It’s a little misleading to call this post a country recap, because we only went to one city in the Netherlands. Amsterdam was everything I expected it to be: beautiful, cultural, fun, and filled with vice. We loved it!
The layout of the city is extremely confusing and difficult to navigate. The center is made up of concentric half-circles of streets and canals, so you might think you’re walking to the west, but in reality you are slowly curving north. Plus, I swear every single street looks identical. They all have brown brick buildings, a bridge, and bikes parked everywhere. It probably makes sense if you’re familiar with it, but as a visitor, I typically had no idea which area of the city we were in.
Of course, we took a walk through the infamous Red Light District. We went during the day, which made the experience especially weird, because the whole area is basically a normal part of town. One minute we would walk by a fetish shop, then we’d see a florist and a fruit vendor, then lingerie-clad prostitutes posing in the windows, and then right after that elderly tourists rolling their suitcases into a hotel. It was like, what is going on here?
The other thing Amsterdam is infamous for, of course, is marijuana. Even though I was expecting to see it around, it was still very weird. We saw plants growing in some of the windows and it wasn’t uncommon to see people smoking. The stores that sell pot go by the euphemism “coffeeshop” and they are pretty much all over the place. They are not allowed to use garish advertising, so usually the only thing that gives them away is the Jamaican colors or the smell of joints. For the record, pot is illegal in the Netherlands, but the Dutch have decided to tolerate its use. However, it sounds like a conservative government has been voted in and tourists will no longer be allowed to enter the coffeeshops starting in 2013, so if you want to join the masses of “marijuana tourists,” you’d better buy your plane ticket.
Top three experiences?
- Going out. It’s a lively city!
- Seeing all the bicycles. I love that biking is a primary form of transportation here!
- Hanging out in Vondelpark, Amersterdam’s giant park.
- The transport system. Their tram system is wonderfully convenient, and the inside of the subway cars was covered in artwork. Not to mention all the bikes everywhere! The roads were designed for bicyclists, trams, and pedestrians, not vehicles.
- Just like in Belgium, the junk food was really, really good. We ate a lot of fries, and my waffle with chocolate and whipped cream was yummy.
- The Vondelpark was a great place to hang out.
Bottom three experiences?
- Getting lost all the time.
- Dealing with bad weather. It was nice our first day, but after that it rained off and on.
- Watching the Packers. That was the first Packer game we’d seen in over a year, and of course they lost!
- Amsterdam is an expensive place! Just our tiny Airbnb room cost more per day than most Asian countries’ per-day costs, and this was one of the cheapest options we could find.
- All of Amsterdam really does look the same–brick buildings and a canal running through the middle, bordered by small roads, a line of trees, and a bridge with maybe a tram line running over it. Most of the time we didn’t know where we were.
- The nonalcoholic beer fiasco, only because Nikki kept calling me a buffoon afterwards. Strangely, it tasted fine.
Nikki: Frites and mayonnaise. I know, it sounds gross, but Dutch mayonnaise is a little different than ours and it actually tastes great with fries.
Brad: We had fries a lot here, and they were really, really good.
Nikki: I don’t remember anything especially bad. Everything was so expensive, though! It was hard to find reasonable prices.
Brad: We had a picnic lunch ready, but the weather went to pants so we ate it indoors. However, the baguette I got didn’t taste very good. The outside wasn’t firm at all. Definitely not in France anymore.
Nikki: Our night at the jazz club. I wanted to hear some live music while we were in town, so we did a little research and found a club that everyone said was awesome. We went there early to get a good seat and the place seemed perfect–all wood interior, dim lighting, chill atmosphere, good mix of customers. I thought it was going to be one of our most fun nights…until the band started playing. They were AWFUL. It sounded like elevator music with an 80′s synthesizer. We gave it about eight minutes before we called it quits, but a couple other people left thirty seconds into the first song.
Brad: Nikki gave me some money and sent me to the store to get lunch supplies, including some good beer. I, in my infinite wisdom, really only looked for the cheapest beer in the “good” beer section and ended up with Amstel 0.0% alcohol-free beer. Oops! Strangely, that beer tastes better than many American beers.
Nikki: The Red Light District. The sex stuff on its own didn’t really weird me out. It was more the mix of normal, everyday things along with the sex shops and prostitutes that seemed extremely odd.
Brad: The red light district is so strange: strip clubs, window prostitutes, and coffeeshops were intermixed with average businesses, homes, shops, and the Chinatown.