|An Orange Excursion||
Me on a bike...yea, well it is what it is. It is truly the only way to get around Amsterdam, it's quick, efficient, and when you have one that doesn't scream "TOURIST" you are truly part of the city. Let me be the first to tell you, that the whole notion of "never forgetting how to ride a bike" is at a whole new level here. Riding is one thing, but paying attention, learning when to go, and how to use pedal breaks again is one huge challenge. But yes, after almost a week with a bike, I can properly say, "Ik kan vrij goed fietsen."
Pretty much every picture that I have taken on my ventures thus far have been via bike travels. It is the only way to do Amsterdam. I really can't stress it enough. You get your lane (sometimes), own stoplights, and hell, even cars slow down for you. Technically pedestrians have the right-a-way, but it becomes very apparent that bikes are king. When one comes however, remember to lock up, as a kid in my study abroad group found out, he did not have it for more than 10 hours. Lock up the tires, find a nice pole, and try not to forget where you park it!!
Now here is where I would like to express my passions for something that I have been called "snobbish" for. That would be, beer. I refuse to drink "lite" beers, they simply are abominations, and American mass produced "beer-water" as they say over here, is crap (snob comment there....). But it is quite interesting that beer, at any venue, costs less than a glass of tap water. In fact, even at the student cafeteria, beer was served, and it was cheaper than any other drink. Heineken is the main brand, and they also own Amstel, but believe it or not, they have many other varieties, like an Oud Bruin, Dubbel, and a Witte-form of Amstel. All are pretty good, but anything that says "Trappe" (that is, brewed/made from traditional Trappist monks during the medieval ages is infinitely better than anything possibly on both continents). Also, the Dutch really do not have a "beer tradition," there are a few Pilsners, (Dommelsch mainly) but everything seems to be imported from Belgium. Not that this party is complaining, but it is quite interesting that the Dutch talk down on the Belgians as, "onze disfunctionele buren" but seemingly let the whole beer monopoly slide right off. Now the Dutch will drink beer at any sign of free time. Free time before an event---bar; An hour between trams---bar; Raining (common theme here)---bar; even before going to a party that is already diluted with liquor and beer, oen must properly sit and sip your vlaasje, kleintje, or vlacht. Yes, I said sip. A typical Dutch excursion to a bar lasts anywhere between an 1hr-3hrs. And you'll only have about 2 beers. Its all about taking ones time, not looking at watches, and enjoying company and the beer. Now, here is a typical beer size and glass that a restaurant will give you:
Yes, that is my rental cell phone, no much smaller than an IPhone, and that is what you get to drink. It is just enough to get you through a passing rain storm, a very intense Dutch political debate (they love to talk it), or just enough to hold you over until the next one!! All-in-all, biking and beer is quite unique here. It is all very well thought out (the little things they take care in, such as market hours, food packaging, space usage, the uncaring for how you are dressed and look) and different than from our American society. Some things are weird, some still get me, such as why they do not replenish bread at grocery stores throughout the day, or why they must FRY EVERYTHING. But I do enjoy the talks, the good beer, and the fact that I have a quick, fun way to get around without ever having to pay for gas or worrying about parking! (Below is my "Green Lantern" as its been dubbed, due to its green hideousness, and the fact that it practically glows at night)
--Adventures on the first day around town
Well on the official full day in Amsterdam, I did a little walking. To the left here, on the Museumplein was one of many museums, but this here is the Rijksmuseum, full of art and such and probably the best in the world. But Amsterdam really has every museum possible, a Sex, Vodka, and Purse museum, luckily I get a free-museum pass!! It was a sunny day, about 75F, and the city is so flat!! After a wonderful lunch of smoked salmon, wasabimayo, and and a fresh squeezed orange juice with my CIEE advisor, we had gelato at IJscupye (Got Hazelnut.......awesome). After this, my advisor went off and I got down to walking business.
I walked the 15 minute (if that) walk up Utrechtsestraat and into Rembrandtsplein. It is a little park with a bunch of bars, restaurants, and one of the touristy parts of Grachtengordel Zoud. It was really busy, but I did not feel like the only with a camera and map! After that, I went west and saw the very edges of Vondelpark a behemoth of grassy relaxation, and then I was a street away from going into downtown, tourist laden, and super packed Amsterdam.....but I'll save that for another day. So instead, I walked along de bloemenmarkt, a street covered in garden, cheese, and clothing stores. One cheese place was a basement of some apartment building that had tons of samples of cheese, to say the least I tried them all, and the smoked and aged gouda was "wonderlijk."
(left is a bloemenmarkt stall). So, I went southwest and around the "Gouden Bocht" or "Golden Bend" of absolutely huge houses. Right on the water, right on the main stretch before tourist town. Quite ideal if one has a few million dollars. Whenever I sent up for a picture, the Dutch made it their job to get out of the way, duck, stop, hold up traffic, I couldn't spit out enough "Dank u wel"'s to aptly thank everyone. My Dutch, in simple talk is passable, though they do seem to be able to smell foreigner on you. The fact that at the restaurant the waitress talked to my advisor first in Dutch then, after I said "Hi" she immediately changed over to English was astonishing. Oh US education system..... But all in all, a "redelijk goed dag" if I say so myself. This coming week is CIEE Orientation week, so it'll be meetings, meetings, talking, briefings, a probable class conundrum, etc. Once this is over though, it is another week of UvA orientations and then its off to class!!!
(BELOW: The 3 main Grachten (canals) in Amsterdam, Herengracht, Keizergracht, & Prisengracht, below that is the Amstel [no not flowing beer, the river])
Well everyone, it is time to start the adventure! I look forward to introducing everyone to the wonderful city of Amsterdam and the Dutch people. Trust me, I get as much satisfaction as venturing there as telling my friends and family about it. I chose to study in Amsterdam because it fit my research of the European Union, had some great classes, and was offered during the fall semester.
So here it is, The Netherlands in all its glory. Now, they do have some colonies in the Caribbean still, and are quite prevalent in South Africa. But, for all intensive purposes this is it. They speak very good English, have a vibrant social welfare system, and are generally great business people. Amsterdam is right by the Southwestern part of the IJsselmeer, that bay looking thing in the center. Most of the country is undersea level, and have an extensive polder system which is their system of reclaiming land from the sea, and thus, keeping it out. Due to climate change, they are in the process of heightening all the dykes, polders, and sea walls, which are already world record lengths and heights.
One may wonder why I chose "Orange" in my title. Willem of Oranje (Orange) a wealthy German duke helped the Dutch break off from those pesky Spainish in the Eight Years War (actually about 50). Ever since then, they Dutch have regarded Orange as their national color, and see it as their uniting figure in " Het Huis van Oranje." Throughout the 1600s-1700s the Dutch had their "Golden Age" where they ruled the seas and trade. They reached around the globe, set up the Dutch East and West Indian Trading Companies (think Pirates of the Caribbean) and had quite the army. Architecture, art (Vermeer, Rembrandt), spice trading, philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza) and the colonization of New Amsterdam (today's New York) all happened, and all fell by the late 1700s. Intriguingly, they actually switched from a vibrant, historical parliamentary democracy in the early 1800s, to a Constitutional monarchy. They did this because of the invading French, and kept it around because it brought everyone together (the Dutch have this problem, even today, with country unity and patriotism--think of it this way--They're themselves first, European second, and Dutch third--in fact, they really can't define what "Dutch" even is).
So a little about the Dutch. They are up front, very international, up to date on world events, and highly educated. Even in the 1500s and 1600s, they had quite astonishing literacy rates, something on the pace of 50% nationally. in their language, they do not beat around the bush, and will tell you how they feel. Specifically, they have a term called gezelligheid which has no English equal. Pretty much it means to be relaxed, in tune with your surroundings, and feeling well with what is going on. There are specific gezellig cafes and gezellig bars dedicated to sitting around, munching on pancakes, and sipping some koffieverkeerd or Belgisch witbier. In essence, an intellectuals paradise. (Oh and those tulips and windmillls----the windmills were built to help drain the dykes using the Arcimedes Screw and to help mill textiles and grains----the tulips were helped create the world's first stock exchange, all about tulips. In fact, at one time, a person could trade a rare tulip for an entire house, but eventually the system collapsed, and are now sold for their normal use in home decorations and art)
Lastly, let me talk about Amsterdam. The University of Amsterdam is where I'll be studying, and it was founded in 1632 as a free thinkers domain. Today, its is ranked 56th in the world, and has quite a large and extensive graduate system. I'll personally will be staying with a host family in De Pijp, a neighborhood south of Amsterdam known for its open air markets, college crowd, international flair, and parks. Everyone takes bicycles in the city, and there are more of them than people. The city itself is one of the most crowded in the world, and directly linked to many other major European cities. The airport, Schiphol Airport has consistently been ranked as the best in the world, along with their extensive inner-city tram system and intra-city buses. But all the hustle and bustle can quickly be forgotten with a bike ride North or South of the city, where little villages and farms dot the land and where English can be hard to come by (but their Limburger, Gouda, Liedse, and Leerdammer cheese run amuck)
Overall, it seems like it will be quite the study abroad experience. I've got my camera, waterproof backpack, and am ready to go! Keep in touch via comments, and I hope that while I enlighten myself with the Dutch, you can as well!!!