It's easy to see why I love Amsterdam. It's one of the most interesting cities I've ever been. Amsterdam basically served as the meeting hub of this trip. Because the group of us going all had different classes and assignments, we all left on different days in groups of two. The first day, Hazel and Amanda arrived. The day after, myself and Ali got into town. The day after that, Christine and Garrett finally joined us.
On the first day I arrived, Ali and I took a much needed nap before heading out with Hazel and Amanda on a free walking tour. These things are the best, let me tell you; there is a similar company in Berlin. These tours are led by knowledgeable, funny, charismatic tour guides who are only paid based on tips, basically what the tour-goer thinks the tour is worth. Which brings me to a story that made me a whole lot more pessimistic as a tourist, at least at first. Our tour in Amsterdam was led by an adorable Aussie named Julian (or was it Jared?), who claimed he was "swept off his feet by a nice Dutch girl" and moved to the city a couple of years ago. He dazzled us with his facts! He got the crowd involved in funny demonstrations! We "oohed" and "aaahed" on cue! It was a fantastic tour. After it was over, he mentioned he was going for a beer and quick bite to eat. Most of the crowd shoved bills in his face and scurried off, but we decided to hang around and buy him a beer instead. I thought, "What a great guy! It'd be so awesome to have a friend in Amsterdam! Maybe he can let us in on some secrets! We totally bonded when he made that prostitute joke about me!" Okay, that last part isn't true. It was probably a joke about cheese.
Anyway, he responded to our enthusiastic offer for bonding with "Oooh... yeah uh, sure. If you want to." Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't sound like the ripe blossom of friendship. But we shook off his weird response and headed to the bar. Suddenly, Julian/Jared/Jake/John seemed to be a huge hurry, and said he needed to make some phone calls so we should just order. We got our beers and were enjoying them (and I mean, really enjoying them, Belgium has great beer!!). We were almost done when he comes in, thanks us for the beer, and drinks it at lightning speed. We got a few questions in about Amsterdam but he seemed aloof and uninterested. To end the deal, he convinced us to take a Red Light District Tour, called up his friend who sells the tickets, then bolted out as soon as we bought a tour for 9 euro. Hmm, well that was a let-down.
Moral I learned: Free tours are amazing. I can't recommend them enough. But don't try to befriend the tour guides. They are funny, and charming, and adorable, because it's their job. But as soon as you want to be real-life friends without the agenda of a tip, they'll totally crush you. Thanks a lot, J.
Even though our promising life-long connection with J the tour guide didn't pan out, we fit in so many amazing things; almost-wine-tasting which just turned into cheese tasting, a cheap boat tour through the canals, amazing street food, seeing the Red Light District, going to a coffeeshop, Christmas Eve at a "free Christmas concert" (totally was church... in Dutch), Christmas dinner at an Argentinian steak house, and finally, exploring a completely modern neighborhood on the outskirts of Amsterdam. I affectionately called it "Thesis Land" because every residence looked like a studio project.
On the 26th of December, Garrett, Ali and I woke up at the crack of dawn to make our way to Bruges, Belgium while the others went straight to Paris.
You were great, Amsterdam! I hope we meet again!