Archive for November, 2010

Amsterdam Day 1

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The day began on the early side– up by 7:00am so I could make the most out of my only full day in Amsterdam. Had breakfast in the hostel’s nice cafeteria. Even saw a family with kids who was eating there and must’ve also been staying the night. A hostel is an interesting place to stay for a family vacation. Luckily ours wasn’t one of the wild ones.

After breakfast, I headed out to find the streetcar that would take me into the Museumplein, aka Museum Square. I was headed to the Rijksmuseum, one of the great European art museums. Had a few troubles as usual trying to get there, but eventually I was at the gates. Turns out the musuem was under construction and only a small part of it’s collection was open for viewing. That was OK, I didn’t have a ton of time to devote there anyway. Before I took my place in the ticket line, I stopped to get a hotdog from a guy with a very funny t-shirt. Put a pic of it up but I had to blur out part to keep things classy around here. Apparently the guy’s friend had made the shirt after hearing him complain that so many people would talk to him in whatever language they felt like and expect him to know it. Being amongst so many foreign languages and desperately yearning to hear English for the last 5 weeks, the shirt totally struck a note with me.

Anyway, after I finished laughing and eating my hot dog, I got in line and went into the museum. The first piece there was an amazing huge group portrait done by Bartholomeus van der Helst called “Banquet in celebration of the Treaty of Munster”. I was stunned at the level of detail and the lifelike expressions on each face. You could not only tell exactly what was going on in the scene, you could also tell what each character was thinking by the look on their face. Simply amazing. I included a picture from their website, since I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of my own. Again, I think it was a trick to get you to spend money on their picture books in the gift shop.

After the Van der Helst, I saw some collections of fine home furnishings, stuff like Delft pottery, elaborate furniture, and even these incredibly detailed doll houses. For a period, wealthy women would commission doll houses to be made and furnish the houses with exact scale replicas of things like real porcelain dishes from China, custom artwork and furniture. Everything was created like it would’ve been in the full scale, except for in miniature. The women treated decorating their doll houses as a serious hobby and ended up with these finely detailed and complex houses. It was an expensive hobby too. The one I looked at reportedly cost the owner between twenty and thirty thousand dollars, way back in the 1700’s. That was enough money to buy a real house!

After that, I saw a lot of paintings. The ones by Rembrandt were especially amazing. He captured light and texture and emotion like no one else I’d seen and the result was astounding. A couple of them I liked were Old Woman Reading and Night Watch, one of his most famous works. All of his pieces were stunning and captured a state of reality more intense than a photo ever could. Another work I enjoyed was Jacob van Ruisdael’s Landscape with Waterfall. I’ll include pictures of all these at the end, though so much of the detail and impact is lost in a photo.

So when my tour of the Rijksmuseum was over, I decided to just walk around and explore the city. My memory gets a little fuzzy here because I didn’t take enough pictures. I remember running into an open air market and buying a cool lapis ring as a souvenir. I also walked around the red light district a little bit, although it wasn’t quite the same place during the day. This area was definitely the most crowded and touristy of the city. I’ll talk more about the place later on.

At some point, I also decided to rent a bike to help me see more of the city. Amsterdam is not a very car friendly city but for bikers, it’s paradise. The city is pretty compact and you can get anywhere within 15 minutes if you’re riding. They have dedicated bike lanes pretty much everywhere and always a place to lock your bike up. It was fun sailing up and down the canal streets on a bike.

Hunger kicked in at some point, so I opened up my guide book to find a good place. I decided to go to this place called Restaurant-Cafe in de Waag. The place was originally built in 1488 as a weigh house for one of Amsterdam’s city gates. It has served many uses since then: fencing hall, furniture factory, fire station, and many more but now it’s primary use was for the restaurant. The interior was classy but a bit medieval since the structure was all stone and the interior was lit solely with candles and window light. Pretty cool to be eating in a place like that. I thought it’d be the last fancy meal of the trip. The food was absolutely delicious too. I don’t remember exactly what everything was but see the pictures for more detail here.

I couldn’t linger too long at dinner, so I finished up and paid the bill. My next mission was to check out a source of inexpensive Delft to get a few souvenirs. I’d seen a piece for sale in the gift shop of the Rijksmuseum but the thing cost €564, so it wasn’t quite in my price range. For those who are unfamiliar, Delft is white porcelain hand painted with blue designs, usually floral. It was originally created as a substitute for Chinese porcelain when they were unable to import any more. Since then, it has grown into its own style completely and is coveted by many.

I found a place selling official Delft but unfortunately, they were closed. Tomorrow, then. My next stop was the Anne Frank House. I’d heard that lines could be hours long, so I’d planned to go late in the evening. I think the plan worked, because I didn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes before heading inside. No pictures allowed, as usual. Sad. The experience was well orchestrated– they handed out portable audioguides and you walked along the house, every once in a while running into a TV screen playing a small clip of an interview or reading from Anne Frank’s book. It was cool to see the actual place they had stayed in but I had a hard time feeling sorry for them being cooped up there. I know it was a bad thing compared to the way that they had been living before, but compared to the many who were shipped off to concentration camps, they had it pretty nice. It was amazing to hear Anne’s perspective on the matter and they had pulled some of the incisive quotes from her diary to display in the exhibits. Being in that same place where her family had lived and she had written the diary was pretty awesome too. It was horrible hearing about the fate they all ultimately suffered, though.

By the time I got out of the Anne Frank house, it was dark. My only agenda item left for the day was to check out the famous Red Light District at night. I don’t think my descriptions will be able to do it any justice, but I’ll at least try. The center of the Red Light District is an area about 4 streets wide and 8 blocks long. It’s crowded with coffee shops, neon-lit stores, and of course the famous red lit doors showcasing scantily clad women. Most people just roll on through the area, gawking and laughing amongst themselves. Every once in a while, you do see somebody talking with a girl in her doorway and then going in. As you walk by, the women start tapping furiously on the glass to get your attention. It was weird and a little creepy at first but eventually the ridiculousness of it all just made me smile.This place made Vegas look like Bible Camp.

So after my time in the RLD, I decided to call it a night. It had been quite a sight to behold.

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November 21st, 2010 at 12:04 pm

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Berlin Day 4

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Hey guys, long time no post. Sorry for that– things have been busy for me and I haven’t been good about doing my blog. It’s fun after I can make myself sit down and start writing. After all this time, it’s amazing I can still remember so much. I think the memories are growing even fonder in my mind.

Day four in Berlin started with a big to-do list of things I had to finish before leaving the city. Mainly, I wanted to do a bunch of souvenir shopping and I also had postcards from the last three or four cities to mail. It was time to finally get those suckers sent because I’d already put Austrian stamps on most of them but couldn’t find a damn mailbox near the train station in Vienna and forgot about them in Innsbruck. Funny how little stuff like that can get you– and these stamps weren’t cheap either.

So I checked out of the lovely Industriepalast hostel at 9:30 and had a quick meal. They let me leave bags there for free, so I dropped them off and went to go on my errands. It was hard deciding whether to go north up to the area around the sticker museum where I had seen some other clothing shops or down south, where I knew a “street apparel” store was. Ended up deciding to go north first because the street apparel store was open later on this Saturday. Anyway, the air was cool and the sun was bright as I walked up there. I went by the shops but they were all opening at 11 so I killed some time at a local sidewalk cafe sipping on some coffee and reading my guidebook.

When 11 rolled around, I went up to this one place that had tons of shirts in a full rainbow of colors. I was looking for some shirts done by Berlin artists. Found a few good looking ones there but didn’t buy them then- I wanted to shop around a bit first. Next stop was the sticker museum to check out a few of the shirts I saw they had before. The owner was there this time and so I talked to him briefly. Really nice guy and he was even cool with me asking what other shops I should visit to buy art shirts. I bought a shirt there and kept chatting with him about his stickers and the art scene in Berlin. I asked him if there was any way I could get some Berlin street art magazines back in the states and he said that most of them in Berlin are locally produced “fanzines” that never make it out of the area. But he took my email address and said he’d get in touch when some came in and ship them over to me. That was so cool of him to offer! I’m actually still waiting on that to pull through but he did email me months later to ask if I was still interested. Emailed back and now I’m crossing my fingers on that one!

So I got a picture with him and thanked him a bunch and then left the store. He had marked a couple nearby places on the map for me to visit, so I headed up that way. One of those places was a really cool art gallery/merch shop and I loved the prints the guy had on the wall. There was some really cool and tempting pieces to buy but I didn’t think I could get it home safely and was also running low in the money department. Next time…

Since I didn’t see anything really good at those places, I went back to the first place and bought one of the shirts I’d found earlier. Fit great and has a really cool design! Time was running a little short but I still had errands to do. I found a place selling stamps and bought another $20 in postage to finally get those postcards sent. Had to sit down and write about 12 more for the places I’d bought postcards but never finished them. Got the whole stack written and posted and sent– relief!

Timing was almost perfect and I started heading back to the hostel to pick up my stuff. I wished I had time to go to a few more places, but things had just taken too long. But as I was walking back, another shop caught my eye with its clever title– Yack Fou. I still had to get a souvenir for a friend, so I popped in there to quickly buy something. Found a great shirt but they only had a medium and I needed small. Asked the clerk for a small but she said she’d get back to me after finishing with this customer. Anxiety levels started rising as I realized that I was starting to run behind schedule. Eventually she came out to me and said ok, I’ll get a medium printed right now. “printed?” I didn’t realize this shop made their shirts! So now it was too late to back out as she was warming up the transfer machine. Waited nervously as she put the design on the shirt, clamped down on it with the hot metal plates and let it melt into the fabric. Finally, the thing came hot out of the machine and into a bag. I paid and headed out the door.

It was getting so late that I had to start jogging. What an idiot, I thought to myself as I jogged down the sidewalk with my bags of shirts. Oh well, I’d never see these people again. Made it back to the hostel and picked up my gear and booked it back out the door. No time to lose now and I was in a quick jog as this point. Just have to make it to the s-bahn. Pant pant, lungs burning. Rushed to the station, down the stairs and out to the platform. Less than a minute later and the train pulled into the station and I got on. Phew, that was quick. But I still wasn’t out of the woods yet. My train to Amsterdam left in like 20 minutes.

I mentally flogged myself for always repeating this behavior. Why do I always cut things so close?! Too much stress for a person to put them selves under. Rolled into the main train station with like 7 minutes to spare and I ran down to the main level to see the departures board and check the platform number. Ok, got it. Ran back up a couple flights of stairs with my big bag on and found the platform. Had about 2 minutes to spare as I got on and took a big sigh of relief. Wow, that was way too close! But I couldn’t help grinning a little bit.

The train ride was long and I don’t remember much happening. There was a bunch of kids my age who came on with a case of beer bottles and cause a bit of a ruckus with their train party but thankfully they left after about an hour. Probably spent most of that time blogging on my phone. I didn’t know how to get to my Amsterdam hostel but I figured I could easily get to a nearby internet cafe to look it up. That’s one thing you can rely on in any large city.

The train actually didn’t go all the way to Amsterdam. Forgot what city I had to transfer in but it was close to Amsterdam and I found an internet cafe there. Looked up my new hostel and got the directions. This planning thing was finally getting a little easier. Hopped on the train and within an hour or so I was at my new place– the Stayokay Amsterdam Zeeburg. It had clean feel, good rooms and wifi (albeit expensive) in the lobby. Not too bad. It was 10:15 and I was getting pretty hungry. Asked the clerk for a recommendation and he pointed me towards a nearby main street with a couple options.

I ended up at this Italian place– weird, I know. But they were open and so I walked in. The place was empty, save for a few employees and their friends hanging out near the bar. They were prompt and pleasant with their service. Spoke in English to me– thankfully. I heard the Dutch know many languages, especially English. Good. Had a Heineken beer, which surprisingly tasted so much better than any Heineken I’d had in the states. The beer is made right there in Amsterdam, so it was super fresh and didn’t have any extra stuff added to make it last the trip to the states. Mmm, delicious!

Anyway, I had some salad and pasta– typical Italian meal. From what I remember, it was good. When they brought my check, it came in a little wooden chest. Inside, was the slip of paper and two little mints. How cute! I took a picture and am proud to share it with you all. Fanciest presentation of a bill I’d ever gotten. After that meal, I felt pretty tired and so I headed back home. Oops, forgot to say what the buildings were like. They were all rectangular brick buildings with brown roofs and plain exteriors. But they had the look of security and I liked that. The neighborhood was quiet and clean, felt like a typical suburb. Weather was overcast and cool but not raining. Ok,that ends the day.

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November 6th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

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