Clare's birthday is this week, and before we even got to Ireland, we knew where we both wanted to celebrate our birthdays - Amsterdam. I have always wanted to go to Amsterdam because it is such a unique city with all of the canals and because all of my friends have raved about it. This was the first trip that Clare, Bridget and I booked at the very beginning of the semester. We had been looking forward to it for so long and now that it's over, it definitely hitting me that the semester is coming to an end. We ditched the low quality RyanAir for this trip and flew out of Cork via Aer Lingus. It felt so great to be able to take a 20 minute bus to and from the airport for once rather than sitting on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Dublin. Our arrival into Amsterdam Thursday night could have gone smoother. Clare and I were seated towards the front of the plane and Bridget in the far back, so when we got off first, we waited for her right inside the airport so we could all go through immigration. We waited for 10 minutes and we knew there was no way she got off before us so we started to ask flight attendants if there was anyone still on the plane and all of them looked at us like we were crazy. The Amsterdam airport is huge and confusing, and Clare and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find our way towards immigration while keeping an eye out for Bridget. There was a police desk right before immigration. Once your passport is stamped, you cannot get back into that area of the airport so I decided to go through first and look around for Bridget near the exit while Clare waited inside immigration. I couldn't find her, Clare was going to go to the police desk. I ended up eventually finding her waiting for us by the exit - somehow she had gotten passed us on the way out of the plane and went ahead through immigration. A quick 10 minute train ride later and we were at our hotel that was located right along a canal at the entrance of the Red Light District. We didn't get checked in until 9:00 PM so we ended up grabbing something to eat and hanging out in the hotel bar for the night.
We knew that we wanted to get the Anne Frank house out of the way on our first full day since we knew that we were going to have to wait in line for awhile. We woke up early and headed towards the house and only ended up having to wait in line for about 45 minutes. These 45 minutes were miserably cold and windy though. We spent about 1 1/2 hours touring the house and the secret annex where Anne, her family, and other Jewish friends hid during World War II. I had imagined a tiny little room where everyone hid, but the annex was much bigger than I expected and had multiple rooms that were shared by 2 or 3 people. The house was incredibly sad, but it was so surreal to see her original preserved diary at the end of the tour. It remained in a display case and you weren't allowed to take any pictures, but they had pages displayed all over the room and translated her words. After leaving the Anne Frank house, we got a deal on a canal cruise and admission to the Amsterdam Ice Bar. We got onto the boat and the cruise took us on an hour long journey around and through the canals of Amsterdam. After the cruise, we headed over to the Rijksmuseum, where the (I Am)sterdam letters are located and spent too much time trying to get a picture on one of the letters without anyone else in it. There were way too many tourists though and we figured out that it just wasn't gonna happen. Our next stop was our reservation at the ice bar. Ice bars are all the rave in Europe right now so we thought that this would be a lot of fun. Haha. NO. There are 3 drinks included with your entrance ticket and we got the first one while we waited at the main bar before it was our turn to go inside. This drink was actually really delicious; so far so good. Once we put on the winter coats and gloves that they provide you, they led us into the ice bar and we didn't know whether it was a joke or not. The room was TINY and had no music playing - just 20 people standing there looking at each other. You are given your other 2 drinks once inside the bar and these were tiny and you were only given 2 options. You also only get 20 minutes in the ice bar before they kick you out and let the next group in. 10 minutes was all we needed and we ended up leaving early. If you are ever considering an ice bar, don't waste your money.
We were told to take a tour of the Red Light District while in Amsterdam so we decided to make a booking for later on that night. Since we were so close to the district, we wanted to see it during the day as well and be able to compare it to the nighttime. Prostitution is completely legal in the Netherlands. Women display themselves in windows that are illuminated with a red light, hence the name of the district. If a man wants to pay for a woman, he opens the door to her stall and the curtain shuts for a few minutes until it is over and the woman goes back to standing in her window. It is incredibly sad to see this as it happens, but it is all apart of the Dutch culture. We found Chinatown and had authentic Chinese food for a late lunch before our tour started. Our tour guide knew an incredible amount of history regarding prostitution and was able to answer all of our questions. The girls in the window at night are completely different than the girls during the day. During the day, the women are older and almost looked to be drugged up. At night, the girls are all young (you have to be 21) and completely normal and sober looking. Our guide explained to us that since this a taxed and legal profession, these girls make their own choice of selling themselves and that their choices should be respected. I was shocked to find out that a woman must rent out each stall space for €150 a day. I was even more shocked to find out that a woman can make up to €20,000 a month. Our guide walked us through a brothel and I can't say that I have ever seen anything like it. The last part of the tour pertained to the drugs in Amsterdam. I always thought that marijuana was legal, but it is actually just tolerated and there is a limited quantity that the coffeeshops can sell to one person in a day. The girls get really upset if they see you taking any pictures, so I unfortunately don't have any pictures of the district at all.
We had been wanting to rent bikes all weekend, but it was so rainy and windy every day besides our first day there. We decided to go to a museum about Amsterdam's history in the prostitution business. Afterwards, we came outside to the main street being fenced off and people surrounding the fences and waiting. It ended up being a Christmas parade so we stayed and got a bunch of free treats. All of the people in the parade were dressed in renaissance costumes and had their faces painted black, which we thought was a little racist but didn't think anything of it. After the parade, we decided to google why they were dressed the way that they were, and we figured out that we went to a traditional Dutch parade that has been extremely controversial the past few years because of the blackface. We noticed that most of the people that were at the parade were tourists and didn't see many locals, so this must be why.
On our final day, we finally caved in and each bought a nutella waffle with whipped cream that we had been walking by every day. It was raining again so we weren't able to rent bikes at all during our time in Amsterdam. Amsterdam has more bikes than people and how I didn't get hit by a bike this past weekend is beyond me. We came across a statue by our hotel where people were placing flowers for the Paris victims and noticed other areas where this was being done as well. The entire European Union did a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims. The minute of silence occurred while we were at lunch and I could hear many people crying. This was incredibly sad because I didn't know if they knew someone in the attacks or if they feared for their own safety. We decided to head to the airport earlier than normal since we figured airport security would be much tighter after the recent events. All in all, Amsterdam was a great place to celebrate my birthday and I will definitely be back.