Amsterdam and Volendam, The Netherlands

Thursday, September 8th, 2011:

Amsterdam!

What do I think about when I think of Amsterdam?  Red Light District and pot.  Haha…

We start our day off with a buffet breakfast, not as fantastic as the one in London, but still good.  I keep up my breakfast tea drinking, it’s a minimal hit of caffeine but I’m not a coffee drinker so it’ll have to do.  One funny story about the dinner the night before was that one of our tour members asked the waiter for Iced Tea.  He was stumped…he said he could bring out hot brewed tea and a cup of ice.  πŸ™‚ Hehehe…too cute.  She never asked for iced tea again because it seemed to be too complicated.

So the weather was dreary and absolutely wet.  I wanted some sunshine PLUS my nose was seriously clogged and I was afraid I had caught a cold.  I told myself it was allergies but it didn’t make the bus ride comfortable or sleeping for that matter.  We headed out to the city, trying to bypass morning traffic and it was then Elzo, our guide talked about the bikes in Amsterdam.  Sure enough, in the rain, we saw people biking to work or school.  This is when we find out that Elzo is from Amsterdam!  One mystery solved.  We also know he is married and has two daughters.

The bicyclists are so talented that they can bike and carry an umbrella in one hand.  We also caught a few texting and biking.  Dangerous!  Elzo told us in Amsterdam, the bicycles have the right of way.  So if you hit them with a car, it’s your fault.  Even when you are walking and come to a bike lane, you always have to look both ways because you must get out of their way, they don’t stop for you.  I noticed there weren’t just bike lanes, but stop lights for the bikes as well.  But next to the bike stop lights, you have the pedestrian lights.  Lots of lights and lanes and to top it off, in the city you have the trams on the road as well!  So I had to shut my eyes quite a bit when Eddy had to navigate our bus through Amsterdam, it was freaking me out.  We also picked up a local guide named Adam, who told us more about Amsterdam as we wound through the streets.

Bikes are everywhere!

And small cars like this

Another thing you find in Amsterdam is water up above from the sky and down below in the canals.  πŸ˜›  This morning we are scheduled for a canal cruise and it was a good thing the boat was covered because it rained throughout the cruise.

Sex in Amsterdam is an industry like anything else.

Adam made some interesting jokes about bikes in Amsterdam, he says if your bike goes missing, you can find it at the bottom of the canal!  Which they really do scour once in awhile.  Or if it gets stolen you can go to the flea market and most likely buy it back.  LOL…also he says if you park it somewhere, you better remember where you parked it or else you’ll never find it….THAT’s how many bikes are in Amsterdam!

This is a bike parking garage, 50,000 bikes are parked here daily!

Canal cruise boat

Ready to explore Amsterdam in the rain

there are pretty swans all over the canals

 The buildings in Amsterdam are quite narrow and wedged together.  Some buildings are the width of the door, which is quite fascinating.  On the tops of these buildings are hooks…why?  How do you imagine they get furniture into their apartments if the width of the building is the width of the front door? That’s right, hoist your furniture up through the window!  Crazy no?

The Anne Frank Museum, we never had a chance to go, the queue “line” was too long.

And it kept raining…
The many bridges of Amsterdam

House boats! With all the rain, it’s a wonder they all don’t sink.

We passed by the Jewish Quarters in Amsterdam

 Because Josh is Jewish I knew how important it was to him to visit Anne Frank’s house and we were both so very disappointed we didn’t get to go in.  But as Adam said, you need a reservation to get in or else you’ll be stuck in a very long line.  It’s the most visited museum in Amsterdam.  I knew it was Josh’s way to pay his respects to his ancestors that suffered in the Holocaust but the day and time we were in Amsterdam just didn’t allow us the chance.  At least we were there and in our thoughts and prayers we can pay our respects.

As a side note-while on the tour throughout Europe, Elzo who is a man of history, made so real to us, the horrors of World War II.  About 100,000 Dutch Jews were put in concentration camps when Germany invaded.  You read about it in history books and watch movies but when you are in these countries and see how World War II affected them all, it puts into perspective how little the younger generation knows of war and living in a country being invaded or bombed.

 I would love to see Amsterdam with sunshine all around, I’m sure it’s a gorgeous city, but with this gloomy weather it was a little depressing.

I thought these stores were interesting, they weren’t called Apple lol…but sold Apple products

Amsterdam is quite liberal

Want to learn about torture?  They have a place for it!
And because we had no time to go to Anne Frank Museum and we tried, we paid 20 euros for a cab ride in traffic and rain to see if the line was too long at the Anne Frank Museum and it was, so our nice cab driver drove us back to Museum square (sigh).  Instead, we went to the Van Gogh Museum.  Van Gogh is my favorite artist so it was a dream to be there. And of course, no photography was allowed.

We had to hurry at the museum because we had to meet our group at a certain time and still try and get some lunch.  We went outside to buy a hotdog as it rained.  I was eating my hotdog when one of the guys working had to remove water from the tarp above us and after he did so, he turned and winked at me.  Um, hello! lol…I was flattered.  At times in Europe, I felt like I was an alien and people didn’t know what I was…are my features that foreign?

I couldn’t loved Amsterdam much more if I had more time!

 So another story Adam told us was about how the city was building a new part of the subway but that construction had stopped for a year…why?  Because after digging into the ground they realized buildings were starting to lean over, destroying many apartments and basically pissing people off.  I would be too if one day my apartment was leaning!  So they stopped the construction but it means everything is at a stand still (which frustrates Josh a lot…he wonders how people can build a subway without checking the ground first!)….the soil is so fertile and moist that basically these buildings are built on a swamp.  Crazy.

See how these buildings lean?  Crazy!

And just for kicks, because some tour members asked, Elzo took those who wanted to go, into the Red Light District!  Of course I had to go, I was in Amsterdam and it was daylight, no biggie.  Thing is sex is a 24/7 business and it’s interesting to know that in the middle of the red-light district is an old church.  So yes, we stood under the roof of the old church (because it was raining) while just a few feet in front of us were girls in the window…we even watched as a man left one of the girls after uh…getting serviced?  Eww…and I’m not a hater.  Girls got to work and they chose sex as their trade, that’s totally fine.  It’s legal so they are breaking no laws.  What was a little Ewww was that I thought the girls would be prettier….but some were really unattractive.  Again, who am I to judge, I guess with someone not so attractive, it’s a cheaper price?  I’m not sure…but I was surprised.

One girl stood in the window, tattooed, thick like me I suppose (she had small boobs and thick thighs) her lingerie was cheap and she had really short hair.  We watched as a man approached her in the window and she opened the door, but he left, laughing…I guess he wouldn’t pay her price.  Elzo warned us not to take pictures of the girls and clients, they do NOT like that.  And mind you, the whole red light district is a community in itself, the apartments above the windows are rented out by families with children.  I tell you, absolutely liberal and so open-minded!  Across the other side of the church was a coffee shop.  Coffee shop with a “C” meaning they don’t sell coffee but light drugs like hashish and marijuana.  And sure enough, when you walk past it, all you smell in the air is bud.

The reason why it’s legal is that the government thinks if you legalize it, you take away the forbidden factor of the product.  You know how when people tell you not to do it, you WANT to try and do it…just to see why it’s forbidden?  Well, they make it legal so there is no mystery to it, so people won’t seek it out as much.  It’s like girls hooking on the street, why have them on the street unsafe when they can work at an establishment like any other person that works in a building?  Money is money, no?

We walked further into the red-light district and the women didn’t improve much.  So I stopped looking at the window, but it was bizarre to see girls advertising themselves that way.  We turned a corner along the canal and these girls were younger.  They are thinking of raising the age of prostitution to 21, right now it’s 18 years old. The moms in our tour group shook their head saying “they look so young”…but I’m thinking it’s a job here and it’s legal.  They aren’t forced to do it, they have no pimp, they are independent contractors, which is kind of nice!

Across the canal was more windows and the women on that side didn’t look so hot either.  One girl scared me because she kind of popped in to the window and she had a hairy tummy!  So was that a guy?  I didn’t look and stare, I felt uncomfortable looking at these girls, I didn’t want them to see the worry and pity in my eyes.  And why did I pity them?  I’m sure they didn’t want my pity but I’m conditioned to think girls don’t LIKE to do this and that they are forced…and what kind of mental trauma and abuse led them to prostitute themselves?  Or was there no trauma and they just liked sex?  I wasn’t sure, but the situation was too complicated for me…I always think of the damn backstory….but I was raised, as everyone else, that sex being sold on the street wasn’t a good thing.

So let’s talk about the guy who wines and dines a girl not to fall in love, but maybe just for a one night stand?  Is that the same thing?  If you’re looking for sex, not love (which let’s be honest, many people DO)…here, it’s easier to negotiate that without the wining and dining.  It makes sense to me!  Anyway, there are many tourists walking around here, male and female, young and old.  We finally get to stand on a bridge and Elzo says we can take a picture.

On our way back we turn another corner and I turn to see a very pretty model like blond girl in the window and think…okay maybe THIS is where the high end girls are and then I hear someone bang the window.  The girl across the street hit the window because she saw that some of our tour members were holding their cameras…but not to take pictures, we had just finished taking a picture of the canal, but the girl in the window was mad and made a fist then quickly pulled the curtain so we saw no part of her body.  Elzo wasn’t kidding about them not appreciating pictures being taken.  The girls aren’t there for display for fun, they are there to make money, they are “working” and I get it.  They aren’t there for tourists to laugh at, they are making a living and trying to find paying customers so they can live.
And is it easy selling yourself in a window?  I don’t think so.  Can you imagine the strange men and women that come in to pay for services…strange sexual services even?  I mean…what would constitute as a “bad day” at work?  A bad day for me is being booked straight with no break and working over time or something.  A bad day as a prostitute could be really gross…and that’s MY imagination running wild as always.  
We walked by a coffee shop smelling marijuana lingering in the air, but Josh and I aren’t smokers.  I’ve never had any interest in any kind of smoking so the appeal there wasn’t attracting us.  So that was the red-light district.  I’m sure at night, it’s much more scandalous with lights in the windows and more people walking around since it seems like a place you can hang out, there are bars and restaurants along the canal.  I find the whole concept of it all quite fascinating.  That’s Amsterdam for you!
After that excursion we boarded the bus and headed off to Volendam!  First stop was a working cheese farm.  We got to sample all the cheese they made….it was so delicious that Josh bought $60 worth of it!  And we’re already starting to eat it…lol…it’s as delicious as I remember!

awww

look they’re a couple πŸ™‚

made for “ewe”…lol…
Then after buying cheese we headed over to a working wind mill!

Inside the 500 year old windmill!  Made of wood

Josh and I climbed the wooden steps two floors up and climbing steps shouldn’t seem so hard except that the ladder was so narrow and steep that I had to walk up side ways and not look down.  When I did look down, my heart started to beat so fast that I started to feel panicked!  I made it upstairs but then I worried in my head how I would get back down.  I didn’t tell Josh my worry, but I seriously was scared because to go back down they said you go down backwards (meaning the way you went up)…to top it off, I was carrying umbrellas and my bag blocked the vision of my feet going down but I wasn’t about to cry in front of everyone and have a panic attack.  So I stuffed the 2 umbrellas against my breast in my coat and made my way down very, very slowly, reminding myself to breathe even as my legs were shaking.  I made it down by my hands were trembling and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I never used to be afraid of heights, but I don’t think it was the heights…it was the ladder.  NEVER again.

Josh’s view from the top.

After my climb…isn’t the grass so lush and green?

And after the windmill, we headed to Volendam, a picturesque fishing village.
Looks like a painting

The village is small and picturesque but they sold lots of seafood delicacies like eel which I didn’t taste, but my sister claims is delicious.  There were lots of souvenirs also.  We were killing time before having dinner at a local restaurant.  Walking around I found a place that did the fish pedicure (where the fish eat the dead skin cells around your feet) and was about to try it but my feet tend to be ticklish so I didn’t try it.

Dinner was a lively affair.  Two drinks were included and we could pick from a variety of entrees.  First off of course, was a shot of schnapps as the Dutch do…no it’s not to get you drunk…it’s to warm the body because they believe the body has to be warm to enjoy a meal and it really did warm me up!  The women had a sweeter schnapps, the men had the one that smelled like rubbing alcohol.

First we had salad (with salmon), then hot vegetable soup, lots of bread rolls, then steak that we chose for our entree and along with that came plates of steamed veggies like baby carrots and beans, french fries, potatoes and more salad.  Talk about a feast.  And it wasn’t over.  Then came dessert, which was a delicious apple cobbler and then finishing off with tea or coffee.  I was stuffed and very warm! Haha, but it was a great meal!

I think he’s full

And as we headed back to the hotel I see the sun peeking out of the clouds.
Amsterdam is a very interesting city with their ideals, customs and politics.  If the sun was out and we had more time, then I could explore so much more and it seemed like an easy city to navigate because you can walk, or take a cab.  You can bike (you can rent bikes in Europe), or take a water taxi also.  They have lots of museums…I didn’t even get to go to the Heineken Experience or the Rijksmuseum.  Just too little time!  
So we say good night  “Goedenacht” to Amsterdam and I just pray we get warmer weather in Germany because my “cold” or allergies is getting worse and I can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep.  I can’t breathe well on the bus also…but the adventure continues….:-)

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