Just a few observations about the Netherlands before I continue with the narrative…
- Amsterdam couldn’t feel more different than Rotterdam; whereas Rotterdam is ultra-modern, with glistening skyscrapers and sharp angles, Amsterdam is something like one huge outdoors museum – beautiful clocktowers and churches and intricate facades, traditional brick homes with pointy triangular roofs lining thin picturesque canals. There’s scarcely a modern building to ruin the immersive experience. It really is quite beautiful.
- Throughout my various travels I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying languages and accents, including languages I’ve never officially studied. But to me, Dutch just sounds funny – and entirely unrecognizable. One moment I think I’m hearing accented Brazilian Portuguese and the next moment it sounds like Russian – but it’s always Dutch. Maybe my inability to identify it comes from Holland’s multiculturalism, and they really are speaking in a foreign accent. Nevertheless, I routinely find myself thinking “man, that language sounds so weird!”
- Speaking of multiculturalism, I’ve been surprised at what a large population of religious Muslims there are. Almost everywhere you go there are women in veils and (to a lesser degree) men in skullcaps. They aren’t the majority of the population, but still quite a bit more than I would’ve guessed.
- I take back what I said about the Netherlands having way nicer weather than Munich. There have been one or two really spectacular days, but in general it’s been overcast and gloomy…or raining. I really do like almost everything about it so far – but if the weather is routinely gloomy, it’d be a dealbreaker for me. Nice weather is just too important.
- Because the formation of the EU has eliminated the need to have your passport stamped when moving between countries, when traveling by train you sometimes can’t tell when you’ve left one nation – and its language, culture, and people – behind. But here’s one way you can always tell: look at the trains themselves. Each country has their own unique designs, from Germany’s sleek white ICE trains to Holland’s two-story yellow and blue behemoths. Just glance out the window whenever you pass through a major station, and if the bulk of the trains look different from before, you know you’ve crossed a border.
- Typically when you think of a “first-class ticket” you envision spacious reclining seats and fabulous service – obviously better than economy, even at a glance. But on Dutch trains, the difference is almost imperceptible. While riding from Rotterdam to Amsterdam I found myself accidentally seated in the first-class section, so upon checking my ticket, the conductor asked me to move. On the other side of the door was another set of seats that looked identical to where I was sitting. “This is first-class and that’s second? What’s the difference?” I asked. “Those seats are fake leather; this is ploosh (plush).” Who’d be willing to pay twice as much just to sit on ploosh is beyond me.
- Dutch girls are gorgeous! Especially their eyes. Some of them just have the most amazingly beautiful sky blue eyes – like I’ve never seen in my life. In the words of Borat, “Very nice, I like” 🙂
- Many people in the US equate The Netherlands with Amsterdam, thinking immediately of a no-rules, drug-crazy, prostitute-populated party city. But with the exception of Queen’s Day, that really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Holland is a clean, laid back place, no more crazy-feeling than anywhere I’ve been. Yes, marijuana is legal – but only in designated coffee shops; yes, so is prostitution – but it’s licensed and regulated, serving significantly more travelers than locals. If you didn’t set foot in Amsterdam’s one famous red-light district you probably wouldn’t notice any difference – in terms of “liberalness” – between it and any European city. It isn’t even legal to drink on the streets here, unlike Germany just a few dozen kilometers away.
- Virtually everywhere in Amsterdam charges money to use the bathroom. Even fast food restaurants, even when ur a customer. Lame.