The Grand European adventure part 3: Amsterdam

Hi. Again. I sort of up and ran off to Maine for two months before I was done talking about Europe, and ignored the fact that I have a blog,  and kind of a lot of things happened in those two months- but come with me for a ride back in time to Amsterdam, and we’ll be caught up soon:

I’ve been on a lot of planes at this point in my life, but I will never get tired of taking pictures of The View From Above. The interesting thing is, it’s different in every place.

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Amsterdam may be right on the water, but our plane made a big loop around, so we came in over land.

 

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I am a child. It’s the little things.

We flew in at night, and began the next day with an exploration of the Rijksmuseum- which is large, intimidating, beautiful, and awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I would very probably go back to Amsterdam just to go there again.

There is a huge room full of model ships:

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Big model ships, but also tiny model ships. And So Many!

There is a huge room of Porcelain:

Some people are more excited about teacups than other people, and I get very excited about teacups...

Some people are more excited about teacups than other people, and I get very excited about teacups…

There’s even a huge room full of costumes and clothing from all over the world and all through history! There may have been note taking here…

Yes, let's put glass in between the fabric nerd and the historic clothes. Probably wise...

Yes, let’s put glass in between the fabric nerd and the historic clothes. Probably wise…

There were a lot of people crowded up in the paintings gallery, especially since a Rembrandt was involved. Art is awesome, but when you have to fight your way through a crowd of tourists to get close enough to something to really see it, it becomes less exciting. I’m the kind of person that likes to do that sort of examination and thinking in peace, but it was pretty cool to be in the same room as some of this stuff regardless.

Museum Face!

Museum Face!

The Rijksmuseum also has a very old, very functioning Library of Epicness. It’s the largest public art history research library in the Netherlands- and okay, it’s not that big of a country, but its rich in this kind of history and I was practically drooling at all those books.

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I want it. Can I have it in my house? Can it be my house?

We also visited the very famous and cool Van Gogh museum, where you are very strictly not allowed to take pictures or even in any capacity look funny at any of the paintings…his Sunflowers was there, but I would really like to have seen Starry Night in person, and that one wasn’t at this museum. Overall it was great to be able to see his progression as an artist and get to see in person some of the textural aspects of his later paintings that just can’t be captured with a camera.

Most of our time in Amsterdam was spent wandering about the city- it’s built and treated entirely different than the other places we’d been so far, and from anything I’ve ever seen, so I spent a lot of time being enthralled with the differences. We sat and people-watched for a while at Dam Square- a big open area in the central city that is surrounded by imposing buildings and the National Monument (WWII era).

Dam Square, national monument

Disappearing Monument Selfies!

Wandering not too far away from the astounding bustle of the central city, it’s suddenly a place that manages to be quaint and homey feeling while also feeling large and intimidating.

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Canals. Canals, and the fact that the roads are more bike-friendly than they are car-friendly. This is a city that knows what it wants.

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Old cities like this pack so much action into so little space, and I will never cease to be amazed by that.

Windmills!

Windmills!

Holland is apparently full of windmills, and you can go on a windmill bus tour, but there’s really only one easily accessible one if you’re not very mobile. This one is a 15 minute bus ride from the city center, and since I demanded that we see a windmill before we leave Holland, we went. Walked around it, played the selfie game, etc. They’re surprisingly large up close.

 

There was one thing I couldn’t figure out for a long time, and it’s something I had noticed in a few other places during our travels- all of the buildings have these odd beams protruding from or near the roofs- some of the beams have hooks on the ends. I thought about that as we were walking around, and couldn’t figure it out.

Look closely: What do all these buildings have in common?

Look closely: What do all these buildings have in common?

We spent a good portion of time people-watching in the red light district, which is home to a bit more than just what you’d expect. There are a lot of bars, restaurants, and shops of the sort, and I eventually witnessed something that solved the puzzle of the hooks and beams. It’s a hoisting mechanism! The buildings are so small and tall, and the stairs so impossibly narrow that the only way to get something large up to your second or third floor, like say, a piano, or if you’re in the Red Light District in the early evening- a full shipping pallet of Heineken- you attach a rope and a pulley to your hook, and  you pull that sucker up there.

This explains that thing about how pianos used to always fall on people in the ‘old days’… I wonder if anyone’s had a pallet of beer fall on them…

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The red lights come out after the sun goes down

Amsterdam’s affiliations with certain pleasures in life make it an interesting place, and an interesting destination. It’s wonderful to have a place that so readily displays so many Pride flags, and it’s obvious that the kinds of people who aren’t accepted there are the ones who have a problem with anyone else’s life choices. That said, it’s also a city run on tourism, and those tourists are pretty blatantly the drunken bachelor parties that have come for the sex, drugs, and booze. There are two competing factors here- one is acceptance, and one is exploitation. That’s why I have such conflicting feelings about Amsterdam. I’d like to give it more of a chance- to see the rest of Holland, perhaps, and to get away from the vulgarity of the tourists and tourist-oriented gift shops.

 

Let’s talk about Encounters with Pink Hair:

Here’s a lady who wanted a photo with me- She was there for a bachelorette party, although I’m not sure if she was the bride. She seemed lovely, and we had a little conversation- but she has a plastic penis stuck in her cleavage. Take from that what you will, I suppose.

Ladies in Pink!

Ladies in Pink!

This dude, on the other hand, was the groom in a bachelor party. I saw his pink wig on their table before they saw me, but he got incredibly excited and put it on again when his friend pointed me out.

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Ladies in Pink?

We took pictures while his friends snickered, and one of his cohorts took a selfie on my phone between photos of us:

IMG_2787These guys were profoundly Scottish, which I appreciated. The pink-haired fellow is wearing a nightgown and water wings- in case he drunkenly falls in to the canal. We watched a lot of inebriated gentlemen walk by wearing ladies’ dresses and inflatables.

Let’s talk about the other side of things for a moment:

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Stairs. This picture doesn’t capture the effect, really…

The first thing you need to know is that apparently, whoever built Amsterdam wasn’t thinking about stairs until the very last possible second.

We visited and breakfasted in a lovely little restaurant- the English translation of Pannenkoekenhau’s  is ‘Pancake House’- and that’s exactly what it is. The second story of this tiny building is a tiny restaurant, with three tables and a kitchen that was definitely smaller than the entire area of a Queen sized bed.

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Also, teapots, and we all know how I feel about those…

The place was beautiful, glorious, and perfect. The food was great, and the environment was better. There was a Pride flag flying outside the window (also window boxes! With flowers!)- and the place was run by a wonderful gay couple. One of them took orders and brought the food out, and the other was the Chef Of Amazing Netherlands Style Pancakes (somewhere between the thickness of a crepe and an American pancake. Similar to Swedish pancakes but bigger and sweeter). This is what I wanted- not drunken bachelor parties running around degrading freedom of sexuality- I wanted a gay couple working and enjoying the life they had made for themselves, and having the freedom to do that without harassment or fear. Amsterdam has the capacity to give that to people, and I wanted to see more of it.

So this is what I’m trying to say. Duality makes things interesting, and dissonance when played correctly makes you think about important issues in life, like gender and sexuality and whether or not we as a society should have a problem with boys wearing in dresses and people of any gender selling sex. Amsterdam has created for itself a place where those issues can be addressed, and it does it without putting too much strain on anyone- but there’s a right way and a wrong way to wear a dress, I suppose. Are you doing it because you have made the personal choice to do a thing that makes you happy, or are you making fun of people for being different?

I Amsterdam

I Amsterdam

I want to go back. I want to go back and stay longer and in a different area where I can choose to continue people-watching in the Red Light District and try to understand what the tourists think is going to happen to them when they go there, but I also want to see more of the safe, accepting environment that the rest of the place seems to be.

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