hello there, it's monday morning, 9: 24, taking it slow because i only have two classes at school today! wahoo, I don't have to be there until 11. so i figured i'd take my free time to do a little update cause I haven't done it in a while :)
so Saturday AFS organized a little walkabout around Amsterdam for anyone who wanted to go. I got up at 6:30 which is an ungodly hour for a weekend but I had to be at the train station by 8, to get to Amsterdam Centraal by 11. I ended up arriving more towards noon because one of my trains was late, I am told this was because they found a body on the tracks. this happens about once a week or so, and so sadly i was the only surprised one. Anyways, made it to central station and met up with all the other AFSers, not sure how many of us were there but it was quite a few. We were led on by four of our mentors from the orientation, who are in their early twenties and very amusing. it's also nice that while they all live here, all of them have been exchange students at some point so they always know what's going on.
We began in the red light district, which was still crazy and a tad sketchy even at 12:30 in the morning. The coffeeshops were already in full swing, a haze of smoke threading its way out onto the street from every door. Countless sex shops showed off their wares in garishly decorated displays, everything from pink bunnies with huge dicks to trashy mannequins and model toys. It was kind of overwhelming because of all the excess and vices out in plain sight. the entire district is based on serving every human want - sex, drugs, food, jewels.
In the heart of the red light district are the alleys that have no shops and no signs. The street gets very narrow, wide enough for two people to walk side by side. This is where we were explicitly told to put away all cameras, because if a prostitute catches you photographing her either she or her pimp will literally beat you. the streets are lined with identical glass doorways. The prostitutes stand behind the windows, looking for customers, scantily clad in glittering lingerie and underclothes. some of the doors have their curtains pulled; we don't have to be told what's going on behind them.
We made our way out into the sun, a little dazed from everything. I remembered my host parents telling me that the district put on a happy, circus-like facade to hide how dirty and sad it really was. After a while, every porn shop looks the same. The prostitutes seemed almost like exhibits in a zoo, and it's hard to think about how this is their job. It's noon on saturday, and they were selling themselves in dark alleys. They made me feel lucky to be free, in the sunlight and walking towards a happier and more peaceful part of the city.
Next we went through part of what I think was the shopping district. There were three H&Ms in two blocks, and yet there's like one store in the entire Pacific Northwest. unfair. Eventually we stopped in Dam Square, the center of the city and where the Queen's business palace is. Everywhere you look, there were pigeons, people, bikes bikes bikes. Living statues - a robot, a gladiator, Darth Vader - stared us down and occasionally allowed pictures. Resuming our wandering, we made our way over bridges, watching boats drift down the canals and doging bikes and cars. We passed a KaraokeFiets, a bar on wheels with ten drunk guys shouting to a sing-along tape. Cheers!
The architecture and just the form of the city is amazing. plain apartment buildings look the same as they did two centuries ago, and most buildings seem well looked-after and the streets are clean for such a large city. We were left to do what we wished at 4, and so a large group began wandering again. none of us were quite sure where we were going or what we were looking for, so eight of us found a little streetside bar and sat down for an hour. coffee and beer all around, watching the sun sink over the canals that surround the entire city and discussing the sights of the day.