Days 16-18: Amsterdam
Amsterdam was everything it was supposed to be and more, though I'm not sure if that's a compliment. I arrived in the early evening after a day long train ride from Chamonix through Paris. The mood in the air was upbeat, the canals were beautiful just pulling into the station, and I loved how the streets were overrun with bikes. After some difficulty finding my hotel thanks to Google Maps and the kind help of the owner of an African restaurant located at the address Google provided, I finally arrived at my hotel slightly past dark.
The town felt like VeniceDisneySigmaChi. Frat boys ran rampant through the canal filled streets with neon lighting the sidewalks and touristy shops and restaurants every ten feet. It was clearly a gorgeous city, at least come morning. I walked around the town till 1am and had a late dinner of French onion soup and frog legs (both fine, though this isn't a city known for good food) and closed the curtain on the 30 foot glowing ad screen outside my hotel and went to bed.
I spent most of the next day walking the city to the point my knee hurt again. I explored the pond-filled Vondelpark which was reminiscent of the wetter parts of Central Park and the tony fashion district near Museumplein. I tried their waffles and pancakes for breakfast (not too good) and tried one of their many shaorma places for lunch (much better). The contemporary Stedelijk Museum was entirely closed for renovation as was most of the Rijksmuseum. Though the Van Gogh Museum was open and mostly wonderful. Their exhibit juxtaposing the 20s Avante-Garde to that of the 60s was fascinating and I loved seeing so many Van Gogh pieces I'd never encountered. Though the dense crowds on that floor made it difficult to linger.
I checked into my first of three hostels that afternoon, the highly recommended Flying Pig. It was a bustling place filled with turn of the decade twenty-somethings shooting pool and smoking up. Despite the smell in the elevator, it was pretty quality hostel that clearly worked to provide a quality experience. The staff was really friendly, they had lots of little amenities, and rooms were only as dingy as could be necessary.
I took the guide created for us "Piggies" (as the hostel affectionately refers to its guests) and found a traditional Dutch restaurant hidden in a back alley that was much better than most things I'd tried here. The nightlife in Amsterdam is unsurprisingly very active filled with hundreds of bars and "coffee" shops. I found it's not the best city to visit alone unless the scene fits you so well you naturally fall right into it place. I enjoyed a few bars with selections of over 200 beers and the popular Dampkring made famous by Ocean's 12. But I felt more like a meta-tourist, observing the tourists going about their tourism.
I took some long exposure photographs of the city at night, though realized the canal to street width ratio was too wide to be very aesthetically pleasing with my 22-70 lens. Overall I'm much more excited about my Alps photos than those I've taken in Amsterdam or Belgium.
Renting a bike on my third day was the perfect decision. I saw so much more than the crowded Centrum and must have ridden for at least four hours. While a lot of this ride was directed toward finding good loose leaf tea somewhere in the city, I enjoyed failing to reach this goal. Outside of Centrum the city had a more relaxed vibe and it was nice to be around Dutch people who didn't work in the tourism industry. I tried another restaurant, though honestly can't remember anything about it, so it's probably not worth recommending and went to a local comedy show that while very funny, wasn't a particularly authentic Dutch experience.
Being in Amsterdam, it seemed the Red Light District was inevitable. Its crass sexuality oozes into even the smallest of tourist shops far from the district, where you'll still find busty spread eagle figurines and naughty postcards mixed amongst the tiny wooden shoes and IAMsterdam shirts. In the district, the famous scantily-clad prostitutes try to convert the curious into Johns and young kids try and sell you coke. Almost every store that isn't a sex den is a sex shop and it's all along old gorgeous canals and around grand Gothic churches. On Loel's recommendation I checked out the Sex Museum which was pretty interesting. And it turns out people have been having sex for quite a number of centuries. Who knew?
By the time I went to bed that night, I felt ready to move on to another city.