A wintry Friday evening not too long ago, I took a short flight to Amsterdam for a very short weekend trip.
As in, I was going to be in Amsterdam for a little more than 24 hours.
You may ask why I decided to go for such a short time. Quite simply poor planning on my part- I totally forgot I had made a commitment to go Stiffkey on Sunday when booked my flight to Amsterdam. So, I changed my return to earlier on Sunday (as in, 5am on Sunday) so I could enjoy one full day in the city.
It was no where near enough time.
When we landed, MB and I were taken aback by how gorgeous (if not a bit cold and windy) Amsterdam is. The canals, the beautiful, big brick row houses, the cute cafes and bars, the many shops dedicated to cheese…basically, heaven on earth.
We ate a nice dinner at Rijks, the restaurant that is part of the Rijksmuseum (would highly recommend) and had a nice early night at the Hoxton, a trendy, trendy hotel in the Nine Streets, apparently the place to be in the city. (Don’t take my word for it- I was only there for 24 hours!)
We woke bright and early on a blustery, rainy Saturday morning so we could see as many sights as possible in my short time in the city. We were shocked to see the line at the Anne Frank House so long at 9am. I would still say, though, as wet and cold as it was waiting for 45 minutes, it was worth it. Perhaps a bit of a depressing way to start the day, but so important. Although it was crammed with people going through each of the rooms, it really brought home how strong such a young girl was in the face of so much hate and adversity.
After the museum, we walked around town as a pick-me-up. It had stopped raining and, although overcast, the city had a nice sparkle to it. Perhaps it was just the slick streets.
I have a weird habit of trying to peek in to windows and through doorways for cheeky looks in to people’s houses. I’m always fascinated by how other people live. Because it was so dark and rainy, it was the perfect day to do a little peeping. I was stunned by how nice people’s homes look in Amsterdam- and by how many people of all sorts seem to be living right downtown. (In London, only the extremely wealthy can really afford to live in the center of town, its extortionate.) The houses seem to have high ceilings, loads of colors and look really nicely appointed. Again, something new and different from London, unless you’re a millionaire. We couldn’t help but lament that we’d chosen the wrong European city to live in.
This thought was reinforced when I tried my first Dutch pancake, a savory cheese and onion concoction that I smothered with syrup.
MB went for the slightly sweeter option. You can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the American out of the girl!
After our snack, we headed back out to the street. You really can learn a lot about a city just by walking around, and I was determined to do as much of that as I could while I had a little daylight, as overcast as it was.
One of the most interesting things about Amsterdam, I found, was the preponderance of antique shops. I passed so many, and almost all of them had interesting artifacts from one of the wars on display. You forget, as an American, how much the war affected Europe.
Later in the day the weather cleared, and I started to feel even better about Amsterdam. Days may be short in the winter, but the city is so sweet it doesn’t seem to matter. Everywhere there were people on bikes, smiling and waving hello. Everyone I encountered was super friendly, and seemed very pleased to tolerate my attempts to try out my feeble Dutch.
No tour of Amsterdam would be complete without a quick tour of the Red Light District. Funnily enough, I was surprised to discover that the district is demarcated with literal red lights. You won’t miss it when you enter the district.
It was weird how uncomfortable I was walking through the area. The main areas didn’t have much salaciousness on display; a few sex shops and loads of chain restaurants, it differed very little from the Place Pigalle in Paris. But if you turned off to a side road, there were- I can only describe them as booths, I suppose- places where women would stand in front of floor to ceiling glass windows, on display. Behind them was a twin bed and a sink. Some had music on and were dancing, others posed provocatively, others just sat, staring out the window. There were a range of ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities. I even saw a few clients leaving various booths.
I couldn’t meet anyone’s eye in those alleys. Its not that I’m ashamed of sex, or people even buying it, if its consensual. Something just didn’t feel right about oogling women on display, though. In a way, I was more disturbed than I was when I left the Anne Frank House a few hours earlier.
Just outside of the Red Light District in the Oude Kerk, a huge cathedral with a massive organ. There was an interesting art exhibit on inside, in which the artist had removed all sources of man-made light, so only natural light through the windows and door could come through. The organ played mournfully in the background. It made for a haunting experience of the church, given the late afternoon hour.
By the time we left the church, it was dusk. The sky had cleared and the city was illuminated in an ethereal glow.
I definitely need to go back to Amsterdam for a longer trip, but this was certainly a good appetizer that only whet my appetite for more!