Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Memory Lapse, Part Two: Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a really neat city, and a place I'd like to have had more time to explore. I'd love to go back, but with different people more inclined towards action, and perhaps a smaller group as well, as five people proved a bit difficult to coordinate.

So last Tuesday, I woke up at something like 6 in the morning so I could catch the AirCoach and be at the airport by 8 for a 9:40 plane. How unpleasant. I made it, though, and assembled with Lynchy, Aisling, and Mel for our flight. It's only an hour and a half to Amsterdam, with a one-hour time difference. From the Schipol Airport, we caught a train into town and went off in search of our accommodations. We'd rented what turned out to be a small one-room apartment, through Dam City. The guy was very nice and gave us a map, on which he circled various places of interest, such as the sex shows and coffee shops he recommended. Oh, and where the museums and stuff like that are. He was an American, complete with quintessential Stoner Accent. Good stuff.

By that time, we were all famished, so we went around the corner to the Tibetan place he'd told us about. I'd had Tibetan before in Boston, but this was a bit different. My dish was SO spicy that I started sweating about halfway through. That said, it was all delicious, even allowing for how starving we all were. We were introduced also to an interesting nuance of Dutch dining: no free tap water. If you want water with your meal, you have to pay for bottled water. You'd think a people whose city is built on water would be a little more generous with the stuff.

One of my favorite things about Amsterdam and something you notice fairly immediately upon arrival is the extraordinary amount of bicycles it has. They are everywhere; if there's anything on the street that allows for a bike lock, there are at least two bikes chained to it. There's even a two-story structure outside the train station entirely devoted to bicycle parking. How freaking awesome is that? The only downside is the significantly increased risk of getting mowed down by a cyclist while moving about the streets. If someone dings their bell at you, you had damned well better get out of their way.

Once out of the Tibetan place, we safely navigated the streets to pick up the fifth member of our party, Alan. He's studying in France this year with Erasmus, but normally goes to UCD and is friends with the other three from the trip. He'd also gotten to Amsterdam a day before us, and by the time we met up with him he was already, um, steeped in the coffeehouse culture, shall we say? He was also with a friend of his whose sister lives in Amsterdam. We relaxed with them for a while and ambled around the city a bit until Alan's friend had to go. It was evening by this time, so we stopped at the grocery store to get milk for the tea Mel had brought and some bread and butter for toast, and the adjourned to the apartment, where the rest of them engaged in some lifestyle experimentation while I watched, laughed, and took pictures (which aren't actually very entertaining, and I wouldn't post them here anyway).

The next morning I was up fairly early (at least compared to everyone else) so that I could meet up with Ruth, a fellow Onas counselor who's been studying in Amsterdam all semester. (If you're interested, her blog is here.) We got falafel at one of these really cool stands called Maoz, where you get free unlimited salad bar — and it is the best salad bar I've ever had. After that delightful experience she took me to meet my friends, who'd wandered to the Waterloo markets. They apparently have some hippie roots, and it certainly shows by the wares they sell. I definitely would've like to spend some more time there, but the gang was clamoring to move on, so move on we did...to Rembrandt's house! It was a pretty cool thing to see; there was a free audio tour which explained a bit about what 17th-century Dutch living was like, how Rembrandt's studio was set up, and what techniques he used to do things like mix paint or print etchings. There was also a fairly large gallery of his etchings, some of which were absolutely amazing. Afterwards, we headed to a nice Italian restaurant for lunch, where I was served a pint of Heineken (a local brew!) in something awfully reminiscent of a glass stein...

We got a bit lost going back to the apartment afterwards. Generally, I expect bodies of water to serve as pretty functional navigation tools: not so, when every other street has an identical canal running down the middle. Eventually we found our way back and took a few minutes to regroup in the apartment before the evening out. Since our apartment was right in the Red Light District, we decided to have a look around (after all, if you're in Amsterdam, you might as well see some of what it's best known for). We, uh, got talked into seeing a show by a spectacularly good salesman...it was mercifully brief and extremely awkward. And that is all I'll say about that. The night got much better when we tracked down the hookah bar we'd been told about by the guy renting our place to us. It's called the Green Light District, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam. There are some smaller tables, but we chose a large elevated area with a short table and loads of cushions to relax on. I'd already experienced the magic that is hookah a couple of times at BU, but it had been a while. Man, I really, really enjoy them. There doesn't have to be anything "special" in them, even, though on this occasion it was certainly a pleasant addition. I also had a really nice Gouda sandwich, and our waitress was this really, really awesome dreadlocked girl from...we think maybe Australia? She even put on the Roots at one point. And Alan's friend came to hang with us some more, and taught me how to blow smoke rings! I'm still not that good (I need practice), but at least I can do it now! It was a really nice way to spend the evening.

The next morning we got up, collected our things, and embarked on a journey to this place I'd read about called the Pancake Bakery for food before our flight. It was a bit farther out than we'd been previously, in more of an area where actual Dutch people might live. After some complications involving a later opening time than expected and some forgotten clothes, we were treated to some of the most intense pancakes I've ever experienced. You could get pretty much anything put in a pancake; I opted for apples and raisins, but others chose things with cheese and meat and whatnot. There was a small wooden bucket with a spoon on the table full of stroop (traditional Dutch syrup), and between that and the powdered sugar on my pancake (which was the size of my plate) I felt like I'd had breakfast, lunch, and dessert in one sitting. It was excellent; another place I'd definitely recommend to any future visitors.

Unfortunately, the meal took a little longer than expected, and we had to book it to the train station, where we anxiously awaited the train, praying we wouldn't miss our 2:40 flight. The train seemed agonizingly slow, and the occasional comment of "we're definitely going to miss the flight" from the peanut gallery did not help. Once at the airport, we had to get special late check-in boarding passes, and we ran to the gate, getting there just in time to board the plane...and wait for at least another ten minutes before they sealed the door or anything. With the time difference, we arrived in Dublin a mere half hour after taking off.

And that's all the time I've got for now; the next entry should hopefully bring this blog up to date again.

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