I think I was hungover from our Amsterdam trip for days after our departure. In a nutshell, Jake and I had an awesome time visiting my friends Courtney and Shaun Swensen in Amsterdam! Courtney, a good friend of mine from college, and her amazing husband Shaun moved to Holland 2.5 years ago so Courtney could accept a great work opportunity.
Who could pass that up? The stint was supposed to be just 2 years, but she was offered a permanent visa to stay, so who knows when they'll be back! And I can't blame them, Amsterdam is incredible! It is a beautiful city, especially at night when the canals sparkle under the streetlamps.
From the living room window of their 3rd floor apartment you can watch boats full of tourists putter down the tree-lined canal, hear the subtle ding of bicycle bells that say, as politely as possible, get the hell out of the way, and see people coming and going with arms full of cheese, wine, and flat whites (aka lattes). I loved looking out that window with their adorable Olde English bulldog Agent by my side, wishing he could chase the ducks lazily paddling in the water below.
Shaun gave us a quick rundown of the city and it's people. First warning- don’t buy cocaine because dealers have been selling heroine laced coke to unsuspecting tourists and the tourists then wind up dead. Actually, this warning didn't specifically come from Shaun, he just pointed out the Cal-Trans-like sign with the scrolling message. Don't worry, Jake and I will definitely not be buying any cocaine! Second warning- the Dutch cannot be inconvenienced and they are very blunt- pay attention to the bike lanes (which is basically anything that is not a street) and, as soon as you hear one bicyclist ding his little bell, you better move quick. And if you're still in the way, they'll be sure to let you know. Ok, no problem there either- stay out of the way and look alive when walking around! Let's do this!
Jake and I spent our first full day walking around, staying out of the bike lanes, and getting our bearings. After devouring a fresh stroopwwaffel (a very thin waffle-like cookie, cut in half and filled with perfectly melted caramel), we hopped on a canal tour- what better way to see the city of canals than in them? It was when we were boarding the boat that we got our first taste of Dutch "Don't Inconvenience Me" attitude. I was behind Jake in line as we boarded the boat. Jake walked on and, just as I was about to step on, a woman, who seemed tired of waiting for the slow line, stepped around me and onto the boat. Well, alright then! I didn't think much of it at the time, but as our visit continued, this inability to properly wait in a queue showed up several more times. We enjoyed our tour of the main canals, took in the 5 different kinds of gables on the facades of the canal houses, each complete with furniture hooks to hoist furniture up and down too move it in and our through the window. Moving in San Francisco was tough; moving in Amsterdam must be awful!
We stepped back onto dry land and started our 2 hour wait in line to visit the Anne Frank House. It was certainly worth the wait. To see the small living quarters where Anne, her family, and 4 more friends lived for 2 full years before they were found by the Nazis was just…something else. I left the house feeling many different things- sadness and respect for what happened there, and confusion for what I just saw. While walking up and down the steep stairs, going through the movable bookcase, seeing the posters of movie stars that Anne Frank posted on her bedroom walls in order to brighten up her surroundings, I found that I had to keep reminding myself that I was, indeed, standing in the actual house, that I wasn't in a museum or a replica. I was standing where they were taken forcefully from their home. And here I am, with hundreds of other people, walking through like cattle in a herd, moving quickly because the people behind me were pushing to go forward and move faster. The giant group funneling through and the speed at which everyone was moving , I think, didn’t allow one to fully appreciate the space, to fully respect the surroundings and take it all in. I would have preferred to have a smaller group wander the house in a slower fashion so you could really feel the gravity of the place. But then again, our 2 hour wait would have turned into 8 hours, or even pre-purchased tickets online with a reservation that would require months of planning ahead (like going to Alcatraz). So yes, I felt the seriousness of the place, but I also felt confused about my feelings there. We walked back to the apartment, discussing our visit to the Ann Frank House.
I'll say it now and I'll probably say it again, Shaun is a great cook!! Courtney and Shaun figured that, since we've been on the road for a little while now, we were probably missing Mexican food. I think they read my mind! So Shaun whipped up the best guacamole I've ever had and perfect chicken enchiladas! YUM! We spent the late hours of the evening touring Courtney's incredible office and enjoying beers at the oldest bar in Amsterdam with some of their hilarious friends. Her office culture was similar to Triage's - young, energetic, loud, and loves to drink.
The next morning Jake and I made the journey out to Keukenhof, the 2nd largest garden in Europe, to see the tulips! Little did I know just how big this place was! We spent most of the day taking pictures of pretty flowers and sneakily making fun of ridiculous tourist. My favorite game to play was "Let's see how many people will take pictures behind Jake"- anytime Jake used the tripod and looked very professional, groups of people would stop behind him, try to see what he was taking pictures of, and pull out their own cameras, cell phones, and ipads (hahahaha) and try to capture the same image. Of course we would play with people and pretend to take pictures in obscure places, of nothing in particular, with me pointing to nothing in the sky or in a tree…it was great fun! On our way to Keukenhof is when I had my 2nd run-in with the "Don't Incovenience Me" Dutch-ness - getting there required taking a couple different buses.
As we boarded the first bus, Jake and I were cut off by a couple. Ok fine, there wasn't really a formal line, rather just a cluster of people getting on the bus, so we'll let that one go. Then, as we boarded the shuttle that took us from the airport to the garden, it happened again - Jake boarded the very crowded bus, and the girl jumped in front of me to board behind him, leaving her boyfriend behind me. There were 2 seats in the last row near the window, so Jake took one and gestured to me to indicate that he was saving it for me. She did not care and sat right down in my seat, again leaving her boyfriend behind me, standing. I found a seat in the row just in front of them and said "Don't worry, I'll just sit here." Yes, my tone was a bit snarky. But it gets better- the back row was like a bench and people could squish if needed. The boyfriend walked up and looked at the women who were sitting comfortably next to his girlfriend and said, more snarkily than I did, "Well I was going to sit next to my girlfriend but I guess I won't," and he started to walk to the front. The other ladies quickly made room for him and he squeezed in next to his girlfriend, next to my husband. After enjoying the day, we had to deal with an even MORE packed bus ride home. We waited in the very long line for the shuttles and had to stand as broadly as possible to keep people from sneaking up around us! A different woman tried to cut us in line to get on the bus, but this time we weren't having it! We stepped back in front of her and reclaimed our spot. Of course, she then also took the same city bus back to our stop, and she tried to cut us 2 more times when we boarded and got off. I don't understand it - why do people want to cut in front of us? Do we look weak? Do we look like we don't belong? We'll have to work on this over the next 9 months!
The rest of our Amsterdam adventure was spent exploring the town with Courtney, tasting the beers at Brouwerij 't IJ, the windmill brewery, and eating a ton of Dutch cheese. It's confirmed - I still love cheese. One of my favorite experiences on our visit there was dinner at Blauw where we enjoyed an Indonesian Rice Table! This was something I wanted to do since watching Rick Steves devour all 20 dishes during his Amsterdam episode. The meal is served family style with rice (duh), and 20 different small dishes for you to eat in whatever order you want, on top of rice or plain. We stuffed ourselves on things like curried fish, spicy pork, tofu, fried bananas, cucumber salad, and beef skewers. It was SO good!
And, of course, no visit to Amsterdam would be complete without a jaunt through the Red Light District.
Oh the Red Light District- what a STRANGE place. Since prostitution is legal there, women in the industry do not need pimps and can basically run their own "business". Part of me says, good for them if that's really what they want to do- they can do it without the violence and danger that comes with it everywhere else. But the bigger part of me is still just saddened by it- I cannot imagine a life in which that would be my big business idea, that I would have to support myself by selling my body. And then Shaun brought reality back to me- most of these girls do actually still have pimps- many of them are from Eastern European countries and are promised a better life in Amsterdam. When they arrive, the men that brought them take their passports away and force them to work for them. they have nowhere to go and nothing else to do. Courtney pointed out a few of them to me- the men in all black leaning against the trees that line that line the canal, carefully watching the men that approach the windows.. It was all just…creeepy and weird and sad. It was time for a beer.
We spent our last night enjoying a few more beers with our amazing hosts and their friends. Before we knew it, it was 3:30am, and we were still wide awake! Shaun said, "There's a magical time vortex here, it happens all the time." I can see what he means- I could have stayed up all night! But our travels the next day would be much more difficult if we didn’t get at least a few hours of sleep, so we headed home, and took one last look out the 3rd story living room window, taking in the lights that line the canal. I scratched Agent on the head and we drifted off to sleep.