Monday, February 2, 2009

Skindergade in Amsterdam

We set out 14 strong, clad in northface and uggs...a mass of completely clueless Americans ready to blunder our way through Amsterdam. Our impromptu trip came at the price of much head scratching and direction asking. But with the help of Paige’s Let’s Go Europe! and tour maps collected at various locations around Amsterdam, we faired pretty the very least, we returned to Copenhagen with as many as we left with to repopulate Skindergade (12 of our 14 were members of floors 2 and 3.)

Less than a week ago, someone had the brilliant idea: let's go to Amsterdam! 1 turned into 5 who turned into 9 who turned into 12 and eventually, with no further planning than booking tickets and a couple rooms in a hostel/hotel, 13 DIS students and one St. Andrew's girl were headed to take on the streets of Amsterdam. In true Skindergade fashion, our hotel turned out to be in a prime location: 2 blocks from the infamous Red Light District, 2 blocks from the best shopping street, 15 minutes from the Central Station, and in the dead center of Amsterdam's gay district. Also in true Skindergade fashion, we said "bring it on Amsterdam!" and hit the streets as soon as we settled into our simple but sufficient accommodations...finding our way awkwardly through the maze of "coffee shops" and gay bars. Not used to such a strange and wild city after our meek and mild Copenhagen, we found ourselves arguing about the names of Dutch bars on street corners: "Arc bar?" "Arkvard?" "Ardvark!" ...etc.

Saturday morning, already dazed from our adventures in Amsterdam, we decided to be cultured and found our way around Amsterdam by taking a canal tour; stopping at the I AMsterdam sign, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam Diamond Museum, and Anne Frank Huis. Despite our status as "student travelers" (which would usually indicate a tight budget), we treated ourselves to a 3 hour, 3 course meal in a castle from the 1400s...not very friendly to our wallets, but so worth it. Post-dinner, we strolled through (well, more like skirted) the red light district...but at our first sighting of flesh and lingerie, we sought haven in the gay bars from the night before. (Amsterdam clearly shifted the boundaries of our comfort zones.) Even for Amsterdam, we managed to make a scene...seeing as Rob and Owen went bedecked in Eurotrash gear: glasses, chest hair, and striped shirts included.

14 people is too much to handle; therefore, Sunday we split up to see Amsterdam on our own agendas. I went with the girls, choosing shopping and wandering over museums and sex shows. However, when we found that the Amsterdam shopping scene was below par, we found ourselves meandering deep into the Red Light experience which words cannot describe. Every door and window offered menus for every type of sexual appetite; doorways poured marijuana smoke into tight alleys; and storefronts offered every type of x-rated or illegal item that would never make it past customs. To say the least, we were all feeling a mixture of repulsion, awkwardness, and amazement at the fact that a place like that actually exists. Surprisingly, despite the dozens of naked girls (both real and photographic) lining the streets, the 5 of us girls received our fair share of cat calls. And, despite the rainbow flags and signs for gay cinemas, the Red Light District offered much less of a selection for homosexuals than the area surrounding our hotel.

Despite being uncomfortable and cold (it was about 10 degrees and windy) we managed to laugh a lot, buy some heartshaped sunglasses, and eat "traditional" waffles and french fries. After eating Wok to Walk - amazing take out Chinese food which we frequented throughout the weekend - for dinner, we caught a taxi then a train then a plane then another train and arrived back in Copenhagen; which, after traveling to the other side and back, has become (for all of us) home sweet home. The general consensus? Amsterdam: great for a weekend, Copenhagen: great for a semester.

1 comment:

lynn said...

i've been to amsterdam a couple times but never walked thru the redlight district! I stayed near the train station, tho, in a budget area. I loved amsterdam and the indonesian food there. Thats great you got to go!! I like Lets Go and The Lonely Planet when i travel. Good guides, i've found. Lynn