While the previous days in France may have seemed like “full” days, today wins the Olympic gold medal for fullest day in recent history. I woke up at 4:00 AM to take a quick shower, finish packing my bag, and meeting some colleagues down in the hotel lobby to share a taxi to the airport. It’s around 75€ to get from our hotel to the airport, which seems expensive for one person, but divided by four is actually not that bad. Or, at least, that was the original idea.
Yesterday I joked about how it seemed like it was entirely possible that there was something major going on in Marseille and we were just too ignorant to realize it. Well, today that line of logic seemed even more prevalent as the entire highway was closed. We couldn’t even get on the proper road to reach the airport without five different detours. I’m still not sure what if anything happened, but there was quite a while there where we weren’t even really sure if we could get to the airport- Much less make our respective flights.
I managed to talk Brian into coming along, even though he had a flight a few hours after ours thinking surely it wouldn’t be an issue to change it. We were all headed to Amsterdam, all via Air France, the only difference is three of us were on the 7:00 AM flight while he was on the 9:00 AM flight. Simple change, right, especially considering how empty regional flights typically are? Nope. 390€ to switch the flight around. So, we all left Brian in the main lobby of the airport and headed to our gate where there were maybe a dozen people waiting.
A quick flight later and we were in Amsterdam, but not before I spent close to an hour sitting next to a fellow American from Texas who was more than a little excited to talk to someone else who spoke English about all of God’s work that she did in Marseille. I smiled, nodded, and played Super Hexagon.
The Amsterdam airport is awesome, and after I got my bags I headed to the train to get to the center of the city. This is where things got confusing, as while everyone is super friendly and seems to be more than happy to speak English, all the signage is in Dutch. I made it to the station essentially by following the guy who was immediately in front of me in line who bought an identical ticket. It ended up working out, although the tram system following the train was (initially) equally confusing as you buy your ticket on the tram and they don’t seem to have any kind of destination associated to them. For instance, it’s not the green line headed towards Harlem, instead you just get on the number nine.
The tram was super cool and headed straight through the heart of Amsterdam, giving me my first look of the city.
Here’s what’s crazy about Amsterdam: It seems like in western media we romanticize Europe to disgusting lengths whether it’s movies set in “magical” Paris, the absinthe bars of Barcelona, and other similar destinations that just don’t exist in North America. These kinds of places almost take on their own mythology, inspired largely by Hollywood, but in reality they’re nothing like you imagine them to be. Don’t get me wrong, Paris is cool, and it was neat to drink Absinthe, but both can (and are) a little disappointing if you’re setting your expectations in fictional fantasy.
To a large extent, I was expecting this in Amsterdam. I mean, the city has this notorious reputation where drugs flow like water, legal prostitution is everywhere, and other things like that. I can say with full authority after today, that Amsterdam vastly exceeded any and all expectations I had with just how much of that there is here. I’m actually vaguely disappointed that “coffee” shops don’t really sell coffee, as weird as that is.
Also, the red light district is like something straight out of… I don’t even know. It’s hard to believe it exists. I’ve never ever seen anything like that. Sure, I’ve been to a bunch of cities, and I’m sure I’ve seen lots of prostitutes regardless of whether or not I realized it at the time, but never anything like this. According to Brian, the red light district has been significantly “cleaned up” since the last time he was here. I can’t even imagine.
One thing that was really funny was how many of the girls were sitting in their little windows just fiddling around on their phones. There was this hilarious juxtaposition between girls who were actively in their windows tapping and trying to lure people in and girls who were, I don’t even know, reading Reddit or playing Doodle Jump or something.
What’s really strange as an American in Amsterdam is you’re just trained from an early age to associate drugs, prostitution, and all these other vices with crime, sin, or whatever you want to label it. Initially it all seems really seedy and dangerous as you’re walking around, then you realize there’s police everywhere keeping order and everything just feels totally safe. It’s such a confusing thing to experience regardless of how much the puritanical roots of America impacted your life as a citizen.
Brian and I are staying in the same hotel, and it’s been super cool being able to hang out with someone who knows the city so well. He went to college here, so actually being able to go places and know things with someone who is already familiar is so vastly superior to my typical travel procedure of just choosing a direction to walk and stopping somewhere cool.
After eating lunch at this incredible local sandwich place we headed to the oldest cigar shop in Amsterdam. I’ve never really been in to cigars on any level, but this place was just jaw-droppingly nice inside and it seemed silly to not take advantage of being able so sit in the swankiest smoking room I’ve ever seen smoking a cuban cigar crafted exclusively for this place. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but, without fail I went through the same rapid decline from “This is awesome” to “This is terrible” over the course of about 15 minutes.
“Cuban cigars? Even better!”
“Look at me smoking this cigar!”
“My mouth tastes like butt.”
“My clothes smell like my mouth tastes.”
“What have I done.”
That’s a pretty accurate account of how this all went down. I still taste and smell like cigar. But, how many times are you smoking Cubans in Amsterdam? The experience was worth it.
Oh, and bike culture in Amsterdam is bananas. First off, no one drives cars. It’s eerie how few cars there are on the street, to the point that if you wanted to you could basically just walk down the street. The bike lanes? Those are like highways. There is constant bike traffic, and apparently, bikes always have right of way over both pedestrians and cars. In fact, it’s so accepted that you’re supposed to get out of the way of anyone on a bike, that it’s your fault if you get hit by a cyclist- Better yet, if as a pedestrian you get in the way of a cyclist, it’s totally acceptable for them to tell you, “Krijg de kanker” which which quite literally translates to “Get the cancer” in English.
I’m not joking. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
For dinner we went to this stupidly good local italian restaurant where I had spaghetti carbonara. I’m not sure if it’s just because I haven’t had pasta in a million years or if this was just especially good, but it was mind blowing. After that, I ran back to the hotel to do a bunch of work, and here I am finishing this blog post at 1:00 AM.
I’ve got no idea what we’re doing tomorrow, but I’m sure it’ll be awesome.