Now, off to the ever so multifaceted somewhat bizarre city of Amsterdam. On one hand, it is quant and beautiful with its canals and charming buildings all lined up full of history and art. Naturally, the other aesthetic involves prostitutes and sex-shops, which I suppose has an interesting cultural contribution as well.
When we arrived, it was raining-which seems to be the theme of my last few trips. Although, it seemed oddly appropriate. Katherine, Margo, and I marveled in the rows of houses and shops and canals, all I can say is it is absolutely adorable. That is, until we made our way to our Hostel which was smack dab in the middle of the Red Light district. For whatever reason, I don’t find adorable to be the appropriate word for that. Bizarre even seems to fall short, but I will say it was extremely interesting, weird, funny, sad and basically any other adjective I can think of. Something I can’t really begin to understand, but I do see the justifications for legalization to an extent…but I’ll reserve that discussion for another time.
Katherine and I have actually had an interesting opportunity to get a little more incite on the Dutch people. We have two roommates, both our age, from the Netherlands. As they are, according to wikipedia, not only some of the tallest in the world, but also the happiest-we chose to pick their brains a bit and get a few tips. For one, despite the novelty of legalized marijuana and other such things for tourists alike (Amsterdam basically consisted of tourists, from what I saw), it doesn’t seem to have the same appeal for the Dutch. I actually just read an article that they are one of the or the European country with the lowest percentage of smokers, which I suppose is one of the main objectives of legalization. Neither of my roommates smoke, and I think it is safe to say they have never taken advantage of the legal prostitution either.
Despite the liberal label stamped on Holland, they obviously don’t all adhere to that. Actually, interestingly enough our roommates are relatively conservative in how they dress. They say they are shocked at how revealing a lot of American and Spanish girl’s clothes are when they go out.
One of the most striking differences we got to talking about is in regards to schooling. In all honesty I don’t actually understand how it works, but it is something like from a young age they are placed in certain levels based on a test and general ability and it kind of dictates what you can do for an occupation and what type of schooling you can ultimately do. The biggest feature that contrasts with academics of the United States is that you ultimately only try to pass. They were explaining to us that even if you do not pass, you have a few more opportunities to do so, so it is not a big deal. This may have something to do with the fact that their schooling costs significantly less than ours, but regardless, no wonder they are the happiest people (or the 3rd). There is little competitiveness and they did not even know the english world “prestige”. It is actually kind of refreshing, and Katherine and I are rather jealous. They thought it pretty humorous I complained about getting a B in something. We are all, after all, just products of our culture.
Now that we have all been filled in on some fun facts, I did actually do things in Amsterdam other than frequent coffee shops and the red light district.
The first day, we wandered through the city, which is quite manageable to navigate…and that is coming from me. The most difficult aspect was knowing where to stand as to not get mauled by bikers-another thing that makes it a wonderful city. Although, we didn’t get the opportunity to ride any bikes it just added to the appeal.
Our biggest priority was to see the Anne Frank House, and the wait in the cold was well worth it. After having learned about it for so many years it was kind of surreal to actually see it in person. When they were betrayed, all of the furniture was removed, and upon returning and granting permission to turn it into a museum Otto Frank wanted it to remain that way, but through out there are portions of Anne’s diary and explanations of the story and video interviews of Miep Geis. No matter how many times you hear the story, it is always so devastating, and I think for anyone visiting Amsterdam, it is really important to see this…
What was especially struck was learning about the efforts of Otto Frank. After having lost his entire family, I was in awe by how much he accomplished. Not only in publishing his daughters diary and defending it through the years, but also in his support for the thousands of people that wrote to him and his work in promoting culture understanding. I just don’t know if I could ever have the heart or endurance after having experience everything he has. …his character is so amazing. I thought this was a really interesting story/ interview: http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?PID=802&LID=2
The next day, we went to the Van Gogh Museum. The art in itself is cool to see, but my favorite part was seeing how it evolved with his state of mind, as there are so many speculations on his mental healthy. It is also really interesting to see how varied his pieces are. I know so little about art, so I lack any intellectual commentary, but I think I liked his landscapes the most..I guess he really enjoyed painting workers in fields and such. I would have liked to see Starry Night, as that is one of the few that I am really familiar with, but that is apparently in New York. Regardless, definitely an interesting museum to see, and it is huge-like 4 stories, he was pretty busy throughout his life time I suppose.
Our final little cultural destination (with maybe not quite the same educational value as the other two) was the Heineken Factory. As I don’t particularly like beer, and this is the only type I even remotely like, I was kind of excited. It wasn’t quite as intense as the Guinness Factory in Dublin but still pretty cool. Highlights involved Dutch music videos we were able to make as well as a digital experience of being brewed-this involved being splashed by water and moving stairs, and of course Heineken beer. We enjoyed our status of being girls, and received quite a few glasses, so we enjoyed ourselves.
Overall, it was a really good trip. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy the touristy aspect of Amsterdam, it had so many redeeming qualities that made up for it. I think thus far, my favorite parts of Europe have been in Northern Europe. This also may be contributed by the fact that my blonde hair doesn’t glaringly stand out, but regardless it made me really want to see the rest of Holland and its neighboring countries. It appears I have much more traveling ahead of me, guess I should start saving now.