pretty easy to find. The staff at the hotel were very gracious, and all over the hotel were signs posted that there was no marijuana or hash smoking on the hotel premises. Ironically, we found rolling papers in our room the next day, and of course they could have been left by someone who rolls their own cigarettes, but I'm pretty sure we know better than that. :-)

We spent the weekend walking around Amsterdam, exploring all the little side streets, bars, cafes and museums. We went to the Van Gogh Museum which I was really excited about because the last time I'd been in Amsterdam the museum was under renovation. The Van Gogh works were great, but my favorite part was their Art Nouveau exhibit. They had three whole stories of Art Nouveau works ranging from tapestries, to posters, and even furniture. It was a really good show and presented in a very aesthetically pleasing manner. From the Van Gogh we went to the Rijks Museum which is just down the street. Unfortunately, the Rijks is currently being renovated, so the enormous museum only has a small portion of its works on display. Thankfully they're still showing "The Nightwatch" their most famous piece by Rembrandt. The prices for the museums seemed totally outrageous to me ranging from 7.50 Euros to 10 Euros, and when you think that you're really only spending between one and three hours at a place it really tends to add up. And then you have to remember that the dollar is so weak right now - I mean I exchanged $100 and got something like 69 Euros in return. God, did I feel poor in Europe.

One of the highlights of the weekend was going to the Ann Frank House. I think Dan was originally a little skeptical about going there, but I convinced him that it would be worthwhile. We spent quite a long time wandering around the old house where Ann Frank living with her sister and parents for two years in hiding before being discovered, sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and eventually losing her life there just one month before the camp was liberated. The entire house is a museum now and really a must-see if you're ever in Amsterdam. And one things for sure, if you're going to partake in the party culture I would not go to the Ann Frank house under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. The first time I went there I saw some really stoned young people wandering around giggling - it was totally disrespectful and wrong. Thankfully, this time we didn't see any of that.

Of course, in Amsterdam one can't miss a trip to the red light district. Dan and I took a stroll through the red light district several times during the day and at night. It was a really interesting experience to listen to Dan expound on the prostitution. We had a lot of fun watching men walk out of the different doors and windows after paying for, well, you know what. It was still shocking for me, however, to see men peeing in the middle of the street. I mean they have these very clever little public urinals, and these jerks are literally relieving themselves three inches from the sidewalk. Totally gross.

We spent a lot of time in different bars - usually ones that were serving yummy dark beer. We had the most yummy pints of Murphy's. I can't even begin to express my huge thanks to Dan for feeding me beer all weekend. ;-) One of the last bars we walked into (also serving Murphy's) was this pub near the redlight district. As Dan enjoyed his beer and I my cider Dan overheard a guy sitting at the bar say that he was flying to Kyiv the next day (as was I). I couldn't see his face and assumed that there was a tiny chance that I would actually know him. However, low and behold, as he stood up I recognized him as a friend of a friend that I'd met several months ago in Kyiv. So, Dan, Alex, and I ended up sharing some good times over beers and a delicious Argentinian dinner that night. It really puts the small world in perspective. I still can't believe that we ran into Alex in Amsterdam... it was one of those once in a lifetime happenings.

I arrived back in Kyiv on Monday, totally relaxed, slightly hung over, but happy as can be. I am the luckiest person in the world to have friends like Dan and the opportunity to meet them in places all over the world. It really puts into perspective how small the planet is on which we all reside. I think we had a great time in Amsterdam and a few little adventures that we'll probably not soon forget. Thanks Dan, you're the greatest!
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