Back in the beginning of March, Remi, Tenzin, Tenzin's cousin, and myself headed off for another weekend of travel to Amsterdam, city of red lights, Anne Frank, Van Gogh, canals, and oddly constructed buildings. Remi and I arrived late Friday night, luckily with a place to stay as Remi had a former frat brother who is studying law abroad and had a place in the center of the city. Besides our group of four, two other kids from the Stanford program in Madrid met up with us. On Friday night, we all went out for a night of bar hopping throughout the city. The bar scene was okay, nothing special, and for the most part Berlin's bars are much better, but still a pretty fun Friday night.
On Saturday, Remi and I got up to explore the city for a bit. We started it off by taking a free 3-hour walking tour, hosted by an extremely good tour guide who literally seemed to know everything about the city. My first question for him was if I was seeing things, or if the building were actually slanted and actually did hang over the roads. He pointed out that all the building have these wooden boards mounted at the top with a large metal ring. Because it was difficult the carry furniture and other items up to the top floors, they would fashion a pully system through these metal rings to hoist items up to the top floors. This means that the buildings actually need to slant over the road so that whatever is being hoisted to the top does not scrape against the buildings. Makes for some interesting architecture as you feel as if you're walking through some sort of expressionist set to a play, or maybe it is normal to see slanted buildings on every street. The walking tour was actually very good and extremely informative, the only problem is it was hosted in Amsterdam. My main complaint with Amsterdam, besides the aweful food, is that I felt like I saw the entire city in 10 minutes. Yes, I realize I did not have the desire to go see works of Van Gogh or the Heineken museum, but the city itself looks exactly the same all over. Each street has the same looking slanted brick buildings, the same looking canal, the same ridiculously tall people, and of course bicycles. Another random question I asked our tour guide, again regarding if I was seeing things or not, is that I swore all the people, especially men, were way taller and had much bigger frames than a normal sized person. He again confired I was not hallucinating, and that actually the Dutch are the second biggest white race in the world behind the Danish. They are massive people. Overall, on Saturday Remi and I basically spent the entire day walking, partially because of the tour and partially because we got lost for 3 hours. The city of Amsterdam is firstly a nightmare to navigate for the reasons already mentioned in that everything looks the same, but also because of it's layout. The center of Amsterdam is surrounded by horseshoe-shaped roads and canals, so every street is curving in a half circle. This made it a complete nightmare for us to try and figure out which direction we were going and it's probably a miracle that we made it back to our place to stay by the end of the day.
The red light district: actually not nearly as cool or big as it is hyped up to be. Basically, if you don't already now, the district gets its name because prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. The prostitutes rent out small little rooms along the street with windows that are illuminated with red lights from which comes the name. I must admit, it is pretty funny to walk through the district and see a man walk out of the room as the prostitute opens the curtains again. Other than sex, you can also legally buy marijuana all throughout Amsterdam, although again most places are located in the red light. However, the district is not nearly as big nor as crazy as I had pictured in my head before arriving. Another tour guide fact, the red light district won't be there by 2015, but at the rate the current government in power is shutting down coffee shops and red light shops, it will be nonexistent by 2012. Over the past 5 years, the number of coffee shops and red light shops being shot down has doubled each year, starting with 4 the first year and rapidly working its way up. So, if you want to go get there while you can, because it probably won't exist in 5 years time. Although as seems to be the case with everything in Amsterdam, it will just go underground but won't actually go away.
Other random facts about Amsterdam. Beware, or you will get killed by one of the millions of bicycles flying about the city. Every single person in Amsterdam rides their bike everywhere, and they do not stop for pedestrians. Also, for someone who lives in Amsterdam for at least 8 years, they will go through an average of 30 bikes in their lifetime due to theft and wear-and-tear. A tip for males: do not pee on the corners of buildings after a night of drinking. Amsterdam city officials are so mad at people peeing in the streets that on every building corner they have installed "piss deflectors" as you can see in one of my pictures. So, if you do decide to go pee here, it will literally bounce right back onto your legs and shoes. Gross, but pretty funny to think that the government paid to have these installed everywhere. Urinals are also very open. Think of a portapotty on the street corner, but just the toilet and no actual portapotty. No big deal I guess - it is Amsterdam. All in all, Amsterdam was a fun weekend, but definitely just a one time trip. There's really no reason to go back, and I definitely would not recommend it for tourists. It's basically an overrated destination/experience for the college student that can actually be found to a much greater extent in other European cities. Then again, if Anne Frank, Van Gogh, or Heineken is your thing, maybe Amsterdam is the travel destination for you.
A big thanks to our tour guide for the weekend. While Amsterdam was definitely not my favorite city I have seen, I know by far more about Amsterdam than any other city I have travelled to thanks to a free walking tour.