But y'know what the best thing about Amsterdam is?

Trip Start Sep 27, 2005
Trip End Oct 26, 2005

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Flag of Netherlands  ,
Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Bicycles. If you have a fear of them, do not go to Amsterdam. They're everywhere. As I stepped out of the train station in the late afternoon, that's all I saw. In fact, in an interesting turn from most American transportation hubs, they did have a big parking lot a football field long, half again as deep, and 4 stories tall. Packed to the gills. With bicycles.
On my third try, I found a hostel to stay in that night. A week into my trip and I'd been able to avoid paying more than 30 cents for a place to crash, but it was necessary here. Actually, over the 30 nights of my trip, I managed to only buy a bed 3 times. Yet I only knew people ahead of time in about half the places I went. Good thing I sleep in weird places well.
Hitting it off well with Saskia, the half-Mexican, half-Dutch graduate student hostel reception girl, I figured this wouldn't be so bad. Until I went upstairs to my room. Waiting for me was a stench like a dead raccoon and a 55-year-old crazy man waiting behind the door to scare the stuffing out of me when I walked in. Making weird conversation and asking if he could hold my Eurail pass and passport for while, I decided it might be best to spend most of my time in Amsterdam not quite right there. Finally getting a chance to clean up in Europe (don't bother counting the number of days, it's gross), I met a few more travelers downstairs and we made plans to hit the bars that night.
First I took, on recommendation, an evening canal tour that I understood to be stocked with wine, cheese, and people mingling. Turns out I can't read and bought tickets for the couples sit-down cruise in Dutch and French. Fortunately, 2 Dutch sisters made the same mistake and I had some company to commiserate about how big of idiots we three were.
Back at the hostel, I hung out for a while downstairs before heading out with a few others to check the nightlife out. We promised to come back and grab Saskia at the end of her shift at midnight, and had a great time exploring. Out till 3, I made it back, held my breath, and hoped that neither the dead raccoon nor my more-than-mildly disturbing roomie would haunt me that night.
Woken up and told to scram by hostel workers, I spent a few minutes being accused by Wild-Eyed-Bill (though that's probably not my roommate's real name) of stealing his computer before heading out to explore.
I was lucky to catch the bicycle tour right before it left, and in touring in an environmentally-conscious way, I got to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And by problem I mean the problem you have as a pedestrian not getting run over by a bicycle. With mostly Aussies biking with me, we pedaled the city before heading out a few miles to a cheese-n-clogs farm, no joke. The crazy farmer made it worth the trip, as did the cheese. The clogs were cool as well, though I honestly can't see how people can do physical work in those things. If I had a Dutch desk job though, I'd totally be rockin' the Converse-brand wooden clogs.
Amsterdam was probably my favorite city in Europe, mostly from the feeling you get walking around there. It's extremely relaxed and tolerant, more so than any other place I've ever been. On the bike tour we learned that there is a principle, which is actually written into the Dutch Constitution, that is best summed up by Ben Harper:

My choice is what I choose to do,
If I'm causing no harm it shouldn't bother you.
Your choice is who you choose to be,
If you're causing no harm then you're alright with me.

Imagine that in the United States Constitution: people actually tolerating other people's private business, what a thought. Who wants to help me sponsor a proposed Constitutional Amendment!
One tour of the Heineken factory and one spontaneous Indian dinner with another traveler from LA later, I was on an overnight bus to London. Too little time in Amsterdam for certain, but it's one place I know I'll return.

Moral of the story: There's much more to Amsterdam than the coffee shops and red light district. Though, if there's not more to it than that for you, here's one tip that I overheard, given that there are some blue and purple light establishments scattered amongst the rest:
If the light ain't red, don't go to b... well, basically, she's really a dude.
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