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Weekend in Amsterdam

September 17, 2006

WHEW! What a weekend! I'm finally back in Sevilla, I just finished unpacking, and at last I have a chance to breathe and reflect on the past few days. Friday morning I woke up at 4 am, took the back that I had packed the night before, and went with my friend Heather to the train station, where we took the AVE to Madrid. We got into the city around 9:30, went to the airport, and caught the 1:20 flight to Amsterdam.

Day 1 – Friday

My first impression of the Netherlands was actually one of surprise- it was hot and muggy when we arrived, and I had been expecting cooler, fall-like weather. No sooner had I gotten over that shock when Heather and I had another (worse) one– a 50 Euro cab ride to the city!! We'll never make that mistake again…

The hostel that I had booked, however, was both pleasant and lovely. It's really a little hole in the wall type place- if there wasn't a sign that said "Youth Hostel", most people would probably walk right by never knowing it was there. The inside of the Hostel's main floor was evocative of a harem…everything was plush or gauzy or draped with fabric, all in rich berry tones that shimmered. The walls were a deep purple-mauve, decorated with gold leaf stenciling and tiny glass jewels. In the waiting area there was a gold chaise pushed up against the wall, underneath a map of the world and a bookshelf filled with guidebooks. The bathrooms were separated from the main area by means of long, sheer curtains, and the stalls were painted a deep blue, with gold-stenciled stars and moons along the ceiling. It all sounds a little gaudy, I know, but all together the effect was quite tranquil.

Heather and I hadn’t been there 5 minutes when I discovered by way of conversation that the girl checking us in (Gina) was originally from Portsmouth—and also happened to know a friend of mine from high school! Talk about your small world, right? Gina took us up the four flights of stairs (windy, leg-breaking stairs, I might add) to the girls dorm, and we began the process of settling in…and by settling in I mean changing for the concert. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The dorm was actually a converted loft apartment in the center of Amsterdam, although we didn’t realize just HOW central until Saturday. But Friday night was the Jay-Z concert at the Heineken Music hall, and it was all that was occupying our minds at that moment.

Now, I’ll be honest here. I’d actually been planning this trip since before I left the US…I bought my concert ticket two days before leaving the country, and then Heather and I planned the rest once we arrived in Spain. There, the truth is out. I am a sneaky, sneaky little girl.

Before dropping us off, our Cabbie had pointed out the Centraal Station, and told us that we would be able to get to the Heineken Music Hall by Metro. What he hadn’t told us was that our Hostel was incredibly convenient to Centraal Station—less than 5 minutes walking. So, Heather and I got a Metro pass with just enough for the trip, and hopped on the 54 to the Music Hall. At first, we thought that it was the HUGUNGOUS arena that we could see to the left…but then I turned and noticed the building with the giant Heineken Stars…so we went there.
The concert…was…amazing. Quite possibly the best concert I have ever attended. A Dutch rap group opened for Jay-Z (who speaks English), and Dutch rap is really cool, even if you can’t understand what’s being said. Oh, and mom, you were right—everyone swears in English, regardless of their native language. Lazy bums…

Heather and I grabbed seats in the front of the bleachers behind the sound booth, because I didn’t think it would be such a good idea to be caught in the pit with jumping people…me being recently gimpy and all. The seats turned out to have an awesome view, but let me try to give you a picture of this place: When you walk in the front doors, traffic flows to the right, and brings you into a huge, high-ceilinged hallway with the coatroom, food vendors, t-shirts, etc. I got a piece of pizza, and a Heineken…it seemed only appropriate.

I noticed two major differences between a concert in the U.S. and a concert in Holland, which I will share with you now:
1) Cameras and video equipment are NOT confiscated. Had I known this, I would have pictures of Jay-Z. Oh well.

2) You can smoke—anything—inside the Heineken Music Hall. Had I known this, I would have sat farther away from the pot smokers behind me. Again, oh well.
There really are no words to adequately describe the concert…I was completely blown away. I was also totally gratified, because he did "Dirt Off Ya Shoulders", which I LOVE. I was rocking out from the bleachers…I wish you could’ve been there. The best part of the evening, however, was the metro ride home, and I’ll tell you why.

After the concert, people were pouring out of the Music Hall and onto the Metro, and there was this overwhelming feeling of camaraderie…good show, good food, happy people, you know? So, we got onto the Metro car, and it was LOADED with concert-goers…so much so that at one stop I had to get off the train so that people who needed to could exit. As I was standing on the platform, the bells for the doors to close began to ding…I leaped into the car just as the doors slammed shut—on my purse! I started tugging on my bag, while at the same time laughing hysterically, because the stupid thing would not budge. All of a sudden, at least 8 people (including Heather), grabbed either the doors, my bag, or me, all in an effort to help me reclaim my purse. We finally freed the bag, amidst much cheering and laughter, and much to my relief…

Day 2 – Saturday

Saturday, Heather and I woke up around 9. We got dressed, wandered down the street, and had breakfast at a little corner café, where I marveled over the generous portion of thick-cut, juicy bacon; which I hadn’t tasted since leaving home, and which (in conjunction with some freshly squeezed orange juice) made the prospect of my day a bright one.
It took us a little while to get our 24-hour Metro/tram/bus passes, but we finally managed, and hopped on the #17 tram bound for Westermarkt. It was during this ride that we realized what an awesome job I had done finding our Hostel…we were literally 10 minutes away from one of the busiest places in Amsterdam—The Dam (the main square) which is home to the Royal Palace, the National Monument, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum…but that’s a story for a little bit later.

Our first stop was the Anne Frank House, which has been a dream of mine to visit for a long time now. It’s funny…I never liked the book much, probably because I had to read it in class and "analyze" it…but I knew somewhere in my heart that visiting this house would be completely different, and it was. I was moved, nearly to the point of tears a few times. When you see how her family lived, what they went through just to survive…when you can run your fingers over the pictures that she pasted on the wall to cheer up her room…when you can see the stars that they had to wear, and the Swastika painted on her statue by those who would deny the Holocaust…it all hits home, and it hits hard. It was absolutely worth it, though, and I’m glad I went.

On our way back, we stopped at a little shop where I bought an "Amsterdam" bag, and then Heather and I headed back to the Hostel to freshen up before going out to walk around the city. We weren’t going to Madame Tussaud’s until 3, so we had plenty of time to wander. We did a little souvenir shopping, took some silly pictures (like the one of me in the clog), and stopped at a café for a break, and to celebrate being such good travelers! I also had some of the best lemon sorbet I have ever tasted…oh, how I love ice cream! Anyway…

By the time we were done with all that it was 3 o´clock, and it was time for Madame Tussaud’s. Now, if you’re not familiar with Madame Tussaud’s, I’ll fill you in: it is a world famous museum that houses life-like wax figures of celebrities/politicians/etc. In 5 locations…one of which is in Amsterdam. The best part, though, isn’t how very realistic the figures are, or how many there are; but rather the fact that you are allowed—no, encouraged to photograph yourself WITH the wax figures. This can make from some pretty silly pics, as I’m sure you’ll see! The only disappointment was not having my photo taken with Jack Sparrow…but that one cost money that I didn’t have to spend. Heather and I had a blast…I was running around like a little kid, all "OOH! Take a picture of me with James Brown/Pierce Brosnan/Oprah/!!"

A lot of the figures are set up in ways that practically BEG for photos—like Robbie Williams on a pimp bed, or George Clooney seated at a table for two…alone. I can’t remember the last time I had that much fun in a "mueseum"…it was really fantastic.

After an hour of that silliness, though, we were both exhausted, and when we left the museum we agreed it was time for dinner and relaxation. We hit one café for dinner, another one for dessert…and then we went back to the Hostel and pretty much passed out. I had dreams of awesome concerts and famous people…^_^

The vibe in Amsterdam is completely and indescribably unique. The city is incredibly diverse—it looks like something I’ve always dreamed of seeing, where there are so many people of so many colors that there is no clear majority. The Dutch are also very tolerant, it seems. My one regret is that I don’t speak any Dutch at all—it’s a beautiful language, when you really listen to it. I’d like to go back again, for longer…maybe even live there someday. This weekend will definitely go down in my book as one of the best weekend ever…hard to beat, but at least I have a new standard.

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