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Adam Panoramic image of the city, views of buildings around a lake

European Adventure Part Deux Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Noord en Museumplein

I arrived in Amsterdam after a fairly long train ride. Upon exiting the main train station, I’m immediately treated to stunning picturesque views of the city. Very reminiscent of when I visited Venice on my last adventure. Amsterdam was just as visually appealing and quite similar to Venice in many ways. Lots of great views, canals, waterways, all types of ships and boats and of course way too touristy. I even witnessed a big cruise ship disembark to let off passengers just like in Venice.

The train station itself is a perfect example of striking Dutch architecture. Designed in the form of Gothic, Renaissance Revival style, it’s quite similar to the Rijksmuseum or better known as the Rembrandt Museum due to a prominent collection of Rembrandt paintings that are housed there. The obvious similarities are mostly attributed to the fact that they were designed by the same architect, Pierre Cuypers.

On my first full day in the city, I explored all the typical touristy sites. The central city downtown area including Dam Square and parts of De Wallen or better known as the “Red light district.” Rembrandt square and Waterlooplein, the area in which I stayed for the first couple of nights. As well as the area around the Ann Frank house museum, little 9 streets and the surrounding neighborhood of Jordaan.

All along the way, I passed by an array of interesting, unique, artsy, quirky, funky and fun local stops. All of these words could be used to describe Adam in a nutshell. Everything from an Electric lady land museum which features all types of art under fluorescent light, to a bakery that sells giant chocolate pumps, to an art gallery devoted entirely to images of cats, to a Buddhist temple right in the heart of the city. Adam really does have it all! And if hearing about all that hasn’t tired you out yet, then keep on reading because this adventure has only just begun.

As day turns into night the city comes alive in a different way and takes on a unique feel to it. The Red light district, well, actually turns into a ‘red-light’. As the sun goes down the red lights come on and that signals playtime for locals and tourists alike. Various forms of adult entertainment can be found here. From bars to clubs, to sex shows, to visiting the infamous ladies of the night. Like clockwork the minute the lights come on, they gather round from behind the windows exhibiting their wares for all to see.

Seeing both men and women spend tireless hours walking up and down the streets just to gawk at these ladies made me think of a human zoo-like atmosphere. It was just a rather odd sight to behold. Each lady had a unique way of enticing passersby to join them in their humble abodes. It was interesting to observe. And in case you’re wondering, that’s all I did, observe. Just as I had previously witnessed in the Reeperbahn, the majority of the men wandering the streets were young middle eastern men. Not really sure why but they were.

The red light district is much more sterile than people realize. It mostly functions as a bar and club district. Most of the people who go there are just looking for some nightlife entertainment. A good portion of the crowd is made up of groups from neighboring European cities like the UK who are celebrating what they refer to as “Stag and Hen” outings, or what’s better known in the states as “Bachelor and Bachelorette” parties.

It’s really all just about people getting piss drunk and having fun with a little added titillation from the ladies of the red light. One way to characterize it is to think of the entire red-light district like this one huge club with live go-go dancers or adult entertainers who hang around after hours.

It was nice seeing this part of Adam at night. The canals looked just as beautiful as during the day but night time added a special nuance to them. After a while of exploring and observing, I grew rather tired of the drunken crowds and smell of urine and decided to call it a “night at the red light.” I explored more of the downtown and Dam square area. I even made it a point to meet up with a Couchsurfing group that was having their local weekend get together that night. Can’t say much about this group other than, there really wasn’t much to say about them.

The next morning, I set out to explore the Adam-Nord side. I end up walking to the train station and taking one of the free ferries over to the Nord. The Nord side is home to, among other things, the Eye film museum and the Adam lookout Tower which sits atop the Sir Adam hotel. There’s also a giant swing to swing on as you enjoy the view from the top.

Annoyingly, that idea changed when I got there and realized how much they were charging. It was almost like 20 Euros just to go up to the top of a Hotel. I mean, seriously?? I know Adam is just as touristy as Venice but c’mon? Even in Venice, they don’t try to rape tourists this badly. I ended up making my way to the second floor instead and taking a picture with a cool looking ‘Guitar of Thrones’ exhibit, or at least that’s what I called it. It was free just like my bad puns. Your welcome!

Later I made my way over to the Nemo museum. Still yearning to scratch a rooftop view of Adam off my list, the top of this museum would have to suffice. And it did not disappoint. Not to mention it was well earned as it required having to climb multiple steps instead of the convenience of an elevator. Aside from the great views, the top of the Nemo itself is really cool! It’s a science museum. So it had all these impressive-looking structures and contraptions that functioned by either water or solar power.

This was also the day of the yearly Adam canal swim event and I was fortunate enough to be there to witness it. This city swim event encompasses about 2,000 meters of the city center canals. About 2,500 swimmers brave the canal waters to help raise funds for motor neuron disease, also known as ALS, in the Netherlands. Brave indeed! I wouldn’t jump into those canal waters. But I did help cheer them on! My hats off to these brave souls and to finding a cure!

Also on my list that day was catching the Jordaan festival. This was another yearly celebration that took place in the neighborhood of Jordaan. It was a traditional Dutch festival with live music, dancing, drinks and food. Like a Dutch version of Octoberfest, although not as big and not as fun. But it was still cool to say I had experienced a real traditional Dutch festival celebration. All the songs were sung in Dutch. The highlight for me was watching some drunken old fool yearning to be the star of my video.

There were plenty of other festivals taking place all throughout Amsterdam, this was just the one I happened to attend. It was also free. Some festivals can charge up to 50 Euros. These being more rave-like with DJs instead of real bands. I wanted to experience a more traditional one and that’s exactly what I got.

After leaving the festival, I decided to explore more of the surrounding Jordaan neighborhood. I worked up quite an appetite from all the walking around that day and decided to take a stab at traditional Dutch food. So I found a quaint little Dutch-style diner tucked away in a corner off of the main street. The food while good was pretty bland and lacked any real flavor or spices. I found traditional Dutch food to be quite bland and boring.

The dish was called Hachee and it basically consisted of beef stew, red cabbage and white potatoes all served in separate bowls. After finishing my traditional boring Dutch meal, I ended up chatting with the owner. Turned out, she’s actually not Dutch but Armenian. We talked about her time living and cooking meals for tourists in Amsterdam and her reason for moving there in the first place, among other things.

She said her reason for opening up a Dutch restaurant instead of an Armenian one was because Dutch food was so much easier to prepare. I remember her telling me she wasn’t very happy. So there you have it, I ended up having a boring bland traditional Dutch meal prepared by a miserable Armenian woman. Rather fitting. After finishing my meal, I headed back to home base and called it a night.

The following morning, I met up with my friend Giusy who had been texting me the night before. We first met at a Couchsurfing event in DC and had planned to reunite at some point during my trip. Giusy is originally from Italy and was living there but coincidentally enough had just recently moved to Amsterdam.

She had a lot of new stuff to deal with. A new city, new job and a new boyfriend. So she didn’t have much time to hang out and I understood that. Still, she was feeling bad and reached out to me and offered to host me at her boyfriend’s home in a suburb of Amsterdam called Diemen which I would always pronounce as “Demon”. Don’t think that’s correct, however. Conveniently enough, I was just about to switch to a hostel for my last three days and decided to take her up on the offer instead.

We met at the train station and elected to start our exploration from there. Giusy and I both had a thing for museums and a shared appreciation of art. We had planned to make this a museum day. I was yearning to check out Moco aka “the Banksy Museum” so we started with that one. Next stop Museumplein!

Amsterdam Museumplein

This entire area of Adam is filled with gorgeous architecture and beautiful garden-like surroundings. Vibrant colors abound all around. The Rijksmuseum in particular and the surrounding grounds were truly impressive! A work of art all in itself. It’s called Museumplein because well, most of the museums are located in this area. I like to think of it as an adult childlike playground. It’s very similar to “The Mall” area of Washington, DC.

The Banksy museum did not disappoint. It was exactly what I had expected. Moco had a pretty extensive collection of his works complete with profound quotes sprinkled about here and there. They had entire rooms dedicated to a few of his pieces. One that stood out for me, in particular, was the surveillance room. Here museums goers also get to be part of the art as willing or unwilling participants, depending on how you look at it. Typical Banksy stuff.

In addition to Banksy, there were a few other contemporary artists on display who also had equally powerful exhibits. But the focus and star of the show here was definitely Banksy. What more can be said about this guy that hasn’t already been said before? He is a true genius! Art with a purpose and a poignant message. He does a masterful job of combining art with satirical social commentary that highlights the shared challenges we face as a human race. If you’re a fan or even if you’re not, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit.

The museum was filled with all types of interactive installations as well. Like a time vault and a room filled with large lit up balloon-like objects. There was even a sculpture garden in the back which had a giant rocking horse. It was such a fun and playful area. We took so many great pictures here!

Giusy really wanted to visit the Van Gogh museum as she was a big fan of his work but there wasn’t enough time to do both and not wanting to rush the experience, we chose to buy our tickets for the following day. I proposed we go check out a cool sculpture exhibit that I had heard about in the neighborhood of Zuid instead. She agreed and off we went.

The exhibit was called ArtZuid and its actually Adam’s version of an official Sculpture Biennale, meaning it takes place only every two years so it was kind of a big deal. The Art Zuid foundation that puts this event together has a really poignant motto. They want to use outdoor art as a catalyst in creating new meeting places and make art accessible to everyone. They feel that artists’ ideas are of great value for maintaining an open society. Good philosophy indeed!

The sculptures themselves were quite impressive. Some were of a larger scale than others but even the smaller ones had really interesting designs and portrayed strong messages. There were quite a few that celebrated the female form and female empowerment in general. There were others that were a bit more abstract but their messages were equally as meaningful. One of the great things about art is coming up with your own interpretation of what the artist is trying to portray or what message they want to convey.

Giusy was always one of those people who had a knack for looking at art and coming up with really good interpretations, at times even matching up exactly with the artist’s thoughts. We had already done quite a bit of this in DC so I knew it would be a worthwhile art excursion with her. So here’s pro travel tip number 6: in case you’re keeping count, find a fellow appreciator of art and have fun challenging yourself in how you view art.

After exploring all that ArtZuid had to offer, we worked up quite the appetite so we headed to a nearby food hall located in the Dutch version of a hipster neighborhood called De Pijp. The famous Foodhallen as it’s known by locals is actually more than just a food hall. The complex features many different types of local handmade goods and shops. But we were definitely there for the food!

The food hall area itself consists of stalls with many different types of food from all over the world. You can find everything from the Dutch delicacy of Bitterballen which I think looked very similar to what we call ‘hush puppies’ in the states to Vietnamese, to Indian food. Think of it as an upscale food court. It was nice to be able to sample all these foods in one big space.

Aside from the food, it also provides a nice hangout spot for locals. Most people that gather around are not just there for the food but also for the company. It provides a great meeting place to catch up with friends. People from all types of cultural backgrounds and walks of life can be seen here engaging in conversations and enjoying a drink or two.

After getting our fill of delicious small plates, we opted for some dessert at a nearby ice cream shop which we had initially thought was Gelato but actually turned out to be vegan Dutch ice cream instead. It was still great for not being Gelato. The vegan chocolate, coconut and banana flavors were all on point! Some of the more experimental flavors were a bit hit and miss but the basic ones were just right. The owner was really friendly too and took her time explaining and recommending different flavors to try.

After getting our pseudo Gelato fix, we headed back to home-base in Diemen. Exhausted and needing to wake up early in the morning for museum exploration day part two, we called it a night. The Diemen area itself was only 20 minutes away by metro so it really wasn’t that bad getting in and out of the main city. It was a pretty quiet suburb so not much going on there at night anyway.

The following morning, we head out for Museumplein once again. This time our stop would be the famous Van Gogh museum and home to arguably the most famous Dutch painter of all time, Vincent Van Gogh. Many of his impressive artworks are housed here including much of his earlier work.

Even some interesting early drafts and personal artifacts that you can’t find anywhere else. For example, did you know that for most of his paintings he used a perspective frame to line up his images and subjects? Drawing and painting within geometric lines and patterns were a big part of his artistic process.

The museum does a really good job of not only portraying his work but also telling the personal story of this tortured soul. You really get to know Van Gogh not only as an artist but as a person as well. I was never really a big fan of his art. He’s never been one of my personal favorites but the museum definitely provides for a great way of experiencing and enjoying his art.

It definitely makes you feel like you’re seeing the art through the eyes of the artist himself. I was a little disappointed to find out that my favorite painting of his, Starry Night, is not on display here. You’ll have to go to Moma in NYC for that one.

After taking our time enjoying the many levels of this museum and getting our fill of Goghy goodness, we chose to venture away from Museumplein momentarily to get some lunch. Again my goal was to try for a traditional Dutch spot. I wanted to see what else Dutch food had to offer and if what I had eaten the night before was just an aberration and not a good representation. We ended up at a place that I had researched prior to my trip.

Once again, it turned out to be your very traditional Dutch food spot. They even had warm blankets for you to wear when dining outside on those chilly nights. I didn’t need the warm blanket on this occasion but it was good to know. This time the dish of choice was called Hutspot.

Another basic bland traditional Dutch dish. It consisted of much of what Hachee contained but this time it was served all blended together in three small mashed potato balls with a sausage on the side. Again, I wanted to experience a traditional Dutch meal and that’s exactly what I got.

Giusy had to leave early for work so that meant going back to solo travel exploration from here on out. She did a great job of trying to fit me into her busy schedule and I really appreciated it. I ended up exploring more of this area and also the area around Museumplein once again.

I was fortunate enough to witness many different things that took place there that day. From spontaneous live musical performances to live art canvassing, you name it! The Dutch are a fairly creative bunch I’ll give them that. Not to mention they also do a good job of appreciating and fostering creativity, unlike other cities. I’m looking at you DC.

It was nice weather that day so in addition to museum exploration, I really wanted to spend a good deal of time outdoors and take advantage of this unusually sunny weather. I ended up exploring nearby Vondelpark which acts as the main central park for the city. Plenty of interesting things to see and do can be found here as well. All types of outdoor activities, cool-looking sculptures, statues and architecture. Ample green areas in which to take more beautiful pictures. Thankfully, I had plenty of space still left on my camera phone.

After enjoying the park for a while, I elected to do the most touristy thing of all, an early evening canal boat tour. Why not? When in Amsterdam, this is another one of those must Dos! The tour not only provided for even more stunning picture spots but also the background and history behind all these impressive sites.

It also gave you the history behind the city itself and how it came to be. It was a really nice cruise that offered up different viewpoints and perspectives you would only get from this type of tour. Yet another delightful way of experiencing Amsterdam and its famous canals.

Exhausted from all this exploring, I took the metro to Diemen and called it a night. Giusy ended up getting back really late from work so we didn’t have much time to reconnect and chat on this occasion. I remember her cat waiting up for her all that time which I thought was really cute. That night, I met a couple who were also using the home as a place to stay. I’d actually be sharing the house with six people, including a baby. This definitely came as a surprise to me but it all worked out fine.

All I really needed was a place to sleep and that’s exactly what I got. It was tough debating on whether or not I wanted the hostel experience of meeting new people or if I wanted the experience of reconnecting with familiar faces on this trip. I opted for reconnection instead, going with the whole theme of this trip from the start.

My last day in Amsterdam, I woke up early with a plan of venturing out into The Hague. Unfortunately, once again things did not go as planned. What’s that old saying, “Sometimes you’re best-laid plans don’t always get you laid the way you planned.” ☺ The idea was to explore The Hague, visit some more museums like the MC Escher museum which was also on my list, and the Royal Palace. Anyway, that was the plan.

When I arrived at the metro station in Diemen, I tried purchasing an NS train ticket from one of the automated machines. It was actually the only machine there that sold NS tickets. Well, the machine wasn’t working. There was no one there to talk to in person so instead, they had you talk to someone remotely by pressing a call button and it would ring this customer service agent somewhere else.

Anyway, picture me having a very involved conversation with a ticket machine for like 20 minutes. Anyone who passed by must’ve thought I was one of those insane metro riders who probably had too much to drink. The person I was talking to ended up not being able to help and recommended I go to one of the main metro stop stations and buy my ticket from a live person instead.

When I got to the Amstel station, I spoke with a live person about the difficulties I was having with purchasing an automated ticket. Turns out this a very common occurrence, especially if you’re not a local and don’t own a Dutch credit card. The machine wouldn’t take any cash so credit was the only option. So pro travel tip number 7: Buy your NS ticket from a live person and don’t waste your time with the ticket machines.

At this point, I had lost a great deal of time and the train ride back and forth just wasn’t going to be worth it anymore. The weather was also equally as crappy as my ticket buying experience that day. It was raining really hard so I decided to just take it easy and venture out closer to home instead. While waiting in the train station for the rain to die down a bit, I enjoyed listening to many different forms of piano music played by fellow transit riders.

Turns out this station had one of those public pianos that people could just sit down at and play to their heart’s content. Granted, listening to live piano music in a train station wasn’t really the way I had pictured this day going but for me, it was a very enjoyable way to pass the time while I waited for the conditions outside to improve.

In the end, I ended up doing what I normally do when the weather fails to cooperate and what I had done in Germany two years prior. I make it a spa day! I was in dire need of some me-time. Needing to rest, relax and recharge for the remainder of my trip ahead, I found a spot that had indoor Jacuzzis and stayed there for an hour.

Afterward, I headed to my last dinner in Adam. I found a really interesting restaurant through local yelp reviews that turned out to be quite the hidden gem. Having grown tired of Dutch food, this time I opted for something completely different. It was an Eritrean restaurant called Asmara Eetkunst. Your typical nice little hole in the wall which usually translates to really good genuine food. And it did not disappoint. It was great!

I ordered the national dish, Zigini. A hearty meat dish which of course as is tradition, is served with plenty of Injera bread. They even throw in stuff like chickpeas, potatoes and other vegetables. I got to meet the owner here as well. Real business-like, honest and frank but also a pretty friendly guy.

We were later joined by a local patron and good friend of the owner. We got into some interesting conversations about life in Amsterdam, the presence of the cultural diaspora there as opposed to places like DC for example and just an overall comparison between the two countries.

Having visited family in DC before, he had a good understanding of the biggest differences and challenges faced in each country. One of the things he pointed out was how you really don’t see any homelessness at all in Amsterdam. This was very true! In fact, I really don’t recall seeing this at all. The Dutch provide a good safety net for their citizens as opposed to Americans. He also goes on to describe the humble beginnings of how his restaurant came to be. As I said, we got into a pretty involved conversation and discussed many different topics.

The really curious thing for me and something that we both joked about is how I ended up eating Eritrean food in Amsterdam of all places. Especially when I live in a city where Ethiopian and Eritrean food is so prevalent given the big Habesha community that resides in DC. As a matter of fact, DC is well known for being home to the largest community of Ethiopians outside of Addis Ababa.

But hey, if traveling has taught me anything, it’s that great recipes can and often do travel as well. And his place was certainly no exception. This was very reminiscent of my previous foodie experience on my last trip finding Dominican food in La Spezia, Italy. So pro travel tip number 8: Never be afraid of trying new foods in unexpected places. You just might end up finding a hidden gem of your own.

After taking a group picture in front of the restaurant, I said my goodbyes and decided to make my way back to Diemen. I stopped by this bakery/coffee shop that sold really delicious homemade pastries to bring back with me to share. Giusy had gotten back from work early this time and she was already there waiting with her boyfriend (Don) and a mutual friend (Rachel). I ended up getting some homemade chocolate bread and they absolutely loved it! I figured it would go well with whatever dinner they had planned.

Since this would be my last night in Adam, we all made time to gather around and actively engage in a really good conversation. The type that I was used to having with Giusy in DC. We talked about everything. Having additional perspectives which at times were different and somewhat challenging added to the already involved conversation.

I can’t say I agreed with Don on every single topic but we did agree on a lot and in the end, we pretty much saw things the same but just from a different angle or viewpoint if you will. We even ended the night by getting into our very own chorus of Karaoke songs bringing back fresh memories of my recent German Autobahn experience.

Turns out Rachel was German so we got into some pretty fun discussions about my recent trip as well as topics having to do with Germany in general. Like for example, the fact that Germans despite being well known for their advanced engineering and technical prowess are far behind things like mobile payment systems or even the simple use of credit cards. It was a delightful experience and the type of moments I enjoy the most. Allowing myself to be fully present and enjoy those conversations felt great.

I also remember feeling a bit under the weather around this time. The chilly, damp, rainy climate of Amsterdam had finally caught up with me. I placed my head over a boiling pot of water and breathed in as much warm moist air as I could in order to right myself and get ready for my early morning flight which by this time was just a mere 2 hours away. Ughhhh… I had lost total track of time but didn’t care. The conversation was splendid and much needed.

I gave my thanks to Don for graciously hosting me in his home and said my goodbyes to both. I gave Giusy a warm hug and exchanged some parting encouraging words with hopes of meeting up once again in the not too distant future. Next up would be a quick two-hour flight to Giusy’s home country of Italy!

Onward to Salerno

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