Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Part Twee

Actual date of this event: 6-8 December

For years and years, I was always so confused by the difference between Holland and Netherlands. Yep, I am admitting that, and I guarantee I am not the only one. Holland is an area of the the Netherlands which is actually divided by North and South. Amsterdam is part of North Holland, so many times you will hear people refer to Amsterdam as "in Holland", which is why I was so confused. Anyway, yesterday, I went through just a few of the things we did in Amsterdam with our friends Kelly and Billy, but Amsterdam has so many more unique qualities than just that! 

One of the major aspects of the city is its canals and bridges. Water runs through 165 canals for over 60 miles passing under 1,281 bridges. Amazing! House boats line the walls of the waterways. The canals also don't have railings (except for at bridges), so it is very easy to fall in. Note: Peeing into the canal while drunk happens quite often leading to death. Just sayin'.

Holland is known for its flowers, wooden shoes, and windmills. Since we visited in the winter, flowers were not in bloom, but we passed by Bloemenmarkt (a floating flower market) several times that was selling bulbs of all sorts of flowers. As for the wooden shoes, we saw one person wearing a pair, and I don't know how those things are comfortable! And there is only one true windmill close to Amsterdam, but we did not venture in that direction. Apparently it has a brewery in it... must hit that up next time!
 {one of the shops at Bloemenmarkt}
 {wooden shoe keychains}
One of the most confusing cities for a pedestrian no doubt! Bikes breeze by you of nowhere, going in every which direction. Apparently, over 600,000 bikes roam the city. There is even a 4-tier parking garage near the train station... looked exactly like a car park, but for bikes only (no picture sorry).

 {I almost got hit by a moped while taking a picture. Oops!}
One of the biggest attractions in the city is the Red Light District. It is located smack-dab in the middle of the city, and it is impossible to not walk through it. I was so nervous to take any pictures - word has it that your camera will get snatched from you if someone is bothered by you taking a picture - with good reason! This was as best as I could do. 
The Old Church is located right in the middle of the Red Light District. The women in windows face the church, which was kinda strange. Although prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, working the streets is not. It may seem like an unsafe area, but there are so many cops and undercover cops patrolling the area that it is one of the safest places to be!
Let's set the record straight here folks - it IS legal to purchase cannabis from certain places in Amsterdam. If you see a sign for "Coffeeshop", expect to smell some Mary Jane if you don't already smell it on the streets. These shops not only sell coffee and tea, but also cannabis. I was also nervous to take pictures of Coffeeshops because I wasn't sure if someone would be bothered by me getting a picture through the window of them inside. Funny story: Luke and Billy were smoking a cigar in a bar (just a normal bar) and the bartender told them were only allowed to smoke weed in the bar. Hah!

{cannabis flavored cookies, anyone??}
London has coffee shops. Belgium has chocolate shops. Germany has sausage. Paris has bakeries. Amsterdam has... cheese shops! And they are awesome! The four of us are some major cheese lovers, so we stopped in quite a few shops to do some sampling and purchasing. I still think that the Old Amsterdam, which is one you can buy at the regular grocery store, was my favorite!

Since it was the Christmas holiday, lights were strung down the streets. We also passed by the Christmas Market and an ice rink. I am so glad these European cities decorate or else it would be so dark everywhere!

We had a great time in Amsterdam, and I am so glad we were able to go with friends. I definitely recommend making a stop through Amsterdam at some point. If you aren't so into what we did, there is the famous Van Gogh museum you can visit which is supposed to be great. As I have said a million time before, we aren't art people, so that was not a priority. We would love to go back some day for another visit, so if you are up for it, we would love to join!

Other post on Amsterdam: Part 1

Amsterdam has about 160 coffeeshops and you can smell it!

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Part Een

Actual date of this event: 6-8 December

Luke and I had been planning a visit to Amsterdam for a long long time, and we finally got around to it! It was Luke's third time in Amsterdam (the first was during his two week backpack trip after college, the second was for work), but it was my very first time. I was really excited for this trip because I absolutely loved Bruges (Belgium), and I was told the two cities were similar. Very true, but two completely different vibes!
{maybe not that kind of vibe, but we definitely succumbed to Amsterdam!}
We met up with our friends Kelly and Billy who live in Stuttgart, Germany. It was also their first time visiting Amsterdam, so we enjoyed exploring together. There is not a whole lot to do in Amsterdam, so it was a relaxing weekend, but we filled our bellies up to the max of Heineken! The four of us stayed at Bed & Breakfast Margot where it was just the four of us, plus Margot. We really enjoyed that we were the only ones in the home, and Margot made us breakfast each morning at the time we wanted. She was a super sweet lady! Because the homes are so tall and narrow, the stairs were extremely steep and one of us may have face-planted one night after too much Heineken. I will let you ponder on who that was. And this same person also accidentally walked into Margot's bedroom one night...

{view out of our window}
We didn’t have much of an agenda for the trip. We had about three must-do activities, and the rest we knew we would pass by at some point. We mostly wanted to enjoy hanging out since it had been seven months since we saw each other last.
The first MUST DO on our list was go to the Heineken Experience, the brewery tour. This place was like an amusement park for adults! It was shiny and interactive and not like any other alcohol-making tour I have been through. It was quite expensive and far away (like a 15 minute walk, which is far in Amsterdam!), but it was fun! Halfway through, visitors got a half pint to drink. And at the end, visitors traded in little tokens for two full pints to drink. 

The Festival of Lights was going on while we were in Amsterdam. Our second MUST DO was a canal tour... can't go to Amsterdam without a canal tour... so we decided to do the Festival of Lights tour on Saturday night. It was fun being on a boat, but it really wasn't the greatest tour. We couldn't hear anything the commentator was saying, and we couldn't see the beautiful architecture along the waterways. I'd recommend NOT doing the canal tour when it is dark outside.
{this was the only picture worth of posting... a terrible iPhone selfie}
Thirdly… Did you know the Anne Frank diary was written in Amsterdam? I didn't until recently (even though the diary clearly states "in Amsterdam"... I just didn't pay attention). It was one of my favorite stories when I was in school, and I still love it to this day. The home where her, her family, and a few others hid was located not too far from our B&B. I purchased tickets ahead of time, so we walked right in for our tour. The home is pretty large and the hiding space is not too much smaller than the flat I live in. I was shocked by how much space they had, and its amazing they were able to keep that secret for so long! It must have been miserable to stay locked in that small space for so long! At the end of the tour, we got to see Anne's actually diaries and notebooks (she had a few). Did you know that Anne Frank began revising her original diary with hopes to publish it after the war ended? Her father Otto Frank was the only survivor of the annex (lived until 1980), and published her entries after he returned home. The tour was crowded, but everyone stayed in a nice line so it was not unbearable. (Note: No Pictures allowed inside the home.)

As we walked around the city, we admired THE MOST amazing architecture! The streets and canals are lined with homes that are built separately, but so close together it looks like one long building. Each structure has a different design to distinguish one from the next. 

As I was doing research before the trip, I came across the location of "the narrowest home in Amsterdam". I got really excited because this certain website said it was located directly across from our B&B... we could see it from our window. Well, then another website gave us the location of "the narrowest home in Amsterdam" which was not the same place. So confusing! Well, the debate is that some homes are very narrow from the front, but wide in the back and some are the other way around, so which do you go by? I say the front! Like many other cities around the world, homeowners got taxed based on the width of their home (based on the front), so this lead to skinny, but tall home with very steep stairs. The narrower it is, the less tax. Ironically, what is said to be "the narrowest home in Europe" is across the street from the widest home in Amsterdam.
{"The Narrowest Home in Europe" (with the red door) at Oude Hoogstraat 22}
The most amazing part is that some homes were so obviously crooked! Some leaned sideways, and the some leaned forward, so that the front of the top was sticking out by a foot. Will they one day collapse? Word has it that the homes were built so close together to keep each other upright.
{look at the angle in the center above the circle on the black building!!!}

{look at the top to see how far forward it is leaning}
I also found the location of the oldest home in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, Amsterdam's "old structures" aren't that old... in my opinion of course. Way back before everything either got destroyed or burned, most homes were made of wood. Built in 1528, the oldest home sits in Begijnhof, a small courtyard with other homes, a Chapel, and a secret church. Although it is open to the public during the day, the courtyard is very secluded and quiet with secret entrances.
{we walked right by this door without knowing it was an entrance until we got inside}

{the oldest home in Amsterdam}

 {a secret Catholic built from two homes - Catholic churches were forbidden in Amsterdam}
Amsterdam is a great weekend trip, and it is PERFECT to do with friends. I would love to go back in the spring (for the flowers), but I gotta say I enjoyed the leafless trees. I feel it made the architecture much more visible. I am thrilled that we were able to coordinate a weekend away with Kelly and Billy! What a great time we had!

Other post on Amsterdam: Part 2

Around the corner from the Anne Frank Museum is the Homomonument. It was the first monument to commemorate gay men and women who were persecuted and killed by the Nazis.

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