I Amsterdam (and a few other things)

Okay guys, this is going to be a super long post: I’ve got over a week of stuff to go over plus a crazy weekend excursion so please bear with me.

Last Sunday morning, our API group held a potluck brunch at Will and Max’s apartment. I was planning on making some nice, southern-style cheese grits, but when I went to the grocery store, I was disappointed to find that they did not have any grits or its substitutes (dried polenta apparently works as a good one). So instead I copped out and brought nutella and baguettes. The brunch itself was full of homemade french toast, cinnamon rolls, blueberry coffee cake with lemon frosting, brie and cranberry dip with crackers (a personal favorite), donuts, a fruit platter, apple pancakes, bacon and eggs, and Baileys with coffee. Needless to say, I ate extremely well. Afterwards, I went home and drifted into a nice food-coma induced nap, only to wake up in time for my dinner of Ramen noodles. Katie’s friend Michelle was in town, so we all were hanging out in our living room when, all of a sudden, we heard this bus drive through our street playing really loud ice-cream-truck-style music. All three of us looked at each other and said, “Can this be?? An ice cream truck in our apartment complex?” So we ran to the window, waved the truck down, got some cash, and met the ice cream truck driver. He only had vanilla soft serve, so I got a bowl of it and ate it happily. Our housemate Orla came out as well, and one of us asked her if this was a normal occurrence in Ireland. “No, this never happens!” she replied excitedly, so we were all convinced that this experience could not have been real. The magic was gone, however, when our other housemate Amy said that the truck was actually a cover for a drug dealer. No wonder he only had one flavor of ice cream….

Katie, Michelle, and I decided not to let that youth-crushing and disillusioning experience get our spirits down, so we went over to our friends Amanda and Trace’s apartment for a superbowl party at 11. This was another opportunity for people to bring copious amounts of food, and this time there was an array of buffalo chicken dip, guacamole, queso, oreo balls, brownies, and some crazy delicious dessert concoction that Jessica made. So I ate myself into a food coma once more. I only stayed late enough to watch Beyonce and Destiny’s Child conquer the world at the half time show (by then it was about 1:30 am) then went home to sleep.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I went back to the grind of school. I had a presentation to do in my Aristocratic Women in the Medieval Era class, so I got very little sleep Monday night (being the master procrastinator that I am), but it went very well, and my professor was impressed.

Wednesday night, Alysse, Alexis, Evita, Kyle, and I went downtown for an attempt to have Thai food for dinner (we were all missing some pad thai… Irish cuisine is a bit homogenous). However, the restaurant was closed, so we went for the next best thing: fish and chips! Since I’m not the biggest fan of fish, I opted for chicken instead, and the meal was quite delicious. I also ordered some wine and was a bit giggly after dinner when the group decided to go to the Quays for a drink of Baileys and coffee. After hanging out there for a little while, we went back to Gort where I pitifully attempted to get some reading done at Alexis and Evita’s apartment. Katie came over later to celebrate her turning 21 at midnight, so we played some card games and entertained her for a bit since nobody in our group was really going out. It was a very fun and chill night; a great alternative to the pubs.

Thursday night, Kay held a birthday party at her apartment for her boyfriend, Max, and since it was also Katie’s 21st, we had a joint celebration. Again, there was a bunch of food available (pizza, calzones, cake, cookies, chips) so I got a free dinner! A bunch of people were going out after, but since I was going to Amsterdam the next morning, I had to leave the party early to go back home and pack.

I had to wake up at 3 am on Friday to get ready for our bus to Dublin at 3:45. Ryan, Trace, and I grabbed a cab to the bus station and slept most of the way to Dublin. We then flew from Dublin to Maastricht in the Netherlands, had to take a bus from the airport to the train station, then hopped on the train to Amsterdam. We then found ourselves in the center of Amsterdam with people speaking at least 5 different languages around us; all of the signs were written in Dutch; and people of all nationalities, races, and cultures were milling about in this giant building. The only thing I could think was, Well I’m sure as hell not in Ireland anymore. Ryan, Trace, and I navigated our way out of the station and looked for a good place to grab lunch. We ended up at an Italian place and got some pizza then took a walk around the city center. Right across from the restaurant was a “smart shop” that had a mannequin dressed up in full rave attire (neon wig, tutu, feather boa, etc.) in the window. We walked in, and the first thing that greeted us in the store was a glass display of all of the strains of weed for sale in the shop. Other things for sale were two- and three-foot bongs, grinders, pieces and bubblers, magic mushrooms, and other forms of stoner paraphernalia (keychains, sweatshirts, rasta beanies, etc., all stereotypically geared for tourists looking to hit up what Amsterdam is famous for). A little bit overwhelmed, we stepped out of the store and were soon hit with that pungent smell of pot all through the street. We looked up and down it and found a number of those same tourist shops that we had just left, as well as a few coffee shops. The three of us looked at each other and kind of raised our eyebrows. We hadn’t been in the city for an hour, and we already were getting a feel for how ridiculous the sights and smells were going to be for the weekend.

Since we still had all of our bags with us, we decided to walk towards our hotel and see the city for what it was. We kept a slow pace and took a lot of pictures of the sun setting over the canals as well as the awesome architecture of the row houses that lined them. I hadn’t realized how canal-centered the city was; it really is the Venice of northern Europe. Houseboats lined both sides of the canals, and a bunch of people were riding bikes around as well.

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We walked around for about an hour and had a bit of trouble finding the bed and breakfast (it was almost impossible to find) but we finally did make it and checked in. We had our own little one bedroom apartment which was recently renovated (with heated tiles and a towel heater in the bathroom AND a dishwasher – a huge step up from our Irish apartments), so Trace and I took the double bed in the bedroom and Ryan had the little single bed in the main living area. After relaxing a bit, we went to a nearby grocery store to cook some dinner and grab some wine and beer. Ryan made us burgers and we started to pregame before going out to meet Trace’s friend who is studying abroad in London and was also in town for the weekend.

We took a cab to Trace’s friend’s hotel called the Winston (right next to the red light district) and hung out there for a while at the hotel bar on the first floor. After that, Trace’s friend insisted on showing us around the red light district to see what all of the fuss was about. Let me tell you it was one of the strangest experiences of my life, walking through the streets and making eye contact with women dressed in lingerie and posing in windows. I definitely felt uncomfortable, to say the least. We emerged from the red-lit streets to go to another couple of bars, but I got very tired early (considering I’d been up since 3 am) so we all went home before 1.

The next morning, we got up early to get a good start on the day. We cooked some breakfast at home then we out to rent some bikes. At first, I was down to go bike riding (it is Amsterdam after all, and there are more bikes than people in the city), but then I realized (and, pardon my French): HOLY SHIT, I haven’t ridden a bike in 10 years. You know that saying, “Oh, it’s like riding a bike, you’ll never forget how.” Yeah, well. I had forgotten how. To say the least, being thrown back into riding a bike after 10 years of inactivity in a metropolitan area where people have been riding bikes since infancy is not an ideal situation. I was close to tears multiple times when I almost swerved into cars and when it started snowing (imagine flakes of snow in your eyes when you are trying to navigate your way through an unfamiliar city ON A BIKE). At least two or three times, I tried convincing Trace and Ryan to let me tie up my bike, let them go ahead, and walk by myself to meet up with them. But that didn’t work so I was forced to face my fears. Let me just say that after this weekend I never want to ride a god damned bike ever again. Sorry Amsterdam, but I trust my feet way more than narrow bike wheels.

Our first stop for the day was the Heineken museum. It was way more than a museum though; it was a full experience. We were taken through what was basically an amusement park ride that illustrated the beer-making process, and went through rooms that were reminiscent of raves and crazy parties with lazer neon lights and blacklights. At the end of the tour we got our own free tastes of beer and were coached on how to drink beer the right way. Apparently I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time – you’re supposed to leave some foam at the top and take gulps of it as opposed to sips (although, of course for the sake of this blog I neither admit to nor condone the consumption of alcohol before the legal age in your country of residence). But whatever, I’m still not a big beer fan. After the Heineken tour, we went to this famous pancake house for lunch, where I ordered pancakes with bacon, cheese, and tomato on top, mixed with some syrup for an awesome sweet/savory mix. The pancakes were huge (like at least a foot across in diameter) but soo delicious. After that, we made our way to the Anne Frank house, but the line was really long, so we decided to buy some time by going on a canal tour which gave us more gorgeous views of the city. However, by the time we made it back to the Anne Frank house, the line was even longer. Trace and Ryan were fine with waiting around in the snow, but I was not going to have it so I made my way over to a little pub/cafe for a glass of wine. I was joined by a cat named Timba, who sat next to me and let me pet him for a little while. I talked to the bartender about it, and he said it was a good sign, since Timba is very choosy about who he hangs out with in the cafe. So I felt pretty special. I waited around for about an hour or so before Trace and Ryan joined me. We then journeyed back to our bed and breakfast (on our bikes, IN THE DARK), and on the way, Ryan ran into a group of friends he knew from UMass who were headed back to their hotel as well, so we all decided to meet up later that night.

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Back at the hotel, I fixed some pasta for everyone, and we pregamed a little before meeting up with Ryan’s friends. They had yet to see the red light district so we brought them to that area of the city and toured them through. We made it to a less savory section of the district (who thought it was possible??) and were chased down the street by a Hispanic prostitute who yelled at one of Ryan’s friends for having her camera out and taking pictures. I was pretty sure the hooker was going to sic some sort of big scary mob friends on us and shank us in the streets, but thank god we survived. We then ran into more of Ryan’s UMass friends outside of a donut shop, so we decided to try and join forces (mind you that makes a group of about 15 people), but the group was just too big to make a good decision on which bars to go to, so eventually, Ryan, Trace, and I split and went to a sports bar, where an American basketball game was going on on one of the big flatscreens, much to Ryan’s delight. We made it home eventually and overslept a bit the next day, but we successfully made it back to the homeland without any trouble. Although my jar of Nutella was confiscated at the airport.

As a whole, Amsterdam was a ridiculous city. I was surprised at how up front the people are about marijuana…it’s legal to light up a joint right there on the street (as long as no children are around), but illegal to have an open drink on the street. I expected the coffee shops to be a little more surreptitious, but they’re all over the main streets with obvious names (Cheech and Chong’s, for example) and giant pot leaves just painted on their windows. I’m definitely glad I left what’s become my little Irish home to go on an excursion,  but going to a place like Amsterdam definitely made me glad that I chose Galway to study. I would never be able to handle more than a week or so in Amsterdam with all of it’s bikes (curse them), pot culture, and prostitutes. Of course, these are the aspects of the city that attract tourists, but there are many other things to do in Amsterdam besides these. But Amsterdam is now simply known for its most sensationalist parts which are intriguing but also very empty. So, for those of you interested in visiting the city, by all means go and see those sights, but I encourage you to walk around (or bike, if that’s your cup of tea) and take in the city as a whole, take note of the normal people there, and absorb the culture outside of what the city is notorious for. It’s a really cool, beautiful, clean city with interesting history and people. The people I came into contact with seemed a little bit off-putting at first, but if you approach them to ask a question, they are very friendly and helpful. I would love to visit the city again just to get more of a feel for it outside of the normal tourist traps.

Anywho, that’s it for now! Sorry for the long post again, but it was an eventful week 🙂

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