On Tuesday (5 Jan) we arrived home from our trip to Amsterdam. Wow, is it cold in Amsterdam in the middle of winter! It was a pretty crazy week since I just arrived in Florence on December 28th and we headed to Amsterdam on December 30th!
First, after a 10-hour flight to Paris I was anxious about having to transfer terminals at the enormous and entirely unfamiliar Charels d' Gualle Airport. Nevertheless, leave it to me to worry about the thing that turns out to be the smallest hassle of them all. I got the my terminal in no time, only to find that my flight to Pisa was being delayed, but I was not sure how long since they only post the gate numbers ten minutes before departure. I waiting about 40 minutes in the airport and then after finally boarding my MUCH smaller plane to Pisa, we sat on the runway for another 30 minutes or so. It was a very foggy morning in Paris and it seemed to be busy, plus I was about to see Lorenzo for the first time in almost 6 months, so as long as I got there I didn't care how!!
After the delay, I was worried about finding Lorenzo at the airport (keeping in mind the large airports I have seen so much of in the past) and also about going through customs with my little "90-day tourist visa" (read: no visa). Well, not only did I not have to go through customs because I came from another Schengen country but as I walked out of the baggage claim there was Lorenzo, front and center! It was a little bit shocking at first when he kissed me and I had to stand with him for a second to grasp the reality that we were finally back together, but then there we were, just us again.
After only two days of getting settled we were in the car (at 4am) and on the way to Pisa for our trip to Amsterdam! I was so excited to see all of my friends from around the world and even more excited that NONE of them knew I was going to be there!!
We arrived in Eindhoven and had to follow the herd of Italians that disembarked the plane with us to hop a train to Amsterdam Central Station. Once we were there, we called Nell and Ivo and I waited anxiously for them to turn a corner and see my face! They were surprised and so happy as was Maud when she arrived later in the evening to find me sitting patiently in the hostel waiting for her.
We started our tour of the Europe's 'City of Sin' a little lost and a little unsure of what we were looking for. Walking down the streets of Amsterdam in the center of all of the tourist action, I felt like I was in America; that is if I didn't look at the streets and people around me. There was McDonald's, Burger King and Subway and an array of other shopping stores and fast food joints.
We ducked into a little Spanish bar for some delicious tapas and beers to celebrate our much anticipated reunion! Then we wandered aimlessly and picked up some alcohol before deciding to save our energy for the next nights festivities.
The houses in Amsterdam are really interesting. The are all so close together, so tall and straight and all SLIGHTLY leaning into the canal. Our friend Mana was able to borrow her cousins house for a nice dinner before taking us on a trek through the Red Light District for a crazy New Year Party. The house chosen for the party was the house that I think was in the most imminent danger of falling deep into the canal, so why not try to pack 200 people in? Needless to say, it was a blast. We chatted with each other after our long absence and even met some interesting Dutch and Spanish friends along the way. For the midnight celebration everyone piled out and enjoyed the fireworks from the edge of the canal. It was a big party in the street with people laughing, playing with sparklers; hugging and kissing each other on the cheeks (I love this European tradition, it seems to welcoming!).
The next days we were slowly forced to say farewell to each other as people trickled back to their home lands.
Matt, Lorenzo and I were the last to leave and we spent our last 2 days well! We ate plenty of frites with Mayonnaise (yum!) which we picked up from the ever so convenient street vendors and toured what seemed like the entire city.
First, we went on much anticipated tour of the Heineken Factory. The tour is beautifully set up and modern; we got to learn the art of drinking a beer, the process and history of brewing and (to Lorenzo's dismay) we got to 'be the beer'! It was one of those sweet virtual tours where the floors moves and little sprays of water come from the ceiling to give you the impression that you are actually a part of the brewing process.
The next day we chose a 3 hour walking tour of the city, guided by an ever-so-friendly New Zealand native. We got to see and hear the history behind some of the most famous landmarks in Amsterdam; as well as some of the amazing stories about the city. We were enlightened about the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, which led to some of the unfortunate last names the Dutch still carry today. We also learned about the Red Light District; the history behind it, the way it functions now and why the Dutch government allows it to exist. Along that same line we were enlightened on the rules behind the legality of marijuana and the tendency of the police to 'look the other way'. One of my favorite stories, and the last of the tour, was the story of the Anne Frank Huis. Our tour guide got serious for this one and detailed the hardship the Frank family faced during the war and what become of them.
It is so amazing for me to learn the unique history behind the cities of Europe. It is amazing to me that with a 2 hour plane ride you can be in another country which has a completely different culture, different language, different customs and different history.
Ohhh, I have a lot to learn here.