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Vacation, part 1: Amsterdam @ 09:51 pm

I am coming the the end of my month-long vacation to Amsterdam and Berlin. I fly out tomorrow, and while I had sorta wanted to go out with a bang and drink and club the night away, I still have some shit I want to do tomorrow before my flight; so instead, with a whimper, I am eating salami, smoked cheese, and mustard sandwiches and drinking incredibly cheap beer in my hotel room and writing this.

Amsterdam was fun. It was my second time there, so I had a better idea of what to expect. More and more, it reminds me of a European version of Las Vegas, where loads of chavs and Europeans go to smoke pot and gawk at the hookers and generally make asses out of themselves. The vast majority of shops seem centered around the tourist trade, and I didn't meet anyone at all who didn't speak excellent English. (Still some interesting gaps; I asked what the 'turnover' was for businesses in the area, and that was a word that they hadn't encountered before.) I also got to meet up with my erstwhile coworker Peter and his wife, which was really quite nice; I hadn't seem them for at least five years. Didn't get to talk to them for nearly long enough.

I'm still trying to get to grips with the population distribution of Amsterdam - i.e. where do the native a'damers actually live? There were far more grocery stores than I expected around in such a small area, so I'd guess that more of them are living near the city center than you'd think - but the city only has a population of around 900k, about the same as SF. Some of the other larger cities - e.g. Haarlem - are only about half an hour away by train, so it forms part of a larger conurbation; I'd guess that the people who don't live in A'dam itself are those who don't want to, not those who can't.

Hotels in A'dam are usurious, even in the shoulder season (i.e. when it starts getting cold), but it looked like most other costs - transport, food, etc - weren't that bad. The food was OK, but I wouldn't call it a gourmet wonderland. Having easy access to Belgian beer for cheap was really quite nice, though.

Overall, the people seemed generally pretty nice, if a bit blunt; the big exception is when they got on their bicycles, where many of them turned into gigantic flaming assholes. I didn't get to chat to many native Dutch folk, but they were pretty warm once they got into the conversation and had more of a sense of who you were. (After a nice conversation about San Francisco, amongst other things, one of the shopowners said to come back for a coffee if I were in the area again.) I also got the impression that - again, like Vegas - very, very few people asked about what it was like to be in a so amazingly tourist-heavy area. One of the barkeeps said that many Dutch folk will initially speak to most waitstaff in English, as they don't expect that they'll necessarily be or speak Dutch.

So, overall, A'dam was nice; I liked Arendsnest for beer, the Van Gogh museum for Van Gogh, and the the Stedelijk museum for modern art. (I wouldn't bother with the Rijksmuseum unless you really, really like Golden Age Dutch portraiture or reaaaallly want to see Rembrandt's Night Watch in person.)

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