Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Spontaneous Trip To Amsterdam

So for the last couple of weeks this post has maintained it's status as "in production" when really it has just been an empty page on my desktop. A blank canvas as to which I was waiting for artistic brilliance to spark my imagination...or motivation rather. This is just a pretentious way of saying that I was a lazy shit. Now that we have established my slacker status, on to the important stuff: AMSTERDAM!

I need to warn you in advance that my opinions are clearly biased to my trip specifically and should by no means stifle your future plans to visit Amsterdam. The fact of the matter was that I was there TOO LONG.

So here is what happened...

I had been in Edinburgh for only a few weeks and was already getting restless. It had been my plan to go to Oktoberfest at the end of September but unfortunately plans fell through (as they usually do) and I never got the chance. I was in amidst a self-pity party when a mate of mine Dustin, whom I met at La Tomatina, invited me to join him in Amsterdam for a few days. Since I was in desperate need of a new adventure, I jumped at the chance.

Next thing I knew it I was purchasing my tickets online and two days later I was enroute to the Netherlands!

Now everything and anything that I have heard about Amsterdam prior to arriving came from Hollywood movies (Euro Trip to be specific). All this knowledge led me to believe that Amsterdam had two things: the infamous red light district and lots and lots of 'coffee shops'. (These are ...well coffee shops...that don't just serve coffee, but also marijuana and it is completely legal, both to sell and to smoke.)

To be fair, those stereotypes were pretty accurate. Amsterdam did have both those things, but as soon I stepped foot out of the train station, I saw that it was so much more.

Upon first sight I had one thought: It was beautiful!

...okay I lied, I had two thoughts...I was also wondering where the nearest bathroom was because I wasn't smart enough to go in the airport. But that aside, it was absolutely gorgeous! The architecture was fabulous, the canals were...well there were a lot of them, and the atmosphere was bustling with activity. Besides the weather, which was unfortunately all too gloomy, I was in love.

After we checked in and locked up our stuff at the hostel, we went out for a nice meal and then on to the pub for an iced cold pint.

The next day was pure and utter bliss. We woke up early, rented a couple of bikes from the shop (Yellow Bike Rentals...if you go to Amsterdam rent them as they are apparently the best) and made our way around the city. Amsterdam is truly the city of bikes. Everyone and anyone rides a bike, and there is not one fat person in sight because of it! Well unless they are a tourist...

The bike racks are incredibly RIDICULOUS.

I have no idea how people actually find their bikes in that mess as it looks impossible. You think that finding a parking spot in Toronto is bad, try finding a place to lock your bike in Amsterdam! Every tree, bridge and metal post is occupied with not just one, but two or three bikes.

Still, biking is honestly the best way you can see the city. If you get a chance to visit Amsterdam, I strongly recommend renting a bike. You will not regret it!

It was a bit confusing at the start as the rules to biking are quite similar to driving. And as I can't drive...well you can imagine how much of a dumbass I was on a bike. Here I thought I was in my element, when really I caused a 6 bike pile-up behind me as I decided that cutting through the road was a good idea. Yes I admit, I was that person. Doesn't exactly help the stereotype of 'women suck at driving' however I completely blame this on my pure and utter stupidity as opposed to the fact that I am a woman.

After a bit of practice and a rude awakening that involved me being shouted expletives at in various languages (you don't need to understand the language to know when someone is swearing at you) and almost falling off my bike into incoming traffic, I am happy to say that I started to get the hang of it.

Like driving, there are two directions of traffic and you need to follow the same direction as the other bikers, not decide halfway that you want to turn around. Believe me, you do not want to make that mistake. Also, those useless hand gestures and bike 'etiquette' that we were taught as children (and easily forgot) are not that useless, but rather required in Amsterdam. Bike helmets though, still make you look like an idiot. Safe maybe...but an idiot all the same.

We biked all the way to the Rijkmuseum (which turned out to be a lot more difficult that I thought it would be as the signs were truly misleading) and since I was the only one with a keen interest in the museum, the both of us split up for a couple of hours. Not after having this frustrating debate of what this sculpture is:

It is CLEARLY a mermaid, but Dustin said it doesn't look like one at all. He is also an idiot :)

Back to the Museum...

There are four levels to the museum and although I had the intention of seeing one particular piece of art (Rembrandt's The Night Watch) I took my time on each level. The artwork was fabulous and I could just spend hours upon hours looking at the brush strokes and detail of each piece. What keeps me captivated in most of the pieces however, is not the main subjects, but the tiny, insignificant details that the artist puts in the background.

For example, tiny characters in the background that are having a conversation. They always seem to fascinate me. What are they talking about? What is their purpose? What is their story?

Other times the artist hides themselves in the piece and you can tell when they make one subject break the fourth wall in a scene and stare directly at the viewer. I love catching those hidden details.

Some people can't stand museums, and I can relate to them as I have visited the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) way too many times. They are often boring and long-winded trips that people dread, but when it involves paintings, I am utterly captivated. Seeing a painting in full is such a different experience than seeing it online or in an history/art book. Paintings can evoke such strong emotions. It is a difficult thing to explain, and you truly need to see it to understand.

(above) Rembrandt's The Nights Watch
At last I reach the Night Watch Room, where many of Rembrandt's works are displayed. But there is only one painting that truly catches my eye, the famous Night's Watch. It isn't the scale of the painting (which is fairly large) or even the painting itself that interests me, it's the meaning hidden behind it.

In this room there are many people taking pictures of the art and chatting away absent-mindedly while two guards stand on either end of a bright red rope that separates the painting from the public. The funny thing is that not many people really know anything about the painting. Sure they know the artist's name, background, year, and possibly even the reason of creation, etc...but even the guards that watch the painting, often overnight, know nothing about it's true purpose.

The reason why the guards catch my eye is because they are the true epitome of the painting. They watch and protect the painting but never really look at it. It is a lot like life. We walk around lifeless every day, with glazed eyes, never truly looking at all the beauty that the world holds. Often we catch a glimpse of it now and then, but we are so caught up in our own lives that we fail to see the beauty that surrounds us every day. It is one of my favourite hidden metaphor's in a painting and that is why I really wanted to see it in person. Not just to admire the artist's work, but watch how people react to it.

Sorry if that got a little too artsy and lost you on the way, I get kind of carried away when a piece of art inspires me :P

After I had left the museum we met back up and made our way back to the bike place to return the rentals. However...Dustin got us lost -__- He assured me throughout the journey that he knew where he was going, which relieved me as all the canals looked the same to me and the street names were totally confusing...but I had an inkling that he was as oblivious as I was.

For the next twenty minutes I kept inquiring if he actually knew the route, but it wasn't until we were CLEARLY in the wrong place when he admitted defeat. We asked a passerby the way back to the hostel and he let us know that we were going in the absolute WRONG direction. He said it takes twenty minutes by bus to return to the main city and we only had a half an hour to return the bikes before the shop closed. So we had to bike all the way back, but sure enough we made it back in one piece and still had enough time to return the bikes without a fee. The upside of the situation was that we officially saw the city of Amsterdam in it's entirety! The downside was that my butt was very sore the next day. It hurt to sit.

After we got dressed up and went out for a cheeky pint...and a couple more. We tried a space muffin...well I had like two bites and it was so I don't think that really counts as I spit it out later. We also went to a local liquor store and bought genuine absinthe (71% and the famous neon green colour) and were told to mix it with water and sugar. It tastes a lot like Sambuca but was much smoother.

Overall it was a perfect day, and if I had left to go home the very next day I would have had a lasting and memorable opinion of Amsterdam. However we were there for 3 more days...and there is only so much you can do in Amsterdam. In all honesty, there isn't very much to see.

This is where the trip went downhill. I'm not going to get into it, as I will bore myself and surely you but I will give you a piece of advice:

Don't stay for more than two days TOPS. You will get bored and it will suck.

I also got REALLY intoxicated on the last night and was hungover for my plane ride home. So that wasn't very good either.

I had all intentions of having just one or two pints, but you know how those things go... 8 pints later, we were only halfway into a riveting game of Century Club (Centurion)...and things got fuzzy...BUT I made it back to the hostel and was still able to catch my flight the next morning even though my phone died and I had no alarm clock. So that was good at least!


Oh! And since I am a sucker for making lists, I had compiled a list of all the things I wanted to see and do in Amsterdam while I was there based off of what I saw in movies, read in books and discovered in blogs. Here is the official list...

The List:
[X] Visit the Rijkmuseum
[X] See Rembrandt's The Nights Watch
[X] Rent Bikes and cycle around the city
[...] Try a weed brownie (sorry be fair it was a space muffin and I spit it out so it didn't really count. Yeah, I am such badass...)
[X] Try Absinthe
[X] Eat Stroopwafels (These are an amazing dessert that consists of soft waffle wafers with gooey sweet caramel in the middle. I bought 3 tins before I left...they were gone within 2 days)


Even though my trip wasn't as good as I had hoped, I am still glad that I went. If anything it was an excellent learning experience for me and I now know to not stay in certain places for too long if I know that there won't be much to see and do. The thing about travelling is that it is unexpected. You never know what's going to happen and whether you are going to have a good time. You just need to take the chance and see what happens!

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