Saturday, September 7, 2013

Brussels to Amsterdam: The Final Chapter

Okay, sorry for the delay good people. Let's recap. Went to Brussels came to Amsterdam, things occurred, okay back to the story recently in progress.

Day Five
So this was a guided tour day. We roamed by foot, land and boat. Amsterdam is pretty big on diamonds and there are quite a few factories. We got a guided tour and show at the Coster factory. Diamonds are a girl's best friend but the prices were not. One day.

We checked out Rembrandt's windmill house that people still live in. Big, odd looking, cool.

We got tours of the area including the  houses. Some lopsided. Quick history lesson. Back in the day Amsterdamians had to pay for houses per width. To save some money, folks built up instead of out so the houses are usually tall as heck and narrow. So narrow that peeps have to move furniture in by hoisting them up. Therefore many houses have hoisting hooks built into them. Now why are these houses so darn crooked you ask? No ones says (or I could have just fallen asleep during the explanation on the tour). So I did my internet research and found that I was not the only gal asking this question. Here's
a reasonable explanation I found: "Amsterdam was built on the reclaimed swampland of the Amstel river and therefore they had to build all houses on foundation piles that are driven deep into the ground. In the past they used wooden piles whose quality deteriorates over time and causes foundation problems. Therefore you see a lot of crooked houses."

We next hoped on a boat and went on the rest of the tour. Yes Venice has canals but don't sleep on Amsterdam, there are many, many. I wonder if the area is sinking like Venice, the houses seem to be. After the boat ride my partner in crime and I decided to go for a walk and search for the infamous Red Light District (aka RLD)

We got lost.

We thought we found it but it was the "gay district". Let me say this, Amsterdam is very gay friendly so technically there is no gay district, people party everywhere but there are certain areas where you can easily bar/club hop because there are more places that cater more to that crowd spaced together. Yeah, we found that area. No problem, moving on.

We found a lot of sex shops. Naturally I thought that meant we were in the RLD. Nope not yet. FYI, sex shops are just your random shop selling sexual paraphernalia and clothing. They weren't off some seedy street, they were mixed in with the coffeeshops and clothing stores, places to eat. So still looking.
The smell of marijuana meanwhile was everywhere. People were sitting in windowsills of hooka type spots looking dazed and confused like the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland. Still this is not the RLD.
Then we find it, Chinatown that is. Interesting that there is good size population of Chinese and other Asian people here. Diversity spreads everywhere. Love it, meanwhile where the hell is the RLD? I don't want to be searching for this place at night!
I take a break and pick up some stroopwaffles, very yummy cookies that have maple syrup in between them. They are my favorite cookies ever. This will calm me. And low and behold I find the RLD!

First thing I see is a woman? in the window giving us a wink and a smile. This woman? looked like a Rupaul's Drag Race reject.  Like we just ran up on the area out of the blue and our first introduction was Ms. Not Rupaul in the window looking more like Divine than a woman (if you are a Baltimorian you know who Divine is). 
We keep walking, quickly. Next we see another gal in the window, she too is not an original she. We kept it moving and come across what we determine is an actual female standing in the doorway. She is also a sex worker.
This is the only picture I took of RLD. You just don't take pics here in my humble opinion.
For those who don't know. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and in the RLD is where you go. Usually the sex workers are on display in store front windows and doorways like mannequins and folks go in if they see something they like, I'm guessing. There is other stuff in the RLD, stores and cafes etc. It's actually pretty touristy and not seedy at all. (Not sure if that's the same at night, when we spoke to locals they said it was a little different at night). We power walk on and an attractive male sex worker beckons for us as we walk past. No thanks sir.
RLD ,checked off the list.

Rembrandt square
We move on to the Nine Streets to do some shopping. If you are a shopper and like boutiques and or vintage this area is for you. By this time we are dead tired and go recuperate at home before heading out for the night. We go bar hoping in Rembradnt square another area for night life.

We catch a cab home and tell the cabbie we are at the Best Western Appollo. He instead takes us to a less fabulous Best Western. We say this is not the one we are staying at and the jerk says oh the one we told him to take us to is in the expensive area. Bamma, we didn't ask you where it was, we know. Take us to the one we told you to take us to. Makes me wonder, if we were of another race or were older would have done that. Turd

Day Six

We were out late so we miss the free breakfast. That's cool, this is the perfect time to try Amsterdam's famous pancakes. Pretty much a mix of pancakes and crepes and you eat them with maple syrup even if they are savory. Yumminess!
I am a zombie by this day but I am determined to keep it moving. We check  out the famous flower market, go to the Van Gogh museum and shop a little more. Yet another person asks me for directions mistaking me for a local. Not sure why folks keep thinking I belong here. Guess it's the natural hair.

Side note, did I mention Cece Peniston in the last recap? Randomness but her music was played so many times there I was wondering if there was a back story. I love her music too but that's like twenty years ago. Shrugs.

That evening we go out to Sumo for dinner. An all you can eat Japanese grill. We stuff ourselves on sushi, tempura, fried rice, So good. It's a must.
We then end the night at a ritzy bar called NJoy. If you are big on specialty drinks, this is the spot for you and the bartenders were very cool.

Okay, I tired now. We go home the next day.

Hope my write up helped you. This was a great experience. On to the next adventure!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brussels to Amsterdam: Part Two

Okay good people, here is my part two of three about my overseas trip. Where were we? Ah yes,
Day Three
This is our last full day here and so we make it or duty to find the infamous Manneken Pis statute that is such a big thing about Brussels. So we stroll towards the Grand Place area, get a little lost and find the statute. It's much smaller than expected but there it is. A statute of a little boy peeing...There are several stories of why the statute was created but it's not important right now. What is important is that they dress homeboy up in different costumes.

There is even a museum exhibit dedicated to his many costumes. So the statute is advertised everywhere in Brussels. And, I must say, without the water fountain it just looks like pictures and cut outs of a little boy playing with  himself and I found it inappropriate (see chocolate made at the tour. No I did not eat it).

So now that we had checked that off our list we did some more sight seeing on our own and of course shopping. We walked so long my feet felt like they were on fire so they only reprieve was to finally, FINALLY try the famous Belgian waffles!
So we hunkered down and gave in to the fattening treat. It is not your American waffle. I mean the shape is pretty much the same but there are so many ways to eat it (no syrup). Plain, with chocolate, caramel, powdered sugar, whipped crème, strawberries, nutella, bananas, white chocolate, all of the above. It's not a breakfast treat here. Eating it for dessert is pretty much your best option so that way you won't waste your whole day in a sugar coma. You eat it by hand or with tiny forks that are given to you to annoy you and make a mess of yourself. Very good in any event.

We ended our last day in Brussels with a night out on the town. We partook in the famous Brussels mussels. On our way down one of the many restaurant rows one of the waiters, whom we met the night before, kept trying to get my attention. The night before he asked to go out with me and called himself Mr. Satisfaction. I said no thanks and kept it moving. But he remembered me the next day because he was determined to have us eat at the restaurant. Offering a free drink. I did not want to be bothered. As we walked on he said something to the effect of "come back Janet Jackson".
What the world? Now look, I have been called almost every black woman in Hollywood in my life time (Senaa Latham, Nia Long, Gabrielle Union, Kim Field's little sister) but this was a first. Mr. Satisfaction needed to go head on. Nasty Boy.
So we ended the night at a lounge and said our farewells to this fair city. On to Amsterdam!

Day Four:
We take the train to Amsterdam. Less than a 2 hour ride. Upon leaving the train station you know you are in Amsterdam because it is a bike city. And they have a system down pact for how it all works out. It's not a new thing here like in DC. They have a sidewalk for people, a road for bikes and the streets for cars. It's a pretty good set up. There is even a traffic light that goes just for the bike riders.

Our cab driver was super friendly and gave us our own little sight seeing tour as he drove us to our hotel. He informed us that it was located on the most expensive street in the area and should be a lot of fun. He was right! Wouldn't be any shopping going on for me in that area!

The hotel was nice, also free wifi and breakfast. It was a lot closer to the fun. We grabbed a quick lunch and as I waited for my food, I studied the map. The waiter noticed me studying and asked if he could help. I got him to show me all the night life and shopping areas. So far, I like these helpful and friendly Amsterdam folk!
After we shopped we headed straight to the famous Albert Cuyp flea market where I merrily and cheaply shopped away. On the way there I noticed a black hair supply store and went in. This store had everything a black girl could want for her hair. From natural hair care products like Miss Jessies to weave tracks. This lets me know there is a happening black community here.

Also near our hotel was the Heineken Factory. I'm no beer drinker but it was there. That night we walked to Leidseplein which is one of the night life areas. We walked around and checked out the sights and street performers. We stood in front of one of the many many coffeeshops (one word) debating whether to go in just to say we did. I say that because neither of us smokes and I am allergic to smoke so if you are looking for a write up on that experience you won't find it here, playa. Side note, why are they called coffee shops? They aren't some darn Starbucks!

I will say that the whole city could give you a contact high just by walking around. I mean they even sold incense with the "fragrance" of cannibus. And no we didn't eat any space cakes (aka "brownies" did you know that's what they were called? I didn't either but luckily I ask questions.) They also had weed candy and cookies. I'm sure if I looked hard enough I would have found weed cupcakes. I'm a cupcake fiend so luckily I didn't find one!

There were also places called smartshops. I had no idea what those were because just life coffeeshops weren't places that specialized in coffee, smartshops weren't, for instance stores that sold gadgets to further your education. Because I like to stare in window stores like a burglar plotting out my heist, I was able to determine from the outside that a smartshop was a store that legally sold drugs and paraphernalia. I'm not talking hardcore meth or heroin but psychedelic drugs like ecstasy, "energy drinks" and shots of coca (and I'm not talking Coca-Cola). Pass, no one is taking my behind because I'm dancing around high like some club kid in the streets!
No thanks!

Moving on. We had a great dinner at a place called Blinq, which also turned into a club later on, and did some bar hopping. One of the notable spots was a live jazz place called Café Alto. It was a diverse place in race and age and I really liked it. So far, day one of Amsterdam has been fun and interesting!

Final post, shopping, the red light district and Cece Peniston.