Monday, March 23, 2009

You Are Now Entering The Red Light District

If you want to start your trip to Europe off on a fun and crazy note, then Amsterdam should be your first stop. We left London very, very early got on the bus and headed to Dover. This was a nice quick ride and gave us all a chance to start getting to know one another and to learn the simple rules of the bus. When we got to Dover we saw the beautiful White Cliffs and got on a Ferry to enjoy a nice, bumpy ride over to France. If you get motion sickness easily definitely take some medicine with you. I don't ever get motion sickness, but after walking around on the Ferry for a bit I was starting to feel a little sick. The great thing about the Ferry is that there is quite a lot for you to do to entertain yourself on the journey. Of course you can spend the time getting to know fellow travelers, or you can roam around the Ferry itself visiting its great Duty Free shops and if you need a drink, there's a liquor store on board.

After the ferry ride we continued on the bus to Amsterdam playing speed dating along the way in order to get up, move about, and meet more people on the bus. For food, we stopped at a rest area in Belguim where we got to try and order food in a foreign country for the first time. Luckily, one of the servers spoke English, so everyone flocked to his line to order. This is something I regret about my trip, I depended too much on finding people who could speak English. I wish I had known a least part of the languages before going to Europe rather than being the tourist that needs someone to explain things to them in English. We arrived in Amsterdam in time to check in, change quickly, and head up to dinner. In Amsterdam we stayed at the Ibis hotel out by Schipol airport. This was by far the nicest hotel that we stayed at the entire trip and I was throughly impressed with the room. It's important to note here that I made the decision to be in a triple room. I did this to save money, but in the end it was a great decision because generally e had a bigger room than everyone else. Dinner was a buffet which was okay. I wasn't overally impressed, but we could have had worse. There was a lot of choice, but our dinner was also rushed because we had places to go and things to see in Amsterdam.

To kick off our night in Amsterdam we headed into the city and went on a Canal Cruise. This is something that I highly recommend you do on your trip. Like the river cruise in London, it was a great way to get things started and see different highlights of the city. On this cruise we also had a tour guide pointing out certain sights and giving us a taste of the history of Amsterdam. The other bonus to this canal cruise was that complimentary wine and beer were served throughout the cruise and you could drink as much as you could in the time of the cruise. If you are doing the contiki, I highly recommend going on the canal cruise because its a great way to start celebrating with your tourmates and getting to know them in a social setting. Oh and be sure to go to the bathroom before you leave the canal cruise, because it will be a lonnnng time before you see another bathroom.

From the canal cruise our amazing Tour Manager led us into the heart of the city to explore the nightlife of Amsterdam. We headed straight to the Red Light District and wow, was that an experience. If you are in Amsterdam, you need to wander into the Red Light District at some point as it showcases a large part of the city's culture. Yes, you walk down the street and are surrounded by women trying to sell themselves and the auroma of the streets is pot, but you can see that this is a culture that is free and accepting and pushes the norms of society. It's also interesting to see the different parts of the district and how seperated each area is (in terms of the characteristics of the women in the windows) and if you happen to walk by a window with a curtain closed, then you know something is going on behind there. An important tip about being in the Red Light District is that no matter how much you want to, you CANNOT take any pictures...seriously, don't try...

If you want to experience the culture that Amsterdam is really famous for you will have the opportunity to that evening. On the Contiki tour there is the option to go to a live sex show when in Amsterdam and after going to that (or if you opt out of the sex show) you can visit one of the infamous coffee shops (which aren't famous for their coffee). Really its up to you what you want to experience, what you want to do, and how much you want to "live it uo" during your time in Europe. Go in with an open mind and do what you want to do. You never know when you will be in Europe again.

We actually had additional time in Amsterdam in the morning before we left and headed to Germany. Again, we got up bright and early and headed into the city. Most of the group opted to head to the Anne Frank House first thing. If you are ever in Amsterdam visiting the Anne Frank House is a MUST. However, if you are not willing to be serious and really take all the emotion in, then for those visitors who are there for a reason, please don't go. It is hard to explain what you feel when you get to the House and you are inside it. I read the book when I was younger and understood the story, but actually being there and being forced to see and understand the reality of the situation will touch you in ways you may have never thought possible. It is a very touching place and somewhere that you should visit. There is an admission cost, but the cost is worthwhile for the experience you get.

There are many other options for things to do to spend your time in Amsterdam. If you enjoy drinking or are interested in learning more about the brewing process you can visit the newly reopened Heinekein Experience where you learn about beer and get to sample some as well. If you are an avid art fan then there a multiple museums that you can visit including the Van Gogh museum. You also have the opportunity to experience the culuture of Amsterdam again as you can wander back through the Red Light District or head to a coffee shop during the day. Its also just nice to walk around the city, look at the beautiful canals and do some shopping. If you are the type of person that is going to want to do a lot when in Amsterdam, I recommend doing some research before you go and planning out where you want to visit and what you would like to see so that you can cover as much as possible while you are there.


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