I preface this description with the explanation that our hostel was about an hour outside of Amsterdam by train (two other branches of the same hostel were located in downtown and uptown Amsterdam).  So I never saw the true nightlife of Amsterdam, but the day-life was quite enough for me.  However, I do apologize for being unable to recount stories of true debauchery.

Day 1 

We arrived in A-dam on Monday evening and searched out the downtown branch of our hostel, so we could stow our stuff for a few hours and travel the town.  We found it easily enough, and when we walked in we were assaulted by the smell of pot smoke.   In our quest to find the luggage room, we found that the elevator was occupied by a pair of waaaay-out-of-it guys.  The elevator doors opened, they stared at us and giggled slowly and pushed the Door Close button.  So we took the stairs. 

The beauty of Amsterdam took me by surprise.  It had been a nice, partly-cloudy day, and we came through town just as the sun was sinking.  The reflections in the canals were impressive.  We found a small restaurant, got some warm mozzarella and pesto sandwiches, and said our goodbyes to our traveling mate Nikki as we caught the shuttle to the beach. 

Amsterdam the first evening     Canal with Swans

In the shuttle we met a guy from Damascus who had grown up in Arkansas (turned out he and I have mutual friends at Hendrix College) and had studied at St. Louis University (he’s a fan of Imo’s Pizza and the super-cheap Jack-in-the-Box tacos).  Small world, I’d say!  (In Rotterdam I met another guy, this time from upstate New York, who was familiar with and had been to Conway, Arkansas.) 

At the hostel we collapsed, in preparation for waking up early and heading back downtown.   

Day 2

Amazing spinach soup.  Lots of wandering.  A visit to the local post office, where there are four different slots for various types of mail.  I picked the far left one.  Dad, I hope my postcard still gets to you!

We spent a nice, long time canal-watching.  Who couldn’t stare mindlessly at something this beautiful?  After about an hour of silent reflection, we headed toward the nearest bagel shop, where Mandi and I shared one sesame seed bagel with pesto and tomato cream cheese and one cinnamon raisin bagel with maple syrup, banana slices, and powdered cinnamon.  Whoa.  Whooaaa. 

Stoned canal

As yet unsatisfied, we walked a bit farther and encountered a grocery store.  Part of our plan included cheese, and at the cheese counter we encountered one of the most interesting locals of the trip: a young woman (about my age, I’d guess) who proceeded to tell us the bulk of her life story, punctuated with, “I’m really not sure why I’m telling you this, but …”.  Mandi and I heard her family secrets about divorce and sibling rivalry and some stories about the dangers of living in Africa and how it changed her life and taught her that even when the cheese slicer cuts off pieces of her fingers, life is still good.  Of course it’s always nice to talk with locals, but there was something seriously odd about that interaction.   

After eating the cheese and passing through the Red Light district, we headed back to the train station and back to the beach hostel, where we very unexpectedly encountered our Scottish friends we’d met in Belgium.  Nice. 

Day 3 

The final day we headed back bright and early to visit the Van Gogh museum.  The first floor, the permanent collection of Van Gogh’s works, was stuffed to the brim with tourists making pilgrimages to see the great European works.  Far and away my favorite part was seeing one of his self-portraits, a work that I copied full-size in oil pastels as part of my Basic Art class in ninth grade.  Having studied and replicated those strokes, it was fantastic to see it in person, just inches from me.  The work was a lot lighter, less gray, than the copy I worked from.  The brushstrokes were also a lot smaller and finer than I had realized.  Photography within the museum was prohibited.  This image does it no justice.

Van Gogh Self-Portrait

The second floor, much emptier of visitors, featured a rare look at Van Gogh’s sketches.  Because the drawings are on very sensitive paper, they are usually stored away and very infrequently displayed.  My favorite were Van Gogh’s sketches from a how-to-draw book, from when he was learning how to draw figures.  It’s a close replica, but definitely imperfect.  It’s a good thing he placed higher value on showing the personality of a place or person than representing it with complete technical accuracy. 

There was also a special exhibit about how Van Gogh learned to use color the way he did.  He read many texts about color theory and the color wheel (i.e., contrasting colors make each other appear brighter).  However, having only really seen Dutch art, he applied the theories incorrectly.  Poor guy!  Once he got out and traveled, he improved a lot. 

The third floor featured some Monets, Gaugins, and Seurats, as well as some very impressive paintings by names I didn’t recognize.  Three floors worth of works and three hours of absorbing artistic genius made me a little less bitter about the 10 euros I paid to enter.  But only a little. 

For lunch we found a sandwich shop run by a friendly Egyptian man.  We each paid for our own sandwich, leading me to realize that we had just “gone Dutch.”  Dutch treat.  Get it?  Ok, lame pun. We then headed for the famous Botanical Garden, but with an entrance fee of 6 euros apiece, Mandi and I decided to take a nap on the lawn instead.  I’m not quite sure how Mandi snapped this photo of me without me knowing, but it’s a cute one. 

Katie resting

To wind up the day, we headed by a supermarket to pick up some Heineken.  (What’s a visit to Amsterdam without Heineken?)  An interesting side note is that the supermarkets in northern Europe are infinitely more American and pre-packaged than those in Spain and Portugal.  Check out this adorable display of easy-to-make meals.  It’s a four-step process: Noodles/Rice/Potatoes + Vegetable + Meat + Sauce = Dinner!  The supermarket also sold individually-wrapped red peppers, for whatever reason. 

Amsterdam supermarket

Beer in hand, we strolled through the Red Light district as the sun began to dip in the horizon.  Sex shops abounded, some more offensive than others.  I quite enjoyed window shopping at the Condomerie, although the store had already closed.  Check out these themed condoms. 

Condoms

And the prostitutes?  Well, they were half-naked, sitting in front of windows.  Many of them were quite a bit less attractive than I expected – one looked like she could be your aunt, and most had a lot more pudge than you’d ever see on a porn star.  It really made me realize that they’re regular women.  To me, perhaps the most difficult part would be trying to look sexy, hour after hour, without getting bored.  (Ok, well that would actually probably be the second most difficult part.)

Red Light District

I never saw a man go in, but I did see two come out (of separate doors).  I also saw several children walking by with their parents, to my great surprise.  Oh, to have heard what the parents were saying to their children!  Were explaining prostitution to their kids, or had they mistakenly thought that Oudekerkstrasse was the way to the zoo? 

After a visit to a piercing parlor where the man advised that, should I pierce my nose, I pierce the right nostril, we headed back to little ol’ Noordwijk on the train.  There we grabbed blankets and beers and sat on the beach, alternating between listening to the iPod and listening to the waves crash.  Here’s a picture from the next morning.  It was actually quite a beautiful place.  It was almost a shame we spent all our time in Amsterdam.

Noordwijk beach

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