Our last four days have been spent in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Netherlands is also known as Holland to the common American. Somehow in all of my studying I had neglected to put this together so when I got here and saw the beauty of the city and countryside I was amazed. I’ll go ahead and make the stretch that it is the prettiest city we’ve been to thus far.
Everyone rides ancient beach cruiser type bikes here and after realizing the countryside was close by I decided to rent a bike for the free day. I was determined to be at a windmill in the countryside by sunrise I found myself cruising out of the city by myself in the early dark hours. After a little ride I came upon the beautiful windmill right on the Amstel river. I spent about an hour taking pictures in that spot with the sun rising behind me and I realized there how much I love photography. I kept riding around after that, got lost, saw some cool cows out in the country, and eventually I made my way back to the city to see the Anne Frank house and some other sites. I stumbled on a huge Christmas parade where they were celebrating the arrival of Saint Nicholas and Zwante Piet (Black Peter). There were hundreds of people in the parade in these little costumes and blackface serving as the elves passing out candy (Pictures are up on my Picasa page). I kept thinking how this would never pass in the United States and I was reminded how truly different cultures are around the world.
I had heard stories of how sad the Red Light District was in Amsterdam but it was a lot more disheartening than I expected. I saw a family who lived above it all going up to their apartment with all of their kids. I saw the emptiness in the girls’ eyes that stood in the storefront windows. I saw men going into the prostitute booths. I saw how many booths had the curtain pulled because they were in use. Then I saw in the window of a building a big group of people sitting down at a dining room table eating together family style. This display of community was so out of place from all of the loneliness in the district. I looked around to figure out what all these people were doing. I found out that it was a Church’s mission smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District. An artist couldn’t have painted a better picture of light in this dark world.
So it is hard to make a final judgment on Amsterdam. I don’t think I could handle the lax drug and moral policies of the community but other than that the city is beautiful, the people are great, the countryside is perfect, and next time I hope the tulips are in bloom. Tomorrow we arrive in Brussels where we will be able to spend time with other Furman students in the program there.