Amsterdam, against all odds

Trip Start Mar 31, 2011
Trip End Jul 05, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Friday, June 24, 2011

We left Daniel's house pretty early in the morning so he could go to work and we could spend the day in Amsterdam! Pretty sad to say goodbye to Daniel-- we had a really great time hanging out with him! If we're lucky, he will come visit the US soon.
The train to Amsterdam took less than 2 hours and was pretty busy. We lucked out and got seats without problems, but the train got really full at the stop after ours. It is so nice to be able to just jump on trains without worrying about tickets. The Eurail pass is definitely the best/only way to do a big tour of Europe.  When we arrived in Amsterdam, we were pretty excited because it was finally sunny and the sky was blue! Because we were only spending the day in Amsterdam and the night in Rotterdam, we had to store our luggage in the train station. This turned out to be pretty disastrous. After trying 3 or 4 times, we realized that the lockers were not accepting any of our methods of payment.  We consulted the luggage guy and he informed us that the lockers were not accepting Visa, Mastercard, or cash-- only Maestro cards. We obviously didn't have a Maestro card since it is a European company, and the guy had no solution for us.  Apparently, the card processing service was down at all the train stations in Amsterdam (maybe in Holland), and there were no other left-luggage offices in the city. Our bags are definitely too heavy to carry around while wandering aimlessly for an entire day, so we decided to visit the tourist office to see if they could help us.
We leave the luggage room to head to the tourist office and surprise!!! IT'S POURING RAIN! Still not really sure how that happened-- it's not like we were in the luggage office for that long.  We waited for a while to see if the rain would stop but it only intensified, so we put our rain covers on our backpacks, pulled out the umbrellas, and ventured into the storm. Luckily, the tourist office was pretty close to the train station. We didn't find much help though-- the man we spoke to was very sympathetic to our situation but also could offer no solution. After some brainstorming, we developed a plan -- wander around soaking wet with our backpacks on, asking hostels to take pity on us and let us store our bags there for a small fee. To be fair, we looked totally ridiculous with our backpacks, daypacks, cameras, umbrellas, and food-bag. Plus we were pretty freaking wet. 
The train station is right next to the Red Light District, which happened to also be here most of the accommodation is! Charming. We tried two hostels with absolutely no luck. The third hostel receptionist told us that she would let us leave our bags there if we gave her 10 Euros per bag (40 Euros).  That was pretty steep so we tried another hostel-- no luck. The fifth place we tried was a hotel bar. The bartender took pity on us and let us keep our bags in the place where they usually put their trash... better than nothing! The bartender turned out to be pretty great.  He made us delicious coffee, gave us a map, and showed us all the places we should go! Another fine Dutchie to add to the long list of fabulous Dutch people we've met. The Dutch are excellent people. 
It was still raining pretty hard, but we decided to throw in the towel and get a little wet. We wandered around the famous Red Light District for a while, enjoying the debauchery. Turns out that Amsterdam's RLD is way more intense than any of us expected. Mind you, it was about 10 AM and there were hookers in most of the windows. Hookers, wiggling around behind glass windows in their underwear, trying to lure you in. They didn't want too much to do with us. Most of them just watched us walk by or texted on their phones, but a few of them took a pretty strong dislike to us.  We were, naturally, taking pictures of everything. In our defense, we were not really taking pictures of them until they started freaking out-- we really just wanted pictures of the general scene. Anyway, we decided to give up even taking pictures of the streets and run for it when one of the girls peaked out her door, saw our cameras, ran back inside, wrapped herself in the curtain, and started screaming and banging fanatically on the glass. Disturbing, really.  She was the best looking one, too-- shame.
The RLD was not just full of hookers-- it was also full of sex stores and coffee shops. Coffee shops in Holland do not actually sell coffee. They sell joints! To answer all of your questions before you ask: NO  we didn't go inside one and buy weed.  Even if we had been interested in smoking, we would have been too chicken-shit to go inside. They were all very crowded with extremely loud British tourists because of the rain. Plus, we live in Boulder, so it was not as charming for us as it might have been for people from other parts of the world.  And there were enough people smoking on the streets to probably get a contact-high. Daniel explained that most Dutches don't really even utilize the weed, and that almost all of the business comes from English, Belgian, and German tourists. Again, charming.
We escaped successfully from the Red Light District and walked to a gigantic flee market that sold a little bit of everything. While we were at the market, the weather got substantially better, so we decided to walk along the canals instead.  We ran across a very strange demonstration going on in the middle of a pedestrian street. There were a ton of people wearing black shirts with white Xs on them, and they were making an X shape with their bodies and yelling at the top of their lungs.  Then a few people set off smoke bombs and everyone collapsed to the floor. It was very strange-- I posted a few videos at the bottom of the blog: one of the yelling and one of the collapsing. Wonder what they were doing...
The three of us walked along the canals until we reached the Anne Frank Haus, which had a gigantic line in front of it. We were totally starving, so Jeremy waited in line while Adrienne and I ventured to find some lunch. We came across the first bagel shop we've seen since Prague and picked up another round of bagels and lox.  The lox here are pretty fabulous and very cheap! The line seemed to move much faster once we were full, and we were able to go inside the house pretty quickly. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures, so I have a very minimal number of sneaky shots.  The house was extremely small if you consider that it hid 8 Jews and still had a fully operating shop on the ground level. It is so impossible to even image living in such a place for over two years without being able to go outside or make any noise.  The museum had a ton of pictures of the family and living situation, as well as many quotes from Anne Frank's diary. Definitely learned quite a bit about the history, but it was strange to think of how the 8 Jews in hiding were all sent to and were murdered in places I've visited on this trip. 
We spent the next hour walking along the canals to reach the Hard Rock Cafe. Jeremy's older brother collects cups from Hard Rocks all over the world, so Jeremy bought him one from Amsterdam. Hope it makes it home alright. After the successful purchase of the cup, we headed back to the bar to pick up our bags.  We put on our backpacks and were heading out the door when Adrienne picked up the food bag and a mouse scampered out of it! Thankfully, it was a little grey mouse and not a huge terrible rat, so Adrienne just flicked it off the bag and it disappeared in the bar.  Needless to say, we had to go through the whole bag and figure out what it had gotten into. Luckily, we didn't have any cheese (for the first time ever) and our chocolate was wrapped in plastic.  We only lost a few pieces of bread! I suppose that's what we get for storing our stuff in the trash room. 
After overcoming the mouse situation, we walked back to the train station and hopped on the train to Rotterdam. It only took 50 minutes, and we arrived with plenty of daylight left. This is not that hard to do because it gets dark around 11:15 here... haha! Anyway, I will post about our second Dutch rendezvous later. Tot ziens!
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Dad on

I'm thinking you're lucky you still have all your stuff, after leaving the bags in the bar and taking pics of the stalls in the red light district. That other Europe book is oddly strong about NOT taking pictures there.

Mom on

The Red Light District....makes me think of Vegas where kids on the strip hand-out business cards from the prostitutes. Interesting that selling pot was legal (?).

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