We rolled into town at about 8pm (landed on runway 23 for those who care about that sort of thing) and tried to find a place to stay. All the hostels the travel guide had listed were full so we ended up just stopping into random places and asking for a room. We found one at the Hotel Beursstraat for about $20 US per person for the night – not too bad. It was right on the corner of the Red Light District and so we had easy access to the amsterdam nightlife. Not directly relevant, but here’s the card they gave us with the address, phone number, and map on the back so we could find our way back if and when we partook of the city’s delights.
The redlight district is quite interesting. If you haven’t been, I’ll do my best to describe it here. The streets are blocked off so cars cannot travel downt them, but you still have about the width of a small city street that is all used for sidewalk. The sidewalks are all brick and look quite nice (when they aren’t being dug up and replaced…like most are right now – we had to cross a 4 foot deep hole on a board of questionable strength to get in to our hotel). The area is marked by the smell of marijuana, blush-inspring sex shop displays, and out-in-the-open prostitute stands all of which are allowed by the local government. Even if you are not interested in any of these things, to see what happens when they are all made legal is quite interesting. It is (except for the construction) quite clean, in my opinion, and at times I wondered if I was in a las vegas representation of a european city or actually in amsterdam!
Gambling is allowed in amsterdam as well. The casinos are far and few between and nothing like a vegas casino. It felt more like a riverboat casino than any actual casino I’ve been to. Gambling is not allowed in most places in the US and I find it quite interesting that when a city like amsterdam allows everything, gambling plays a rather small part. I haven’t tried my hand at blackjack yet because I don’t like the vibe of the casinos, but maybe I will. I’d rather wait until this trip is over and make it to vegas for some “authentic” gambling!
We have moved from our previous double room to a more budget oriented hostel (Bob’s Youth Hostel to be exact.) We each got a bed in a dorm-style room. There are about 30 beds in the room and erik and I share a bunk (I got top bunk – woohoo!) We have a locker to secure stuff in and a room to hang out and eat breakfast in downstairs. It’s not the nicest place in the world, but for $10 a night, I think it will work! We had to make the move to hostels because in the double room hotels we weren’t meeting other backpackers – a very important part of the trip. We figured we’d start doing the hostel thing in a country where almost everyone speaks english (as well as dutch) and then we should be able to cope quite well with spain when we get there.
We spent today wandering around the city – and I do mean wandering!
We walked all around. We stared just on the west end of the red light district (where bob’s is at) and headed south. We were going to Vondelpark which looked like a nice change of pace from the city-inundation we’ve been getting lately. We headed south to check out an area called De Pijp. The main attraction (for us anyway) was the open market along the streets. The streets are lined with shop after shop selling everything from fresh fish to mobile phone covers. I purchased a long sleeve shirt to help keep me warm as it seemed to be getting colder as the day progressed. After losing our way a couple of times, we came upon the Rijskmuseum. The building is about the size of a college football stadium and is decorated in an incredibly ornate style. I’ve found that pictures increasingly do not do the sites I am seeing justice, but it is still worth a look at the website. The towering building with it’s ornately finished mosaics and detailed statues are just an incredible sight and definitely not to be missed.
There are various street performers in amsterdam. As we entered the tunnel under the Rijskmuseum, we were transformed into another world as a strange combination of stringed instruments and chanting almost haunted the tunnel. We got about halfway through and found the cause of it: a group of 3 musicians performing what the sign said was mongolian chants. Whatever it was it was quite entertaining and I dropped in 2.5 guilder for them (about $1). We also saw an incredible balancing act by a guy with a soccer ball. He was juggling it with various parts of his body and then popped it up to his head where he proceeded to balance it and walk around. The crowd was impressed. He moved over towards a light pole and urged the crowd on to more cheering. He maintained the balance of the ball on his forehead as he climbed the lightpole through a combination of holds where he pulled himself up with his arms and traditional “pole style” climbing involving a high amount of grip by both legs and arms. When he got to the very top, he started juggling the ball again, but only with one foot at a time as he had to stand on the lightpole with the other one! He did combinations off the lightpole and even headed the ball a few times. After some more cheering, he kicked the ball up to his head and balanced it for his decent. About halfway down, he stopped…hanged down from the lightpole, holding on with both arms and then started juggling the ball AGAIN! This time, both feet were free and he kept the ball in his control while bouncing it off his head, chest, and the lightpole once again – all while hanging from an arm off the lightpost. It was quite the show.
It’s another night on the town this evening – and time to meet some of our hostel-mates at bob’s!