jueves, 12 de febrero de 2015

Lessons learned in Amsterdam

So this past weekend, my roommate Kevin Rawding and I went to Amsterdam. Here's a list of lessons learned from our trip in hopes of helping others desiring to travel to Amsterdam!

1) After being in high 50s to low 60s for a couple weeks, 30s feels wicked cold, even if you came from single digits in the States barely 3 weeks ago. Literally, we got off our flight, there was a minuscule amount of snow on the ground, it was 34 degrees out, and we were like "Where did we go..." I've just gotta say, I can't imagine being back in the Midwest right now! Bless all you brave souls who are roughing it!

2) If a guy stops you at the tram station saying he's got a group ticket you can share with him and it will cost you 12.50€ instead of 20€, he's probably just scamming you. I'm pretty sure they don't even exist, but the personnel may never come to verify that we have tickets, so it could be okay, and the random guy could give you some good tips about Amsterdam's public transportation, so that could be good... And you technically could save like 8€, sooo...

3) HotWire.com is a great website for saving money without giving up some travel luxuries. We snatched a room at the NH Amsterdam Zuid, a 4-star hotel, for 3 nights for 2 of us for a total of just over 100€. Honestly, you can't beat that! It was cheaper than most hostels, extremely nice, and refreshing, especially since we got it for literally less than half the normal price!

4) If you don't know what the smell of marijuana wreaks like, go to Amsterdam. In 5 minutes of walking down the street, you're guaranteed to smell it AT LEAST once. I'm pretty proud to say that I've never smoked a cigarette, cigar, or weed before, and I'm glad I could walk by countless coffee bars and not even try a brownie. I'm a happy and relaxed enough person as it is; I don't need drugs to help me get high, because life gets me high! (If you're in for more corny puns, keep reading!)

5) Try the beer. All the beer. Literally. Our first night there, we got a beer we'd never heard of before, Grolsch. It has 11.6% alcohol content. Woosh, it was like drinking a mixer! But sooo good! (Well, I thought it was good. Kevin was so-so with it.) You definitely wouldn't need to drink a ton of them to get you going, not to mention it would fill you up before to many. Anyway, I only didn't really like one of the beers we had, which was Brand bier. Otherwise, deine Bier war sehr gut! (Their beer was very good...which was German, not Dutch...)

6) The Weasley's cousins were vacationing in Amsterdam this weekend too. No, seriously, they were. A family of British gingers boarded a tram before us, and I'm convinced they're relatives. Not that that really means much for anyone wanting to visit Amsterdam, but, I mean, how cool is that?!

7) If you come across a kabob place that's a hole-in-the-wall joint, give it a chance.
It could turn out to be the best kabobs you've had in a long while! I was a little leery, figuring I'd probably get food poisoning like in Bridesmaids, but there was definitely no problems there!

8) So Amsterdam has pee stations that are literally out on the sidewalk where a guy can walk up to it, whip it out, drain it, and go on his merry way, no urge to pee on a building in sight! Now, if course this would probably never fly in the States because people would probably consider it exposing yourself in public, but seriously, the half-circle that wraps around you pretty much covers up everything, so I think it's a phenomenal idea. Probably the only downfall is it restricts women from being able to use them... Otherwise, it's probably the best thing since sliced bread!

9) While walking down the street, especially at night, you'll have several guys walk past you and say "cocaine?" loud enough so just you can hear it. I don't know about y'all, but cocaine isn't on my top infinity list of things to do or try, so I just take the "ignoring" approach, which works really well.

10) If you're going to visit Anne Frank's House, which everyone should, you DEFINITELY should purchase your tickets online, print them off, and bring them with you, even if it means you have to pay to use the computer and print out your tickets at the hotel. It is totally worth it so you don't have to stand in the cold and wait in-line to buy your tickets. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, so you'll have to go check it out for yourself, but it's very interesting and amazing that 8 people lived in such a small space without going outside for over 4 years, especially since they had to keep extremely quiet so the workers below wouldn't hear them. Whoever snitched on them, causing them to be captured, taken to concentration camps, get sick, and have all but Anne's father die, with Anne dying about a month before she would have been liberated when she knew her mom and sister were dead and assuming her father was dead, leaving her all alone in the world with nothing to fight for... Woosh, let me wipe a tear away. Definitely worth the time and money to see their old home. Another part that is amazingly emotional is that Anne's father didn't want there to be furniture placed in there to allow people to see what it looked like because he wanted it to resemble all the belongings and people who were taken away from their homes without the ability to return. He was definitely right that it's more emotional that way! In 1967, Anne's father, Otto Frank, said, "To build a future, you have to know the past." WWII has always fascinated me and has been a huge learning point for me to be accepting of everyone, regardless of where they've come from. I also found it interesting that, after Anne's father Otto read her diary after the war, he realized he had no idea what was truly happening inside his daughter's mind throughout their time there and said "Most parents don't really know their children." It's probably very true; a lot of parents assume their children don't catch-on to certain issues or comments, but I bet most do. However, I think that notion applies with more than just parents and children, and is an issue with everyone between everyone else.

11) If you plan to go to Anne Frank's House, walk the extra 100 feet and check out the Homomonument. It was built in 1979 as a monument to all the gay men and women who were murdered in concentration camps alongside the Jews and who were and are still persecuted today. It is a giant triangle with 3 triangles at each point. One points towards Anne Frank's house and has "Naar Vriendschap Zulk een Mateloos Verlange" inscribed on it, which is a line of poetry from Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutchgay poet, which translates to "Such an endless desire for friendship." One descends down into the canal and faces the National War Museum on Dam Square. The third faces COC Nederland, which is a Dutch gay rights group that was founded in 1946, which is the oldest gay rights group in the world. Together, they represent the past, present, and future of the fight for equality of the LGBT community. It's very cool to see, especially since Holland was the first country to legalize gay marriage back in 2001.

12) The Red Light District is a fun place to visit, and it can boost your self-esteem. Yeah, yeah, I know the ladies in the windows are just knocking on the windows, motioning for you to enter, etc., because they want your money, but hey, I imagine they would prefer to have attractive clients over the alternative, so I'm taking it as a booster. It's truthfully quite sad that those women resort to that occupation, but it's a personal choice they make for themselves, so... Oh, it's also really awkward when you see a girl in a window who looks like someone you know... I'm not going to say who, though... Also, steer clear of the blue lights, unless you're into that kind of thing!

13) While strolling down the Red Light District, check out the Old Sailor Bar. It's a bit of an older crowd, but it has a cool vibe and atmosphere. And, the fact that you can look out the window and see the tourists strolling down the street looking into the windows and see their reactions is pretty priceless. People watching is definitely a fun thing to do in Amsterdam, as it is a huge tourist city.

14) If you've got time and want to check out a cool place to eat, go to the Foodhallen. It's a neat place with a bunch of little restaurant stands that make amazing, homemade food. Seriously, your mouth will start salivating when you walk in there!

15) Definitely make time to do a canal tour. Most leave Central Station and travel through the main canals of the city as well as the harbor. It gives some pretty neat history of how the city's changed over the last 800+ years, points out some historic spots, and, if nothing else, the boat driver maneuvering a large boat through the canals and at the corners is crazy to see!

16) Stroopwafels are probably the most addicting treat ever to come along this planet. Thanks a lot, Lindsay, for introducing them to us. I'm going to crave them for the rest of eternity now. Ironically, there is no chocolate in them, which is usually a prerequisite for me!

17) If you've got some extra time, check out the Amsterdam Museum. It covers how the city and the Netherlands has transformed over the years. It has a bunch of cool exhibits with a lot of infographics, short info blurbs, cool artwork, and short video clips throughout the entire museum. It's a pretty neat set-up for a museum, I do have to admit.

18) Don't be too worried about not being able to connect with people. Free WiFi can be found at countless bars, restaurants, museums, etc. It's pretty incredible how easy it was to stay connected. Even the train from Edinhoven to Amsterdam had free WiFi. Much more established than in Spain! We were even able to use our free WiFi to connect with my friend Kevin Liebrecht and hung out Sunday afternoon/evening with him and his Dutch and Polish friends!

19) On the back-side of the Rijksmuseum, there are large letters that spell out I amsterdam, which has become the city's slogan. It's a cool photo opp location. There was also a street performance that was happening when we were there, which was fairly entertaining.

20) De Dam, or Dam Square, is a cool place to check out. The architecture of the buildings on the square is pretty amazing to see. (As if the rest of the city's isn't?) It's close to the Centraal Station and the Red Light District, so it's definitely easy to see.

21) Bikes are everywhere. And I'm not talking about motorcycles, but pedal bikes. They literally strap those things to any permantly placed object. There are millions of bikes throughout the city. There's literally a bike ramp outside Centraal Station that holds 2,500 bikes. It's like a right of passage for every person to get one. And, often times, people will strap a bike to something and leave it there for whatever reason, so years later, it's just sitting there still. As such, the city goes around and "snatches" a group of bikes, which can tend to rub people the wrong way if their bike is snatched and they literally just put it there. But don't be too worried; you can buy a new one from a hobo for 10-20€. You may think I'm joking, but that's the truth. We literally had a hobo try to sell us one. Sure they probably stole it from someone, but a 10€ bike?! Hmm...

22) Don't risk getting caught not paying for public transit; it could cost you a 30€ fine, plus the cost of what your would have had to pay. We bought the 3 day pass, which allowed us access to the trams, metros, buses, and night buses, which unfortunately are NOT like the night bus in Harry Potter. It's very economical, and definitely worth it. We were definitely glad we bought them for the train ride back, because our tickets were checked 15 minutes before we got off! Oh, just keep in mind that the night buses only run every hour... So if you get there 5 minutes after the last one left, you have to wait 55 more minutes... Oh, and use Google Maps; it is surprisingly very accurate regarding the public transit system!

23) Peanut butter, apparently, is a liquid. Or at least TSA thinks it is. Y'all know how they have restrictions on how much "liquid" you can take on a plane with you? Well, "creams" and "pastes" and anything that is "spreadable" also apparently falls under that. So a sealed bottle of peanut butter that was bought 15 minutes ago that you have the receipt for is indeed considered a liquid. As such, if you try taking it with you on your carry-on, the TSA will snatch it and throw it away. And watch your soul die a little while they do it. Peanut butter will ruin the world, people. That's what I've learned.

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