The silly American

Hello friends, I am writing to you again from high-speed rail as I travel from Amsterdam Central station to Brussels Midi, my favorite European sketch-fest. There really is something to writing these damn updated out on a Blackberry. I think after a while people are thinking you’ve just run up a seventy-eight dollar texting bill.

So, the city of Amsterdam is positively beautiful during the daytime. I stepped out of my hotel to find a very bright and shining sun against a beautiful blue sky. I walked the streets for a while, stopped and had a cafe and walked some more. It turns out that my hotel was quite literally in the center of the city. A few blocks to get through the Red Light District, which is rather tame during the day, and close to public transport, restaurants and whatever else you might be looking for.

You haven’t got much time, you’d better take diz one, says the lady at the canal cruise information kiosk.

Yes, I’m a tourist on full tilt yesterday with my canal passes and camera slung over my backpack. I have to say, if you ever are in Amsterdam pick a good time and go on the 1.5 hour cruise. The highlight canal tour gives you a narrated trip in a few different languages. Unfortunately I didn’t remember any of it because I was busy snapping pictures.

They sit you down with a nice table and chairs so it was easy to switch lenses. The windows were polarized or coated in some way, so I had to quickly figure out how to use that, with my polarixer, to get good shots.

The result was well worth it. Quickly switching between my 10-20mm and 70-300mm lenses I was able to get quite a few shots of a city I didn’t have much time in.

I had a great dinner around the hotel of a traditional beef stew with red cabbage. I had meant to get some shnitzel while I was here, but failed in that quest. I also failed to get Absinthe while I was over…perhaps I’ll leave that for another trip.

I would like to visit The Netherlands again and properly tour Amsterdam and the surrounding rural areas. It is a simply beautiful place with a rich culture, and again, everyone speaks a few languages. For that and other reasons its real easy to get around…watch out for the sub culture though as it can be a bit of a sinful city. At a pub I was approached by someone who spoke very bad German and was purportedly from France.

She muttered something about “being married to god.”

Uh, that’s nice…she stared directly into my eyes and kept going on about the married part of her correspondence…then she asked me to marry her, or something like that. Having not often been solicited it was a rather strange experience.

I wandered in and out of a few places and decided that I should head back and get some sleep for the morning’s travel plans. I had wanted to get up early, have a nice breakfast and catch the train to Brussels to connect back to my Eurostar route.

Amsterdam is an evolved city when it comes to transport. Straight out of th bus stop you can rent a bike for however long you need it and return it to places all over the city. Bike paths are plentiful and carry another set of traffic signal, directions, and protocol.

For that reason, as a tourist often looking around in amazement, be careful not to get ran over by bikers. Most of the time they aren’t moving very fast. The culture is relaxed and people lazily stroll down the streets with the biggest of grins, for a multitude of reasons.

Yes, marijuana is “legal” in Amsterdam and you can throw a pebble and find a cafe that serves it in a variety of formats. People smoke on the streets, but its not really that common. There were studies done that showed the usage of Netherland’s citizens went back down to about the average at the beginning of the study, which took about 15 years.

They call them “brown cafes” because the walls are often tarnished.

There was a big news story this morning on a legal methadrone type of drug circulating and whether or not to make it illegal to avoid driving it “underground” and perhaps making a black market sense. I think the same principle applies in the case of Amsterdam, who have realized that spendng resources and harsher crimes is more important.

You also don’t get the impression walking around that the city is consumed in that culture. You do see tourists either being intrigued by the process or “on the lookout” for those types. Either way, Amsterdam is pretty family friendly most of the time. The only thing that ever really made me feel uncomfortable was being hassled by homeless beggars and the occasional dodgy girl. Also, that damn pickpocket issue.

All in all, whatever you want to do is generally cool. You have to get over that a little bit…people are really that laid back in Amsterdam. Pick your poison and enjoy it while you can.

Again, I hope to come back and spend more time in this part of the country. It was a good sampler of culture and an experience traveling to countries that don’t speak a familiar first language…but again, all Americans should take the opportunity to travel, when the world has embraced our language as they have, no point not too.

Goodbye, Amsterdam.

The trip also inspired me to start learning a new language. Now that I’m done with school it might just be time to finally learn some German.

Also, I highly recommend the Crown Plaza Suites…which I wouldn’t probably normally recommend, but in Amsterdam, they did a very commendable service with a really great room. Plus they were totally cool with me coming in and out of the hotel in various states of clarity. Just a great staff, very professional and very straight forward place.

Now that we’ve got that settled, I’m going to kickback and enjoy the inner-city train that runs through The Netherlands and Belgium as the sun shines bright and the land is quite different and breathtaking (when you’re outside a rail tunnel).

More to come.

I’m back. The inner-city train that I had taken started out fairly late, but by the time we hit Brussels it was well over 20 minutes behind. My train was leaving at the Eurostar terminal at 1429 and we were dropped at the farthest platform at 11 after.

I ran to the Eurostar terminal, dropped my ticket through and hit passport control right away. It was a snap, but what I didn’t realize is that I was “leaving France” but would then later need to go back through UK customs, filling out a landing card and dealing with the formalities of coming into the UK again.

I was pouring with sweat as I filled out the card frantically putting my details on. I was reminded of the flight over when me and my seatmate sat going over the details of the landing card in very specific terms…this was more chicken scratch.

Since the gate agent when I had landed used suc a faint ink to stamp my passport, the UK agent couldn’t figure out my story based on what I was telling him. So, a bit of confusion ensued as my passport and identity were verified with International officials.

I was ten seconds away from the rubber glove.

Still, getting through two custom borders, a security line, and running up thr platform I had a minute to spare as I sat down in someone else’s seat, because someone nipped mine. Sitting in a sweaty panic I had thought to myself, “right! Did it again! No train is going to get past me!”

I made St. Pancras with time to spare, grabbed a quick bite as I was absolutely starving and ran over to the underground to sort out a ticket to Wokingham, where I have some family to visit and catch up with. I told the man, “get me to Wokingham” and he handed me a ticket with some instructions on taking the local underground stations.

About the time I got to Waterloo and found the right platform, my head started to ache something fierce. It felt just like it had in London when I was here a week or so prior. I’m starting to think that London’s smog problem is causing a bit of bad health amongst it’s visitors and Londheads alike. Good thing I have a fresh supply of Claritin ready to fight any problems I may run in to.

I did have an off-peak ticket again…and yes, I was on an on-peak commuter train. I was fully prepared to do the American thing and pretend like I had no idea. I found out later that foreigners, such as myself, often do this to dodge rail transit. Just make sure that you are cool about it, make sure they have the power, and you’ll be all set.

Speaking of which, tomorrow it’s off to Stonehedge and enjoying the South of England. Sometime late Friday it will be back to the big smoke to finish off the last leg of my trip enjoying some beers and conversation back down in my old London home…Strange to think I’ll be heading back soon. Two weeks, definitely a great vacation. More to come, settle down kids, have a brew and take it easy.


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