Amsterdam is difficult to describe. A pretty city, pleasant people, cheerful beggars, sad looking junkies and shady looking characters quietly offering to sell tourists any kind of drug. I gather that you can do almost anything in Amsterdam so long as you are reasonably discreet. I had already deduced, from talking to people in hostels all across Europe, that you shouldn't deal with the shady characters. They always insist that you have to follow them down a dark alley to conclude the deal. Once there the best you can hope for is a non-violent rip-off.
If you don't do anything stupid, Amsterdam is a very safe place. I saw plenty of police and no fights, or even loud arguments.
I arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday, 11 January. The best room I could find for my first night cost 95 guilders, about $45. The next day this hotel went to more expensive weekend rates so I moved to another room that cost 90 guilders. I looked into staying in a hostel, but the hostels only offered dorm rooms and the ones I checked all allowed smoking in the rooms. I was warned that the residents did some serious smoking. I decided to pay for a hotel.
Random observations about Amsterdam--Coffee and pastries are good at the pastry shops, which are abundant. Coffee is terrible in the coffee shops, I don't know why. Thai food is excellent in the Asian area. The Heineken Museum was closed--tragedy! There are plenty of interesting bars to choose from. My favorite was one called the Last Waterhole; I liked the free live music. I met a pretty young Australian woman there who used me to discourage an arrogant and persistent musician who was after her. I didn't mind being used; she was pleasant and the situation was amusing.
I went to several museums--the Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, Ann Frank House, Resistance Museum, Rijks Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the Scheepvaartmuseum (Shipping Museum). The Ann Frank House made the greatest impression by far. Auschwitz gave a sense of the magnitude of the Holocaust; the Ann Frank House gave a sense of the personal impact. They had letters there written by Ann Frank's father after the war--letters written while he was still hoping to find his daughters, and letters written after he learned that he was the only survivor in his family. The letters, on display at the end of the tour, were for me the most disturbing exhibit in the museum.
The Shipping Museum was interesting. I like historical exhibits and enjoyed touring the replica of an 18th century 700 ton merchant ship. The Van Gogh Museum was good, but I think the Musee de Orsay in Paris has better Van Gogh's. The Rembrandt House is more interesting as a period house than as a memorial to Rembrandt. The Resistance Museum was of minor historical interest but nothing more. The Rijks Museum's Dutch Masters were technically excellent paintings but of a somber tone that I tired of quickly. Finally, the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art simply confirmed that I'm not a fan of modern art, but I gave it a try. I realize that is an absurdly brief summary of Amsterdam's museums, but I didn't take any pictures and I'm running out of steam on this Web project. Sorry.
Not too many pictures. Many museums don't allow photos, others had exhibits that didn't inspire me. I don't recall what the policy was in the Ann Frank House; but I could not in any way capture the experience of being there in a few pictures. Mostly I just took pictures of the city.
The Rembrandt House followed by an oblique shot of the Ann Frank House.
A canal picture, followed by a dull daytime picture of the Red Light District (sorry, no racy nighttime shots), the view from the train station, and one of Amsterdam's leaning houses. Old houses were intentionally built leaning forward so that furniture could be raised by pulleys extended from the front without banging against the side of the house. Due to space limitations the houses were built high and narrow, and the stairs inside were often as steep as ladders. Not good for carrying furniture up.
The Rijksmuseum, the 1488 Waag (Weigh House), and the 1488, 700 ton, United East India Company replica.
A sample of the art in the Stedelijk Museum, which is one of the paintings that I don't get, and a cool fellow I met walking around after this museum.
I was now near the end of my loop around Europe, but didn't want to leave. So I killed time in Amsterdam. I hung around for days eating Thai food and finished reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac. In the book Kerouac glorified two characters who stayed up all night talking, trying to share everything in each others mind. I'd have to hurt anyone who tried to do that to me. I gave the book to a redheaded barmaid in an Irish Pub in the Red Light district.
I caught a train on Tuesday, 23 January to Frankfurt, spent the night at what is left of Rhein-Main AFB, and had no trouble catching a chartered MD11 all the way to Atlanta the next day. On Tuesday I didn't know when or how I was going to get home, on Wednesday I was only three hundred miles from MFEMFEMFEMF. A short days drive in a rental car and I was home, starting the very long process of getting caught up on my life and putting together a massive web page.