Twenty-First Email- Amsterdam & The Netherlands

Sent 1.5.06


Study days have arrived...and I probably should be doing a bit of studying instead of writing this email, but this is a good break from the grind. I also have only three exams, so I'm not overwhelmed with work to do in the next two weeks even though one of them will be in Spain and Portugal. With that said, I'll go right into talking about my latest trip to the continent- Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I took this trip a weekend ago (20th-24th April), and there are plenty of pictures on my website to go along with the text below.

The trip started with a Thursday afternoon flight from Dublin to Amsterdam. The flight was uneventful, and I landed in Amsterdam right on schedule. This was a bit of a flashback moment on arrival- it was the first airport in Europe I have flown into that I have been to before. The previous visit was nearly three years prior with my high school band trip. I don't want to get into everything about that trip, but it was a great experience and I got to see so much and so little at the same time. Because we went all over Europe in 15 days but only spent a day in any one place, it made me want to come back and see everything again at a much slower pace. I would say I've managed to see a great deal of what I saw before in more detail- Amsterdam, Munich, Salzburg, and Paris are just a few of the places I've been back to.

Anyways, Amsterdam Schiphol airport was still a nice airport three years later. The layout is quite nice and it is easy to find your way around, and I managed to move quite quickly through the airport. Because I always pack for these weekend trips in a way that doesn't require me to check baggage, I was able to make it from the gate to the train platform in about 12 minutes (after walking from the end of a terminal, going through immigration, making it out of customs, and buying a train ticket), just in time for an 8:01 pm train. If that train had been a minute earlier, I would have missed it. This got me into Amsterdam Centraal 20 minutes later which worked out perfectly for the 8:30 pm meeting time I had set before leaving. I was travelling alone from Dublin, but meeting four other people at our hostel in Amsterdam- Stephanie and Packy, two people I went skiing with over winter break, who each had a friend that from their respective program. Apparently I missed the 'bring a friend' memo. We had no problems finding each other, as our hostel was (as are many in Europe) a bar as well. I wonder where I found them?

Our hostel was a reputable joint named Durty Nelly's, located 10 minutes or so from the train station and not much more than a stone's throw from the Red Light District. No, we didn't frequent this part of the city. I guess you could call Amsterdam the 'Sin City' of Europe, but there are plenty of things to do besides the 'bad' stuff. We started out our Friday by visiting the Anne Frank House, which was well worth the time to see. It didn't quite touch me like Dachau did, but it was a much more personal story as this was just the experience of one family- you can't help but think of how many other stories there are out there that didn't survive in diary form as this one did. Later in the day we ended up at the Heineken brewery, which was a tour worthy of the €10 admission. I don't want to be accused of slander here in Ireland, but the folks at Guinness should take a look at this tour and write down a few ideas. For one, it is cheaper for adults, and you get three drinks (half pints) along the way and a souvenir at the end (your own "Heineken Experience" glass). It also had a few more interactive portions along the way. I admit I could be biased here- I didn't do the Guinness tour until January, four months into my stay here, so I may not have been as excited by the touristy things. After the tour, we walked around for a bit before finding an Italian restaurant for dinner. We eventually went back to the bar at our hostel for a bit before collapsing in our beds for a night of sleep.

Saturday started out at the Rijksmusuem. The museum is currently undergoing major renovations until 2008, so the current collection on display is rather small. However, I wasn't complaining, as it was a big enough museum for my taste- long enough that I felt like I got what I paid for, but not so long that I just wanted to skip to the exit. The collections on display were fairly impressive, as they tried to showcase their best works throughout the shortened exhibit. There were plenty of works by Rembrandt and his contemporaries, along with several valuables from the Dutch colonial period. We eventually finished up at the museum and spent the part of our afternoon browsing the street markets, which had their fair share of tulips and other flowers available. Dinner was a €7.50 all you can eat in an hour Chinese buffet. The guys earned their money's worth; even the girls held their own. In our walking around the streets of Amsterdam, we had come across a movie theatre earlier in the day; we spent the night there watching Crash, which I had not seen yet. I enjoyed it. Dutch does not have a big enough population base to warrant dubbing the movies, thus, we saw the movie in English with Dutch subtitles. I would also venture to say at least half of the people at the movie understood English enough that they listened and not read. I was very impressed at how many people in Amsterdam could speak a second (and maybe third) language fluently.

The next morning we all slept in, and then relaxed near a canal before saying goodbye to Packy and Sean who study in Innsbruck, Austria. Their flight was early in the afternoon; Stephanie, Eileen, and I all had flights later that evening. The three of us decided to leave Amsterdam for the remainder of the day and head out to Keukenhof, which is THE tulip garden. Only open in the spring months when the tulips bloom, it seemed like a good plan. Of course the weather at this point had to take a turn for the worse; while on the train the rain began. Sun or rain, the tulips would still be there, so we didn't bother to change our plans. Once we arrived, I was pretty impressed, even for being a guy. Some of the tulips were pretty cool looking, and the large fields of tulips with rows of different colours were also very pretty. Everyone was doing the 'professional photography' thing, trying to capture that perfect shot of tulips. I fell into the trap, but some of my photos look pretty good. The three of us eventually headed to the airport, where Stephanie and I said goodbye to Eileen who was flying off to Nice. Both Stephanie and Eileen were on break from their program in Angers, France. Stephanie was actually headed to Dublin on my flight, where she was spending a few days before meeting her parents out west in Killarney, who were flying in to visit her and see a bit of Europe at the same time.

The year is soon coming to a close, and I'll probably write another email this coming week discussing some more general things about the year abroad. Hard to believe I only have a few weeks left in Europe...

Keep in touch,

Dan McGee
Mobile: +353 87 056 4163