Sunday, September 3, 2023

Amsterdam 2023 (narrative transcript)

 [This is a transcript of a handwritten document.]


20-30 August 2023


For those of you who have not read one of my trip write-ups before, I ask that you lower your expectations. For those of you who have, I ask that you lower them further! This vacation was about relaxing and being overseas - I'm not a fast-paced adventurer to begin with and this trip was a lot of just soaking in the vibes even by my standards. With expectations set, let's start in the middle.

I was sitting across from a little girl and her littler brother on the train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. I'd had a mediocre day - while I spent it walking around the Hague, Delft, and Rotterdam, a bad sleep meant that I didn't have the brainpower to appreciate arts & culture and I chose not to enter any museums. The kids were goofing off and running back and forth to their mom (who was watching a stroller near the door) for snacks. At one point, the girl was distracted and the boy leaned over and took a big bite of her snack. It was something out of a cartoon - I laughed pretty hard at the sight. Which meant the kids now knew I was paying attention.

The little girl said something to  me that I didn't understand and I apologized for not speaking Dutch. Of course, we're in the Netherlands - she simply switched to English and started quizzing me. Sasha (6) decided to teach me math and draw things on the 'blackboard' (the window). We finished the trip by chewing increasingly large (mimed) amounts of gum and blowing (mimed) bubbles. Honestly it was one of the most 'pure fun' moments I've had in a long time.

That's not to say I didn't have fun on the trip! The canal-boat trip with four appropriately rowdy Americans was exactly what I wanted on my birthday - especially preceded by winning the hostel's trivia contest and followed by some deliciously spicy Asian street food. There was a lot of watching boats and bullshitting with new friends and trying all sorts of food and beer. I'm just not sure I can make an interesting narrative of "I went to X, tried Y, and felt Z."

Speaking of going places, my other day trip took me to Rheine and Muenster to meet up with Imke and Sina, respectively. I originally met Imke in Tbilisi and we traveled around the Middle East in 2019 - I got to meet her folks and catch up for a bit over a meal of schnitzel and mushroom sauce. I zipped down to Muenster to see Sina, who I originally met in Malaysia and traveled with in the Philippines (also in 2019). We walked and talked and caught up in the beautiful old town. I told you to lower your expectations - I know "guy meets up with friends" isn't exactly riveting stuff.

On unexciting information: I stayed in the Bee Hostel and had a pleasant time. I paid a little extra for a boring spot - I didn't want a party hostel - and I got what I paid for. I'd asked for a bottom bunk not knowing they were triples though, so it was a little annoying being eight inches off the ground. Otherwise it was a clean & friendly spot!

I managed to see two museums on the trip (though I had hoped to see more). I highly recommend the Rembrandthuis as it's a nice change of pace from a typical art museum. I made a little mistake with the Rijksmuseum - I should have started at the top and worked my way down. By the time I got to the floors with the stuff I wanted to see I was mentally and physically exhausted. I'm very glad I went though!

There was an Engine Museum near my hostel I discovered too late into my trip to visit. It sounded cool - a spot that kept antique engines running - but its hours and mine just didn't match up. I also didn't have the brainpower to see the Maritime Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Mauritshuis - next time!

I did do a Windmills and Countryside tour which accounts for 90% of my nice photos. I'm of a mixed mind on the tour - it was a "get off the bus, take five pictures, get back on the bus" tour, but I probably wouldn't've have seen some of the spots without the tour. If you want to skip the mediocrity of a tour bus, take public transit to Zaanse Schans and you'll get most of the experience.

Public transit was a dream, by the way. While I appreciate Philly's public transit in an American context, the Netherlands is lightyears ahead of us. I had the opportunity to rent bikes and whatnot, but between my feet and the train/tram/ferry system I was covered everywhere I wanted to go. Which included...

NDSM is a repurposed ship factory that now hosts artist studios. I received the recommendation after expressing an interest in Moco - a modern art museum. The former was a short ferry ride from Centraal Station and featured some interesting and large art - especially graffiti art. It was an unexpectedly interesting excursion I would not have discovered on my own.

Whit I did discover on my own was the public library - and a wonderful view of the city! While I wasn't not doing my "write a poem in a library in every city" thing like I did with the 2018-20 trip, I did want to put my pen to paper and produce some doggerel in Amsterdam at the very least. I also wrote a couple little stories and journal entries while I was traveling - most of them at a local bar where I made myself a regular (and befriended the bar's cat).

It was not my 'local' bar, but Brouwerij 't IJ was a delightful find - it was a brewery and bar inside a windmill with some good vibes and tasty beer. I only visited once (with five hostel friends) but would go back if I found myself in Amsterdam again. If you're in the city, their beer is the one with the ostrich logo - you can find it in a number of bars around the city.

On the inevitable question of drugs, sex, and rock & roll - alcohol is my drug of choice and, I mean, I went to the library. I have no ethical objection to things that aren't harming yourself or others, but if you're reading this you probably know I don't exactly live the rockstar lifestyle. Did I mention I read two novels during the trip? Absolute maniac!

I feel the need to have opinions to share, but everything was pleasant. My favorite food from the trip was some spicy stir fry and some schwarma - both in box form intended for drunk folks (though I was sober at the time of consumption). Really, Amsterdam / the Netherlands is "Europe on easy mode" - I'd highly recommend it as someone's first trip overseas. (Japan being "Asia on easy mode", fyi). As I move toward trip costs, I wish I'd tracked beverages - I don't know if I spent more money on coffee or beer!

(approximate value in dollars)

Plane: 770
Hostel: 910
Insurance: 160
Tourism / Tickets: 390
Food / Drink / Misc: 730
TOTAL: $2,960

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