20.07.2013 - 21.07.2013
When I asked my father what his impression of Amsterdam was, he said it was much nicer than the first time he had been here, when his impression was largely based off someone near where he was staying yelling up the street “Hey, man, want some cocaine?”
I had a much nicer first time in Amsterdam. (I also had a nicer experience than my sister the first time, one and a half at the time, who felt betrayed by her parents when they told her she could eat the very spicy green beans. She liked spicy food much less then than she does now.) Mainly, my impression of Amsterdam is flowers and market stalls. Sometimes the two combine.
Even staying away from the Red Light District, there are glimpses of it. There are souvenir shops that sell magnets labeled “Red Light District.” There are souvenir shops that sell items that would be very comfortable in the Red Light District. There are museums labeled on the map and stores on otherwise normal-looking streets that you wouldn't want to wander into aimlessly. There were probably people who sold drugs that I passed.
But if you ignore those things, Amsterdam is a very pleasant city. There are a lot of museums, none of which I visited, but a few of which I saw lines for. There are plenty of benches and parks, and bridges over canals. There are flowers on most of those bridges and parks. And I passed at least three different markets.
The first market seemed to be an arts and crafts market. There was a lot of jewelry for sale, but also bags, clothing, square pieces of canvas with paintings on it, gift boxes shaped like houses in the Netherlands, stuffed birds, make-your-own wooden-board-and-yarn-crosstitch, mathematical puzzles, statues, dolls, bicycles, and food, among other things. The first time I passed it many people were still setting up (but were very nice about me looking at it anyway.) I went back later when every stall was set up and ready for customers, and spent a lot of time looking around and occasionally buying things.
The second market was for plants. Mainly flowers. The first time I just saw the first stall, and was impressed by all the flower bulbs they had for sale, but figured it made sense in a city with that many flowers in public spaces. Then I realized there were another six or seven stands behind it, all of which sold some variant of plants. Next to the market were permanent stores. At least two of those stores were dedicated exclusively to cheese. It was a very redundant street. Walking down it several times did not help.
The third market was more artistic than the first. It was also much smaller. There were only two stalls that sold jewelry, and the rest all sold paintings.
The parks have also been rather pleasant. One of them (technically, the garden of the Rijks Museum) had two women playing instruments (piano and guitar) and singing. There weren't places to sit close enough to hear them, so I stood for a while and listened.
Later on, I walked by the same general area and noticed a large crowd gathered around. Because they were clapping their hands and not shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight!” (or whatever the dutch equivalent is. It probably has at least three as in it. The Dutch language loves the letter a.) I joined them. I came just in time to catch the fund-raising portion of a performance.(I also heard mention of one of them spinning around, but couldn't see him because there were people in front of me.)
“We don't want your applause. We want your money. It's OK, we'll give you an example.” Held up a five Euro bill. “You give this, we go home happy. You give 10 Euro, we go home very happy. You give 100 Euro, we go home with you.”
The food's been different from what I've been used to eating on this trip. With the exception of my remarkable ability to find sandwiches with ham (a disadvantage, seeing as I don't like ham) I've enjoyed it. For dinner, my family has been going out to Rijstaffel. Just like the British Empire, the Dutch realized that the food on the country they were colonizing was much better than their own, and stole it. So there are plenty of places in Amsterdam that serve Indonesian food. We tried two of them.
My favorite difference between the two: In the first restaurant, the waiter explained “this bowl has coconut powder. If you sprinkle it on food, it helps with the spiciness. “ In the second restaurant, the waitress said “This is powdered coconut. You can sprinkle it on everything.”
From what I can tell, people in Amsterdam are nice and friendly. My experience with them consists mainly of brief encounters in stores, restaurants, and at the hotel. One of the vendors in a marketplace told me about the influence of her mother and grandmother on her jewelry designs when I asked what the price of a ring was. The waitress at the restaurant got into a decent conversation with the Frenchmen sitting near us when she discovered one of them had been to Indonesia. And this is the first hotel I've been in where when I ask if there's a staircase I can use respond “there's a staircase for staff, but we can show it to you if you want.”
I would not have found it on my own, because it's through the kitchen and around two corners. The person who showed me the stairs the first time (I really don't like elevators) followed me to tell me I could take the stairs again on the way down when he thought I'd come down the elevator. (I hadn't.)
Coming down the stairs has the advantage that there are signs pointing to the lobby. Finding the stairs from the kitchen requires relying on memory without looking too lost. I've had three people say hi to me while I've been walking through, and no one's questioned me about what I'm doing in the kitchen. Which is kind of surprising, given I wouldn't think that most hotels would like guests wandering through the kitchen. Like I said, nice and friendly.
Overall, very fond of Amsterdam. Even if the closest I can come to understanding the language is to slowly sound out the words I read in a thick German accent. (I don't know what a thick Dutch accent sounds like.) There are some words that it fails with it rather dramatically, (like the brand Rabobank, when you consider that the “a” is an “ah” sound) but it succeeds more often than I'd expect And the people I've met who have been hardest to understand when they were speaking English have had Mexican or French-part-of-Belgium accents, and everyone speaks very good English, so communication hasn't been difficult.
And I've neither been offered cocaine, nor eaten anything so unexpectedly spicy it made me cry, so I count this as a good first trip to Amsterdam.