Friday, March 5, 2010

Amsterdam - be careful where you aim

I had a great time on a student travel company-organized trip to Amsterdam for last weekend. The student travel company-organized part wasn't so great (the bus ride was really long and it was plagued with the mentality and lack of leadership characterized by most groups like that), but spending time with the internationals from Grey was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the term. Amsterdam would have been a bit of a letdown if it weren't for the people I traveled with. The whole city seemed a bit gloomy. It was overcast, the streets were pretty empty, etc. It didn't really matter since I was able to keep it fun by doing touristy stuff with the kids from my college. If I could go back some time when it was more lively, I think it might remind me a bit of the Bay Area. Everyone rides bikes which is a very environmentally conscious/hippy thing to do. There were something like 50 thousand of them stolen last year in Amsterdam - reminds me of Berkeley. There's also a large LGBT population just like SF. Gulianna, Zeid, and I walked into a gay bar without realizing it until Zeid got hit on by a Dutch guy.

Here are some photos from around town:

Left to right: Julia (Germany), Tess (Belgium and Portugal), Darek (Poland), Justin (Sweden), Sid (Kenya), Etienne (France), Ben (Norway), Kenneth (Singapore), Jeff (USA), Arnaud (France), and Ulysse (France). Also on the trip but not in this photo: Giulianna (Italy) and Zeid (Tunisia)

I didn't know if this guy was stealing a bike or just testing out his new saw:

If your jaw's tired from a long day of talking, check out the Special Chin Rest:
The city is very beautiful. It has a distinct character to it:

Kenneth (Singapore), Ben (Norway), and I went to the Anne Frank house which was better than expected. It only takes a short amount of time to see and is another thing to check off my list of European historical sites to see. It's small, which is to be expected - it wouldn't have been such a sad story if it weren't for the confining conditions of their seclusion and, even worse, the persecution that put them there in the first place. It brought the history to life just that little bit more. I might read her diary over spring or summer break.

We also checked out the Heineken brewery/museum. That was probably the best Heineken will ever taste and I still wasn't blown away. While it was a cool thing to go do with friends, it's just not my favorite beer.

The girl who took this picture asked if we were all Americans since I was the one to ask for the photo. Not quite: a Kenyan, a Singaporean, a Belgian, a German, a Pole, a Norwegian, and one American

We also checked out the red light district, which I don't have photos from. I had heard stories about people getting their cameras thrown into the canal (although, those might have been completely exaggerated) by security guards who work at the brothels/apartments in the area, so I left mine in my pocket. The fact that they have a red light district points to the tolerance and openness of their political culture. They figure, if it's going to happen, why not regulate it? Legalizing prositution was an issue that came up in a Youth and Government debate I can remember from about 4 years ago. To most Americans, especially politicians who would have to vote on the bill, it would seem like an endorsement or a way of saying that it was o.k. The same idea applies to legalizing weed, which is actually an issue that's currently being mobilized at the grass (no pun intended) roots level in California. Seeing this first-hand was a complete 180 from that kind of idea. And I would say that it does seem more safe overall. But it does create some ironies. For instance, you have to go outside of a 'coffeeshop' to smoke a cigarette, but you can smoke all the weed you want inside. It's just strange to see coming from a place where anything that's not legal (alcohol and prescription drugs) are so demonized. I would like to think a lot of young people are moving to the left and towards this Dutch way of thinking - but it's so off-the-wall bizzare to think about applying it to the US. Especially with the (largely uninformed) Tea Party activists coming out in big numbers.

Here's another example of how their attitude towards social issues. To stop guys from peeing on buildings (or maybe into the canals, I don't know what the original problem was), they put in a number of public urinals on street corners and in the middle of squares. On a windy day, you have to be careful of your aim. Ben demonstrates how it's done:


  1. It would be interesting to know how many countries are represented by your friends in these pictures!

  2. Oh, wow! Thanks for labeling with the countries. What a great trip to travel with people from so many countries. I'll bet you had some interesting discussions about the availability of pot and legalization of prostitution in Amsterdam. It is likely pretty unique in most cultures.