Tag Archives: tour

Smells like.. Amsterdam

13 Apr

Cracked out on cold medicine and espresso, I threw a bunch of clothes into my duffel, combed out the dreads that had formed from laying in bed for the past 2 days, and was headed to Amsterdam. I’m pretty sure baldy (the quirky security guard at the front desk) gave me a confused eye twitch for swiping out a 3:30 AM with a fur vest on, hair and makeup all done, and a massive duffel over my shoulder. Still don’t understand why I packed the same amount for 2 days in Amsterdam as I did for a week in Spain. Some things I’ll never know..

On my walk to the cab I passed a couple of drunk men peeing against the International House of Women (an ex-convent). At that point my leisurely pace picked up to a speed walk. I’ve been pretty on edge after I witnessed my friend get socked in the face last weekend for absolutely no apparent reason.

When I got into the cab, I realized my driver was George Costanza. I thought my eyes were playing late-night tricks on me, until he started talking my ear off in rapid Italian. When in doubt, head nod and say, “Si.” One thing I love about Europe is their driving etiquette on the highway. When the car in front of you sees you quickly closing up on them they swiftly shift to their right lane. If that happened in the States it would take me half as long to get up to school, too bad I have to deal with the Cheese wedges of Wisconsin.

So, I may have overshot it this time. Okay, I overshot it by 45 minutes. But what was I doing in my lonesome apartment? ..besides obnoxiously laughing (and then coughing up a lung) at New Girl. So now I sit and wait for my plane. It’s 4:45. Nothing’s open and there’s no one here. Hopefully this is my flight. Me, myself, and I.

CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MY BIGGIE SMALLZ, ELISE, WAITING AT MY GATE WHEN I ARRIVE!

I hope. Or I’ll get a good story out of it.

Found her!! It only took us a few dropped phone calls and some sacrificial blisters from pacing through terminals. But thanks to my janky burner phone – we found each other! The two of us were the Walking Dead. With less than 2 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, no makeup, and airplane hair, I’m surprised our hostel even let us in. We stayed at StayOkay, a chain in Amsterdam, but ours was right on the canal a couple blocks from the Red Light District and Dam Square.

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The minute we walked in, more like stumbled, a free city tour was leaving from the hostel. Now I normally don’t do the free tours when I travel because I never know what to expect, but our guide was a hilarious Alaskan native living in Amsterdam for the past 10 years and she covered everything I needed to know in 2 hours.

Tour Guide

Tour Guide

We started in the center of Amsterdam: Dam Square, named after the dam that was built on the river Amstel. Those Dutch are wickedly clever. AmsterDAM, OLD church, NEW church, doesn’t get more original than that..

Dam Square and Royal Palace

Dam Square and Royal Palace

Elise at the Royal Palace

Elise at the Royal Palace

Only one word describes the Red Light District: Bizarre. As a woman, I felt a little uncomfortable walking through alleys of prostitutes practically wearing a piece of string and rubbing their bodies against the glass doors. But come on, they’re respectable women.. they pay taxes like the rest of us and get health insurance. It seems like a pretty clutch career path to me. I asked Big Rich if I should sign a contract with the Madam and his response was, “Have fun, and no STDs.” New career path, here I come! It was crazy how many men we saw pacing up and down the alleys until they found a room that fit their desires. As we strolled through at night, with the canal glistening in the flashing red lights, men were trying to buy us! Come on perves, stick to the window shopping!

How about the selection of condoms right up the street!

How about the selection of condoms right up the street!

Up the street there’s the Old Church that completed a beautiful renovation thanks to the fisherman who paid the priests to forgive their sins after they fooled around with the Red Light ladies while away from their wives and families. Across the river, girls standing in the window front wearing just enough to cover what’s necessary flipped off people trying to sneak pictures. DO NOT try to photograph these whores. They’re feisty and I don’t think you want to end up in the canal.

Across the canal in Nieuwmarkt square stands the Waag, the old city gate. Rembrandt got his start here from painting a scene of a doctor examining one of the many bodies that came into the tower after they were publicly executed out front in the square.

The Waag

The Waag

Coffee shops

Coffee shops

There’s lots of night life around Nieuwmarkt Square from Bohemian bars to gay bars to coffee shops. We discovered this after walking in (and quickly out) of a bar the first night where we came face to face with the eccentric Queen Lashaunta and her crew of Jamaicans drooping with dreads. We did however find an unreal mexican restaurant, Los Pilones, for some of the best tacos and nachos I think I’ve ever had.

Amsterdam is an incredibly rich city. Most people just know it for its freedom, coffee shops, and prostitutes, but at one point Amsterdam was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the leading financial center. Although you inhale whiffs of second hand smoke from every store you pass, you can tell by the way the Dutch people dress, eat, and carry themselves that this city is far from the trashy reputation it gets from tourists. Here is Amsterdam’s Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC) headquarters, now a university..

West India Trading Company

West India Trading Company

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Another thing I didn’t realize was so well-known in Amsterdam is the formaggio (err.. cheese). Our guide took us to the Reypenaer Tasting Room on the canal where they do wine and cheese tastings, but we just sampled aged goat cheese (my fave!) outside one of the smallest houses on the canals. I don’t even think one of my thighs would fit in this house, let alone an entire family!

Teeny tiny house on the canal

Teeny tiny house on the canal

We also found a little shop, Old Amsterdam, right in Dam Square where the little old man in the store front was cutting up samples from a huge block of their aged gouda cheese. Their cheese is out of this world. We scurried around like little pack rats sampling all different kinds (multiple samples of the incredibly tempting pesto infused gouda), but we checked out with a packet of their original precut gouda.

Turns out that the day we got there was the unveiling of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’s most famous museum, after it’s 10 year $480 million renovation. Queen Beatrix, which call me stupid but I had no idea the Netherlands had a royal family, rolled out the orange carpet and reopened the museum with fireworks and class. We felt like VIP, but along with close to 30,000 visitors, we took advantage of the 1 day only free admission to see the famous work of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

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Rembrandt's famous "Night Watch"

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch”

Van Gogh's self portrait

Van Gogh’s self portrait

Directly behind the Rijksmuseum is one of two of the city’s I Amsterdam signs. You can’t be a tourist in Amsterdam without a photo shoot in the letters! It’s practically a jungle gym, except I couldn’t even get my fatass onto the “a”!

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Biggie Smallz and Little!

Biggie Smallz and Little!

Right across the canal in front of the Rijksmuseum is an adorable square called Leidseplein which is entirely packed with outdoor patio seating, where we chugged a couple cappuccinos to keep us running on no sleep. Elise bought a beautiful canal painting from one of the many cool art vendors in the square.

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Earlier in the day when we passed by the Anne Frank House the line was hours long, winding down the street. By the time we came back, close to 6:30 at night, the wait was 20 minutes, very rare!

The insane Anne Frank House line

The insane Anne Frank House line

The Anne Frank House was never something I really planned on seeing when I came to Amsterdam just because I didn’t see the point in paying to walk through an empty house, but I’m so happy I did!! Just walking through the rooms, reading her diary quotes, and imagining her family’s life during that scary period was incredibly emotional and sent chills through my body.

“The sun is shining, the sky is deep blue, there’s a magnificent breeze, and I’m longing – really longing – for everything: conversation, freedom, friends, being alone.” – Anne

Quietly creeping through every room of her house, reading and watching clips of her story along the way, you feel like your in Anne’s shoes – playing this 2 year long game of Hide-n-Seek. You can easily imagine the Nazis searching the streets and housing nearby as young Anne and her family hid in silence, without moving, day in and day out.

“Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I’m terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll be shot.” – Anne

Behind the secret bookcase passageway and into their attic hideout, the temperature clearly dropped and Anne’s reality became more apparent. Thinking about all of the fun I had at her age, freedom and fresh air I was surrounded with that she never had the chance to experience was really depressing. Her room was covered with pictures of movie stars and models, like any young girl at her age would have. She wanted a normal life. She had a normal life before the war. She had such a talent for writing at such a young age that her father’s idea to publish her diary was the most honorable gesture that could have been made on her behalf.

Definitely a must do experience! One of my favorites in Amsterdam!

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I always feel guilty for smiling after an experience like this

I always feel guilty for smiling after an experience like this

You know how they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”? The same applies everywhere else you go. So in Amsterdam, you ride bikes! EVERYWHERE. We rented from Discount Bikes in an alley (across from a coffee shop) next to Dam Square. Bike riding genes run in my family as my dad is practically Lance Armstrong (or he thinks he is). Somehow I always end up traveling with problematic bike riders. In Italy a few years ago, I watched my cousin Elise slide backwards on her bike down a busy highway as angered drivers zoomed by screaming “Vaffanculo!” out their windows. In Barcelona, Allison peddled at snail speed because of a traumatic fall she once had. This time I was dealing with my Big, Elise, who hadn’t been on a bike in 7 years. Between cars, bikers, walkers, trams, and canals, lets just say this wasn’t a walk in the park. Fortunately 10 minutes into the ride we came across a Tulip Market on the canal. Due to the unusual chilly spring Europe has had this year, the tulip fields weren’t worth trekking out to because not much blooming had been done. But this long stretch of tulip vendors definitely got the job done.

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I can’t tell you if we broke a bigger sweat actually riding the bikes, or locking them up. Every time we tried, it was at least a 10 minute process because there was no way we were paying the 300 euro fine for a lost/stolen dinky bike. We decided to play Dutch for the day, so after buying our Amsterdam cheese and renting bikes, we headed to the park!

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On our way we made a stop at the supermarket down by Museumplein (where Rijksmuseum and I Amsterdam are) to fix up our picnic. We grabbed wine and orange soda to make our Tinto Verano (learned about in Spain), ciabatta bread and turkey to mix with our cheese, crackers and olive tapenade (cause we’re classy betches), and cherry turnovers (cause no meal is complete without dessert).

Picnic in Vondelpark

Picnic in Vondelpark

Vondelpark was everything you imagine when you think of Amsterdam. People everywhere scattered on blankets, drinking wine and champagne, and the smell of weed passed through with every gust of wind. A huge group of guys were barbecuing nearby which could not have made me more excited for summer and people walked around advertising summer music fests in the park. As far as the eye could see were bikes.
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As we left the park, we almost experienced a casualty. Turning off the bridge and onto a side street on the canal, Elise didn’t realize that we didn’t have the right of way to cross yet and before I had enough time to yell “Elise! STOP!” a small sedan collided with her. I saw HER life flash before my eyes. I pictured her flying straight up into the air and crashing down hard. Luckily for both of them, the driver stopped just in time – before yelling a combination of completely foul phrases at the poor shaken up girl.
That day, I almost lost my Big.
To this day, I’m still not sure which is the safer mode of transportation in Amsterdam: Walking or Biking. Try at your own risk.
Our final experience in Amsterdam was the Heineken Experience.
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We got discounted tickets through our hostel and took the last possible tour of the night. It’s a self guided tour, but you walk through every process of the production. First you’re introduced to the ingredients: water, barley, yeast, and the nastiest smelling Hops.
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Second, in the fermentation room you try Wort, the sweet (not so delish) pre-alcoholic mixture.
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Third, check out the bottling process and get your name printed on a bottle!
Fourth, have a mini beer and chill out in the ultimate man cave to watch some Superbowl commercials.
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Fifth, go lay down and check out Heineken commercials from throughout the years, test out your bartending skills, and head down to the main bar for 2 ice cold beers.
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To satisfy our buzz, we walked across the street to the famous Carousel Pancake House – restaurant actually built inside an old carousel. Pancakes are huge in Amsterdam, but they’re made more like crepes, and you’ll also see a lot of Belgian waffles. Like in every restaurant with an overwhelmingly long menu, I asked the waitress for her recommendations and she couldn’t have been more spot on! She brought me one with half canadian bacon (boy do I miss that) half cinnamon apples and powdered sugar.
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I always said, I need to go to Amsterdam this semester because it’s a city that I probably can’t justify going back to after college. But after experiencing what it has to offer, besides the coffee shops and whore houses, and noticing the number of families and elders that live there or just visit, I know I’ll be back one day. This beautiful city, as well as every other I’ve visited this semester, stole my heart. (Now I just need it back before my final 2 trips!)
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Until next time,
Ciao
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