Wednesday, July 18, 2007

visitors! (amsterdam)

well, this about does it for camille's "utter chaos tour '07."

her last weekend in holland was spent in amsterdam, which i was more than happy to show her around. now, usually when i speak with americans about amsterdam, they're all, "oooh, have you seen the red light district? and did you go to any of the coffeeshops? hee hee. that must be awesome. duhhhhh...." and it drives me crazy! because amsterdam has SO MUCH to offer! it's WAY more than hookers and hookas. did you know it has more canals than venice? and what about all the incredible museums? did you know that anne frank lived there in hiding, and wrote her diary there? seriously. it's an amazing city, and i was more than pleased to show it to an american who was actually interested in the culture and beauty of this place, more than just the typical american vegas-gone-wild scene.

which we did, right after i showed her the red light district. or rather, my friend, valerie, showed camille and i the red light district. we went on a saturday night and i got a totally different vibe that time around. it was my third time to the red light district -- the first time i was with adam, a few summers back, when we were backpacking through europe. and i felt so uncomfortable and icky and just weirded out by the whole, lonely experience. the next time was just recently, on our way to church, actually, and we got off the tram at a different spot in the city just to see if we could get lost. well, we ended up in the red light district at about 11:00 on a sunday morning, and it was still going. there weren't many customers out, but the girls were all dressed up (or undressed, rather) in their windows, trying to drum up some business. that time wasn't so scary and weird, but it still felt irreverent and sad. well, this last time we went, it was just us three girls, out on a saturday night, and i was more tourist-watching than window-watching. it's fascinating to see what goes on in the minds of these potential customers. men pushing their hesistant buddies towards the open window of a girl, men exchanging cell phone numbers with the sex workers, men meekly leaving a booth, men excitedly entering one... even camille got propositioned on a corner. we weren't sure if he was "for sale" or asking if she was, but it sure got interesting there for a while. afterwards, valerie took us to a pub near the waag (we've blogged about the waag before, in the entry when i talked about giving a talk at my church) and told us about the sex workers she knows and how she posed as one for a night in order to get a different perspective, and then was interviewed by a television news agency. it was really fascinating stuff to hear and learn about.

camille and i stayed in a super fabulous gay hotel, with blood red walls and the nicest, sweetest people you could ask for. we all ate breakfast family style, which was so cozy and we got to know several of the other guests over our toast and tea. they were all just wonderful, and i'd stay there again just to make another friend or two!

we went to the rijksmuseum one day, which was great because the museum is under construction right now, so they only have the cream of the crop on display. why wander through room after room of a bunch of crap you don't care about, just to see the vermeer and the rembrandt that you came to admire? exactly. so it was set up with the downstairs all about the history of the golden age of holland, when the netherlands was a colonial superpower and had more money than they knew what to do with. and then the upstairs was all the beautiful paintings. the best part was that we went on a monday morning, so no one was there. we got to admire the numerous rembrandts virtually alone, and i got a great look at several vermeers, including my favorite "the milk maid."

(check out this super-skinny house! don't you wish you were that skinny?!)

we also spent an afternoon at the van gogh museum, which was great fun, and which i remembered visiting a few years ago when we backpacked through here. the best part about the museum for me was that i had just read a book of van gogh's letters to his brother, theo, and so i got a totally different and deeper perspective on his work this time around. also there were several paintings which i didn't remember seeing last time, which were probably rotated in sometime in the past two years, so i got to see some new stuff too.

we went to church one day, and i can't remember what exactly the talk was about but i'm sure i was inspired. we didn't stay long, but i was happy to see everyone one more time before i took off for the summer. camille got to finally put some faces to names and see my church which has become a rather important part of my community abroad, so that's good.

i think the most fun part was the evening canal tour we took. it was about a two hour tour or so, and we got to see the canals at night, which was such a treat. our tour guide was the typically bitter amsterdammer who kept saying things like "amsterdam has more canals than venice but thankfully ours don't smell so horrible," and, "there used to be this great 14th century neighborhood here but the city decided to tear it down to put up this ugly opera house instead," and, "at the top of this building here is a great nightclub that has the best view in town. it's the best view because it's the only place in the city where you can't see this disgusting building that the nightclub is in," and, "this is the harbor where the dutch sailors all kept trying to discover the new world but they kept failing miserably at it." it was hilarious!

but yes, mostly we walked around and took pictures along canals, stopping at various cafes and restaurants along the way to sample their organic salads or fancy fruit drinks. we never made it to the anne frank house, unfortunately, but we both knew it would take far more energy and focus than either of us had on such an easygoing, beautiful day.

our last night in town we went out to dinner at an indonesian restaurant very near the rijksmuseum. i forget the name of it now but i'd go there again in a heartbeat. dutch food is not ... um... memorable. (have you ever heard of dutch cuisine? there's a reason for that.) but indonesian food is definitely something you have to try if you ever go to holland. indonesia used to be a dutch colony, and so indonesian food is pretty well known around these parts and is considered one of those things that you just have to do if you ever make it to the netherlands (or indonesia for that matter). we had a dinner called "rijst tafel" or "rice table", which as you can see consists of about 20 or so dishes, all of varying tastes and spiciness, some hot, some cooling, some savory, some sweet, some meaty, some fruity, all incredibly delicious. we ate for i think close to two hours and left feeling satieted but not stuffed. seriously. if you ever come out to holland, definitely do a rijsttafel. it's a culinary experience you won't soon forget.
and that's about it. she flew out of schiphol and got home in time for dinner, a shower, and bed, and i took the train home and slept for about three days straight. i can't remember partying that hard for that long since i was 19. good times.


Valerie said...

The restaurant's name is Sama Sebo and it's the best in the city ;)

Oh, and Indonesian rice table is actually a Dutch colonists invention.

Apparently the Dutchies who went to Indonesia to work (or rather have people work for them and sit on their asses all day receiving the money) were okay with the Indonesian cooking, but didn't like just having one of the tastes, probably either too spicy or whatnot and decided their cooks and/or maids should just make a little of all those different dishes so they cool mix and choose...

Therefor when you're in Indonesia you're more likely to be able to choose one of the many dishes as a meal, while the rice table with all different things is something you see more in Holland than in Indonesia (unless there they'd do it for tourists)

Can't wait 'til you're back in Holland, we need to catch up... really!!!!

SubtleKnife said...

Valerie beat me to the "rijsttafel" point.

why wander through room after room of a bunch of crap you don't care about, just to see the vermeer and the rembrandt that you came to admire?

Crap? That's rather subjective, isn't it? Perhaps not everybody wants to do the touristy thing and just see the ones they're "supposed" to see and forget about the other crap?

The best part about going to a museum for me is wandering around aimlessly and just letting my gaze wander. Sometimes my eye might fall on this painting, sometimes on that, and if I like any of them, (sit and) look at them some more...