So, sometimes I think too much about my choices. And other times, I don’t think about them at all, just say “eh, that sounds like it will be fine,” and then realize later that I really should have thought about my choice more. As soon as I walked out of the metro station at my youth hostel, I realized my decision to leave Europe out of Amsterdam was one of the latter ones.
Most of my visit has been well outside my comfort zone. Just walking down the street, you can smell marijuana smoke on every block, which still really disturbs me, even if over the past three years I’ve gotten a lot more used to the idea that I know people who enjoy it. My hostel is basically across the canal from the red light district, which (regardless of the neighborhood), means that everyone here is staying at this hostel because of its convenient location. I chatted with some guy from Arizona who gave me directions. According to him, the red light district only really functions from about 21-1h, which seems to mean that the rest of the day, it’s pretty normal. On Monday I wandered through (the shortest way to get to Madame Tussaud’s) and was mostly just amused by the women shaking their assets in the display windows. They sell fascinating objects of all sorts in the stores here, haha. All the same, I didn’t buy any souvenirs for myself :P
Although the streets are nice and dinners were tasty (Thai stirfry and ravioli), the constant smell of pot really bothers me. Until Sunday when I got to the Rijksmuseum, I was really wondering wtf I had been thinking to come here. I mean, I think it was mostly that my parents mentioned Amsterdam as one of the places my flight could leave from, and going to a new city sounded better than leaving from Paris (where I was going anyway) or Berlin.
Oh and speaking of dinner, let me mention how much I’ve missed sticky rice. Janine couldn’t tell me where to find short-grain Japanese-style rice while in Germany, so I’ve had far less asian food than I would have liked.
But then I got to the Rijkmuseum and realized that was why I came here. I think Dutch art is great – I’ve always been impressed at the influence the Dutch had on history, from art to colonization. For a few hours, I was able to forget about the people ahead of me in line for tickets who were sharing a joint, and able to enjoy the history and old culture that the prosperity that the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (The Dutch East-India Trading Company) brought them. Rembrandt-style lighting is amazing. The way he and his students captured contrast, light, glass, and detailed textures really impresses me and they did an amazing job.
I also visited Madame Tussaud’s on Monday, which was cool since I’ve never been to one before. However, it quickly became clear that I would have been better off visiting the one in Berlin, since probably half the figures were of Dutch people. There was a pretty awesome lecture from one of the wax workers though, about how they make the figures.
By the way, Dutch as a language fascinates me, just because it seems like such a bastardized combination of German, French, and English. I see words horribly mutilated in their spelling that I recognize from signs in Paris, words that if you spelled them right, would be German, and also plenty that look like straight-up English (and these seem to actually be words in Dutch, not just the words that no one felt like translating, as with most English words in foreign languages). It keeps me pretty busy trying to figure out what on earth the signage is saying. Considering I know zero Dutch, I’m doing better than I expected at deciphering words.
If you plug your nose and/or walk fifteen minutes out of the city center, to where there are fewer coffeeshops, Amsterdam isn’t really that bad. Everyone here seems to speak English because there seem to be more English-speaking tourists than Dutch people. The canals are pretty, the streets are nice for walking, and the weather has been pleasant. The city does look very much the same wherever you go, it seems, which means I wouldn’t really recommend staying here for more than a couple of days, although things smell less like pot during the week when there are far fewer tourists.
And yes, to my friends who would love to visit Amsterdam for the traditional reasons, I know that my lack of partying skills/interest are a horrible embarrassment to you. :P Deal with it.