September 16th (cont.);
Finally arriving Amsterdam later that afternoon, it was refreshing to be in a smaller town. Coleman and I had been going full throttle ever since we got to Europe. Although unsaid, both of us needed to take it slow. After checking in at our hostel we met up with Nick Wasserman who had just finished a study abroad program in Rome. We met two of Nick’s friends from his study abroad program; George and Wiley Nick at one of Amsterdam’s ‘coffee shops’. They had ordered some edibles and a joint that they passed around. Once everyone was nice and buzzed we left, found a bar and ordered some drinks and ate dinner.
Since everyone had just gotten to Amsterdam, we were all eager to walk around for a bit and get our bearings. Turns out the hostel that Coleman and I were staying in was smack down in the middle of the red light district. However it was way too early in the day to explore the red light district so we head westward. Amsterdam is bisected by a street that runs from Amsterdam central station to the south. The red light district was located on the east of that street. The west side of the street were countless restaurants. Coming from Paris where we thought there wasn’t a huge variety of food, this was a welcome change. A bit south we found a store that sold all sorts of cheeses, cheesy breads and cheese paraphernalia. I had no idea there were so many different knives for just cheese.
Nightfall hit and we went back to the red light district. Everywhere we turned there were red neon lights lining doors that led into small bedrooms. Standing in the doorways were women trying to lure men into their small dens. Nick, George and Wiley decided to go home after a bit but Coleman and I still had some energy. A nearby convenience store sold beer so we grabbed two and sat on the edge of the canals.
What a strange place. The two of us had gotten into a conversation on what made Amsterdam so open to everything. Here we were in the middle of the red light district with sex workers on display not more than a hundred feet from us, drinking beer outside with the omnipresent smell of weed. What was baffling to me was how chill everyone was about it all. Tourists and locals of all ages even families were acting like nothing was out of the ordinary. The stigma in the United States for these things was much too strong. I had concluded that religion had a much deeper root in the American attitude whether or not people identified religiously or not. Here was living proof of how proper regulation of these vices can result in a healthy community.
The one touristy thing I wanted to do while in Amsterdam was visit the Anne Frank house. A friend of mine who recently went to Amsterdam told me to get tickets in advance because he was unable to go in. I had suspected that the reason he had difficulty was because he went at the height of the season so I didn’t expect to come across the same difficulty. I was able to get 5 tickets for a 3:00PM time slot that afternoon so Nick and I coordinated to meet at the house around that time. Coleman and I spent the morning in our hostel doing some work. I had been slacking on this blog so it was a perfect time for me to jot some things down.
When the time came we made our to the west side of town. The Anne frank house was the house, as the name implies, that Anne frank and her family hid in when hiding from the Nazis. The museum took you through exhibits set up in the front of the house where a warehouse was. Behind the father’s office was a secret bookshelf that could be moved to reveal the hidden annex. We able to walk around in the secret apartment itself. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like stuck in those small rooms day in and day out. The only place we weren’t allowed in was the famous attic itself. Nick Wasserman is of Jewish descent and the entire time I was trying to read him to gauge how his experience was going. At the end of the exhibit was a room setup with video testimonies of what Anne Frank stood for. Many were visitors and people off of the streets and some were more well known celebrities. There was a booth nearby that let users explore comments made by other visitors. Nick wanted to make a comment and out of respect I decided not to ask what he wrote.
After that solemn afternoon we needed to loosen up. Coleman found a nearby coffee shop and picked up a joint. We lit it and sat on some benches by a small statue of what I presume to be the common women. Wasserman said there was a famous sandwich shop that he wanted to go to so we pulled it up on the map and headed over. To our disappointment when we got there the kitchen was closed. It was a long walk over so we stayed for some coffee and left. There was a park and zoo way east in a part of the city that we had yet to explore. I was elected to pick a direction for the group as it sounded like no one had any preference. There was a park on east side of the city that we had not explored. It was a little far of a walk but no one protested.
Turns out the park was a zoo and the zoo was closed. There was a small section that we could sit outside that faced the flamingo habitat. Nearby was an outdoor restaurant decorated with lights in the trees. The others sat and watched the flamingos in the dark and I decided to split off and take a few photos of the area.
Coleman and I wanted to take a slow day and get some work done. I wanted to do a few job hunting related things and blog stuff. In fact it was that morning that I wrote the initial Abroad article announcing publicly that I was going to be putting these posts together. Coleman had been doing the Google Firebase tutorials I had pointed him to. He had wanted to build something as a side project in order to help his chances applying to jobs. Back in London I had given him a crash course on Firebase as apparently no one had told him about what the cloud could offer.
By 1PM Nick had joined us and we had lunch. I had found out that the ferries that take you across the water north of Amsterdam central were completely free. A ferry leaves every 5 minutes and you just walk on and wait. So we headed across the water into what seemed like a residential area. There were no tourists in sight. There was a massive park however and we spent the majority of our afternoon there. We had gotten into a lengthy discussion on the current state of Theta Xi, the fraternity the three of us are a part of. Coleman had just graduated and I had graduated a year ago so both of us were pretty unaware of the state of the house. The fraternity held a special place in my heart. It was an odd mixture of engineers, artists and scientists. The people in that house had helped me find myself and I met some of my best friends while there. Most of my friends now are made up of people I met while in the house. Since my departure the guys had fallen into a bad habit of not communicating with one another. Everyone seems to think the next guy is out to ruin everything and instead of talking about it, they complain and do nothing. It was sad to hear Nick describe the place I held so dearly to be in such a disarray. We talked to a point where I could feel myself getting emotional over how toxic the house had become. It’s cheesy to feel that way I suppose. I had to remind myself that those I grew to love were no longer there anymore and that the physical house was just a shell. My opinion on the direction they were heading was no longer my concern.
Around dinner time we head back towards the city. I was craving Japanese ramen and both Coleman and Nick obliged. As far as ramen goes it was pretty damn good, especially since we were in the middle of Europe. Soon after we said our goodbyes and Nick departed. Coleman and I wandered around for a little bit longer before deciding we just wanted to veg out on our laptops. I didn’t get much sleep that night. The conversations that day in the park about Theta Xi had weighed heavy on me.
Our hostel provided us with a discount coupon for a place called the Happy Pig across town so we made our way over and had some delicious savory pancakes for breakfast. The trip Berlin was going to be a long one. Berlin was about 6 hours east by train. We killed some time at the station before getting on our train around 1PM.
That should have been it but our train ran into a problem when we crossed the border to Germany. The train needed to change from a Dutch engine to a German one. Presumably there is a legal reason as to why it needed to happen but either way, the German engine was delayed an hour. We were stuck on the outskirts Germany. Luckily an alternate route was provided for us. Almost everyone on the train was on their way to Berlin so almost everyone got off and took a train that serviced the local area to the next biggest central station. An hour later arrived in Osnabruck and boarded to a train to Berlin. Our arrival with the detour was only 20 minutes after our projected arrival time had our original train kept chugging along. At last we had arrived in Germany.