Sunday, April 17, 2011

Amsterdam and Copenhagen

What’s the first things you think of when you hear about Amsterdam?  Drugs and sex?  I think that’s what about 95% of people think.  There is so much more to this amazing city than that!  There are beautiful canals, cheese, clogs, tulips, windmills and gorgeous countryside.
I spent the better part of a day riding a bike through the Holland (I’ve decided to refer to The Netherlands as Holland, even though Holland only comprises a small part of The Netherlands, because I prefer the name) countryside!  I first went with a tour company and then rented a bike and returned on my own.  The gorgeous weather, warm temps and cool breeze combined with the amazing locale was enough to make it a pretty perfect day!  Navigating through the city on the way out of town was much more difficult than it looked after watching the locals breeze through on their bikes.  Other tourists walked unknowingly in the designated bike paths and sometimes darted out in front of you to get away from another biker, cars came out of nowhere and since there are about 25 bikers crossing an intersection at any one time the chance of getting through an intersection unscathed is pretty thin.  But once I made it through that and into the countryside where I could feel the wind through my hair and the warm sun on my skin, I was sittin’ pretty. 
I’ve been sick as of late (thanks Contiki!) and have subsequently lost my sense of smell, which miraculously came back to me just as I rode past an odiferous cow pasture, and then it was gone again.  I saw the gorgeous tulips that Holland is known for, old windmills that look like they were put up yesterday.  I stopped at a cheese and clog farm where we were taken in and shown the ins and outs of the farm.  Next time you’re at the supermarket look at the label on your cheese; if it’s rounded or square it was made in a factory but if it’s rounded with four points in the corners it was made on a farm.  I had heard in the past that clogs are actually very comfortable, but I never bought it because how could sticking your foot in a block of wood be comfortable?  I saw how they were carved from one piece of wood, hung to dry, painted depending on their purpose, shipped to be sold and I got the chance to try a pair on and I could tell that once they were worn in and conformed to your foot they would be really comfortable.  Don’t knock it until you try it I guess.  After hours riding through the countryside and the city I ended up in Vondel Park, an “English Park” that was designed with the beautiful parks in England in mind.  <3
For the historical part of my trip I visited the Anne Frank House and was reminded of what an amazing little girl Anne Frank was.  Her home, while in hiding in Amsterdam, was so simple yet holds so much historical value.  I was so intrigued I wished there was more.  What a sad story captured so perfectly by a little girl who never knew that her diary would allow as much insight to the world as it has.
I don’t exactly know how to segue from Anne Frank to drugs and prostitution so I’m just gonna launch right in!  Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not actually legal here.  It is in fact illegal but the offense has been de-criminalized as the police chose to look the other way.  The coffee shops (which is code for “We sell marijuana!”) that currently exist are the only ones who hold licenses to sell marijuana and no more will be issued.  These coffee shops cannot be bought or sold, passed down to family members or have ownership transferred in any way to ensure that they eventually will die out.  But there were a lot of rich hippies that bought the coffee shops so they’ll still be around for awhile. 
I went on a tour that took us through the Red Light District and I was shocked by how sad and miserable the girls in the windows looked.  Almost all of them looked depressed and were probably longing for a different life.  And many of them looked bored, spending more time yawning, texting or putting on makeup than trying to lure men to their windows.  There is an elementary school in the neighborhood and the kids, at least the younger ones, see the women in their windows in bikinis and think that they’re waiting for the bus to come along to take them to the beach.  Haha!  What innocence!  J  While we were walking through, a mother paraded her 4 young boys through the alleyway and one of the prostitutes looked horrified as the little boys oogled at her and she hung her head in shame.
Hopping across the border now into my first Scandanavian country I visited Copenhagen, Denmark!  My first impression of Copenhagen was that it seemed to feel more European to me than other places I had been.  But I discovered soon enough that it was not more European than other cities, there were just fewer tourists taking away from the true ambiance of the city.  Months ago when I was searching through travel photos online for a suitable background for this very blog, I came across a beautiful picture of Nyhavn that I fell in love with.  Alas I decided against using that picture though because I wasn’t planning on going there so it wouldn’t feel right using it on my blog.  But lo and behold I ended up in Copenhagen, and more specifically Nyhavn at the exact spot the photo was taken.  If things are meant to be they will be!
I visited the most unique and quirky town, Christiana, which is a completely free town that declared its independence in 1971 and governs itself.  The approximately 900 residents live in the town where the streets are made of dirt or gravel, there are no sidewalks and no street signs, there are old, dilapidated but brightly colored buildings all over.  Every few blocks there is a fire in a large, black barreled trash bin and there is artwork on buildings everywhere.  Pictures are strictly forbidden as indicated by the giant spray painted camera inside a red circle with a line through it on many of the buildings but I was able to take a couple of pictures at the entrance which give a modest preview into the eccentric town.  Go read about it on Wikipedia or visit it yourself, it’s quite the place!

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