Thursday, March 8, 2012

i amsterdam?

This weekend I took a whirlwind tour through Amsterdam, the Dutch countryside and the village of Zaanse Schans, and Bruges.  Altogether, I experienced mixed feelings of exhaustion, exhileration, fascination, and confusion.  

We arrived in Amsterdam early on Saturday morning after a bus ride that took the whole night.  Looking back, as I sat on the bus at 1:00 am, I remember thinking to myself that I was uncertain whether or not I would make it through the night.  Fortunately, I did, and I got my first glimpse of this Netherlandish city at 7:45am local time.  We began with a stroll through the city streets to catch some of the highlights, including the clock tower and the flower market.
So many bikes in Amsterdam.
The Flower Market

Emily, Claire, Myself, and Alexis in front of the Flower Market. 
Venice of the north.
We ended our walking tour at the infamous i amsterdam sign where we posed for a photo op.  I experienced some initial trouble shimmying up the sign, but I made it eventually - with a perfect dismount might I add.

We chose to spend our day visiting the major sites of Amsterdam.  Our first stop was the Rijks Museum, home of the Dutch national collection of art.
I was especially excited to view Rembrandt's famous Night Watch painting.  It was on display in all its' glory in a room to itself.
Rembrandt, Night Watch, 1642.
After completing a tour of the museum, we left our artistic mindsets behind and headed for the Heineken Experience. 
Once inside, we were led through a history of the Heineken family and their beer.  We also learned about the beer-making process that involves barley, hops, and yeast.  Then, we saw the stables where the famous Heineken horses are kept.
Of course, the Heineken Experience would not be complete without sampling some of their legendary beer.  Indeed, we found many opportunities to give it a try.

After finishing our tour of the Heineken Experience - which I would later claim to be my favourite part of the day - we wandered through the bustling streets of Amsterdam.  We stopped frequently to peer into the windows of the many cafes and "coffee shops", and we also perused through the infamous Red Light District.  I must admit that, as I walked down the street, taking in the sights, I could not help but feel uncomfortable with what I saw.  I could not imagine ever feeling normal in this environment.  As the evening approached, I decided that I had seen enough of Amsterdam for now, and I made my way to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The following morning, I arose early for a day filled with exploring the Low Country.  We departed first for Zaanse Schans, a Dutch village just outside of Amsterdam that is famous for its' windmills. 
Here, I participated in a clog-making workshop as well as a cheese-making demonstration - both of which are traditional practices in this region.

Cheese, me no like-y.
Although slightly contrived, I very much enjoyed wandering through the streets of this quaint little village.

Returning to our coach, we then travelled across the border into Belgium to visit the miraculously-preserved medieval city of Bruges.

We spent a some time poking around the many shops filled with Christmas decorations, designer collections, and gourmet Belgian chocolates.  We also stopped for a much-needed cup of coffee at a small cafe.  While Bruges is certainly historic and unique, I definitely felt like a tourist as I trod upon its' well-travelled cobblestone roads.  As the sun set, we found ourselves caught in a sudden deluge of rain, and, with that, we decided that it was time to return home - to London.  

In the end, while my trip to Amsterdam and Bruges was certainly interesting, I am not sure how quickly I will be booking my return trip.  Ultimately, though, I am still glad that I made the journey.  You learn something new everyday, even if it is just a better understanding of what you truly love.