Sunday, November 7, 2010


I left for Amsterdam Thursday evening. Preparing to go to Amsterdam felt a little rushed, and it made me slightly nervous. I packed in 10 minutes on Wednesday night. I woke up Thursday at 7:30 and went through my mental check list: Passport? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Rain coat? Check. Wallet? Check. A sense of optimism? Half check. At least all the essentials were there.

My first reason for only being half enthusiastic or optimistic about the trip was because I still had two 3-hour classes to sit through before taking a taxi directly from school to the airport. My second reason was that the group I was traveling with consisted of 9 other people. That's a large group to travel with. I knew in the back of my mind that we could all split up and do our own things, but realistically, that wasn't going to happen. Everyone wanted to see the same things, so I figured there would be a lot of small bickering between people, and a lot of waiting around.

My expectations/worries were half right; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the city of Amsterdam.

Thursday night my group of 10 arrived in Amsterdam. We immediately tried to figure out how to get to our hotel. We bought train tickets, asked people which train to take, and hopped on. We then had to pick up a tram and head for our hotel. Accidently, we got on the wrong tram, go figure. Everyone remained calm and uncranky. It was an easy correction to our mistake. The tram driver told us where to get off and how to walk to our hotel from there. Again, we got lost on the way to finding our hotel, but we soon found it. My first impression of the hotel was that it was very out of the way of the city, and thought that it could be a good or bad thing. depending on transportation. The hotel lobby was set up nicely, and didn't look like a skeezy hotel that cheap college kids booked online. We went up an elevator (that degraded my view of the hotel a little bit) and headed towards our room. Immediately leaving the elevator, I could smell marijuana smoke (it is legal in Amsterdam), and I knew I was finally in Amsterdam. The room was relatively clean and the beds were comfortable (well, mine was broken, but the unbroken side was comfortable), so it was just what we needed. The group of ten split in two for the hotel rooms, and we were a floor apart. We decided to stay at the hotel, and rest for the night.

We went to the hotel bar, because it was the only thing within walking distance that was open. We went in, and there were only two other people sitting at the bar. We quickly made friends with the bartender, Yvon. She gave us advice about the city, what to do, where to go, and even how to get to the grocery store. Not everyone came to the bar, but it was a nice introduction to the city. The bartender wasn't just generous with her knowledge and friendliness, she started feeding us bar snacks and ended up giving us Coke glasses. I enjoyed two pints of Dutch beer and decided it was time to hit the hay. Despite being excited for the next day, I found it easy to fall asleep. I was exhausted.

Friday morning we all woke up early to get the day started. In the day light it was easy to find the tram station, and quickly realized it would be easy to travel in from our hotel. We took the tram into the city and got off near the Van Gogh museum. We found the museum easily. Before going into the museum, we took advantage of a park near by to take our first round of pictures. There was a giant I AMsterdam sign where we all posed. The I Amsterdam sign represented the I AMsterdam card that we wanted to purchase. This card provided us with 48 hours of public transportation, entrance to many museums, discounts on places, and free gifts. It also came with a book that had a map, and a guide of all of the places the card gave us access. Across the street from the park was an office where we could purchase these cards. The ticket counter ended up being in the Diamond Museum. This museum was on the list, and of course, I wanted to take advantage of the card right away. The group walked through the museum, and realized that we were able to get our first free gift next door. To get the gift, we had to take a tour to find out how diamonds are polished and formed into selling condition. No problem. The free gift? A small silver bead.

The next stop was the Van Gogh Museum. This was what I was most excited for. The museum didn't let me down. I loved looking at all his paintings, and was excited to see a few of his most famous works. I was particularly surprised to see his painting, "Sunflowers." I took my time wandering through the museum and poking around the gift shop for the perfect souvenir. I ended up simply getting a postcard. I still haven't decided if I will mail it to someone or simply keep it as a souvenir. I'm not very good at sending postcards. I have two written out from the beginning of October that I haven't sent yet. Oops. I'll have to work on that. The next museum was the Rijksmuseum. It is a museum of modern art and history. I wasn't overly excited about seeing this museum, like I was with Van Gogh; however, I found a room that was full with dollhouses and fell in love with them. I spent most of my time in the dollhouse room. The dollhouses were so large, that there were ladders to climb up on to look on the top floors of them. Another place that I was fascinated by was the children's exhibit that was full of the process of picture books.

As a quick lunch we grabbed hot dogs at a stand next to the Van Gogh museum. It was the first time I had seen a hot dog stand in Europe.

Our next stop was the Heineken Experience. This was not a free entry like the other museums, but we did get a discounted price because of the I AMsterdam card and let me tell you, the experience was well worth the money. The entire factory was completely interactive. It blew my mind. Everything was modern and fresh. The first craic of the factory was the opportunity for some face in hole pictures. They had set up an area with different wood sheets to use as the foreground of the picture, and a cutout of where to put your face. They were hilarious. As I continued through the museum I drooled over the amazing advertisements and admired the cleaver product placement. There was also a interactive movie stimulater. There was a short wait in line, but in the movie room was a platform for standing. The platform moved along with the movie. The movie was about turning the viewer into a beer bottle. So the platform would shake and swirl as the beer did. We were also sprayed with water, and bubbles and wind were blown. It was an exciting aspect to the trip. Following the museum was a quick lesson of Heineken at a mini bar. We were all given a glass of beer, and taught how to inspect it. Then the factory continued. There was dancing rooms and rooms dedicated to movies that were endorsed by Heineken. There was also a room with futuristic chairs that you laid in. The chairs were low to the ground and looked like a giant C. The top of the chair curled around and had a TV screen right in your face. The screen played advertisements through out the years. Then, at the end of the factory was the bar. When I got my ticket to enter the factory, I also received a green rubber bracelet that says "Heineken" on it, and had 2 buttons attached. These buttons represent the two beers I could get. At the bar, a person simply traded a button for a beer. Overall, the factory was truly impressive. It definitely blew the Guinness factory out of the water.

Across the street from the Heineken Experience we hopped on a canal tour. This was another bonus to having the I AMsterdam card. The canal tour was fun. I was a little drained and buzzed at this point, so I don't think I enjoyed the experience as much as I could have. I didn't have enough energy to laugh at the boat captain's cheesy jokes. On the canal we passed a lot of the city center. It was nighttime, so it was dark out, and it was also rainy, so I didn't get to see much of what he was pointing to. I did get to look at the houseboats as we passed, and I found those to be very cool. There were some that are rented out as hotel rooms, and are the most expensive places to stay in Amsterdam, according to the tour guide.

The boat tour ended and it was raining hard. We ran to shelter to figure out our next step. The next step, of course, needed to be dinner. We sent two people off to find a restaurant that was in our book as a discount. They came back and reported it wasn't too far, so we made a dash for it. Soaking wet, we found the place, but decided to eat across the street. My meal didn't meet my expectations, but with a picky eater, that happens a lot.

After a long dinner period, we headed back to the hotel. Again, we went to see our friend Yvon at the bar. We had a pint in silence because of our exhaustion and went to bed soon after.

Saturday morning was early again. A few of us made it over to the store Lidl before leaving for the day. We picked up some breakfast bars, a few muffins, and a large bottle of water. Then, we were off for another day of adventuring. Off the tram station was a place called Heineken City, where we could go to get a free gift. We went to this stop first, and then continued on to the Anne Frank House.

The line was wrapped around the building, and at the sight of it, we lost many of our group members. Five of us were determined to wait to get in, because it was of top priority for many of us while we visited Amsterdam. Slowly another person came back to the line. The wait ended up not being long at all, and we entered the museum. While going through the museum and Anne's house, I took my time. I read the entire booklet that was handed out, and made sure not to miss a thing. I can confidently say that I read every sign on the wall, looked at every picture, and watched every film clip that there was in the museum. I was basking in a wealth of information. I felt like I knew a lot about Anne Frank before I went to the museum, but I definitely learned a lot more. I could not believe that they had her actual diary there on display. It was fascinating to even see her hand writing, despite the fact that I cannot read the language. The museum was wonderful and enlightening, and it was my favorite activity that I did while I was in Amsterdam.

Following the Anne Frank House, a few of the guys of the group wanted to go across the canal to see a man about a bottle of Absinthe. I went in, too. The man in the store gave a speech informing the group about the myths and truths of Absinthe and the green fairy. It was interesting, I took a few photographs, and then I left to sit outside on a bench with my friend, Brittany. It was one of many times that I was left waiting for the group this weekend, but I tried not to let the waiting around get to me and put me in a bad mood.

When they were done with their ATM runs, bargining with the store clerk, and purchasing their goods, we could move on with our day. We needed to get lunch. We walked towards the tram that we needed to take to our next stop and followed it until we found something to eat. We found a bagel shop, that was relatively quick, and it was cheap (well, compared to most European places).

It was midafternoon at this point, and we had to get on a tram to be able to get to our next stop. We went to another museum, and only had a half an hour to walk through it. That was fine by me, because once I entered, I knew I wasn't going to be interested in this one. I found some quality aspects to the museum, but overall, I wasn't overly enthused.

After this, we headed back to city center to figure out what we wanted to do. We decided on the Torture Museum. It was gruesome, and I think I'm scarred for life. Enough said.

Then, it was dark out, and the group was split. We decided to walk around for a bit and just see the city by foot. We found a few souvenir shops that we poked our heads into. I bought a few things as gifts for people. In one of the gift shops was a cat. Yes, a real cat. Cait and I fell in love. At that gift shop, we spent our time petting the cat and talking to it like crazy cat ladies. Then, when we said our good bye to Mr. Kitty, he got out of his cat bed in the corner and stared at us, so of course we had to go back and play with it more.

We walked down a few streets looking in stores, and figuring out how we were going to meet up with our dysfunctional group to go to dinner. It took a while, but we found everyone, and we found a place to eat.

Following dinner we took a trip on the wild side. We bared the Red Light District. I was so focused on walking to this place, that I was not paying attention to my surroundings. Then, all of a sudden we stopped abruptly, I looked up, and there was a scantily clad woman dancing in a window. This famous place, was terrifying. I didn't know whether to laugh or cover my eyes while walking through the streets. I kept saying a common phrase for this weekend, "this is not real life." Seeing the Red Light District was definitely an experience, and a necessity to visiting Amsterdam.

After finishing walking through that, it was time to go back to the hotel to get a little sleep. I fell asleep almost immediately after hitting my head to the pillow. We had an early morning and I was determined to maximize my sleep. We were up around 430 and left to adventure to finding our way to the airport by 530. Despite a few confusions with busses and the tram schedule, we made it to the airport stress free, and on time.

A fairly smooth, 1 hour flight later, I was back in Dublin. I loved Amsterdam, and if I had time in the semester, I would go back in a heartbeat.

I didn't get to take too many pictures because most of the museums didn't allow photography. I will upload the pictures soon to the Internet to share.

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