Sorry everyone, I am getting way behind with my blogs... it's really hard to experience where you are, and plan out where you're going next, and write about where you just were all at the same time. So, apologies, but I'll do my best to catch up. Next up... Amsterdam.
Let me preface this by saying that I like Amsterdam. I really, really do. But my first experience was incredibly disappointing. I think most of the reason was just that we picked the wrong place to stay. See, in most cities, when you live downtown, it means you're in the historical center, and near the museums, the best restaurants, and so on. We booked a cheap place and thought we totally scored. But the thing is, in Amsterdam, the old town isn't so much historical as just plain old. The buildings are all soggy and sagging every which way. Worse, it is right next to the red light district, so the best "restaurant" around is the overpriced Chinese takeout. And there's not a single local or a word of Dutch anywhere: the streets are jammed with intoxicated tourists who came just to get drunk and ogle the sex shops.
And our hostel perfectly exemplified the whole neighborhood. The rooms had 20 beds each, the "lobby" was a dirty 24 hour bar, and it was chock full of 18 year olds who only wanted to get high and drink beer (Honestly, they could have just gone to a house party back home, it would have saved them a fortune on the plane fare). Don't get me wrong, I love to go out and have a good time. I just don't see the point in wandering around burrito joints and crappy souvenir shops when you could be meeting local people or learning another language or seeing things that you can't get at home. Sigh...
Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to. I spent a lot of time retreating to Vondelpark, which is one of the most relaxing, green, water-filled parks I have ever seen. The van Gogh museum was another highlight. And the rest of the city, once you get away from the center, is spectacular: the buildings are beautiful. There are canals everywhere, which, unlike Venice's, are clean and serene. And there are very few cars: instead of the roar of engines, you hear only the constant soft whir of Amsterdam's four trillion or so bicycles.
So if you add it all up, I actually think I could fall in love with this place. It's just that this time, having to live in the middle of a tourist trap nightmare was too depressing. Hmm... now that I mention it, that's all the more reason to come back some time and give it a fair chance!