The last stop on our mini-European backpacking adventure was Amsterdam. I was excited to visit as it was a new city for me (I had been to London a few times before and to Paris in high school), but it was the last stop after a string of cheap hotels and travel options. My excitement was waning.
I would not recommend taking an overnight bus from Paris to Amsterdam unless you know everyone on board and can threaten their life when they won't stop talking loudly at all hours of the night. We didn't have that option.
So we arrived in Amsterdam feeling groggy, that weird mix of sweaty and cold, and like grumpy cat. We then had to face the public transportation system and the Dutch language. We stumbled through those obstacles to our first Dutch pancakes and true to form, good food made everything better.
I'm considering making an entire post on this pancake place. We visited twice in two days and loved everything about the place, the least of which being the giant pancakes.
We had to leave at some point though, because we had another free walking tour and I don't think you're considered a groupie until you make it to three tours. By that definition, we're now at groupie status.
This tour was probably the most helpful of the three because we had no prior knowledge of the city or culture. At 11 am, we dipped down a few streets in the red light district and girls in bikinis were in the windows already. Bikinis might be a mild term for what some of them were wearing. Strings? We learned that the girls register with the city as their jobs are recognized as tourist services. It's also expensive- at least 50 euro for 15 minutes. What I found most interesting was how the church grew out of this culture. Throughout the red light district, there are churches in between the windows and coffee shops. That's houses of worship next to prostitution and weed. Seems odd. Our guide (again, I couldn't recommend these free tours full of factoids any more than if I was paid for it) explained that when sailors would stop in the port and inevitably sin with a prostitute, they would then go to the church to confess. At first, the priest would listen and then free the individual of their sins. Soon, they realized that they could charge people to free them of their sins. They made good money on that, built a few new wings of the church, and then decided that they could offer a service to free people of their future sins. So then the sailors would buy "sin insurance" before heading out into the red light district, sleeping soundly at night knowing that they had already paid for their sins. Genius.
Jumping from one end of the spectrum to the other, we then stopped by the Anne Frank museum. The museum is in the building where the family hid while the city was under control of the Nazis. It's set up like it was when Anne lived there with her family, with interviews, notes, and videos dispersed between. It was incredibly powerful throughout and culminated with Anne's original journal. Much like Auschwitz, it's hard to put into words then emotions that I ran through when visiting. I was almost in a despondent state as I soaked up everything while trying not to let my emotions run me over.
The next day, we went to the Van Gogh museum, or the snippet of it that was available in the Hermitage museum while the Van Gogh museum is under construction, saw the Iamsterdam sign, swung by the Heineken brewery, walked through Vondelpark, and made it for another round of Dutch pancakes. Honestly.
I feel in love with this city. The buildings were so wonky and the landscape so unique that it could have been right out of a fairy tale. I'm not convinced this isn't the case. It's such an accepting culture and people that it's almost like this place is make-believe. Even the graffiti was pretty and fun.
Another fun fact - weed isn't legal in Amsterdam. However, there are three unspoken rules that override the law in the city: 1. be discreet; 2. don't hurt anyone; 3. help the economy. This is how weed is sold in "coffeeshops" and explains why the practice continues - it hasn't been found to hurt anyone and is helpful to the Dutch economy. It's definitely interesting when comparing that mindset to the American culture.
Oh yeah, and we got engaged. That's for another post, though :)
I'm linking up with Helene today!