14/4 to 16/4
Way back in early February, seven of us got together to plan a trip during the beginning of Semana Santa since we wouldn’t have any class that week. We decided on visiting Amsterdam, Prague, and Paris, and while we had some stressful moments with trying to arrange hostels, last Thursday (April 14) we left Sevilla for a weeklong adventure.
After two flights and a six-hour layover in Barcelona, we finally arrived in Amsterdam a little before midnight. Like the majority of European cities, Amsterdam’s airport is outside of the city and we had to take a train from the airport to the center of town. We missed the first train due to a platform mix up and by the time we got to the Central Station in the city of Amsterdam and took a night bus to the area where are hostel was, it was already one in the morning. As we were trying to figure out where we were exactly and how to get to our hostel a girl on her bike (who also spoke perfect English) stopped to help us. When we finally arrived at Hostel Annemarie we were so tired and ready to pass out, however the man at the reception desk thought it would be funny to pretend that they had already given away our room since we arrived too late even though I had called earlier that week to confirm that our late arrival would still be ok. It wasn’t a very funny joke.
The next morning I was so excited when I saw the breakfast at the hostel…whole wheat bread and peanut butter (and not just the regular Skippy or Jiff, but the delicious all natural stuff), two things that are extremely rare in Spain! The first thing we did in Amsterdam (and each city we visited) was take a ‘free’ walking tour. There is a company/organization called New Europe that provides walking tours on a tips only basis in many of Europe’s major cities. Our tour guides in every city were very knowledgeable and presented the history of each city/country in a fun and entertaining manner. During the walking tour we saw the Red Light District, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, the Jewish Quarter, the original building of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the Royal Palace, and much more. We learned a lot about Amsterdam’s position on social issues (such as the legality of prostitution and marijuana or their strong resistance to Hitler) and in the words of our tour guide, the citizens of Amsterdam don’t care what you do to yourself, just how you treat others.
I’m sure the first thing most people (at least college students) think of when they think of Amsterdam is that pot and prostitution are legal. On our tour we learned that the legalization of marijuana is a bit fuzzy. Stores are not allowed to advertise themselves as marijuana distributers so they are called coffee shops (if you just want coffee, go to a café) and no one really knows where all the pot comes from since the selling of marijuana to the coffee shops is technically illegal – but no one really seems to worry about it. In fact, only 9% of Amsterdam actually smoke marijuana on a regular basis, but this 1.4 billion euro industry is kept alive by the tourists (mostly American) who come to enjoy this drug. On our tour we also stopped by the most famous coffee shop in Amsterdam (De Dampkring) where a scene from the movie Oceans 12 was filmed in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s characters were speaking in code with their contact and Matt Damon’s character was completely lost in the conversation. As for the prostitution in Amsterdam, the legality of it has had a positive affect for the prostitutes who are now protected by law; pimps are also now illegal and can no longer force the women onto drugs, more work, etc. There is a church in the middle of the Red Light District as well that served as a convenient place for the sailors to go and confess their sins (for a price) before setting sail incase they should die at sea.
Our walking tour ended at the Anne Frank House and there was no question about seeing the museum, it was a must. Even though I had read her diary in middle school, reading quotes from it while being in the rooms that her and her family occupied was a very powerful experience. There were also video interviews playing with people who knew Anne Frank and a very touching one with her father, the only family member who survived the Holocaust. At the end of the museum there was an interactive exhibit that asked social issue questions (such as having a cross/crucifixion in a public school classroom or allowing people to wear Nazi paraphernalia) and you could punch in yes or no.
The food selection in Amsterdam was a hodgepodge of everything from Indian and Thai to Mexican and Argentinean. However, the most popular options were croquets and French fries with mayo. Canals and its citizens’ love for bikes also characterize Amsterdam. Almost every person in Amsterdam has a bike and every fence, tree, or any immovable object has a bike locked to it. Many of the bikes also end up in the canals and about 20,000 of them are removed from the canals annually. Before leaving town the next day we visited the Van Gogh Museum, which also had a temporary Picasso exhibit and talked a lot about the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris which made us even more excited for our third city.