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Thursday, November 21, 2013Y
Amsterdam (Part 1)

Hi everyone!! It's getting down to the end of my trip…I have 7 days left after today. This whole trip flew by and I'm a little scared to return to real life. Anyway, I'm in Liverpool now, but this entry is going to be about the first half of my time in Amsterdam!

Schipol Airport was really easy to navigate. I had to take a short train ride to Sloterdijk Station and then walk five minutes to the house where I was staying. I think this really set the tone for my time in Amsterdam, but I was standing at the crosswalk waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, when a guy on a motorbike pulled up next to me.  He said something to me in Dutch, I told him I didn't understand, so he said, "Nevermind, enjoy Amsterdam! You go, Girl!!" and then rode away. I figured out he was trying to tell me to push the button to change the pedestrian sign…but how funny is that?

I made it to the house I was staying at. I was staying with a woman named Nadia and her daughter. They were both so friendly and personable. I felt at home right away. Nadia also had a basket of these evil yet delicious snacks in the kitchen and told me to help myself.  Since that fateful moment, I consumed around 500 of these over the course of my time in Amsterdam.

It's a waffle made of two thin layers of batter, with caramel syrup in the middle.  So evil...so evil. 

I didn't do anything that night because the station I was staying at wasn't in walking distance of anything and I wasn't acquainted with the public transportation. I made ramen noodles and ate some salad for dinner.  The next day I had planned to try and find an okonomiyaki restaurant for lunch before I did a free walking tour, but I could not find it. The address my phone had given me was wrong so I decided to walk around instead. Getting to the center, because I didn't know how else to get there, took a long time because I had taken the subway. The subway itself took almost 45 minutes to get into town. I hadn't realized that the transport cards were for buses and trams too. I got off the subway at Rembrandtplein and walked around there. I came across the flower market and walked through the stalls. It was really cool to see a whole market dedicated to flowers and (mostly) tulips, but pretty much every stall had the same thing for sale (tulips).  Also the canal system is a little confusing here. A lot of streets started to look similar to me but I got the hang of it after a couple days. 

 After that I was pretty hungry but walked to the meeting place for the tour and got two passable slices of pizza from a place called NY Pizza. You're asking, why, as a New York resident, would I subject myself to mediocre pizza trying to pass itself off as the best America has to offer? (Don't lie, you know New York Pizza is where it's at, what is deep-dish pizza anyway…) But it was cheap and convenient and I needed some food. 

Actually the tour itself was quite boring..I did meet a New Zealander and had someone to talk to through the whole thing, but one thing I did find a little silly was this house. 

This house was opposite the palace and was built for the head servant of the royals at the time. When the servant saw the mansion, he said he would feel lucky to live in a house as wide as the door. As a joke, they built him this house and gave it to him as a retirement gift.  Adorable, not so nice to live in though, I would think. We walked through the chinatown and briefly through the red light district, over to the Anne Frank Huis. I'll write about that later. The tour ended in a Dutch restaurant and I had a traditional Dutch food called stamppot. It's mashed potatoes and vegetables topped with a sausage or meatball and gravy. Yummy!

I don't want to know what provoked this sign????

After the tour we didn't really know how to get to Central Station so we ended up wandering around for about an hour.  I bought a 4 day travel card and took the subway back. It had started raining but I put on warmer clothes and went back out again. I ate dinner  at a restaurant in Chinatown called Nam Kee. Nam Kee is famous for it's oysters and there's also a novel that takes place there. I guess they made it a movie too? But I was cold and soggy from the rain so I ordered a pot of tea and this HUGE POT OF NOODLES, VEGETABLES, PORK AND SEAFOOD I MEAN I DIDN'T EXPECT THIS AT ALL WOW 

It was also probably one of the more delicious things I've eaten. When the waiter set it in front of me I was shocked. The guy behind the counter slicing up the pork started laughing because my mouth was hanging open. AND THEY GAVE ME A HUGE BOWL OF RICE TOO I MEAN WHY. One thing I noticed about many of the Asian restaurants I ate in was that they don't give you chopsticks unless you ask. Do Dutch people not know how to use them? Is it just assumed they want a knife and fork? I felt weird not eating this with chopsticks, so I just asked for them. After that I walked down the street and found (my favorite!) a bubble tea shop. Bonus, the shop had wifi!

The next morning I had planned to go early to Anne Frank's House but decided to sleep in and then move to my hostel instead. Luckily my hostel was literally a five minute walk from Nadia's house. This hostel was so posh, it was almost like a hotel. The beds were comfortable, the rooms were spacious, the bathrooms were clean and modern. It was really affordable, too. If you're traveling, stay in a Meininger Hostel (free publicity right there, you're welcome, Meininger.) Anyway, after that I went to a Dutch Pancake restaurant and had the biggest ham and cheese pancake I've ever seen. Pancakes are also different here than they are in the States. They're thin and sort of crispy, not fluffy and cakey like at home. On the table there was a giant tub of syrup, and I utilized it heavily. They also gave me stroopwafel with my coffee. 

After that I had signed up to do a Coffeeshop tour. For those of you who don't know, all forms of soft and hard drugs are TOLERATED, not LEGAL in Amsterdam. That means that you can go into an establishment called a Coffeeshop and purchase marijuana without fear of legal penalty.  The reason it's tolerated is because lawyers found a loophole in the laws, and also because certain areas were allowed to set their own punishments for possession,  and the region Amsterdam is in chose no punishment. That means that a person can have as much as 5 grams on their person, and is allowed to light up and smoke wherever they see fit. There are about 200 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, some catering to tourists and thus selling weed of sketchy quality at higher prices, and others known more locally. I do want to clear something up about this tour. It was NOT a coffeeshop crawl where we went to shop after shop buying grass and lighting up. No. It was a tour that talked about the legalities as well as the history and chemistry of the drug. We actually didn't go in any on the tour, but I was told about some popular ones for locals by the guide. The Grey Area won the Cannabis Cup 8 years in a row (who the judges for that are, don't ask me) and was visited in the past by famous rock stars like Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Bush (THE BAND NOT THE PRESIDENTS) ..there's a huge list on their website. But my guide was so jubilant and hilarious that the tour was a lot of fun! We went to a smoke bar where you can bring the weed you buy and smoke it. We also went to a weed bakery that's the only place that sells Cannabis ice cream. We ended it with a trip to the Cannabis College, which is a center that provides factual information as well as tips for safe marijuana use. 

I think (gonna get a little preachy here but) that this is a great system they have here. Every year billions of euros are brought into Holland's economy from taxes on Marijuana ALONE. Think of how much the sale of the actual product brings. The product they sell is much safer than in other countries, and surprisingly Holland still has one of the lowest percentages of hard and soft drug use in Europe.  As a whole I found people in Amsterdam extremely tolerant and progressive, and I think this attitude is one we need to take in other parts of the world. We also went to a SmartShop, which sold all kind of hallucinogenic mushrooms. It was a little overwhelming. They even had a "trip out" space in the back. 

After the tour it had started to get dark, so I got a burrito and then went back to the hostel. The next day I got up really really early to go to Anne Frank's House. The best time to get there is at 8:30, a half hour before it opens. There's no crowds inside, and you don't have to queue for as long on the outside. There's so much I can say about how I felt going into that house, but I don't really know how exactly to say it. I do think that this is probably one of the most important places I've ever gone in my entire life. I was near tears a lot of times, and the exhibit inside is very simple, the house itself actually empty. Otto Frank left it that way on purpose and I'm sure you can understand why. I could tell you all about the things I saw in there but I really think if you get a chance in your life, you need to go there yourself. Of course you couldn't take any photos inside, but that house is in my memories forever, as well as the heaviness I felt being inside it. 

I do have a little bit of a rant to share with you when it comes to the whole photo taking thing. Yes, it's one thing to sneak a photo of a sculpture in a museum or a painting, but in a place like this, if it says no photos, you need to respect it. There was a group of kids maybe a year younger than me in front of them, and I'm not sure if they fully understood the seriousness of the place they were going into, but they were talking giddily about how even though it says no photos that everyone takes them and they were going to anyway. I was so angry at that lack of respect I almost said something to them, in fact I really wish I had.  

After that I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at a café that I had tried to go to the day before that, but they were closed. It's called Latei, and it's also a vintage and retro furniture store. It was such a cute place, and there were cats running around inside. I had a coffee, some fresh-squeezed OJ, and the Dutch interpretation of a sandwich…


After that I decided to walk around the Red Light District…which brings me to another aspect of Dutch tolerance. Prostitution is completely 100% legal in Holland and is, in fact, an actual career. The woman have to be European citizens and apply for a permit. Once they have a permit, they pay rent for their window space. Let me tell you why this is a good system. For one thing, it takes everything that's "taboo"about sex and puts it right in front of you, so you're sort of forced to confront your own feelings about it. I think for too long we've treated sex as this gross thing that everyone has to talk about in secret. And if there's anything more to it than for procreational purposes? Forget about it. Sure it was weird walking past sex shops and theatres for maybe the first day or two, but the prostitutes themselves are in charge of their own space. They charge what they want and provide whatever services they want, and there's much less of a pimp problem here. The women bring their customers into their own space, rather than going off to a potentially dangerous situation.  Do I like prostitution as a concept? Not at all, but to be honest a woman should be able to do whatever she damn well pleases with her body, and if it's selling sex then it's her perrogative. Anyone should be able to do what they want with their own body. 

Saying this, this area of the city was also probably one of THE LEAST SKETCHY places I've ever been in. I had no issue walking here at night, and by day it was probably one of the more beautiful parts of the city.  You also can't take photos of the prostitutes because a) though they are displaying themselves publicly, taking a photo of them for your personal use is a violation of their rights and privacy, and b) because some of their home countries do not approve of what they do. If you do try to take a photo, they will chase you down the street or pour suspicions liquids on you without hesitation. I spent a fair bit of time in this area because it's right next to the Chinatown.

Two women started this shop to dispel taboos about sex and promote use of protection. You can't take photos inside, but they have creative displays depending on holidays, special occasions, etc..

Next to the RLD and the Chinatown is the gay district, named the Zeedijk but affectionately called by the Dutch, "The Gaydijk" (Gay and Zee rhyme, you see) This is the oldest gay bar in Amsterdam, it's been there since the 30s and was started by a really eccentric woman who would often say she was going out to get milk, go to France with her lover, and then return a month later with a jug of milk. 

After that I walked to a famous bar in Amsterdam that was located in one of the last all-wooden buildings in the city.  For some reason they also kept a lot of pet monkeys, which were later donated to the zoo. 

After that I sort of just wandered around the city some more. 

I ate ramen noodles in the hostel for dinner and then had a sort of strange encounter with a young Italian.  I was sitting in the kitchen, studying Korean and eating noodles when he walked up to me with THE REDDEST EYES I've ever seen (smoking too much ganja, I expect.)  Anyway, he came in, pointer at my textbook and said, in Italian, "Chinese!" and I said, "No…it's Korean." He repeated it a few more times, and I was quick to realize he didn't speak much English. He asked for my facebook and then started talking to me through google translate. He started asking me if I wanted to go to his room and if I would take a picture with him. I said no repeatedly and he eventually left, but it was such a weird experience I'm not even sure…

Anyway the next day, even though it was pouring rain, I wanted to take a day trip to Haarlem. Haarlem was only 9 minutes away by train so I thought it would be fun. On the canal there, I saw a windmill! Haarlem is also famous for these enclosed gardens called hofjes that you can walk through. I had also heard that there was a mindblowingly delicious fry stand there, so let's be honest, I was mostly going just for them. Unfortunately it had started raining pretty hard and I didn't have adequate rain attire on, so soon I was cold and dripping. I found the fry stand and got a medium with curry, mayonnaise, and ketchup. This is the best combination don't let anyone judge you for this I'm serious. 

Yeah, don't ask me to prononce any of that….

I ended up wandering around and taking pictures of things I saw. This toy store window display was so cute! And I saw SO MANY CATS.

I was borderline hypothermic when I went to this café called Anne&Max. They were really nice and excused my dripping appearance. I had a salted caramel cappuccino (I'm bringing this back to my job seriously.) and a piece of carrot cake.  I could have done more in Haarlem but I was so cold I decided to just go back to Amsterdam. 

Once I got back I changed into warmer clothes and redid my hair I went to this tiny Fluorescent art gallery called Electric Ladyland. It was owned by a really awesome hippie couple, the man from New York, the woman from France. They were so interesting! They really knew a lot about the history of fluorescent rocks and paint as well as artwork. It was so cool!

It cost 5 euros but it was beyond worth the price! After that I had dinner at a restaurant called Thai Bird. It was recommended by my tour guide and by Lonely Planet. I forget the name of what I ordered but it was seafood in a red curry sauce and they gave me a HUGE POT OF RICE with it. I ate so well that night. 

I tried to go to this waffle shop and walked all the way to it only to find that they were closed. I did walk down this amazing street full of graffiti, though!

I think I need to stop here because my stomach is eating itself and I need food ASAP.  I'll finish Amsterdam in the next couple days!


heart blue w/ glitter 9:09 AM

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