I'll chat about my return to Western Europe (it had been 5 years) and my day in Amsterdam. Where I do I start about this city? It's absolutely absurd. This is due to it having a juxtaposition of everything is legal and small romantic buildings on the canals. However, it all comes together in a pretty good city overall.
First of all, the Schipol airport is vaguely reminiscent of some indie film. The colors and the layout will throw you off…. subtlety. The Dutch people are nice and really matter of fact. They know why people go to Amsterdam and they are not phased by it. Throughout the airport, you can buy all manner of things orange and Amsterdam. You can also buy my personal favorite, stroopwafels!!! (Caramel filled wafer/waffels). After that, I tried to figure out the confusing train system, the first class (seats) and second class (standing, sitting or whatever) to get into Amsterdam Centraal where people will tell you where to go.
Upon arriving in the gorgeous Centraal Station, I had to figure out where to rent bicycles. I tried to look for STAR bikes but I only found Mac's bikes. Why a bike? Because Amsterdam is filled with bike paths for scooters(be aware) and bikes. This makes it a cheap and easy way to get around the small city, which creates car, bike and walking crossings. To speak more on the small city, you could probably see most of it in two days, including the museums. While I sadly didn't get to go to the Van Gogh Museum (or iamsterdam sign argh!), I got to go around to see the canals and houses in a leisurely time of about 40 minutes to cross the city.
Some other highlights: Anne Frank Huis, sobering experience with the home she and her family hid out in during WW2 that also contains her well-written original diary & transcripts. As such, I highly encourage you to check this out while you are here. Belgian beer and meat pates at a kind Dutch bar - once again I have to say the Dutch are nice, nonchalant people - including the expatriates (lots of Dutch colony expatriates too). The coffee shops and absinthe places, yes it is all legal here as long as it is natural. Note, I did not partake in any because I only had a day, but I did look around. The Begijnhof is a peaceful little housing area inside of one of the main squares where only women live. People getting excited about soccer at the bars (and public urination spots) it was a huge occasion. The many modes of transportation here: canals, cars, trams, bikes, and walking. The last highlight requires its own paragraph.
The red light district is what Amsterdam is associated with along with its coffee shops. However, the district is far more striking when you see it. The first time you see a woman behind that red-outlined window is an image that sticks in your mind. I almost crashed the bike from shock. Now, Amsterdam isn't the only red light district (Kabukicho has a different version in Tokyo) and Germany has a couple, but this is the most notorious one.
Couple facts: Women choose to be in the district and can only take the job with an EU passport, there are transsexuals with blue lights - several are from Thailand - the ladies have to pay taxes, get psychological support, have daycare systems, have security patrolling, have switches inside the rooms (the rooms are connected for emergencies), and some of the women are aggressive (cat calling you and slamming their doors open and close). Now, I'm not condoning the oldest business, but is the safest I've ever seen it. Far safer than any other country as well.
After I had seen enough of dads shielding their families eyes and groups of guys walking around stupefied, I rode the train back and headed back to Schipol to prepare for Turkey!
Travelblog: Turkey is next!