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Amsterdam – Updated

by Alex Berger on September 30, 2007

After evaluating my options I decided to book a flight from London to Amsterdam instead of trying to deal with the ferry/train situation or wasting days going by bus. With Easyjet, Bmi, and Ryanair it’s amazing how cheap flying can be. Think Southwest – but sometimes even better. I made it to the airport by tube, got through customs and check-in without any hiccups and then enjoyed the brief flight down to Amsterdam. There I was relieved to find that almost everything/everyone was in/spoke English. This let me navigate around and find my way into the city proper without too much trouble.

The entire city spans out from the central rail station in oddly shaped rings with canals making wide loops mirroring the streets. It’s a pretty incredible layout – but also very confusing for something that seems apparently straight forward and symmetrical. The architecture is incredible. For whatever reason a lot of the older buildings have settled which results in all sorts of oddly leaning buildings meanwhile the cobblestone streets are beautiful and the canals – every turn you find yourself in an even more picturesque setting. Also, the leaves on a lot of the trees are starting to turn -or perhaps are always colored- either way it adds to the feeling. The canals are usually fairly quiet, with boats moored all along them everywhere you look. The boats themselves are pretty amazing. Old barges, small pleasure craft, odd little skiffs, you never know what you’ll see… if it’ll be halfway under water, or how it will be colored.

My hostel was located about a 5 minute walk away from the central rail station right on the edge of the red light district. To be honest, I think the street in addition to being where most of the hostels were, also was the gay district. There were some really…different shops along it. The hostel opened up onto the small pedestrian/bike street and behind it there was a large circular courtyard with a church in it. My room on the 2nd floor -which i shared with 9 or so other beds-opened up onto the courtyard…which was great, but also a bit annoying at times… go figure…the church had bells =) The hostel itself was a bit of a dump. They allowed smoking in it, so the entire place smelled like weed and while the beds were decent and the sheets were clean the walls had writing written all over them/carved into the walls. Perhaps the most comical part was the Bathrooms. The compartments were so small that one almost needed to open the door to sit down or stand up before shutting the door again…that or become some sort of super human circus acrobat.

It was also interesting seeing an active mini-cathedral on the fringe of the red-light district. On that same square there were several “coffee” shops and if memory serves there may have been an adult store or two. Wild contrast – but then again, that’s Amsterdam.

I spent the first part of the day proper after arriving exploring the architectural elements of the city. I basically just wandered around – got lost and explored. It was great. The winding streets, packed with people, with new sites and scents etc. were all pretty fantastic. The swans, the trees, the bicycles – that’s the other thing – there are bikes EVERYWHERE. There is one bike parking station in front of the rail yard that is the size of a 2-3 story parking garage – all full of bikes and nothing but bikes. In fact, the most dangerous thing about Amsterdam I think is the bikes and mopeds. They all have bells and just go roaring down the streets ringing them. God help you if you don’t move.

The red light district was intense…especially at night. You always hear talk of the doors/windows etc. but it really surprised me how many there were once the sun set and the red lights went on. Normal buildings you walk past during the day suddenly transform into a veritable art gallery full of flesh in all different types, shapes, and sizes. Definitely a different experience walking down those streets. Sometimes I felt like I was the one on display, not vice versa. With the girls staring you up and down, trying to engage you, even had a few knock on the glass to get my attention trying to get me to come over. No worries though, I didn’t browse the wares. Though there were times I definitely felt like Odysseus tied to the mast, as he passed the Siren’s isles.

In addition to deciding against a hooker, I also decided mushrooms didn’t really have any appeal or draw. A fact I only mention, because I don’t even want to imagine what y’all might expect from a 22 year old male wandering Amsterdam on his own. Any how – After exploring the red light district a bit at night, getting some food, and grabbing a drink I headed back to the Hostel and called it a night.

The first day proper consisted of walking and exploring. The day itself was overcast and misted off and on throughout the day. Nothing to fret about, but still enough to keep things cooler and make taking photos a PIA. I woke up, pulled myself together and then before I left the hostel started chatting with an Israeli couple traveling together and an American-or was it Canadian? girl staying in the dorm below me. She was traveling on her own before heading to London to work in the Fashion industry. Both being on our own, we ended up hitting it off and elected to meet up later that day to explore the nightlife. Two other Canadian girls (hairdressers actually) traveling in Europe before a conference in Greece also joined us.

After meeting each other and socializing a bit i struck off to explore the city. I wandered until I found some food (Burger King of all things) then continued on until I meandered past a 3 story sex museum. Three stories for 3 Euro seemed like a fair trade so in I went. The museum itself was pretty fascinating. Chock full of erotic carvings, photos, video, etc. from across history. When you look at modern social perception of pornography – it’s often – in the states at least, treated like some new creation that stems from modern perversion and technology. It’s funny how different the reality of it all is. From ancient oriental wall hangings that had a secret pull away front end that revealed hand painted porn to authentic Greek plates and vases that depicted sexual acts. One of the more bizarre was a sword that King Leopold had commissioned which had a man sexually engaged with – if i remember right a lion on the pommel. Hows that for a firm grip on something? The Museum also had a number of mannikins some of which were animated. It was an odd experience to say the least.

From there I had something truly unusual happen. As i explored the city, map in hand I got lost. Occasionally, I’ll get a bit off from where I mean to be as I wander, but this time I was 100% confused. No idea which direction was north, or what would take me weird. To be honest, it’s one of the first times that’s happened to me in years. It was an odd and humbling feeling. It wasn’t so much scary – as i knew i could always ask directions – as it was just eye opening. It was a new feeling, a new sensation. Definitely different than what i was familiar with. I can’t imagine feeling that on a regular basis.

Eventually I continued to wander until I figured out where I was – which as it so happens wasn’t close to where I thought I was. Oops. The downside of my lost wanderings was that I missed my time-frame for the National Museum in Amsterdam. The upside was I got to see a lot of the city, wandered through the flower market, and a book flee market. The wandering was beautiful, and in many ways I think I got more out of it, than wandering through another museum – Berlin’s better for that anyhow right!

After my wandering, I returned to the hostel, took a quick nap then headed downstairs to the pub under the hostel for a discounted meal (hostel owned) where I bumped into the first Canadian girl from earlier. We ate, then headed upstairs to pick up the others who had gotten then hands on some mushrooms earlier and were sobering up. They all finished getting ready and we headed out to the pubs – where we poked around and explored a bit. Meeting some locals, as well as some other travelers while relaxing, unwinding, taking in the sites and partying a bit. The night for the most part was a fun blur as we wandered between 4 pubs and spent some time out by the canals.

Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time. So, that’s it for now. Time to switch to another hostel here in Berlin for a night and to hit up the city! Did the national art and Bode yesterday. I’ll try for the wall and some other sights today.

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