(Written 15/03/09, 21:26)
I am sitting on my bottom bunk in a 10-person room in a hostel near the Rome train station. I feel sweaty and gross from running around the airport and train station in my futile attempts to get home to Perugia, but alas here I am, wanting nothing more than a hot shower, but unwilling to pay €5 for a crappy towel. I want to write about Amsterdam now, despite my discomfort, so that I will be all caught up with my blogs for once. Hopefully you can’t smell me from there.
I liked Amsterdam from the minute I walked into it. I arrived alone, taking a train in from Rotterdam because of a complicated 4.5 hour booking process that ended with our 5 person group being pared down to 2 and Jamie and I, the sole survivors, flying separately into two different cities at completely different times.
I arrived first and instead of checking into the hostel, like a responsible travel buddy, I succumbed to the call of the sunny blue sky and mapless and alone, began walking. Luckily, the train station was backed on one side by water so that set me of in the right direction (the other side). I started in the tourist center, full of shops with marijuana paraphernalia and clogs, but eventually worked my way out to more quaint streets. I meandered along the canals, accentuated by large low houseboats and flanked on either side by narrow leaning houses with high thin windows.
Like the Italian “bar,” Amsterdam has it’s own misnomer, the “Coffee Shop.” But of course, one doesn’t go there for coffee… I got a bagel, something I had been wanting for a while, and took a bunch of pictures then made my way back to meet Jamie at Centraal Station.
Centraal is a good example of a Dutch word. It’s like English in some ways but Dutch has been pinched and stretched in places so that it’s all bunched up consonants surrounding an excess of vowels (oo and aa) and most words are compound and therefore really really long. For example, if you wanted to name a street after me, it would probably look something like:
Oh, and here’s a good one for you: Pronounce the word “Spui.” (Correct answer below.)
But enough unscholarly linguistic analysis!
Jamie and I took the tram to our hostel near Museumsplein (Museum Square) to check in, then we went to the Van Gogh museum. He is one of her favorite artists. There was a special exhibit focused on his paintings done at night time so we got to see some amazing ones including “The Potato Eaters,” the captivating “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” and the infamous “Starry Night.” I think they did an excellent job showing the development of his painting style and found it all enchanting and interesting despite not considering myself an “art person.”
We then headed out to Leidsplein (Leid’s Square) which is a pretty happening area, for dinner. It could easily be compared to Faneuil Hall in Boston and we even saw some break dancers in the square putting on a show. Amsterdam has always been a very welcoming country, first to Protestants, then Jews during WWII and pretty much everyone else at some point. Tis diversity is represented in the look of modern Dutch people, but also in the food. We chose Mexican because Jamie is also from the Southwest (Phoenix, AZ) so it was something she had been missing.
After that we set out to find a coffee shop called Chocolat because Jamie was interested in experiencing some decriminalized baked goods. Unfortunately our directions led us astray, deep in the not very frightening but infamous Red Light District, so we ended up at one of the smaller locations of the well known chain, The Bulldog. Jamie ate her space cake which looked like your every day chocolate muffin and I sipped a soda and tried not to sully my lungs with too many fumes. Despite this, I think I was actually more effected by the marijuana than she was, leaving the place with slightly itchy eyes. Jamie felt no effects but later that night reported having some strange dreams.
The next day we walked around a bunch. We walked through a flower market, tried a fruit juice sweetened brownie from the organic market (Neumarket) and some fries in a paper cone (a typical Dutch snack, not organic), and then took an awesome 3 hour free walking tour that I would recommend to anyone. We learned a lot of Dutch history and saw some cool sights (the Red Light District, highest point, smallest house, the Royal Palace, etc.)
The tour ended at the Anne Frank museum, but seeing the line and considering the misty rain that had come on to soak us all during the last hour of the tour, we instead decided to go back tot he organic market we liked so much, this time for some bread and genuine Holland cheese to eat in the museum line. We also wandered from there into the Jewish part of town which, once it was vacated during WWII and supplies were cut off to the Netherlands, was ravaged by the desperate and starving Dutch who tore the empty buildings apart as something to burn so that they could have heat. Thus in the 1960’s it was remodeled and now looks pretty ridiculous. Still, it was a hip, offbeat area with a cool flea market that we explored.
The on to Anne Frank. It was interesting and a good experience. I wish I had read the book before going there and I plan to now, but I was a little disappointed that the area was unfurnished (by firm request of Otto Frank). I think that only could have added to the experience.
After the Anne Frank House we went back to our hostel where Jamie discovered that her ipod had been stolen. That pretty much ruined her night so we ate Indian food (much better than Perugia!) and waffles with ice cream and I did my best to cheer her up, then we went on back to the hostel.
Jamie left at 4:00 on Sunday but I had plenty of time before my flight so I went to the Rijksmuseum to see 5 Vermeer paintings and The Night Watch and some incredible still lives by Frans Hals. I’m became quite the little art lover this weekend! The museum is undergoing renovations right now so our tour guide from the day before had called it a “best of” collection, but it was the perfect amount for me. It was especially personal because I read Girl With the Pearl Earring recently (Vermeer) and the book I’m currently reading just went into a discussion about Dutch still lives and the Italian masters. So it all felt very enlightening.
After that and even more walking I went to the #1 rated french fry place in Amsterdam for a cone of fries with samurai sauce. They were vegetarian, an unreal golden yellow color, and very fresh and tasty. After that I simply couldn’t walk around with all my stuff anymore so I took a slow train back to Rotterdam and flew home to Italy. I had hoped to go back to Gioia Mia in Rome where Mr. B and I ate dinner but I’m not that hungry and I just don’t have it in me to walk across Rome right now. Maybe some other time…
(The answer: “Spui”- The u is pronounced like the a in hat and the i is pronounced like the ee in beet, so together it sounds a bit like spah-eew but in a slightly gutteral way. Overall it’s both unexpected and difficult to explain.)