21 February 2011

Are you getting somewhere, or did you get lost in AMSTERDAM?

I've taken a line from one of my favorite bands, Guster, to title this post about my excursion last weekend. And, if you must know: yes, I did get lost in Amsterdam. (I found my way back, of course!)

I went with three other girls in my group - Annie, Diane, and Ellie - to Amsterdam for two and a half days. It was my first trip out of Scotland since I've been here, so it was very exciting. We flew on EasyJet, a budget airline that allows one piece of total baggage, so I took my camera bag and stuffed as much as I could around the camera, lenses, and batteries. We left EARLY Friday morning (and I mean early - I believe I got up in the vicinity of 4:30 to catch a 5:05 bus to the airport!) and arrived back in town around 6:00 Sunday evening. Though this was truly not very long and we really didn't spend a lot of time away, we packed as much in as possible, and I was tired into midweek.

We got into the city around 10 Friday morning and spent an hour or two navigating to city center and trying to figure out exactly where that was. Throughout the weekend, as I alluded to, navigation did prove to be somewhat difficult - and it's not just us! Downtown Amsterdam is basically arranged in a U-shape, and it has more canals than Venice (and the streets tend to follow the canals) - so, walking in a straight line would take you through numerous streets, but following a street, you were never exactly sure which direction you were headed - and you were constantly faced with bridges and canal houses! Landmarks exist but are elusive.

We spent most of Friday just walking around and getting a feel for the city. We had a great lunch in a cute little café, checked into our hotel (we definitely got what we paid for - and we didn't pay much - but it was clean!), and then headed to the Anne Frank House and museum in the afternoon. That was a better visit than I had expected - I knew that it was a "must-do" for a visit to the city, so I had always been set on going, but I didn't realize how realistic, informative, and poignant it would be. There's also a section of the museum that connects all of the experiences during WWII to today's infringements on human rights. I highly recommend a visit!

Saturday, we all woke up and a very satisfying complimentary buffet breakfast provided by the hotel. Annie and I then took a free walking tour led by the same company, NewEurope, that led the one that we took a week or so after we got to Edinburgh. I liked it even better than the one we took here, though! It was a bit rainy and cold that day, but Annie and I made sure that we dressed to stay warm and dry. We got to see a good portion of the city and visited many neighborhoods and historic sites over the 3+ hour tour. Again - highly recommended. And, um, did I mention that it's FREE?!

Annie and I promptly got lost after our tour. We knew where we were and where we were going (the Van Gogh museum!), but we started off in the wrong direction - and thus began our downfall. Finally, after about an hour of walking the wrong way, turning around, and going in a different wrong direction, I walked into a random store and asked a nice-looking man for directions. As it turns out, he's originally from San Francisco, and he is so nice that he printed out a color map for us and diagrammed our needed route! So, we were about an hour and a half late to meet Ellie, Diane, Nathan, and Caleb (the latter two are some of our other friends here - Nathan is in our, too, and we met Caleb at school) at the museum, but we did make it there safe and sound - sadly, with only about an hour to look around by the time we got through the admission line! The museum was great, nonetheless. We all went out to eat at the Hard Rock Café Amsterdam (I know...very Dutch) afterward.

Sunday, we woke up, had breakfast and then headed out for our last mad dash at souvenir-buying before taking a canal cruise that Annie had been pining for all weekend. Like so many things on this trip, this supposed tourist trap actually provided more educational experience than I had been expecting. After the 1+-hour cruise, we went to eat pancakes (this actually IS pretty Dutch.) Then, it was pretty much time to head to the train station and then onward to the airport...BUT I had been dying to go to the Houseboat Museum all weekend, so for about 30 minutes (it really is on a houseboat...so that was actually enough time), as the other three girls waited outside, I learned all about the history, design, maintenance, layout, and current state of houseboats, particularly those in Amsterdam. So cool!!

Overall, the trip was a great success, in my opinion. Some general observations that I made over the course of the trip:
-Bikes, bikes, everywhere! Namely because of the cost of parking, but also due to countless other benefits, this is the main mode of transportation for countless Amsterdam residents. I think it's really cool! People have devised great ways to also carry objects, kids, etc. - ingenious.
-There seem to be a lot of toy stores here. Maybe it's because Edinburgh has a supposedly low number of children, or maybe it's because I'm used to toy stores being either huge and standalone (like Toys R Us) or concentrated in one area (like malls), or maybe I'm just crazy...but I noticed three or four on Day 1.
-Maybe it's just the neighborhoods we walked in, but I also noticed an uncommonly high number of art galleries on the streets of Amsterdam. Neat! (And, on this same vein, there is some REALLY COOL graffiti all over the city, especially in the squatters' neighborhood - "Rent," much?!)
-I met a PITTSBURGHIAN guy outside the Anne Frank museum - he had a Penguins hat on, so I asked him where he was from - and it was, in fact, Pittsburgh! We were both on the move in opposite directions, so this was about the extent of our conversation. Still, I was very excited.
-As you might have guessed from the amount of canals and the fact that there is a museum dedicated to the subject: there are a LOT of houseboats in Amsterdam. I think the current count (and, sadly, this will never rise, as the city has put a freeze on plots) of families living in them is about 2,400 - though I seem to remember hearing 30,000 somewhere - maybe that's the number of people? Must be big families...or maybe I just wasn't listening...ANYWAY, I have always been intrigued by houseboats, and this city is simply a mecca for anyone even slightly interested - you will see them in all shapes, sizes, and decorating schemes up and down the many canals. Fascinating.

I'm working on either putting together a slideshow (kind of like the one that I made for Calton Hill...but probably much longer) or uploading all of my photos of this trip to a site that everyone can access, because I am finding it impossible to condense such a great weekend into a few uploaded photos. Be on the lookout!

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