An Amsterdam Good Time

After our long flight, and a "brief" disagreement on directions between John and Todd, we marched our way to our hostel called Meininger. We did a nice job dominating the entire lobby (29 takes up some room) while we checked in, but quickly were more than willing to sleep in a real bed instead of a cramped plane with two people on each side of you, a miniature pillow, and a battle for armrest space.


After a full night's rest, we woke up to eat a nice hearty breakfast. Much to our surprise, our room found out four morning showers apparently creates a substantial flood and escapes under the bathroom door. We thought the drain was just inadequate, but a close dissection revealed that a nice wad of long hair was our actual problem. Believe me. Nothing wakes you up in the morning like the smell of old, wet hair from a drain.


Heading downstairs, I was delighted to begin phase two of cheap traveling: if there's unlimited food, treat it like it's the last food on the planet. Not only do you indulge in parfaits, fruit, cereal, toast, hard boiled eggs, and other tasty treats, but you make the most of the juices and coffee to make sure you're ready for the day. Unlimited food also brings me to step three: if there's sandwich makings, say hello to a free lunch. Only buying one meal per day? Deal.


Besides the food and frugality of the day, we got on a bus and headed to the Town Hall in Rotterdam. We were given a tour by a man named Thomas with a delightful accent and learned much of the history of the building and its opporations. A personal highlight was getting to see Peter and Molly act out a Dutch marriage for us after learning all weddings in Holland are only validated if they take place in the Town Hall. Religious weddings are still allowed in churches, but the government needs people to sign on some lines (must be tax reasons).


Once we finished the tour, we were put in a nice sized room and met a man named Nourdin el Ouali, a representative for a new party called NIDA. This party is only nine months old and is associated with Islam. Nourdin was a very intriguing man with well thought out ideals. He helped explain how his party is trying use a very inclusive-minded approach to build support from anyone interested in debate and all views being heard. Pretty tough to disagree with a guy that only wants to prevent people from being silenced or misinformed. Interestingly enough, he mentioned to us that he's inspired by the civil rights movement in the U.S. and his patient methodology seems to reflect it.


After a much needed lunch break, we also talked to a journalist named Abdou Bouzerda that explained the difference of "jihad" and "jihadism," and tried to highlight events that changed the perspective of Muslims in the Netherlands. Abdou showed the importance and implication of language, clarifying "jihad" primarily as a struggle on the path for good and "jihadism" as the more common understanding which includes ending Western influence, liberating holy places, and restoring an empire. One line I found particularly interesting that demonstrates the importance of events in the Netherlands was "Before 9/11, I was a Moroccan. After 9/11, I was a Muslim."

With such deep and inspiring thoughts floating through our heads, the group had a need to blow off some steam and let loose. Naturally, an exploration of Amsterdam and the infamous "Red Light District" was in order. Fry stands with tons of sauces smell delicious for anyone remotely hungry, and I think waffle vendors may be on to something. In a word, the Red Light District was... memorable. Glowing windows and a reoccurring aroma in the air really makes you feel cultured, maybe a little disturbed, but nothing a few local Heinekens couldn't take the edge off. In depth discussions were had about the morality of practices, liberal beliefs, and just how much it must cost to walk through one of those lighted doors and close the curtain.

Feeling energized, we started our next day by heading to the world-famous landmark of Anne Frank's house. It was very sobering to walk through the museum in almost complete silence, wonder at the dehumanization that forced families to hide in attics, and draw connections with the sentiment of Jews around WWII and modern day Muslims. Hopefully the world has learned its lesson, but it seems a mirror of resentment is not an impossibility.

Again, with some serious mental drainage, our class embarked on a nice canal tour to float through the city. Despite the rain, spirits were high and the only reported injury was the worker closing the door on my head. Not to worry, nothing much to damage up there these days.

Another night of festivities turned into an early morning as we began our final full day in Amsterdam. We started out by opening up the Van Gogh museum. I don't know if Todd and John were worried about lines or being late, but I can definitely say we didn't need to worry about either. I've never considered myself an art connoisseur, but I must admit Van Gogh had some impressive skills. It's incredible to still see his brush strokes, due to the thick paint, and witness his transformation over time. Afterwards, we headed to NRC, a local newspaper. We had the opportunity to discuss the current situation in Paris with a panel of their editors, as well as a conversation about freedom of press. Since this is such a pressing issue, I won't go into many details today because it won't do it justice. Look for a blog soon highlighting our thoughts and what we've discussed for anyone interested.

We ended our trip by having a group meal at a place called Bazaar. The food was excellent, filling, and it was great to all be sitting at roughly the same, extremely long table. While at the restaurant and getting very full on the rest of my couscous, I realized that my bus pass had expired. With no easy way to get home, and an unwillingness to spend money on a pass, I was able to strike a deal with Bri. She doubted mine and Ben N's ability to finish other meals, and offered a ticket reward if we could complete it. Free food and a reward? Sign me up. I may not need to eat for the rest of the trip, but I have a solid 2 euros to show for it.

I think we've all enjoyed our time in Amsterdam, but we're just as excited to move on to Brussels and see what we have in store. Thanks again for reading and look for the Paris post soon!

Ben Harney

Waiting for a bus in Amsterdam.
One of many canals running through the city.
A few students posing in front of giant letters.