My plan was to write a single post-Amsterdam entry summarizing my visit, but it didn’t take me long to realize that that was just not going to work. There’s too much to say already, and I’ve only been here since 5PM.
Maybe it’s because it has been a while since I’ve traveled purely for the purpose of seeing a new place, let alone to a place I’ve never been… But before I even left the airport after landing, I was giddy. I expected to be happy to be seeing a new place, but giddy? I’m just as shocked as you are.
It was something about the train ticket machine that tipped me over the edge. The directions weren’t in English and the way to insert your credit card was totally ridiculous. It wasn’t going through customs, it wasn’t all the Dutch being spoken on the KLM flight. It was the train ticket machine that drove home the point that I was not in Kansas / California / Washington, DC / London anymore. I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off of my face – and I only cared a little bit.
The grin was gone when I got to the train platform and realized I had no idea what was going on. It turned out to be simpler than it first appeared and my train came within a few minutes and I was on my way into the city.
Most of you know how I feel about hostels, so it won’t surprise you to know that my crash pad for the weekend is the Amsterdam Doubletree. Aside from it being pretty nice, it had the added appeal of being right next to the train station. Today was also my first experience with the Hilton Executive Lounge… Free breakfast in the mornings and early evening happy hours – and I was just in time for the latter. I pulled out my little pocket map and – over a complementary glass of wine – planned a walk around the city. And with that, I set out exploring.
A few quick observations:
* The buildings are all crooked and it is shocking to me they don’t just lean over onto themselves.
* The smell of weed isn’t everywhere, but it sure isn’t hard to find.
* I think Heineken and Amstel have a Sharks and Jets thing going on. Bars here seem to declare their allegiance with signs.
* Amsterdam is a real city AND CARS STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS AT CROSSWALKS. The first time this happened I just looked back at the driver with a confused “why are you stopping, you idiot” expression. It took a few seconds before I realized they were being polite (which is apparently a thing here) and I was being a jerk.
* There was a gift shop that sold wooden shoes. I found a pair in my size and picked them up to look at them more closely. A splinter went right into my left thumb. I can’t imagine what they would do to my feet. I opted not to buy them.
The city overall is beautiful. With the architecture and the canals… It’s like a postcard. A postcard of Amsterdam, perhaps.
For dinner, I got lazy and headed back to the hotel restaurant. Nothing I had passed on the street really caught my attention. Well, that’s a lie. I passed what I’m pretty sure was a three-story Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it wasn’t in the “oh that looks delicious” sort of way, so much as it was in the “gross, you’ve got to be kidding me” sort of way.
There was a moment of sticker shock at the restaurant. But then I remembered two things: Euros, although not cheaper than dollars, are cheaper than Pounds; and breakfast everyday is free. So I’ll have the halibut, please. Along with it, I ordered a martini. That part was a big mistake and the warning should have been when the waiter asked me to clarify. It was – hands down – the worst martini I’ve ever had. The food, on the other hand, was amazing. The baked halibut was delicious and even the little singular slices of potato were remarkable.
Full, but not in that uncomfortable way, I headed back out to continue exploring the city, abandoning my still half-full (or half-empty) martini. I walked mostly the same streets I had an hour or so earlier, but with the sun setting, they seemed completely different. The weed smell was more prevalent, but the “cafe” / “coffee” shops didn’t seem any more crowded, although I’m sure they were. But the big difference I noticed was that people were smoking in the streets. Hah.
It didn’t take long before I had wandered to the “red light” district. I guess I noticed there were sporadic red lights around, but I didn’t really connect the dots until, when looking into the windows of buildings, I came to a window with a real-life half-naked woman looking back. I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to what sort of shocked look came over me. From then on, it was just interesting to see the showmanship of it all… Street after street of women in windows, some windows had the shades closed… Not open yet, or so I assumed. That is, until right in front of me a guy emerged from one looking… Satisfied? So it turns out the closed shades mean either not open yet or currently engaged. I noticed a lot more closed shades after that as I continued my walk.
I spent another hour or so walking around before I realized I had walked into the southern canal belt area. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I hadn’t planned on goings quite that far. So I headed back. So here I am, exhausted, but thrilled with the little bit of time I have spent here so far.
Big day tomorrow. I won’t say what I have planned because that would ruin the next entry. You don’t have to read it, but I’d like to leave myself the option of writing it.