Amsterdamn, I'm confused

Sorry for the obvious pun.

I’m confused about a lot of things. I will enumerate them:

1. How to get around Amsterdam! I got turned around so many times. If I go back, I might actually take a compass. Nah, I’ll probably just get lost a lot again. I don’t know why, it’s just hard to navigate.

2. If I’m even in the right place. I got a tour of the CS building here- it’s just a few rooms in one building, really. Both my classes are being taught by the same professor. It’s not a big department- I don’t know why I got the impression that it was. Also, none of my classes are even taught in the “problem-based” format that U. Maastricht is known for. So will they be good classes? Will I learn anything useful? Will they give me any insight into what it is that I want to do with my life? And then, second half-semester, I’m basically taking a break. Yeah, five-day weekends are nice, but is it worth it? This is not my biggest concern, because the classes mostly all satisfy requirements, and it’s about the same degree of difficulty that I’ve taken in the past, and you don’t study abroad for the classes.

3. This isn’t a confusion, but an update on the Amsterdam trip: I’ve complained about the Paris trip, and this Amsterdam trip was about half the same. The first day, they shuffled all 16 of us through a canal tour, the Anne Frank House, our hotel, and the “Boom Chicago” comedy show. The next day they shuffled all 16 of us through the Heineken Experience and the Rijksmuseum. This was frustrating. Then they let us go, and that was neat. I checked in to the hostel, went to dinner with some folks from our group, then split off and wandered all night. Got back late, got up early, rented a bike, and wandered some more, passing the Waterlooplein, Nieuwmarket, and seeing the Oude Kerk. Tried to meet some friends at the Van Gogh museum, failed, saw the Van Gogh museum, and wandered some more.

My thoughts on the attractions:

Canal tour- meh. “On the left, you see the golden lions on top of this house, which used to belong to Pieter Brooge de Hoog” and so on. I don’t like guided tours. That said, the canals are very nice, and maybe my favorite part of the city.

Anne Frank House- more moving than I thought it would be. Still, the house itself is just a few empty rooms, but you do get to see the size of it, and also the feeling of being crammed in these rooms for two years. Eep. And then you see scenes from the concentration camps, and I thought about a week and a half ago when it was cold and I was stumbling home with what turned out to be a stomach bug/fever/etc, and I felt awful, but I knew I would be home in 15 minutes and then I could lay in a warm bed all I wanted, and I thought about how many concentration camp prisoners were sick and cold (without a coat) and hungry besides, and stumbling back maybe to a freezing barracks so they could sleep for a couple hours before they had to get up the next day and work, and by the way there’s this whole threat of being killed all the time, and I can’t imagine how anyone survived! So, in short, worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Boom Chicago- pretty lame comedy show. Half improv, half scripted. Yeah, comedy is hard, as I know firsthand, but there were so many stale jokes (the show was called “Me, Myspace, and iPod” and it ended up being a bunch of jokes about Myspace and iPods, which might have been funny five years ago) and the improv was not even that good. Plus they were Americans, and most of the jokes were about Americans, so it was only culturally interesting for the “this is what Americans think Dutch will find funny, as a parody of America” sort of thing, not “what the Dutch actually find funny” (although, admittedly, any Dutch comedy show would be, well, in Dutch.)

Heineken Experience- stupid fun. It’s not even a brewery anymore, but sort of a museum-exhibit of Heineken. Kind of cool to see how they make beer, but then I was at this kiosk and they played a prospective Heineken commercial and asked me what I thought, and I realized I was doing research for them, and I paid for it. But there were some free beers. But it was 11 AM. It’s amazing how pumped my friends got for free beers. Look, they’re not “free”- you paid for them as part of your admission! But people love paying for something, and then getting something else as a “free bonus” along the way. Someone should use that fact, for good or for evil.

Rijksmuseum- really cool! It’s about half Dutch historical artifacts and half Dutch art. Overall, something like 15 rooms, so very manageable. And we got an audio guide headphones set, which is usually annoying, but was kind of neat. They had huge scale models of ships, big old dollhouses owned by rich merchants, silver pieces, and a couple paintings that I even recognized. And the Night Watch! Is it lame to really like that painting? It’s kind of like Rembrandt’s “Hey Ya” in that he did a lot of other cool stuff, and people even know it, but it’s really his one big hit. But it’s really cool! Here it is, check it out. If you go to Amsterdam, you should see this museum.

Waterlooplein- a big crap market. You may be familiar if you’ve been to New York.

Nieuwmarket- a square where they have a food market. I would have been more excited if my state of mind had been better after visiting Waterlooplein.

Oude Kerk (“Old Church”)- is a neat church, and a welcome respite after the rest of Amsterdam, and more about that later. The church itself is big, and it looks like only the middle of it is used for the church service, which is interesting. There are also a couple of neat things in it; I don’t know why. Find them in my photos!

Van Gogh Museum- also pretty neat, and I managed to get in for free, so that was a good deal. I like how they showed his paintings by the time periods in which he painted them. I think my mom would have appreciated it a lot more than me, or I would have appreciated it more if I went with my mom. Still, some of the paintings were very cool. I was really tired by this point.

Red Light District- right, how could I forget? We walked through there on Thursday night, when we were still all in a clump of 15 people. Never travel anywhere in a group of 15 people. The whole red light scene was pretty surreal- you’re on a beautiful canal, and it’s nighttime, and there are lighted shops and places, and it could be very nice, except that the shops are all advertising sex shows and other scandalous things, and everyone around you is either skeezy or a tourist, and there are a bunch of windows, with prostitutes boldly displaying themselves and maybe knocking on the window at you. All with red lights and black lights, which would really make for a cool canal scene! Except there are prostitutes boldly displaying themselves and maybe knocking on the window at you.

4. Okay, I’m confused about Amsterdam. How can you have a city that apparently builds its economy on fast food (which was plentiful and much better than American fast food because you can get things like falafels, kebabs, stir-fries, waffles, and herrings on every corner) and yet has a reputation for being one of the coolest cities in Europe? Well, okay, maybe because you can smoke pot on every street corner coffeeshop (and even in the streets, maybe? We did once, and nobody stopped us) or get mushrooms, herbal XTC, or a lot of other soft drugs cheaply and legally. Also you can gamble or get a hooker, if losing money and STD’s are your thing. There are a lot of cool squares, like the Leidseplein (billed as Amsterdam’s Times Square, and I’d take the Leidseplein any day, despite how over-the-top Times Square is). Neat shops and so on. But I left it feeling like I’d spent a total of maybe 12 hours wandering and not finding anything except more awesome fast food places. Maybe this is Amsterdam’s fault, or maybe this is because of my next confusion:

5. What do I want to do when I travel? I don’t even know. My old answer would have just been “wander.” Walk around for a while, you’ll probably see something cool. Or better: wander with a destination. Say I want to see the Rijksmuseum… just walk down a few streets until I make it there. If I don’t, no worries. But after finishing this trip with aching feet and a hollow feeling in my stomach, I’m not so sure. Here are some things that are not my goals when I visit a city:
- Party. Honestly, I don’t really care about the nightlife in a city that much. If I find myself in a cool bar, neat, but it’s not a priority.
- Do drugs. This was not my priority in Amsterdam, and it’s illegal in about every other country. If I want to smoke pot or do shrooms, I can do it in Maastricht, and I’ll do it when I find good friends.
- Hit up the touristy stuff. The Eiffel Tower is the quintessential example of this. People feel like they have to see it, so they do. I don’t.
- Buy souvenirs. Goddamn it, I don’t want to buy a souvenir! No! I can remember things by myself, and with pictures. And souvenir shops are the most touristy places there are. Whoever invented the souvenir business is really a shrewd dude, because he made a lot of people buy a lot of crap. By the way, if I don’t send you a souvenir, sorry; it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t think the best way for me to show my appreciation for our relationship is to buy more crap that nobody needs.
- Shop. I buy clothes about never anyway. If I want clothes, I’m not so much of a sartorial gourmet that I need to go to shops in other cities.
- Take tours. No! I do not want a guided tour!

So what do I want to do? Arrg… that’s the question. I’d like to get a feel for what life is really like in the city. I don’t know if you can do that in a weekend without knowing someone who does live there. Here are some things that I like:
- Cool museums. I don’t want to museum-hunt, and hit them all until I check them off my list. More than a couple per city is probably overkill. But there are some cool things in museums, and sometimes it’s nice to see them.
- Good food! I want to experience the best of every city. However, this is often expensive. I mean, always expensive.
- Events. Festivals, concerts, whatever- if I go to a city for a reason, that’s cool.
- Churches. I’ve been liking these more recently, and the Oude Kerk sure was a breath of fresh air after the streets and streets of souvenir shops and great fast food.
- Markets. I do like markets. Remember when I freaked out about the Pike’s Place Market? Not too much, though: like the Waterlooplein was the end of my rope. I was not in the mood to look at junk anymore.
- Streets of shops and restaurants. And here’s the trouble: why do I like cool stores? Because you can buy cool things in them? So I’m as much of a treasure hunter as anyone else, but I just mask it a little bit by not going to touristy shops.

I kind of just want to “be”. So when someone says “Do you know Amsterdam?” I can say yes, yes I do know Amsterdam, in every sense; I can tell you where to go and what to see, and if we had a mind-melding link I could give you the feeling that I got when I was there. This is a vague goal. But I guess I just made a list of what I want to do. Hmm. Maybe I’m not so confused.

6. Whom do I want to travel with? Still an issue.

But I’m not confused about this: I am going to a Dutch Restaurant tonight, complete with Dutch Food, and I am excited. Time to go!


infeasibleweasel -

sorry you’re havin some trouble. i don’t think they count on tourists to be so smart, so bear w/ them. some places you described sound really neat- i definitely want to see the anne frank house etc. hopefully your classes are good- but i wouldn’t worry about them so much, as you said. well you don’t need advice, i know so i’ll just peace.

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