Monday, March 7, 2011


My mother complained that my previous blog entry was too depressing and I need to write a happier one. I cannot change my feelings, and I will not write a peaches-and-cream blog entry if it is not an accurate account of my life at the moment. However, luckily for her, I went to Amsterdam this past weekend and absolutely loved it. So, here is a genuinely happy blog post.

First of all, we need to briefly discuss the voyage Izabela and I went through to get to Amsterdam. Our plane was scheduled for a couple hours earlier than we originally thought, and she had to run home from her internship to grab her bag so we could go. We're sprinting all over the place, get off at Victoria, and we're running all over but we can't find our bus. All of the sudden while we're running, I hear a scream. I turn around, and Izabela is on the ground.

"MAN DOWN!" I scream, but in the typical London fashion of truly caring about those around you and helping each other out, everyone walked past and did nothing. We get her up, and keep running and finally see the bus. It's the 4:00 one though, not the 3:45 one we booked. We had no choice but to take this one instead, even though it wouldn't get us to the airport until 5:30 and our gate closed at 5:45. We're on the bus panicking about how we don't have enough time, we're going to miss the flight, how did this happen, we ran so fast, etc. etc. In this process of panicking, we mentioned things we would do for extra time, as a joke. I said, "I would definitely sacrifice a small animal right now for an extra 15 minutes or so... like, a wounded one that needs to be put out of it's misery. Like a bird."

I sacrificed a bird.

Literally five minutes after I say this, a bird flew straight into our bus and died. We watched it happen, jaws on the floor. And what happens? We get to the airport earlier than scheduled, our plane is slightly delayed, and we had time to not only get through security at a comfortable pace, but we grabbed a bite to eat as well. This was the craziest thing that has ever happened to me. We have named the bird Jesus (pronounced the Spanish way, for variety), because he gave his life so that we could live... in Amsterdam.

Now, Amsterdam is absolutely beautiful. It restored my faith in cities, showing me that it is possible for a city to be beautiful and not make me the least bit uncomfortable. You would think in a city where it seems like there are literally no rules that you wouldn't really feel safe in it. Not at all. I felt more safe walking through the Red Light District in Amsterdam than I do walking around a popular city street in London at night. Also, just as an interesting side note about everything being legal, marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam. Let me repeat that for those of you reading this while smoking a joint, living vicariously through my trip to Amsterdam. Weed is NOT legal in Amsterdam. But it might as well be. Our tour guide explained to us that the Dutch have a very interesting philosophy on laws and regulations. They're extreme businesspeople, so if it makes money, they can shrug it off. The rules for smoking just basically state that you have to be discreet about it, and you can't carry more than 5 grams on you at a time (which is a whole lot of weed). Though, I don't know how discreet countless "coffee shops" throughout the city really are (if you want a coffee, go to a cafe... not a coffee shop).

Our first day we had a free walking tour of the city, and our tour guide was absolutely phenomenal. Honestly, if you are traveling in Europe and want a fantastic free tour, look up Sandeman Tours. We saw a lot of interesting points in the city that you wouldn't be able to recognize just walking around by yourself, because while the some sites may look like nothing now, they historically mean a lot to the Netherlands.

In addition to this walking tour, we also went on a bike tour the next day through the same company. You know the phrase, "It's like riding a bike?"  Well, you would think riding a bike would be like riding a bike. It took quite a few blocks and more than a few stumbles, swerves, and collisions before it all came back to me. I guess there is a time limit on that phrase. This tour was possibly my favorite part of the trip though, because we learned a lot of other cool things like we did on the previous tour, but it was such a beautiful day and it was so nice to be riding a bike around the outskirts of the city.

The Van Gogh Museum, while I absolutely adore Van Gogh with all my heart, was about 15 euro and I'm a little strapped for cash. Also, we had so much we wanted to do to fit into two days, and it was either that or the Anne Frank House, so we opted for Anne Frank instead. It was so strange to be walking through the annex that the Frank family lived in, the one I had to picture for myself in 8th grade when we read the book. It was really powerful. It was emotional for some others who actually have emotions (one girl even threw up, which was quite the gross and smelly overreaction), but I just took it more as a piece of history. 

We also walked through the Red Light District at night for a little. It's actually a very tiny area of only a few blocks, and it's not sketchy at all. You'd also expect the prostitutes to be really gross, like the image of the trashed out girl with 4 teeth. No. They're all dangerously attractive, and I mean dangerously. They stand in their windows and just point you out and try to lure you in. We almost lost Mike a couple times. We learned about prostitution in Amsterdam on the tour, and it's actually very interesting. First of all, since it is legal, the girls are their own bosses, so there are no dangers with pimps. This also means that the girls are protected by the law, so if anything did come up, they wouldn't be treated like criminals but be helped instead. They also have an extremely low STD rate, because every single man is required to wear a condom. They essentially rent out the window, like a hairdresser rents a chair at a salon, and works for a normal 8 hour shift daily. The standard package is called a "Suck and..." (I think you can fill in the second rhyming word). This consists of 15 minutes of the aforementioned procedures, and costs 50 euros. 50 euros for 15 minutes! That's 200 euros an hour! If you consistently do that for your full 8 hour shift, you're making 1600 euro a day. Izabela and I highly considered starting a new career choice. After all, morals and dignity don't buy you shoes.

I honestly think America could learn something from Amsterdam. We have all these laws against prostitution and marijuana, and clearly they're so effective because nobody in America smokes weed or is a prostitute. We spend so much money each year trying to fight marijuana, but Amsterdam brings in an absolutely ridiculous amount of money each year in tourists buying marijuana (which it is mainly tourists, since locals rarely smoke if they do at all). America's argument is that it's a "gateway drug." This is complete crap. If people want to smoke weed, they are going to whether it is legal or not. Likewise, if they want to move on to higher drugs like cocaine or heroin, they're going to do that too whether it is legal or not. The difference here is that Amsterdam made an effort to legalize heroin when they had a huge heroin problem, so that users were seen as ill and treated for their condition rather than being punished for being a criminal. Prostitutes are much safer if it is legal, and the country could gain so much in profits if it just legalized marijuana and taxed us up the ass for it. It's not like these are things that don't already exist in our country. Nothing will truly change. People who don't want to smoke still won't, and those who do still will.

But that's enough of that. Let's talk about some really funny moments that happened on the trip:
1. I sacrificed a bird. I can't stress this enough.
2. On the tram to the tour, this crazy homeless guy kept trying to talk to Izabela and I. He was trying to touch my hand on the handrail, so I moved it away. Sam was standing with us, and the man said something to him about not letting us girls make him pay for everything. I joked around and grabbed Sam's arm, and said, "No, that's okay, don't listen to him." The guy loved this and told me I had to marry Sam, right then. So, I think Sam and I may be married.
3. Possibly my favorite moment on the trip when I just could not stop laughing was what I like to call, "Sam and the Fam." At the IAmsterdam sign, Sam climbed up on the letter S (for obvious reasons) so we could take a picture. As he does this, this family of literally about 20 or more people crowds in front of the S where Sam is sitting to take a picture, completely unaware of his presence. They're posing for their picture and Sam is sitting on the letter above them posing with them, until the very end of the photoshoot when they saw us all laughing and looked up to see Sam.
4. Izabela bought a wind chime. You may be wondering how this could possibly be funny. Izabela had the idea to buy the wind chime in the souvenier shop, and asked several of us our opinions on her buying it before she would get it. When her friend Grace asked, "Are you sure you really want to buy a wind chime?" she said, "I think I will really regret not buying it." So she did. Not even a half hour later, walking back, we hear Izabela, "This was so stupid! I'm so stupid! Why would I buy a wind chime?! I'm so dumb, this was such a dumb idea..."
5. While I wasn't there for this one, we heard it mentioned enough where I can still appreciate it. Mike, Sam, Amanda, Cori, and Bryttie went on a boat tour their first day (Izabela and I came together a day late). Mike slept through it. This is not unusual, because Mike also found a way to sleep in the Louvre on our Paris trip. However, he apparently would be completely unconscious, wake up and start taking pictures instantly as he sits up, and pass out again. Repeatedly.

I really think Amsterdam may have been my favorite trip so far. They've all been so incredibly different, and I would say it's a close call between whether I liked Toulon or Amsterdam better. It was really a beautiful city, and while I was only there for two full days, it was such an awesome time and I'm so happy I did it.

So, you know what's next. Amsterdam: Conquered.

Oh, and I'll see Steve in less than 36 hours. Aaaah!

Pretty church in Amsterdam. In the typical Dutch business fashion, they made the Church a business. When sailors would come into the city and perform, erm... immoral acts, they would sell them a piece of paper written by a minister (priest? pastor? I don't know the difference, honestly) of their sins but signed that they are forgiven. But what do the sailors do if they leave early in the morning after these immoral acts and the church isn't open? Don't worry, you can pre-order your paper. Just let the priest know the day before what you plan on doing, but it'll cost you double.

Down the canal on a street in Amsterdam. No fun story to go with this one.

Where the Dutch East India trade used to occur. You can see part of my blonde head all the way to the left behind Sam (if you're not too distracted by Izabela's bright yellow coat).

This building looked so majestic and beautiful, we figured it had to be some kind of government building or grand museum. No, it's just the train station.

An early shot of "Sam and the Fam," before about 20 more of them crowded into the frame.

Yeah, that's me in a giant wooden clog. Yeah, it was entirely necessary.

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