Thursday, April 4, 2013

The First of a Tale of Two Cities: Amsterdam

Dinner in Amsterdam, with Rene, Tera, and Tracie.

  Amsterdam-bound Easter weekend! And unlike my usual solo-traveling-ventures, this time, with a few friends alongside me.

  Even though this was not a last-minute trip, we didn't have much of a plan in place. Our only goal was to see the as much as the Dutch capital as we could, and enjoy each other's company.

  No matter how much traveling you've done, you always come into a city with a few prejudices in mind. Whether those ideas are accurate, well, that's for you to decide after you've spent some time exploring.

  It's safe to say everyone knows about Amsterdam because of the Red Light District. That's always the first thing that comes to mind. But surely there had to be more to this city than the 'heathenism' (sorry, don't know of a better word) found within the boundaries of red lights.

  That's what I wanted to find out -- what else was there to find in Amsterdam? Because I certainly wasn't visiting for the Red Light District.

Dam Square.
  Leaving Dunkerque on that Friday afternoon, and driving into Amsterdam three hours later was the equivalent of an almost-instant time warp. One world into another.

  I've written about feeling that way before: last year when I visited London, and again this year when visiting Paris. A few hours on the train was all it took to transport me into an alternate universe.

  It's always nice, having the ability to easily travel outside of small-town Dunkerque, into an international city. This time around, it was via a three-hour car ride.

  Here's what our weekend in Amsterdam looked like, Red Light District and all:

Tracie, Tera and Rene working on our game plan for the night.
  You know how difficult it is to get away on time, heading out on a road trip. My friends and I got a late start out of Dunkerque for various reasons. Bad traffic, and a few wrong turns put us even further behind schedule. We arrived around 6pm, with sore legs and backs from being squished inside a tiny car for four hours.

  For the second time, I used AirBnB to book a place to stay. As we checked into the house that was to be our home for the weekend, we tried to game plan for the evening: a little exploration of the city, and dinner. Nothing too wild and crazy.  

Dutch Food?
  None of us had a taste for anything specific, and what exactly is Dutch food anyway? Whenever you visit a new country, you'd like to explore a little of the cuisine. But I can't say I knew of anything that was particularly Dutch. So we were open to anything.

Wandering the streets, just off Dam Square.
  We enjoyed a small happy hour of our own at our place while we made up our minds. Our hosts messaged us a few 'cool' areas of Amsterdam where we would be able to pick out a fun restaurant.

  The 'cool' area we decided on, and the easiest for us to get to, ended up being Dam Square. So we hopped on the tram, and 15 minutes later, we were smack dab in the middle of it all. Las Vegas on caffeine, or something like that.

Wasting Little Time -- the Red Light District
  As we got our bearings, and walked a little, Dam Square accidentally (no really) led to the Red Light District. I thought I knew what to expect from the Red Light District, but really, I didn't. I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the ground the entire time. It was hard for it not to be, with legalized marijuana (sold in 'coffee shops'), legal prostitution and the like, surrounding us.

  That's far from my usual 'entertainment'.

De Wallen.
  I don't know why they call it a district, because it's certainly not one specific area. Random side streets, marked off with small red lights, essentially make up the Red Light District.

  So we unknowingly stumbled into the thick of it all, with hundreds of other tourists (which, to my estimate were 90% men). Nothing like getting to the nitty-gritty right off the bat!

  We couldn't help but laugh at ourselves. And stare.

  Once the novelty of the Red Light District wore off, we decided it was time to actually do what we had gone to Dam Square to do: eat dinner. Starving and cold, we found a little Italian place (aren't they always little?) that looked pretty good. It smelled delicious the instant we opened the door, Café Piazza it was! Hard not to enjoy a pizza and tiramisu. 

Freezing cold waiting on the tram to take us home!
  As always, the great thing about being in an international city, is the ability to shop at international stores and eat at international restaurants. Whatever you want, you usually can find it in a place such as Amsterdam. When I'm overseas for months at a time, that is something I always look forward to.

  After a good dinner, we made our way back to Dam Square, to hop on the tram back to our house.

  Our first night in the city, had definitely given me one impression of Amsterdam, and I can't say it was a favorable one. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the night. But I kept wondering how people lived, or spent much time amongst the madness.

  You can't visit Amsterdam and not walk through the Red Light District. But with that checked off the list, I was ready to see what else the Dutch capital had to offer.

  My mind remained open, and had I two more days to change my first two and three to follow!

Dam Square.
Dam Square.
One of the 'seed' shops.
Wandering streets, what we did best.
Rene's for Rene.
Non Red Light District. I think.
Red lights in the Red Light District.


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