Amsterdam is a city that wows you from the moment you step foot off the bus. It charms with its winding canals, romantic cafes nestled in old brick houses, and endless supply of bikes. The countryside, which we were lucky enough to see thanks to a 10 hour bus ride from Berlin, is filled with rolling hills, lush green fields, and plenty of cows. After the colder, big city feel of Berlin, walking around Amsterdam feels like being back in my old college town, even if it is much larger. From the minute I got here I’ve felt completely at home and at ease.
We got in late on Tuesday night to finally enjoy a real summer night in Europe. It’s been very hot during the days, around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so the nights are the type of beautiful summer nights that only require a light dress and a good pair of sandals. Karen and I decided to visit two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions, a coffee shop and the red light district, after all you can’t really go to Amsterdam and not see it’s stranger side. The coffee shop was cool and laid back, but the red light district, well it wasn’t quite so comfortable. It was a very strange experience seeing women standing in windows literally selling themselves. I had hoped that it would have seemed a little empowering, after all prostitution is highly regulated here and the women are safe, but it definitely lacked empowerment. There is only one body type represented, long, straight hair, huge tits, smallish waist, and giant ass. It does not feel like the women taking back their sexuality and embracing their own desires, it feels like women playing to the mass media idea of what men want. Burlesque is empowering, the red light district of Amsterdam is not.
After the strangeness of the red light district Karen and I opted for a much quieter end to the night by enjoying a gelato on the edge of a canal. The next day was mostly figuring out what we wanted to do for the next two days. We went to the Heineken Experience first, which was suggested to us by someone at the hostel in Berlin, but were very disappointed. Word of advice, if you like beer don’t go to the Heineken Experience, but if you like Disneyland style advertising then by all means enjoy yourself. The day was much improved by stumbling into a Ketikoti festival, the celebration of the end of slavery and independence in Suriname. There was singing and dancing followed by wonderful food that I have no idea what the name was, it was fried bread with spicy sauces, and of course more dancing. I loved every second of it and Karen was game to follow me into the craziness.
Today we did like locals do and got bikes. Amsterdam is a city that is meant to be biked around and there is nothing more relaxing than pedaling along a canal with the wind in your hair. We rode around, bought some train tickets to Ghent, Belgium, and finally made it to a museum. I had wanted to see the Van Gough Museum, but one look at the 3 hour wait to get into a bloody museum sent us scurrying next door to the Stedelijk, where Matisse’s works were on display. Now it’s an early night so we can catch the train tomorrow to the Belgian university town of Ghent. It will be hard to say goodbye to this slow paced, beautiful city, but I’m looking forward to some real rest and relaxation in a much cheaper location.