Saturday, May 15, 2010

Even Old New York was Once New Amsterdam

Where: Train to Prague
Listening to: Miranda Lambert
Word of the day: "Dam"

I went to the capital of the Netherlands the first weekend of March. Part of my trip strategy for the semester was to visit places that I wouldn’t necessarily ever plan a trip to again such as some of the smaller cities in Europe. This was my reasoning behind not going to Paris. I went into Madrid the night before and slept at Rachel’s. The next day we left for Amsterdam to meet up with my friends Aneil and Jen. Unfortunately we were all coming from different countries so meeting up with each other at the airport was a little bit more difficult than we anticipated. It was just another misadventure.

Rachel and I found Aneil at the baggage claim. He had been waiting there for about two hours. Jen was nowhere to be found. We waited at baggage claim for about 30 minutes. Finally we figured she must have left or missed her plane so we would meet her at the hostel. It was raining and freezing cold as we wandered out of the main station to try to find the hostel. We finally found it and inside was none other than Jen!!! Somehow we had missed each other. It was good to know that none of us were running around Amsterdam alone. Since we had all reunited, we headed out to the streets. We went to the Anne Frank House and did an interesting tour of that. Afterwards it was late and we were absolutely exhausted from the rain and cold so we got dinner and went to bed.

Saturday morning we woke up really early to grab a coffee and go on a tour of the city. The rain had cleared over the night and it was beautiful!! The sun was shining and the sky was perfectly clear. It was still mind-numbingly cold. Jen had been on a free walking tour in Berlin so she recommended we do the one in Amsterdam. The tour lasted three hours and walked us through the whole city. I really enjoyed it because I was able to familiarize myself with the city and learn a lot about it. Amsterdam has a huge history and was a center of Europe for many years because of the East India Company. It got its name from the river Amstel, which runs through the city connecting the dozens of canals that run along next to almost every street. Our tour guide told us about the many odd laws in Amsterdam. For example, if it’s done quietly, good for business and doesn’t hurt anyone, the cops in Amsterdam are okay with it. Also, if there is no physical proof, they can’t prove you did anything so they have to let you go. Like if you stole a bike and the cops were chasing you, you could just throw it into the river and be innocent because it would be their word against yours. If you park your car too close to a canal and it falls in, you have to pay to get it out. However, if you are in the car when it falls in, the city has to pay for getting you and your car out. Very odd rules. The symbol of Amsterdam is a red shield with three white “x’s” on a black background. There are a bunch of different stories of why there are three “x’s” like for the three destructions of the city way back in the day—fire, water, and the plague. For a while in Amsterdam, you had to pay taxes on your house according to how wide it was, so one house we saw was literally just the length of the one window!

After the tour was over, we walked around in a few of the markets in the city. Then we went to the Heinieken Brewery tour. Some of my friends that studied abroad last year went to it. It was a self-guided tour that taught you how they brewed the beer and the history of the company. I anticipated it to be a little bit more in depth than it was. They no longer brew at the factory, but it was the original brewery. Afterwards we went out to dinner, to the Van Gogh museum and then did a pub crawl. The many tour companies across Europe put on pub crawls each night for all the students that are touring. It’s a good way to meet people around our age and go to the cool places that we otherwise wouldn’t know about. We stayed on the pub crawl for a while, but ultimately went home early because once again we were exhausted from walking around the whole day and we had to leave early the next morning—Jen and Aneil left at 5 a.m.!

Ultimately I liked Amsterdam. I thought the city itself was very pretty with very interesting architecture. It was very clean and crisp city, much more than I had anticipated. Amsterdam has a bad reputation, but it is a lot more than the crazy city that it is known for.

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