In the Dam, for the weekend…

Amsterdam was a great time. I flew in and met Jeremy and Mischa at Schiopol airport at about six in the evening on Thursday, and Mischa in his extremely hospitable way bought our train tickets and gave us a large, well-worn map and showed us exactly how to get to his flat in the Jordaan district. This didn’t keep us from going too far and making it to the Central Station, but with our handy-dandy map we were able to make it to Best Thai restaurant, where we enjoyed quality Thai food in the company of AIESECers and trainees alike. Jeremy made it to his hotel smack-dab in the middle of the Red Light District, well-located indeed.

The next day Jeremy and I did the tourist thing in the Dam, going to the Rijksmuseum (disappointing because they are renovating the main hall until 2010 – at Jeremy’s suggestion we would have just stood and waited until 2010 came), experienced gezelligheid at a cozy koffe huis with a canal view (what DOESN’T have a canal view in the right part of the Dam?), and wandering the Red Light District both during the night and the day. What an odd piece of the world it is. I support the purpose of the Dutch policy on the Red Light Districts (which are not just in Amsterdam) and it is very interesting to see the actuality of nearly-naked women (slightly over half of whom are attractive) tapping their all-glass window and enticing you to pay their rent. But there are also the many prostitutes who sit at their stools, bored and unsmiling, which quickly washes away the novelty and boyish grinning one would associate with such a place and replaces it with a feeling of mixed sympathy, slight discomfort, and a sincere understanding of the phrase “Not In My Backyard.” Add in the fast-walking immigrants who mutter “coke, ecstasy” as you pass by, and De Wallen is not exactly the headiest district in town.

The next day was the excellent AIESEC Amsterdam reception weekend. We started the day off adventurously touring the city on a contraption called a “Stepbike,” which is essentially a scooter but with the wheel orientation and size of a bicycle – so you stand in the middle and use one foot to push off. Since it’s closer to a bicycle’s construction, the stepbikes allow you to go about two-thirds as fast as you could on a bicycle, making for hilarious hijinks along the canals as we zipped around in masses of twenty, imploring me to hum “The Ride of the Valkyries.” We stopped in the middle for a gezellig time having a beer on the corner of a canal. That night they pulled out the big guns as we had a dinner and a few hours of pre-party in the upstairs room of CafĂ© Heffer, where the LC has their meetings. That is amazing. Then it was off to the crown jewel – a boat party. Best reception weekend _planning_ ever (Mountain Mayhem still struggles for best event ever). And as a major cool bonus, I met their LCP Jaan – based on the fact that he went to high school in Guntersville for a year. Really nice guy, and he appreciates and knows North Alabama.

On Sunday we went to the Heineken Museum, which is a cool experience, but we were unable to go to the Van Gogh museum due to time constraints. I’ll definitely return to Amsterdam sometime in the future though, so there’s always then.

The most important thing I learned, though, was after I’d been back in Spain for a couple hours. I had the mentality, due to my long weekends and the fact that being in Europe is far from being in the US, that I should see as much of Europe as I can. However, a minor culture shock upon my return to Spain led to a small amount of regret that I had left at all. I saw and did some cool things in Amsterdam for a few days, but the value of what I experience in Spain is so much heavier and important than jetsetting and not being really a part of that culture. As Pepe’s girlfriend Davinia said, “Puedes ver mucho, pero conocer nada (You can see a lot, but understand nothing).” That’s the concise truth, and it’s one that I will commit to with a new appreciation. With the exception of next weekend’s trip to Roma to visit my mother and sister, and my trip to Romania for ITC (Hooray!), P. Rhea will be sticking around Spain to savor the culture that abounds. At least until June opens up.