After a quick ride past old windmills and through the Belgian countryside and into the Netherlands, we arrived at Amsterdam, feeling like we interrupted a party that someone had neglected to invite us to. I felt old, getting annoyed when a group of loud, young, drunk guys that plowed right into me without a care. When we got closer to our hotel, which was situated right outside Dam Square, the center of the city, we found ourselves in the middle of a massive pillow fight, literally. There were so many feathers, it felt like we trapped in a snow globe which someone wouldn't stop shaking. In addition to feathers, the air was filled with the sounds of loud, happy screams and squeals. We looked at each other with looks that said, "what have we gotten ourselves into".
When we checked into our hotel, I inquired about the pillow fight and the response was a very matter of fact and straightforward, "yes, it takes place every year around this time." It was the same response I'd expect from making the observation that the sky is cloudy before it rained. We got ourselves situated in our room and then we were back out on the streets. Only this time, the pillow fight was over and everyone had dispersed, leaving behind only feathers that looked like fluffy snow.
The first street we turned down had a lot of coffee shops, which contrary to what that means in this country, is not where one buys a cup of coffee. Instead, this is where one buys pot or smokes it, which is perfectly legal. If one is looking for a cup of coffee, one must hit up a cafe. Smoking pot isn't supposed to be allowed in the streets but that doesn't stop the air of faintly smelling like weed. We turned another corner and found ourselves right in the middle of the Red Light district. Yes, that's another thing that's perfectly legal. Prostitution. It's just there and it's in your face. Woman stand behind neon red illuminated glass doors wearing nothing but bras and thongs. We just don't roll like that in this country and I found myself caught somewhere between giggling like a school girl and feeling like a conservative old lady, shocked by the openness.
Fortunately, that feeling faded fast as we moved past the Red Light district and got lost amongst the peaceful streets and canals of the city. Every turn looked like a postcard. The sounds of bicycle bells chimed as we crisscrossed over bridges and popped into little shops and restaurants provided the soundtrack of the city.
It wasn't long before we were stuffing bitterballen into our mouths and carrying on about how we'd love to live in Amsterdam. What's bitterballen? Oh man, bitterballen! It's one of a handful of bar snacks that are available at pretty much every bar and restaurant. Bitterballen are little bits of beef or veal (or sometimes both) that are made into this thick roux, chilled, balled up, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. What you're left with this meaty, lava hot gooey meat that is encased in this crackly on crust. It might not sound very appetizer but believe me, they are. They all taste pretty much exactly the same no matter where you go. Other popular bar snacks served everywhere? Little spring rolls, classically served, and then cheesy spring rolls with a fat slab of gouda cheese in the middle. We spent our afternoons gazing out the windows, eating these fun snacks and sipping local beer.
We also waited in a three hour line on a rather chilly day to visit something that I have waited my whole life to see - The Anne Frank House. I read and re-read that book so many times throughout my youth and even into adulthood. I kept a journal throughout my childhood because I was so moved by The Diary of Anne Frank and I fell in love with writing through all those scribbles of my own childhood day to day happenings. Being there, in that space where her and her family (and friends) hid from the Nazis was so surreal. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around physically being there, where a majority of the diary was written. It was somber and so moving but I felt such warmth that there was such a long line, all these years after the fact. What an incredible legacy to have your words mean so much to so many people throughout all stretches of the world, all these years after they were written.
We left Amsterdam in love with the city and drunk on its charm and distinct personalty. It's the type of city that anything goes and no one cares what you do, as long as you're having fun. We got our fill of bitterballen, had one final drink and headed onward, to Paris.