And thank you, ma’am! Although it’s beyond cliche to say that it just keeps getting better…it just keeps getting better. Maybe as the tourist vibe wears off and we become a little more Euro-travel savvy, jumping from city to city on these all-too-brief weekend trips becomes more routine and less frenzied. Or maybe as the tangible fear of returning to challenging classes and “real” responsibilities lingers ever-nearer, we just try harder and harder to enjoy every second here. (Enjoy= eat every food, drink every drink, wander every street, do it to it.) Whatever it is, me gusta mucho.
That said, Amsterdam was AWESOME. In so many eloquent words. I was expected a touristy, crowded smokers’ haven, but what I found was a beautifully designed, richly cultured, and refreshingly friendly city. After arriving as a shivering blonde ice cube on the train from Brussels, I met my Couchsurfing host at the Amsterdam Bibliotheek–the most spectacular library ever. Not only did it have a full-service bar and huge top-floor restaurant, every floor looked like it was an exhibit at a modern museum. So within 15 minutes I was already impressed just by the public library…then I met Laura, my host, who literally welcomed me with open arms into her life for the weekend. After sitting in on a Dutch language class she was teaching to other Couchsurfers at the library, we walked back along the water to her flat; the cityscape at night is fantastic with canal reflections, few cars, and the impressive Dutch architectural vernacular.
Other than sharing the obligatory pastry suggestions like stroopwaffles and oliebollen, Laura shared some of the weird nuances of Dutch culture with me. I learned about Sinterklaas, which makes Santa Claus even more of an upsetting lie. Sinterklaas is a way cooler dude; he rolls in on a steamboat from Spain with oranges and rides a horse names Amerigo through the streets. So kids actually get to party with Sinterklaas while Santa Claus just rides away on his high-sleigh. Coincidentally, there are Sinterklaas songs that mention deporting naughty kids to Spain…maybe that’s where my host family’s children came from.
More culturally pertinent, it also seems that the Dutch all speak perfect English with very little studying done in school. As Laura explained, “We watch too much American TV and listen to too much American music.” Voila, education problems solved: just plop kids in front a TV, stick some headphones on ’em, and they’re trilingual. Because Dutch programs aren’t dubbed like French or Spanish TV and film imports, the Dutch are able to speak English with the same California colloquialism as those kids on The OC. Maybe the Dutch government should only allow its citizens to watch the Discovery Channel, and then we’d have a country full of David Attenborough narration. Delightful!
I spent my first day freezing my butt off, yet again, and warming up with a constant stream of pastries and espresso, yet again. For hours, I wandered along the canals and bicycle-lined streets, which were saturated with intimate cafes, enticing boutiques, and stunning galleries, all housed in spectacular 18th century buildings. Walking down the more residential streets, especially in my favorite area, Jordaan, every home seemed impeccable decorated; is everyone in Amsterdam is a discerning designer or something? I also met too many too nice people. Their sincere friendliness caught me off-guard at first–you want to have a pleasant conversation with me? And buy me a cappuccino?! I love this place! Let’s just say that local interaction in Spain is limited to currency transactions or disapproving glares. Barcelonians are not the friendliest group. At any rate, after a day of exploring the city and chatting with genuinely friendly people, I was surprised to find myself feeling more at home in Amsterdam than I have yet in Europe.
I didn’t really intend to visit anywhere in particular, I had reserved the day for aimless ambling. When there’s no plan, every discovery is serendipitous, and thus much more rewarding. Wow, I found this amazing place! And although it’s in 387 travel guides, I stumbled upon it on my own. Being relatively clueless ensures some sort of excitement in my day.
On this gray, gloomy day, the city’s bright spots seemed even more spectacular…Other than strolling around snacking on stroopwaffles, my friends (when they finally arrived) and I visited the Anne Frank House. I don’t think I’ll ever experience a more extraordinary “exhibit” in my life; it can’t really be called an exhibit or museum because it was reality for many people not so long ago. The Secret Annex was left relatively untouched, save for necessary renovations, and the entire experience is as eerie as can be achieved when you’re walking through a small house with a hundred other visitors. Impressive and moving…needed post-Anne sugar to cheer us up.
Quantitatively, I “did” far less in Amsterdam, but experienced far more. By bypassing museums and keeping it economical by Couchsurfing, I was able to avoid most of the unappealing tourist traps and just hang out with some locals and spend a day with my equally-infatuated American friends. Literally, we were inFATuated after this trip. I don’t think it was in the cookies, though, the city itself is such a sincere place from its genuine people right down to the straightforward modernist architecture. Study abroad 2011 in Amsterdam?