Bike Dodging Should Be An Olympic Sport [Day 8]

Trip Start Sep 13, 2012
Trip End Dec 11, 2012

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Friday, September 21, 2012

Amsterdam is a difficult city to give an introduction to. It's a city that lives within its stereotypes, but it also extends far beyond them.

My Friday started at 6:30, so I could finish preparing for the weekend. After a hurried breakfast, we were settled into our respective busses and on the road just after 7:30. I wouldn't have minded napping, except I had my contacts in and I've been told repeatedly that napping in them is a terrible idea. Instead I watched the passing countryside slowly wake up.

One of the first things I noticed about Amsterdam, even in the outskirts, is the modern architecture. Seriously awesome. After stopping at the StayOkay Hostel, getting our audio guide things, grabbing bag lunches, and locking up all of our backpacks in the place the hostel stored tables and chairs, we re-piled into the busses. Driving into the city proper, we saw our first couple hundred thousand bikes, including bike parking "garages".


The first order of the day was gathering in Dam Square, the city center full of pigeons and performers and beautiful buildings. We were divided into our city walking tours. Rob lead my group around, with Dojna tagging along. He was a fast walker and at one point Brad, Andrew, Z, and I got stuck on one side of the street while an endless parade of bikes and cars went by. But we saw a lot of the city, and it was the perfect length. Rob told us about the Town Hall in Dam Square, which I remembered from our online course (it's also technically Queen Beatrix's official residence, but she really lives in The Hague) and that Dam Square used to be full of water before they put a dam in. He took us to a little back street where we saw a slanting home - sometimes this is because it sinks into the ground, but other times it's done on purpose because homeowners are charged for the footprint of the house, so slanting it in a direction gives more room in upper floors. Nearby was a beautiful walled community called Begijnhof, which in past times was a place sort of like a nunnery, except the women could leave if they got married (apparently these were common, as they were very safe); this courtyard also has the oldest house in Amsterdam, which is one of only a very few wooden homes (I think two) left in the city. Today these enclosed areas are popular and expensive residences. Other highlights included the canal district, which is very beautiful; one of the massive orphanages, which they sadly overstuffed; learning about the pulley system they use because Dutch stairs are too narrow; the Felix Meritis building of art and culture (which I somehow managed to remember my Latin for - Happiness Through Merit); seeing the Westerkerk Protestant Church, where Rembrandt was buried in an unmarked mass grave and which Anne Frank could hear from the Secret Annexe and wrote of in her diary; the Homomonument, which honors homosexuals who have been persecuted, especially during the Holocaust (and is the first monument to them). I have to say, one of the most useful parts of the tour was learning how to avoid the constant stream of deadly bikers. I got much better at paying attention very quickly, but not everyone did, leaving Dojna to yell "BIKE!" every five seconds.

Lunch was from our bags and in Dam Square, surrounded by street performers, pigeons, and women cops on horses.

Next was the Rijksmuseum, which I found out later has been under construction for the past ten years, so what we saw was really a "greatest hits of the Rijksmuseum". My guide was Marjon. We saw some very cool artwork, and she asked us a lot of interpretation questions that I was happy to answer - I think dad's artsy-ness rubs off on me. Of note were:
  • the massive model ship
  • Adriaen van de Venne's "Fishing for Souls"
  • Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait at an Early Age"
  • Rembrandt's "The Jewish Bride"
  • Rembrandt's "The Sampling Officials" (which Marjon said people think, from the angle of the painting, that it is meant to be hung higher, and which I agree with after sitting on the floor to look at it)
  • Vermeer's "The Kitchen Maid" (probably my favorite of the entire museum)
  • Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" (which is huge, but Marjon explained that sadly it was chopped down in size to make it fit on the buyer's wall)
There were many other Rembrandt's and one other Vermeer, but those were my favorites; there were also tons of gorgeous landscapes and stuff by Jan Steen and some very cool still lives. I also learned that some artists had images that would repeat between their paintings - kind of like stock images or a hand done "clip art", for example a type of cloud of rock or style of painting background trees.
It was a long walk from there to dinner, but well worth it. The restaurant was Indrapura, an Indonesian Restaurant, in Rembrandt Square. The other "special eaters" and I were put at a specific table. We were all so dehydrated! Our table had three pitchers of water and each was refilled probably eight or nine times - our waiter at one point told us to save room for food! The food was delicious, although some of it was a bit spicy for me, but I made sure to try everything. Seriously the best meal I've had so far.
Back at the hostel we were assigned our rooms and then let free for the night. Kim, Sam, and I were in a room with another triple of girls from the castle, which was nice because we didn't have to stay with strangers. But we've really been spoiled; I'm sure this is the nicest hostel we'll have until Berlin.

Kim, Brad, Sam, and I decided to go out, so we caught the tram to Dam Square. Funny story there: we asked for help in making sure we were going the right way, and got it. (In every tram there's a driver and a person towards the back who controls the doors and helps people who don't have chip cards or day passes. Every one I've met so far is extremely nice and helpful.) But when we got to the stop, and tapped our passes at the gates to exit (tap-on, tap-off system), the gates would not open. "Push the green button!" came over the tram intercom after a few seconds of us struggling xD

I led them to the Red Light District, which Rob had pointed out the location of but had not taken us there himself. That was quite an experience! There are a few main canal streets connected by little alleys. At first it's just sex shops and coffee shops and a few red-lit windows with a scantily clad woman. But the side alleys - totally different story. We were a little freaked so we followed some women cops on horses down an alley. It was literally bleeding red light, and FULL of people (some tourists, some not). Window after window after window of women. It was very surreal. They dance and tap on the glass to get your attention and open their doors to talk to you. I was happy to see, however, that they all look like real people. Sure, some are thin, but most are normal height and size and not wearing a crazy amount of makeup. And some are even well-covered, although not many. (Also: this is a place you DO NOT take photos. It's understood. And if it wasn't, earlier in the day a girl from the castle got a red bull thrown at her head when she took a photo here.)

After that, we walked around for a little enjoying the general nightlife and the buildings before deciding to call it a night. Getting home was a trick. We knew we needed the 14 tram, but it just wasn't coming. We checked the schedule, we waited for almost an hour, almost got on one going in the wrong direction - it just wasn't happening. So I devised a plan to take the 9 tram to within walking distance (there was no way we could walk from Dam Square). Once on, Kim asked the woman in our car for help. She was very kind and told us she'd drop us off at a stop, where the last 14 of the night would come by. She announced the stop in both Dutch and English, for us. It was a bit chilly on the other stop, but we were happy to actually be on the way home! By the time we got back it was later than we had intended. Hung out with castle people in the lobby of StayOkay (you can only get internet in the lobby so it was a popular spot) before heading to bed.

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Mn on

Great photos!!

travel4eternity on

Mom, I haven't posted any yet haha

Mn on

My point exactly

travel4eternity on

Oh. Working on it.

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