Monday, February 17, 2014

Travel: Amsterdam for the Weekend

I'd put off doing this post because Amsterdam, while a beautiful, culturally rich city, is known for more hedonistic activities. When, in reality, that's not fair. Yes, there are amazing bars and clubs in the city, a thriving red light district and a certain legal plant, but Amsterdam is so much more than a destination for partying college kids. I've unsuccessfully explained this to my parents, so maybe this post will help.

Bikes, boats and canals.

If you stay in De Wallen, you'll probably be subjected to drunk teenagers yelling all night, and the red lights glowing into the early morning. If that's your cup of tea, by all means, enjoy yourself.

My group of about six decided to stay in a hostel near the Museumplein, and it was fantastic. A thriving area during the day, there were tons of shops, restaurants, and, of course, most of the city's famous museums such as the Van Gogh and the Rijksmuseum, as well as a large green area and the famous iamsterdam sign. It is, however, an easy walk from the canal ring and the rest of the city.

De Wallen.

We took the overnight Megabus from Paris to Amsterdam, landing just outside the city around 6AM Friday morning. We took the tram to Central Station - a lovely building - and then another tram through the city to our hostel. Even though the streets were deserted, we began to notice the beauty of the place. The canals, the complete lack of cars in favor of bikes, gorgeous architecture. After checking in and eating breakfast, we explored our neighborhood. We landed in the Leidseplein, an active square near the center of the city, where we ate breakfast and shopped around. The group split at this point, half to wait in the long lines outside the Anne Frank house, and the other half to walk into the center of the city. We didn't really know where we were going, but we wandered over bridges and through cobblestone streets. Everywhere we went seemed to be thriving and gorgeous.

Amazing architecture.

We ate again in the Rembrandtplein, another busy city square, and got coffee (real coffee, nothing else!) near Dam Square. By evening, we were in the center of the city, and ate at an Italian restaurant. Amsterdam is full of awesome food - nearly everything we tried was fresh and delicious. After dinner, everyone was suffering from sleep deprivation, but we forced ourselves to carry on. Since we weren't far from De Wallen, we walked over there and wandered the streets just as the sun was setting. The area was full of gimmicky gift shops, and red-lit windows with sex workers, but it was very interesting to see. We definitely felt safe - this sort of industry is regulated in Amsterdam, but left before too late. The sun setting over the river with the red glow from the windows was oddly beautiful.

It was around 10PM when we got back to the Museumplein, and we were completely exhausted, so we went to bed early in preparation for a full Saturday.

 After sleeping nearly twelve hours, we decided to explore the Museumplein. We ate waffles with Nutella and ice cream for breakfast from a cart we would return to multiple times. Then, we visited the Van Gogh museum. It was really astounding, showing his life through his paintings. After lunch in the museum cafe, we crossed the street to the House of Bols, and interactive museum chronicling the production and history of Bols gin. After lots of sniffing fragrances and watching videos, we got to bar, a room with wall to wall mirrors and stunningly handsome staff. With admission, you receive one specialty cocktail and two shots of flavored liquor. We each ordered a different drink, and they were all astoundingly good. My favorite was the Swizzle, a fruity concotion, but my friend ordered a spicy drink that completely confused our palates.
Colorful cocktails in the mirror room.

Sufficiently buzzed, we continued to the Heineken Experience. It was actually quite entertaining - like a World of Coke for beer - complete with a 4D movie, tasting room, and Clydesdale horses. Naturally, there was a bar at the end, and you could learn to pour a perfect Heineken or get two beers. After the tour and the bar, we took a boat from the outside of the canal ring to the center. After shopping for a while, we ate dinner at a fast food-esque place, and continued our night out. The bars and clubs were starting to get busy, and we hopped from venue to venue until almost 3 o'clock in the morning. Working our way from the center of the city out back to the Leidseplein, we ended our night at Burger King, like true Americans. Exhausted, we went to sleep to await our 11AM bus out of the city.

Aforementioned Nutella ice cream waffle delicacy.

I made sure to eat another Nutella ice cream waffle before we left, then slept the whole ride back to Paris.

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