Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Roosendaal [June 26 to June 30, 2007]

We were excited to get to Amsterdam - a place where we would meet up with friends and finally get to see what this famous place is all about. Jaap and Jantine, our Dutch cohorts from Kellogg, met us at the airport and showed us the way. Within 15 minutes, we had left the airport and ridden the train to the central station in Amsterdam. You might expect that the city is something like Vegas, with hookers and drug dealers all over the place. This is far from reality - the first picture is of the royal palace located in the central part of the city. It is a little run down and apparently isn't used much by the royal family.

Jaap and Jantine showed us around, which was quite nice since Dutch is a bit of a strange language (although most everyone speaks some English). They introduced us to some Dutch food - frikandel, bitta balls, and of course 'French' fries with mayo. They also took us to a few different bars, one of which was a place that specialized in Belgian beer (see Matt peering through an empty beer glass). They have a different glass for every type of beer in this place. Also, the Dutch like their beer with two fingers of foam on the top - to the point where it could get sent back if it doesn't have proper foamage.

Of course, we also took a stroll through the Red Light District - including the 'coffee shops' and the alleys of glass doors with most every shape, size, and color of women you can imagine - all trying to get your attention.

One very noteworthy discovery in this great city was the outdoor urinal. Yes that is me smiling from behind the green metal screen with the pee wall in it. Gross yes, but wonderful and fun as well. The other picture here is a shot down one of the more 'illuminated' red light alleys we found. They are literally glass doors with curtains, above which there is a light fixture with a red bulb. Light on = open for business. When a customer is enticed to enter, the curtain is drawn and the transaction takes place in the tiny room immediately behind the door. Prostitution is legal in The Netherlands and is regarded as a profession with taxable income. According to Lonely Planet, 5% or so of the working girls in Amsterdam were born in the Netherlands - the rest are immigrants. Also, it says that a typical 'encounter' lasts about 15 minutes and costs about $65 for a 'full package'.

As a contrast to the above two paragraphs, we should say that Amsterdam is actually a really nice and beautiful city. Canals run all over and the architecture is great. Here is a shot of Karen and I on a bridge and another of some nice houses along a canal.

We took a boat tour through the canals with Jaap and Jantine. Then they understandably had to leave to go get ready for their wedding that was to take place in 2 days! Karen and I visited the Anne Franke house, which was very interesting (where she and her family hid during the Nazi occupation). We also paid a visit to the Amsterdam Sex Museum - worth the few bucks it cost, but it was pretty strange. During a moment of weakness, we made a stop at the U.S. 'embassy' of McDonalds - you can see Karen was pretty upset with our dining selection.

We passed the Heineken brewery on the way to walk through the Vondelpark - a huge park in the city. One of the most impressive and admirable things about the Dutch and Amsterdam, is that there are an unbelievable number of bicycles and bicyclists. Apparently there are over twice as many bicycles in the country as there are people (and there is about 16 million Dutch people). It is also noteworthy that you really need to watch where you are walking, because the bike lanes aren't alway so obvious and the bicyclists aren't always patient with ignorant tourists. The last picture is a little hard to see, but it is a multi story bicycle parking garage outside of the central train station in Amsterdam. We had a great time here. The city is beautiful, has a great culture and feel, and is a fun place to hang out.

After spending an extra day in Amsterdam without Jaap and Jantine, we made our way south towards Roosendaal, where they were getting married. On the way, we made a planned stop in Rotterdam - a port city on the western coast of Holland. Rotterdam was apparently more or less destroyed during WWII, meaning it has virtually all been (re)built in the last 60 years. We walked around, took a ride up the Euromast (a cross between an elevator and a carnival ride, with a rotating and climbing observation deck), where we were able to take this picture of Holland's trendy port city.

Party in Roosendaal
After a little train confusion and some backtracking, we found ourselves in Roosendaal, again being graciously hosted by our Dutch friends who had more important things to do. We went to Jaap's parents' house where we had some snacks and drinks and Matt was introduced to a Dutch alcohol called 'Geneva' ("heneva") - which is something along the lines of strong gin (just a taste, by the way). Jantine's brother and sister-in-law put us up at their house and we attended the wedding the next day. The first picture is of the bride and groom after the 'city hall' ceremony, where the marriage officially happened, before they got into the Jag to drive the church where the 'church' ceremony was held. After both ceremonies were complete, we made our way to a restaurant where there was a great dinner. Soon after, the whole family showed up and it was a true Dutch party (they did not run out of drinks) into the night - complete with family skits and singalongs (check out the video clip at the bottom - it's all in Dutch, but Jaap's uncle wrote this song and the whole Backx family sang it at the reception), and some great dancing by the newlyweds. The next morning the Kellogg wedding attendees (almost our whole Kellogg crew) had a groggy breakfast farewell. Here we are, starting at the left: Henner (commonly known as Sebastian), Joris, Stephanie, Annika, Tibor, Matt, Karsten, little Anton (sleeping on the floor), Meike, Jaap, Jantine, and the lovely Karen - happy to be together, sad to not know when it will happen again.

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