Sep 23, 2008

Amsterdam - Part 1

I'm being honest when I say that time has not been kind to my memory. I know that late one Friday evening in the first weekend of August, our group loaded up our bags and walked to the edge of campus where we caught our bus with other Sussex students who had signed up for the trip. I remember some people being late at our first stop, and then something about some people being lost and needing to be picked up elsewhere because they were utterly confused. Then again there was hardly any "official word" from the tour guide surrounding these events, so perhaps I have it all wrong. I suppose my perspective was that I was on the bus and going to Amsterdam... as long as we made it there, I really didn't care.

We made it all right, and I slept most of the way. Unlike the bus ride to Paris, my memory is blank. I remember Brighton that night, and then nothing until Amsterdam. We pulled into town and had to find a place to park our bus long enough for everyone to unload. If you've ever been to Amsterdam, you understand why this is a challenge. However, our tour guide had clearly done this trip several times over and directed our driver to this one spot that seemed perfectly designed for buses. Unfortunately, it was also raining when we arrived. Not pouring, but raining enough that the natives had out umbrellas. Which means one of the first things I see is a man in a full suit, complete with shiny shoes and bowler hat, sitting up perfectly straight and riding his bicycle with a huge green umbrella. This is quite simply one of the most amusing things I have ever seen, and I am still sad that I was not fast enough to snap a picture before he turned the corner. Kat and I tried to follow him, but a large group of tourists with luggage somehow aren't as fast as a man on a bicycle with an umbrella. Go figure.

Our guide led us through the city to our hostel. We didn't have to walk very far, but we did pass the Rijks Museum on the way. More on the museum later. We get to the hostel and check in to our rooms. Our travel group is the perfect size and the 6 of us get to share one room together. We drop our stuff, and head down to breakfast. Breakfast is almost over, so we grab what's available, squeeze into any empty seats, and eat quickly. Eventually we all gather at one table and wait for our first tour.

Trevor with a map in his hand... why am I not surprised? And Kat below in a very pensive moment. We leave the hostel and head back towards the Rijks Museum and the place our bus had dropped us off. Across the street from the museum is this place called Coster Diamonds, where they cut and polish some of the finest diamonds in the world.Our tour guide had arranged for a private tour, which was really a woman telling us about the four C's of diamonds before taking us upstairs to a secure room and showing us a bunch of pretty rocks. Even better, after her demonstration she pulled out trays of rings and necklaces and she let us try on anything we wanted. Did I mention that most of the people in our group were girls? It was fun, and just about pandemonium. Of course, leave it to me to pick out a €13,000 ring. We eventually put down the expensive stuff and made our way to the gift shop. I bought a pair of earrings and a ring. Cubic Zirconias, even when cut and polished by a famous diamond company, actually fall within my price range.

Back to the hostel for a round of showers, and everyone promptly fell asleep. It was hilarious. I'd post pictures, since I have them, but I'd like to live to see my 24th birthday

A few hours later we left the hostel for our second tour, which was a canal tour of the city. And now onto the boat...I miss that jacket. Nothing has ever fit me so well. It was amusing for the first half hour, but after the boat driver ran out of things to point out, we'd had enough. I was taking pictures like crazy in an attempt to amuse myself until the monotony was over.After the canal ride we wandered the city for a little while and then followed our guide to the Red Light district. I'm not sure if I can possibly convey how dirty and uncomforable this area of the city was for me. At first it wasn't so bad, more humerous than anything, but as we made our way further into the heart of the district, I just wanted to leave. The streets are narrow, with women in windows on both sides. Men, mostly drunk, fill the streets and stare hungrily at the females around them, both behind glass and walking the street. It's a meat market by any other name.

One of the girls in our group made the mistake of taking a picture of one of the women at work. The next thing I know this woman throws the door open, starts screaming her head off, and her security guard (I'll call him this for the sake of maintaining a more PG rating) comes flying out into the street, baseball bat in hand, screaming obscenities in english. Our tour guide, who I thought was a serious creeper, proved to be worth his weight in gold. He immediately comes running to the girls defense, even though he'd told us photography was risky and ill advised, and he literally throws her into the crowd of our group to prevent the crazed security guard from seeing her. The guy with the bat gets in his face, but our guide doesn't back down. He somehow convinces him that no harm was done, and the guy retreats to his hole in the wall. Weird or not, he saved someone in our group from being beat for their ignorance.

Our tour was short, and at one point our guide basically said the tour was over and we were free to do whatever we pleased. And then he just left. Kat and I looked at each other, both uneasy, and decided to make a run for it. Trevor agreed and we high tailed it straight out of the Red Light District as quickly as possible.

We eventually made it back to an area of town that we were more familiar with, and we ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant around the corner from our hostel. We returned to our beds very sleepy and ready to pass out. Our guide was leading a tour to some windmills early the next morning and I had every intention of going.

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