On the bus ride back from Amsterdam, I came across the appropriately named song by Coldplay (Amsterdam). It doesn't have much to do with the city but its a beautiful song, a very simple arrangement of piano and vocals for most of the song.
What there's one stanza that stood out to me and optimized the trip and my study abroad experience thus far.
But time is on your side Its on your side now Not pushing you down and all around It's no cause for concern
It seems time gets thought about too often from a negative perspective. We can really easily waste time, or not have enough time. Yet its more assuring to think of time being on your side, as the song reads. Time is something in everyone's life, and we can do with it as we please, to an extent. To that regard, we're gifted time, and its up to to make the most of it. Thus, time is something ever present that we can manipulate and enrich to make our lives better.
Do you choose to pay more money for convenience? Or save every last penny. We traveled to Amsterdam as true college students, on the Megabus. Megabus is a British company that has a bus ride from Paris to Amsterdam for about 10 euro each way. It takes about 7 hours but its a tenth the cost of a train ticket oftentimes. With good company and countryside to see, why not take the time. I can't say it was the most comfortable I've felt, but we weren't there for comfort. Additionally, we stayed at a youth hostel. For 25 euro a night, you sacrifice privacy and comfort, but you're just there to sleep, so why not. Breakfast was also included, which was some good monetary savings.
We did a lot of wandering throughout the city, more of that than anything else. In my opinion, to get lost is one of the best ways to find things you don't know you were looking for. Amsterdam is a good city for this for two reasons. That is to say, it is beautiful, and its really easy to get lost. With tons of cool buildings in totally different style than Paris, endless canals, and babes on bikes, it is a city for looking around.
Amsterdam is a pretty strange city. There's a ton of immigrants from all over the world, thus a lot of ethnic food. There's also a large amount of tourism. According to the bus driver's friend about 80% of visitors come for the red light district and coffeeshops. I didn't know this, but coffeeshop in Amsterdam is ubiquitous with place to smoke weed. Essentially, people come to Amsterdam for sex and drugs. No rock and roll though.
I had a ton of fun and have no regrets with going to Amsterdam, even though it was far from my ideal city. So much of Amsterdam just seemed a sprawl of tourism. I couldn't get a sense for what people who lived there do. We wandered really far out, and heard French, Spanish, English and Asian languages everywhere. I hardly saw any grocery stores, banks or post offices. Amsterdam locals zoomed by on bikes, but where were they going? Amsterdam has been called an incredibly livable city, but I didn't see it. With legal prostitution and legal marijuana, it seems hard for people to get excited about classical cultural elements such as food and art.
Unlike in France, museums aren't free for students. To go to all of the museums I wanted to see, it would have totaled 60 euro, so I chose the Rijksmuseum and saw a lot of works in galleries. The Rijksmuseum was a great chose though. Home to the largest collection of Rembrant in the world, it provided a great view of the evolution of Dutch culture, from colonialism and naval power, to the development of art, from Rembrant's teachers to his students. Dutch paintings, from Rembrant to Vermeer to Steen truly are masterpieces. The design is flawless, with vibrant colors and vivid expression. Seeing Rembrant's Night Watch in person is awesome, to me his work has never been striking since I've only seen it through a computer screen. Yet seeing the actual canvas really showcases his talents.
Another thing I really liked was the Vondelpark, right near the museum quarter. It is a big park with grassy areas, lakes, walking trails and a lot of trees and benches. It was mind-blowingly beautiful and felt a lot less constrained than Parisian parks. Many people were walking and riding their bikes for leisure, or just sitting and watching the ducks.
There's not really Dutch cuisine thats noteworthy, other than Dutch waffles it seems. Dutch waffles are very thin, and they are cut in half and have caramel spread in the middle. They are delicious. Other than that the food in Amsterdam is an unbelievable melange. There is Asian, Italian, Indonesian, Argentinian steak houses and a ton of fast food. There are kebab, burger, wok, pizza and baked goods to go everywhere. They cater to the tourists with the munchies. We saw a MacDo and BK right next to each other. Gross. There was one fast food place that was pretty good. Called Wok to Walk, the concept was simple. You choose your noodles, sauce and toppings, they fry it up in a wok and its ready to go in 5 minutes. It is delicious. Other than that, the best meal I had was Indonesian. I read that because of their prior colonialism in Indonesia, there is a lot of good Indonesian food, so I was set on trying it. We found a restaurant called Kama Sutra (I kid you not) that had the speciality with is a Rijsttafel (rice table in Dutch), which is rice and a plethora of small dishes served a la carte. We had that with some Indian beers and it was incredible. To have a multitude of different meats, flavors and vegetables altogether was a great change from the typical French fare. It reinforced my desire to go to South East Asia next summer, but more on that later.
I am slightly obsessed with the Dutch culture of cycling. In Amsterdam, despite the disgust of riding huge cruiser bikes with giant head tubes and wide handlebars, I love that everyone rides everywhere. We didn't rent bikes because it was super cool. But its great that it is such an integral part of city life there. Additionally, once you get out of the city, road biking is big. I saw a lot of bikers and bike paths from the bus. There's a lot of support for bike racing in the Netherlands, starting at the junior level, which is super neccessary. While Rabobank did just drop its sponsorship of their World Tour team, cycling in the Netherlands will continue to be strong I believe.
One last thing that I really enjoyed doing was taking a ferry to an old shipyard that houses the largest Dutch flea market. There was so much stuff and I bought a painting. More on that later. Its very clearly Dutch, and the subject is a tree next to a stream. It was 20 euro (I bargained with the help of some translators from 50!) and is in a ornate, gold-painted wood frame. I don't know where I'll hang it, or how I'll get it home, but I'm pretty happy with my humble beginning as an art collector.
I went to Amsterdam because it was easy, my friend graciously scheduled the whole trip cheaply and invited me along. Although I easily had a good time, I found it wasn't my ideal city and realized I would not have chosen it on my own. It reminded me that "you need to do you," and choose locations based on what your interested in. As someone neither pursuing marijuana, fast food or hookers, I found myself among that minority that Amsterdam doesn't easily cater to. That said, you make your own experience, and it was nonetheless a successful, fun weekend. Enjoy the pictures.