Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dam fun in Amsterdam!

Amsterdam does not deserve the bad reputation it has. I suppose you could find yourself in some trouble there, but that’s only if you tried. I absolutely loved Amsterdam. It’s one of my new favorite cities and I hope to go back some day. Our trip started off on an interesting note. We had to leave Sevilla Thursday night for Malaga because we had a 6am flight out of the Malaga airport Friday morning. When we arrived at the train station in Malaga there was a huge line of cabs, but the police had blocked off the exit and were not allowing them to pick up as passengers and thus causing a huge debacle. With a little luck, we were able to find a driver that hadn’t heard about this event (which I believe shortly thereafter triggered a strike) to make it to the hotel.

Briana coined a new phrase, ¨waking up Abu Simbel time.¨ That is what we had to do Friday morning. The term refers to our trip to Abu Simbel in Egypt when our driver picked us at 3am. Other than being way too early, our flight was just fine. We flew Ryanair, which literally lands across the country from Amsterdam. From the airport we had to take a bus to the train station and a train to Amsterdam. I am so glad I do not have any more Ryanair flights. I said a little prayer on my last Ryanair flight that I will never have to fly with them again. It was a beautiful moment.

I loved Amsterdam from the minute I stepped foot in the city. We found our hostel and wandered around to find a spot for lunch. We had asked the hostel for a recommendation, but her directions of go straight through the park and find the blue house, weren’t very helpful. We ended up at a cute fast food(ish) joint called Wok to Walk. Have I mentioned how we always go straight to Asian food when we travel? :)

After lunch we headed to a famous street market. It was nice, but nothing special. I bought a pretty scarf, but only because I wanted to buy just to buy. I always want to get a little something from the countries I travel to, but that has become difficult with all of my traveling. Some countries will just have to go without little mementos. Thankfully, the photos last forever.

From the street market we walked around the corner to the infamous Heineken Experience. I had seen a video of my cousin and his friends attempting to sing a Dutch song there and sadly it was enough to convince me to go. I’ve been to quite a few breweries this year and this by far was my favorite. It had a good mix of history and fun (which included several samples.)

One of my favorite things about travelling is meeting people and we met a ton of nice folks in Amsterdam. While sampling our beers at the end of ¨the experience¨ we met two guys from South Africa. One had been born there and the other considered himself his own melting pot because he had been born in Kenya, raised in France and then now lives in South Africa. I find it fascinating to hear about everyone’s stories. These two guys worked in the IT world and it allowed them to travel regularly. That particular weekend it brought them to Amsterdam.

We were feeling pretty good after leaving the Heineken Experience. It provided for an interesting walk to a nearby venue where Adele was playing. When we first booked our flight we found out she was there and desperately searched for tickets. This was several months in advance and it was already sold out. Online brokers were selling tickets for hundreds of pounds. We figured we’d try our luck and attempt to find someone selling them. Briana and I each wrote out signs in Dutch and English asking if anyone was trying to unload 2 tickets and we stood at opposite ends of the street. In the end, we never got it, but we met a lot of great people trying to find tickets! There was only one guy trying to sell tickets outside. Face value was 40 euros and he was asking for 300 euros. Pshhh was my response. I got him down to 250 pretty quickly, but that was still far out of my range. While waiting we started talking with an American couple that was living there because of the husband’s job. It was another really interesting story. I didn’t catch what he did, but they lived outside of Amsterdam and joked that this was their trip into the big city. She was in the process of starting her own organic cookie company. Their life sounded really cool. The husband’s main complaint about living in The Netherlands was the lack of tequila. They had eaten at a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away to try and satiate their tequila taste buds. They sold the restaurant well, so after giving up on Adele tickets (after almost two hours, mind you) we decided to get some Mexican food.

We had to sit at the bar because all of the tables in the tiny restaurant were taken. We ended up talking with some of the bar staff, who I think may have been the owners. Surprisingly, they were actually Mexican and the food tasted as close to Mexican outside of the Mexico as you can get. I really didn’t realize how outside of the US and Mexico, very few countries offer Mexican food. I guess we were in luck. Chatting with the owners led us to free shots. After ¨the Heineken Experience¨ this was the last thing I wanted, but we didn’t think we could turn it down. After dinner we walked back to the hostel to find a rave on our floor. I suppose it is Amsterdam, but those kids were damn annoying. I would have put them in their mid-to-late teens. I think there were on a school field trip. (Side note: what school takes a field trip to Amsterdam?!) We put in our earplugs because needed to rest up for sightseeing after getting up before the butt crack of dawn that morning.

After what felt like a wink of sleep we forced ourselves to get out and get moving! Our first stop was Anne Frank’s house. It was a really moving experience and interesting to see having heard about it my entire life and reading her diary in 6th grade. Being there made me want to read it again. There’s no furniture in the house, which made it a little difficult to place how they actually lived. Otto Frank, Anne’s dad, didn’t want the museum to be furnished. However, there are pictures of what it looked like. Leaving a place like that never makes you feel happy. We wanted to lighten the mood a bit, so we headed to Dam Square for another one of those great free tours.

The tour was great. It had just the right amount of history and social commentary. We toured the historical parts of the city, the red light district (including the Big Mama alley. Her words, not mine) learned about the canal system and the structure of the houses among many other things. Our guide enlightened us on the bizarre laws surrounding drugs in Amsterdam. She led us to believe that it’s illegal to grow or buy mass amounts, which would make the way the coffee shops get their marijuana illegal. She also told us that a law was passed that prohibits any new coffee shops from opening and that they’ve become very strict with the ones that are open. It sounds like the city is really trying to change their image.

From the tour we went to the Van Gogh Museum. I’m a real fan of his work, so it was great to see more of his pieces. I was surprised there wasn’t more I recognized. I also didn’t realize that he had had such a strong inspiration from Japanese art. Right behind the museum is the now famous Iamsterdam sign. We tried our best to get some photos without anyone else in it, but the hoards of people made that challenging. We gave up and decided to go to the hostel to get ready for the evening.

We found ourselves at a cute Italian restaurant for dinner before heading out to a bar crawl. The bar crawl was fun, but nothing special. The highlight may very well be the free funny t-shirt we got at the beginning.

Sunday morning we found ourselves back at the Iamsterdam sign. Luckily there were few tourists there so we got some great photos! My favorite is of me standing on top of the T. The sign is conveniently right next to the bus stop to the airport. From the airport we were able to catch a bus to Keukenhof. Keukenhof is a flower park in Lisse, Holland, not too far from Amsterdam. While it was pretty, I thought it was slightly overrated. I referred to it as a Disneyland on crack. It was flooded with people, insanely overpriced, eerie carnival music and you had to use your elbows to push people aside to see something. I had been looking very forward to it, so it was a little disappointing. What made up for it by leaps and bounds was the bike ride we took to the surrounding area. We rented bikes right outside of Keukenhof and were off. I’m not exactly sure what types of flowers we saw, but each was more beautiful than the last. The bike ride in itself wasn’t very long, only about 6 miles, but it look a long time because we kept getting off to take pictures of the flowers. If I had to rank it, this afternoon would serve as one of the best things I’ve done their year. I absolutely loved it!

After a fun filled day in the flower fields we had to head back to the city for dinner and to collect our bags and then back out to the airport to our nearby hotel. We were moving a little slow and didn’t realize how late it was getting. Luckily we caught one of the last shuttles to the hotel. Well, technically it was to the Novotel across the street. Our confirmation said the latest check in was 11pm and we were cutting it close. We ran into the Novotel to ask for directions and ran down the middle of the deserted street to find our little hotel. We got there and saw a note on the door. The first thing it said was that there was no reception that day. Our hearts sank. We were too late. Then we kept reading and it said we had to go around the building to the restaurant and they’d let us in. We were running like chickens with our heads cut off hoping that they’d still be open. The restaurant was closed, but there were still a few employees there who let us in. We checked in and turned the TV on to relax for a little before going to bed. We landed on some station broadcasting a show in American English about being in prison in the US. After the commercials when it was back on the title flashed across the screen, Behind Bars. And then Indiana faded onto the screen. We both burst into a fit of laughter. Here we are sitting in an airport hotel in Amsterdam, watching a show about American prisons and of all places it’s in my neighboring state and state where I went to school. I love that the world is a small place.

The next morning we had to wake up at Abu Simbel time again. This time the reception area was gated off so we had to shove our confirmation and key through the gate and pray for the best. Two weeks before leaving Ryanair changed our flight time, which meant we needed to look for a new flight. Our new schedule left us with a five-hour layover at the Barcelona airport. Aside from that, our travels went just fine.

I fell in love with Amsterdam and I can’t wait to make it back there some day!

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