Sunday, June 17, 2012

Week 3: Amsterdam

Well, this week I had a midterm in Islam, so I was up until 4am Tuesday night finishing that (it was a take-home). Wednesday was pretty much a blur until dinner time when I met up with a friend from home for dinner.  She has been studying in England all Spring semester (which just ended for them) and stopped by Brussels on her way to Amsterdam.  We went to a Chinese restaurant and loved it! Got to meet one of her friends from England, too.  We then walked around and found the touristy famous bar that everyone loves.  She got the house beer, called Delirium, and we just enjoyed the atmosphere.  We were all tired, so retired pretty early.

Thursday, Jamie and I went to the Botanical Garden park and ate lunch, then moseyed our way to a baby park I found last week on the way home from church that is pretty close to our house.  We just enjoyed it and the family atmosphere for a while, went to the grocery and then home for the night.  Just kidding, I just remembered that Lissette and I went to the Grand Place area to go souvenir shopping.  I was the only one who bought anything, but I bought quite a lot! Think I'm finished with Brussels souvenirs. YAY!

Now for the good stuff.  Thursday I was up by 4am to get ready for the 6am bus to Amsterdam.  The metro doesn't start until 5:30 (when we had to be at the bus), so we had to get up extra early to make sure we didn't miss the first bus of the day.  The bus left 30 minutes late and ended up in Amsterdam 45 minutes early.  Don't know how they did that, but it was nice! Except a) it was raining when we got to Amsterdam and b) pretty cold and c) the bus dropped us in the middle of nowhere, not in the city center where it was supposed to (so we thought).  After wandering around, we asked for directions and were told to just get on the metro because it was too far to walk. Woo. 10 euros gone in first 20 minutes. Oh well.

We got to the main station where we made it just in time to catch the free walking tour leaving from the area.  The tour was wonderful! We learned all about the city's history, the reasons for the buildings slanting (built on swamp ground. Most of the buildings lean to the side now), the abundance of canals in the city and the number of bikes in the canals (1/3 of the water is filled with bikes), and of course all about the legalization of prostitution and decriminalization of marijuana.  Basically, if it's good for the economy and doesn't hurt anyone, then it is allowed by the police. They simply look the other way.  This idea was applied a longgg time ago when the Catholic church had to become secret in the city. Lots of drama about stuff, but for almost 200 years, Catholics couldn't practice in public.  But they police were happy to help conceal them because the Catholics brought good money to Amsterdam.  See how this all works? And pot isn't technically legal, you just won't get arrested for it.  They found that putting the potheads in jail with the hardcore junkies, they came out with much bigger drug problems.  By decriminalizing marijuana, the number of hard drug users went down some insane drastic number. Like from 200,000 to 200.  So... I'd say it's pretty successful. Plus most of the people doing drugs are tourists, so it definitely boosts the economy.  Just so you know.

During the walking tour, I made two new friends, one from Texas and one from Nottingham, UK.  We went to a cafe after the tour and had Stamppot which was carrots inside mashed potatoes with gravy and either sausage or a meatball. It was delicious!!  Then the three of us went to the Anne Frank Huis (House) where the Franks and their friends hid out from the Nazis during WWII.  It was very interesting and very sad.  The house was much larger than I expected, but when you got to the annex where they hid, it got much smaller.  We got to see the entire building, including the warehouse parts of the business (Mr. Otto Frank did something with canning/jams and such) and the secret bookcase entrance to the Annex.  The windows had blackout curtains on them and there was just a single light bulb in the rooms.  It was so dark and hard to imagine having to stay in there for two years for your safety.  The girls had their heights measured on the wall in pencil and had pictures pasted on the walls of the bedroom, both of which were still there and visible.  It was just amazing to see and kind of experience it.  There were a lot of people and not a lot of time to read everything, but it was definitely an awesome visit. Highly recommended.  The three of us left the huis and headed to the main square for some souvenir shopping. Lots of wooden shoes.

The highlight of the trip (for me at least) was the Van Gogh museum.  It came at a hefty price of 14 euros for entry, but on Fridays welcomes you with live music and cool things going on.  We got to experience a live piano performance that was synced with an original film both of which were based on a piece of art in the exhibit.  It was fantastic and made me feel so cultured! The paintings were just exquisite and I really enjoyed it.  We spent almost 3 hours in the museum and then headed back to the hotel and I called it a night.

The hotel. What an experience that was! It was an amazing downtown/central location which was great, but loud.  And we had 6 people in a 4 person room to save money.  Well the beds were single sized, not twin, and were very uncomfortable to share with someone. Just so you know.  Plus, with 6 people in an unairconditioned room, you can imagine the discomfort.  Hence the window being open all night and the noise keeping us up. Not to mention the sheets all smelled like smoke. Lovely. I can tell you that I really appreciated my shower in the morning.

Jamie, a classmate Dylan, and myself searched for breakfast and then took a canal tour of Amsterdam.  It repeated much of the information of the walking tour, but was from a boat so that was pretty awesome!  Oh, Amsterdam pretty much only speaks English.  I don't think anyone talked to me in Dutch first. It was nice, but I really like that I feel more in a foreign country in Brussels where they speak French to you first.

We walked around for a while trying to find the Rembrandt museum, and once we found it decided to pass it up.  Amsterdam was pretty expensive and was my first time traveling far, so I received a bit of a shock to the wallet.  We headed back to the bus station area to wait to go home.  At least it was sunny on Saturday!  I was so happy to get back to Brussels. I just really like it here, knowing my way around and where the grocery stores are, and especially knowing I have a bed to myself that smells clean. Not to mention being able to read the signs since I know absolutely zero Dutch. Except I learned nooduitgang is emergency exit.  And huis = house.

Anyways. Home now. Today went to the grocery and to church and walked the long way home and had fun.  And I've just been chilling at home since.

Friday Jamie and I are heading to Paris, spending the night and coming back Saturday night.  Then Sunday we might go to another city in Belgium. Woo long travel weekends!!

Tomorrow (Monday) we have a field trip to the European Commission and an exam in the EU class on Tuesday. So lots of studying to do in between! Hopefully I can crack down and learn a ton tomorrow after class.

OH also, this week is Sustainable Energy in the EU week!! YAY! We'll be in the area tomorrow for the field trip, so hopefully I'll be able to check out some of the exhibits and such.  Have a great week! Adios!

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