Ja/Nee: Amsterdam, Netherlands

I arrived into Amsterdam fairly late (by my twenty-something-senior-citizen standards) and without a very solid plan of what to do since I decided to go while at the Luxembourg train station earlier in the afternoon. As I was reading the city´s Lonely Planet section while en route I started to get that same hum of excitement that you feel while on a plane to Vegas.

Like that mirage in the American desert, Amsterdamn serves as Western Europe´s vice city: Gambling (at least machines, but I didn´t go into a casino so I don´t know for sure), prostitution, and hash are all legal (sort of) and the main reasons for the area´s tourism. Both cities were created out of human ingenuity/human “what the fuck, why not build a city here?”-ness and that freedom of constraint in geography must also imbue both cities with a sense of being able to do whatever you feel like on an individual basis.

Instead of seeing slot machines right when I got off the train, I caught a gust of weed and I began to laugh: I was not in Luxembourg anymore.

My hostel was (conveniently?) on the edge of the Red Light District, and after checking in I got a much-needed slice of pizza and took a walk to watch all the people stumble around, all the sirens standing behind window frames trying to lure customers with blacklights and bikinis, and, of course, gawk at the gawking of all the middle-aged American couples strolling together. I could do this walk for hours: It´s completely absurd and fascinating. In fact, I probably did walk around for two or three hours.

When I got back to my room, a roommate was sitting at the table drawing in his sketchbook. We talked a bit and he seemed nice enough. He was, uh, very relaxed.

(Parents: Close your eyes for the next paragraph.)

We started looking for a lighter, which is surprisingly hard to do at 2 in the morning; though the difficulty might have been exacerbated by the one half of the search party forgetting his glasses and the other half in a, umm, fog. Eventually a lighter was procured, homeboy immediately went right back to the sketchbook, and I had imaginary conversations with myself about how this was so bizarre in a chair. After I persuaded my body to climb the three epic steps to my bunk I got a righteous night of sleep.

In the morning I woke up and took the free walking tour of the city, which was quite informative and surprisingly fun: Even the morst inward of people are bound to talk to people during the tour, so if you´re frugal, an ascetic, and a tourist I highly recommend doing these when available (ask your hostel). If you feel it was worth it, all you´re encouraged to do is to tip your guide.

After the tour ended outside of Anne Frank´s home (which reminded me how bad of Jew I am for never reading her memoir AND falling asleep in The Pianist), I wandered around the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. It was here I realized that, unlike Las Vegas, a majority of Amsterdam is lovely. There were so many perfect cheese shops, small markets, cafés, and awesomely designed stores–which were all so much more affordable than Paris–that I began to think about beginning to think about ways to move there. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

While taxing my brain with hypothetical schemes, I fed myself a huge pancake. I really don´t know if it was good, but it was certainly huge. In an attempt to be traditional with a dash or risk, I chose the cheese and apple pancake which was probably a mistake. Regardless, I had filled the “eat a pancake” quotient of being an ultimate tourist in Amsterdam.

Question: How would I finish my madcap tour!?!?
Answer: Pub crawl.

“Mike, you are so lame. Are you A) in a frat, B) playing a lot of Golden Tee and/or C) now wearing one of those purposefully-fringed visors?”

Yes, I know and no I´m not (to all the possibilities). Let me plead my case: Roommate was out of the building, I had a few precious hours to celebrate, and I didn´t know anyone. To boot, the price was a doable €14 for the guarantee of 6 beers plus a shot of vodka. In reality, though, this was an even better deal as the guy who took my money was apparently very high and gave me far too much change and also felt he owed me a beer. Additionally, there were vodka shots at pretty much each place, not just one as originally thought. I think I ended up paying €8 for 8 beers and 5 shots. Surely, part of this has got to make my Mom proud.

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