Saturday, April 26, 2003

Amsterdam Day 1

To maximize my day, I took off from the Brussels-Midi station at 8:00am on the Thalys to Amsterdam. The train is really comfortable - almost comparable to the Eurostar. Paying the extra little bit is worth the comfort. It took a little less than three hours to arrive at the Centraal Station. The station was a very busy place - bustling with passengers and commuters to different parts of the Netherlands.

The first thing I had to do, of course, is to locate my hotel and drop off the backpack. It wasn't very far at all! It took me about fifteen minutes to walk from the station to the hotel. They are not lying when they say the stairs are STEEP - I looked up and it seemed like it was 30 floors up. The story is, residents had to pay property taxes based on the width of the lot - so they built their houses as narrow as possible, resulting in long steep staircases.

I eagerly ventured to Dam Square, the most famous meeting spot (and people-watching spot) in Amsterdam. There, it stood their national monument which is phallic shaped. Not surprising. In fact, a lot of things in Amsterdam is phallic shaped. Hmmm..

What trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the red light district?! It was still in the afternoon, so I didn't expect to see too much. How wrong I was. There I was, strolling along the canal, when I noticed the streets that are lined with windows with doors. Inside those doors, women are dancing and 'strutting their stuff' in skimpy clothing. Nothing could have prepared me for this. Sure, we have all heard stories about how Amsterdam is famous for this, but it's one thing hearing about it. Experiencing it firsthand is definitely a shocker. It is such a contrast to the calm and peaceful canal that surrounds the streets.

Strolled along the main streets and the shopping area for a little longer, and Tzeo-Inn called me to let me know that she's on her way. She's a friend I met from the 'Baby Boat' trip a couple of years back. Of course, I wouldn't miss this opportunity to visit her and reminisce the good times we had in Taiwan. We went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner (of all places in Amsterdam), and it was surprisingly good. From what she told me, the Chinese population in the Netherlands is larger than I thought. Although it's nothing compared to major cities like Toronto or New York, the influence of the Chinese community is still significant.

After dinner, Tzeo-Inn took me to walk around Remebrantplein, the central clubbing/coffeeshop district. She said that although there are tons of coffeeshops around the red light district, they are geared more towards tourists. It is here where you will find the 'good stuff', if you catch my drift. :) It was only 8ish and the area pulses with action. We visited a Bruin cafe, which the name suggests that it's quite brown inside. The name is coined from the fact that tobacco smoke stained the wood and ceiling over the years, and now they are permanently brown. We had a couple of drinks before walking around to explore more of the area.

It was getting rather late, and we were planning to meet up early the next day. So she took the train to Utrecht where she's staying with a friend, and I returned to the hotel to write this up. :)

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