Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Epic Journey of Summer 2010! Part 3 (Holland)

Even though I go to Europe every year to visit family, I rarely actually visit Europe as a tourist and haven’t really seen that much of it (for the record, I’ve been to France, Italy, and Belgium many times, but have rarely been anywhere else). So this year we decided to do something different and travel within Europe for a change.

And so we made our trip to Amsterdam. I’d been to the Netherlands (or Holland) before, but mostly it was just passing through, and I never got to get a good feel for it. Now, however, I can safely say I’ve seen quite a bit of Holland and really enjoyed it! ^o^

What’s nice about Europe is that everything’s relatively close together; the drive to Amsterdam was only a couple of hours from my grandparent’s place in Belgium. We didn’t stay in the city itself – and speaking of which, I would not recommend driving in the city if you go there. We stayed near the airport and took a train from the airport to the city center. I thought this was a great system, and Amsterdam is small enough that you can visit most of it by foot.

The train station itself in Amsterdam was really cool so I took a quick shot.

When we got there, I was shocked by how beautiful the city was!

I’m not really much of a city person in general, but this one was really great. Very typically European small streets that are just pleasant to walk through and look around, lots of cool buildings and famous structures...

 Seriously, there were just SO many beautiful things to see. One of the things that really makes the city so pretty is the water. One must remember that originally Amsterdam was famous for its giant port.

There are so many boats all over the place!

And we can see these waters all throughout the city in the form of about a hundred kilometers worth of canals. They criss-cross through the entire city so that you're almost always walking next to a body of water, and there are many opportunities to take a boat ride through these water ways.

And alongside these canals is something else that is a very typical part of Amsterdam...

Bikes. There are bikes ALL over the place. Like I mentioned earlier, you probably don't want to do much driving within the city. Most of the vehicles we saw were buses, trucks, and whatnot. Other than that, people either take the trams, or use their bikes to travel. There are even entire parking lots just for bikes!

Apparently this lot holds over a million bicycles. Good luck finding yours if you park there. And something that made me chuckle...

Traffic lights just for bikes. Just goes to show how important they are in this city XD

Something that's really peculiar and interesting in Amsterdam - although maybe not kid-friendly - is the red light district. I didn't get many pictures of the area because I felt a little awkward taking any, even though it's surprisingly a relatively normal part of the city.

So this district is a pretty sizable part of the city that's found basically in the center of it. There isn't any kind of barrier or dramatic change of scenery, you're just walking through the streets and then start thinking 'hmmm... interesting signposts..." Of course, we only went through during the day, and I'm sure it's a much more different atmosphere at night.

Nevertheless, you can still very much tell that you're in the red light district when you get there. Even though it was daytime, we saw a lot of scantily-clad girls posing in windows like moving mannequins. I was personally kind of disturbed by this simply because I wasn't expecting it, but it was also kind of interesting. I didn't feel threatened or anything, and no one was outside or loud or in your face about it. It was just kind of... there, and completely normal. Honestly, if you're old enough and not easily offended, I would sort of recommend checking this area out - it really is a curious part of town.

Other than that we also saw lots of vegetation! Quaint gardens...


With... stone iguanas? XD
We even had the pleasure of coming across a flower market and going through a long street of flower stands.


And finally, one of the things I found great about Amsterdam is how liberal and open they are - we saw so many different shops and restaurants and whatnot that featured cultures from all over the world. We visited the mini "China-town" (and even though there's plenty of Asian stuff scattered all over the city, this street was definitely focused on Asia). There was even a little Chinese temple.


It might have been a little touristy (I wouldn't know, I've yet to have gone to China), but it was still a nice, quiet moment to enjoy something a little different.
 So there you have it, a very quick look at the beautiful city of Amsterdam. We were so lucky when it came to the weather and had an awesome time - if you are ever in the neighborhood, I definitely think it's a place worth visiting!

In the next post I'll be talking about the more rural parts of Holland where I also had an amazing time! That'll be coming soon~

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