Canals & Cannabis

23 11 2010

My good friend Emma Weldon had been planning since summer to visit me in Europe. While I initially had doubts about whether or not this was actually happening, the week of Thanksgiving (and my birthday!) it did! Of course we had to cram as much as possible in the ten days she was here, so within the first five hours Emma was in London, we were off to Amsterdam!

There were two things I knew prior to visiting Amsterdam: 1. Weed is completely 100% legal and 2. I had to go. Now I rarely if ever smoke pot in the states after an epiphany in high school, but come on… it’s AMSTERDAM. I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement to partake in the festivities. The EasyJet flight over might as well been a spring break ride to Cancun the crowd was so rowdy. So naturally after navigating our way to the hostel, it was time to experiment with the ganja.

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Marijuana in Amsterdam is not as obvious or accessible as one might think. For some reason I imagined weed everywhere—cafes, restaurants, hotels, stores, street corners, but to my surprise it wasn’t like that at all. Weed is more jus part of the culture, integrated into everyday life and not a big deal. If you want to you can, it you don’t then you don’t. It’s like the ultimate dreamland in America where people use restraint and just common sense in dealing with natural substances. Never would actually work in the U.S. but for the Netherlands it works swimmingly and actually makes the atmosphere that much more relaxing and laid back. That being said, there were about four different cafes within a block of our hostel so yes mary j is easy to come by. We decided on Bulldog Café, right in the center of Leidseplein in the southern section of Amsterdam where our hostel, Amsterdam Orfeo was located. Even though we randomly chose the Bulldog, turns out it’s Amsterdam’s first and oldest café.

Bulldog Cafe by day

We stepped inside (after being IDed to make sure we were 18) and the distinct aroma flooded into my lungs, a smoky haze surrounding me on all sides. Emma and I had absolutely no idea how to go about this. Besides the smell and doobies being puffed on everywhere, it basically looked like a regular bar. After a few moments of confusion, we spotted a cashier dispensing curious looking boxes and containers. We were intrigued and approached the man who offered us a “menu” of an assortment of goods. I had no clue what any of it meant, but Emma had a better idea and decided on a pre-rolled purple haze joint. I survived about three hits and was set… time to eat.

One of the interns at work suggested we try Indonesian while in Amsterdam (it was a Dutch colony after all) and as luck would have it, a top-rated Indonesian restaurant was about a two minute walk from the hostel (props to me for picking a killer hostel location). The meal was delicious. We started off with some fried spring rolls and each ordered a main platter full of chicken skewers and beef pieces covered in a spicy peanut sauce over rice, veggies, and egg. Indonesian cuisine is sort of Thai meets island and I can’t wait to take my family to try it out! I literally licked my plate clean I had the munchies so bad, one of the side effects of weed along with being really paranoid and stressed; I just don’t like being high… needless to say I won’t be smoking again anytime soon. Emma was still suffering jetlag after a long day of travel and so we headed home to our bunk bed in the tiny 10 x 8 private room with our tummy’s fully satisfied.

my first glimpse of Indonesian cuisine!

One of the places top on my list to visit in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House (Anne Frank Huis—a note on Dutch, it is extremely similar to English in spelling and pronunciation and therefore a lot of the words are comprehendible to English speakers and almost 100% of the Dutch are fluent in English, very convenient). The Anne Frank House was about a mile from our hostel down a long, beautiful canal. Although it was a bit chilly outside, the should-be twenty minute walk turned into an hour and a half exploration as we stopped in cute shops and to take pictures of the charming canal scene. I loved all of the different boats along the canal, some of them in tip top form and others sinking due to neglect. Emma and I wondered if people traveled here and then simply abandoned their boats because they loved the city so much. We had to admit that it was tempting, the atmosphere and surrounding was just so alluring, unique, and tranquil.  Also, everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam; it’s by far the most common mode of transportation and hundreds of bicycles line all of the railings along the canal. Where the owners are, no one knows.

I learned about Anne Frank in my 7th grade English class and remember being moved by her story and inspired by her courage. But actually being there, reading the different diary excerpts and the story behind each room made it that much real and touching. First we toured the front part of the building in which Otto Frank’s company was located (his company sold jam and spices throughout the war). The non-Jewish workers aided the Franks and others while they were in hiding by providing them with food, supplies, books, and newspapers. The girls rarely went into the front part of the building, only to bathe and occasionally help with work, but the walls of their bedrooms were covered in magazine pictures and newspaper articles of the royal family and celebrities, an escape to the reality that was their lives. “I saw two Jews through the curtains yesterday, it was a horrible feeling, just as if I had betrayed them and was now watching them in their misery” Anne Frank said a few months after she went into hiding. The entrance to the Secret Annex was concealed by a movable bookcase to make the rear of the building truly secret. “One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be.”

The first room we entered was the bedroom of Otto and Edith Frank, where they slept with their daughter Margot. On the wall was a map of Normandy where Otto Frank tracked the progress of the invasion. Next to it were pencil marks that indicated how much Anne and Margot grew during the hiding period. Anne’s bedroom was next, where she was often found writing in her diary at a narrow table in the corner. Although the walls were blank and rooms empty, they had been restored through scaled models and with what Otto Frank had given the museum, so I was able to see the wall clippings Anne hung in her room. The small bathroom was rarely used, “at the stroke of half past eight, he has to be in the living room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever”. Four other people lived with the Franks while they were in hiding and the other rooms showcased their living arrangements, where cooking, eating, studying, and exercising all happened. Even with limited means, the families tried to keep living normally and even prepared a festive dinner held in celebration for the wedding anniversary of Jan and Miep Gies. Peter van Pels was Anne’s closest friend in hiding and they spent a lot of time in the attic together, the only place they could be alone together. From here, they could get a glimpse of the chestnut tree. On August 4, 1944 the Franks hiding place was betrayed and everyone sent to concentration camps like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The only one to survive was Anne’s father, Otto Frank. After some time had passed, he published Anne’s diary which had been left and recovered in the Secret Annex. By 1960, the public was so moved by her story that the Anne Frank house was opened as a museum and each year thousands of visitors come to learn and grow. “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live” –Auschwitz survivor.

secret cupboard

For lunch it was Greek where we ran into a fellow Easy Jet passenger and Emma tried her first gyro, then it was off to the Van Gogh Museum. Another one of the great things about Amsterdam is that everything is in walking distance, and so with the help of our handy dandy map we found the museum in no time. We were debating whether to go the Rijksmuseum which has a more wide-ranging collection or the Van Gogh but decided since we weren’t trying to be in the museum all day (the Rijks is gigantic and right across from the Van Gogh) the Van Gogh museum would be better. The world famous Amsterdam statue was at the end of the green where the museum was so of course we stopped for a few shots before the cool, sunny November day turned to night. I want Atlanta to make one of these somewhere; it’s so fun and interactive. We could’ve spent a lot more time there molding ourselves into the different letters and climbing on the A, M, and S. But alas the impressionist summoned.

The Van Gogh museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh as well as many works by other famous 19th century painters. Not only are the masterpieces stimulating, but I also love learning about the life of the artist, and Van Gogh’s did not disappoint. The Frenchman didn’t start painting as his vocation until almost age thirty (died only ten years later) and never sold a painting during his lifetime. Largely self-taught, Van Gogh learned by visiting museums, reading books, and of course practice, usually painting landscapes and scenes depicting real people at work. He sought to represent the life of these simple, hard-working people. I loved all of these paintings, how he made something so seemingly dull, exciting and intriguing through unique techniques and vibrant color. Van Gogh was seriously troubled, admitting himself into a mental health clinic after cutting off his own ear in a fit of rage. He suffered from severe depression and never lived to see the success of his true talent, shooting himself in the chest at the young age of thirty seven in 1890.

I saw this!

After the museum, we wandered around the hauntingly beautiful Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park just five minutes away from the Van Gogh museum. Admiring the sunset and scenery we simply relaxed and enjoyed people watching all of the fascinating inhabitants of the great city of Amsterdam. Since it was getting quite chilly outside, we decided to take the tram back to the hostel (which ended up taking around half an hour when walking would’ve taken maybe ten minutes, oh well). On the ride I received a text from my mom in the states (a very rare occurrence) that I needed to call her immediately. I received devastating news about my dog Henry, whose health had been deteriorating even though he was only seven or eight years old. I hadn’t talked to my mom in a while and last I heard they were taking Henry to get a CAT scan at UGA to figure out why he couldn’t see and was having frequent seizures. My family found out that cancer had literally consumed all of Henry’s body, starting in the brain and invading nearly all of his organs. My first doggie Henry, my adorable loving buddy whose cute face and bubbly attitude would immediately put me in a good mood, was put to sleep on Thursday November 19, 2010. I’ll never forget the first time I met Henry. I had just gotten home from a softball tournament and my family didn’t even tell me they had gotten him. Instead, they placed him in the bathroom while I was in the shower and I was beyond surprised when I found the hairy bear-ish mutt staring me straight in the face. I screamed at the top of my lungs, but it’s been nothing but love ever since. Needless to say, when I heard the news about Henry I was just about ready to hit the hay. So Emma and I ate a nice dinner at a little Thai restaurant and then I laid in my bed for hours thinking of all our memories together until I finally dozed off. I never thought that last summer would be my last with Henry. The last time I saw him was on Skype with my mommy… he looked great. Henry will always hold a place in my heart, but for now we just got another dog Yager to keep us busy!


Henry and I in Hilton Head this past summer

Sunday morning we strolled through all of Amsterdam, starting at the very southern tip of the city center and ultimately ending up at the train station in the north end.  First, for breakfast we tried the gigantic, doughy donut holes covered in powdered sugar (the Dutch are known for these) that were sold on almost every street corner in Amsterdam… so delicious. On the way we shopped for souvenirs (I’m happy to report that Timmy loves his hat) which was quite entertaining because they ranged from marijuana leaf shirts to weed lollipops to penis shaped salt and pepper shakers! We also walked through what we decided was the Red Light District because of the half-nude curvaceous woman flaunting her goodies behind the glass windows. I considered that image sufficient enough for my Red Light experience. It’s so strange; you’re walking in the middle of the city, beautiful canals and sophisticated apartments, and then BANG all you see is XXX flags, cafes, and nudey signs. And then before you know it, back to normal… quite odd. All weekend Emma and I had talked about riding one of the canal boats that we had seen navigating through the waters and so we bought tickets for the Lovers cruise, how fitting. We sat on the outside deck at the back of the boat since it was such a sunny day and enjoyed our surroundings as we weaved in and out of the Amsterdam canals. I realized then that this city really is one of a kind.

original Bulldog Cafe in the Red Light District


In the afternoon we made our way to the Heineken Brewery, which before visiting Amsterdam I was under the impression was a German beer. I was especially keen to visit this brewery because unlike Guinness (that’s factory I visited in Dublin) I actually genuinely like the taste of Heineken and two free glasses are included with admission! I loved learning the history of the Heineken family, seeing how the beer is made (with wheat, barley, yeast and the secret ingredient hops aka marijuana), and looking at all of the different posters and advertisements throughout the year. Highlights also include the 4D Theater where we experienced what it’s like to be brewed and bottled, sending an interactive Heineken email to our parents, and of course ending our tour at the Heineken World Bar. We sipped our fresh brewskies while watching Heineken commercials from years past until we felt suitably buzzed and headed back to the hostel.

At dinnertime Emma and I wanted nothing more than a good ole American cheeseburger and what better place then McDonalds? So a Big Mac it was and boy was it delectable. Then we bought a few Heinekens to pregame with for our night out on the town. We started off at a nearby bar called the Water Hole where we each got mugs of beer and listened to a local rock band. Then just across the square we made our way to the Melkweg, a popular music venue and prime nightlife center in Amsterdam.  This night was particularly special because the Melkweg was holding a free concert for various Dutch bands and artists in two different warehouses where locals could freely go in and out as we pleased. My favorite band was Blaudzun, a sort of folky band who sang in English but whose haunting melodies and sober arrangements really moved me. I left with one of their CDs, highly recommend it. We explored all throughout the building and stumbled upon a really creepy art exhibit with red lights and chilling sculptures; Amsterdam is full of some real crazy shit. We also found a room where instead of music playing a Dutch guy was essentially explaining the history of rock and roll to a room full of people. At first Emma and I were extremely confused, but then started understanding when he mentioned songs by John Lennon, Graham Nash, James Taylor…. the greats. It was so cool to hear his perspective and the audience being enlightened, especially since I already was. At the end of the night, I went home with a new cool band and really got a grip on what real Amsterdam-ees do for fun. Amsterdam is a wonderful city and I didn’t want to leave! Yet that Sunday night was a great way to end the weekend, but by 11am Monday morning I was back in the London office. Crazy. But until next time yall… GO FALCONS!!


jeepers creepers

to being Dutch!




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