Amsterdam. Possibly the city known for sin, even more than our own Las Vegas. Where most cities try to hide the sex, drugs and capitalism; Amsterdam made a tourist bonanza out of it. University students all over the world spend holiday in the infamous Red Light District, and after my visit there I can see why.
I took a 10-hour over-night train from Munich to Amsterdam. It was expensive, but worth it. It dropped Bridget and I at the center station, which was just a few blocks from our hostel. The Youth Hostel Meetingpoint was… disgusting. It had great security, a bar with snack food available all night and was cheap. Unfortunately, the carpet was coated in human hair. Practically made of it. The showers had no ventilation, were slimy feeling and had no hot water or water pressure. I’m just glad I got out of it without bed bugs!
Besides that, it had a great location. It was located in the first district of the Red Light District, which is made of 4 separate districts. The first district is made of munchy food stops, coffee shops and sex toy shops. The second and third district have many of the infamous windows filled with a variety of girls.
Once you get over the shock of seeing women half-naked/naked in windows you can really appreciate the unusual experience Amsterdam offers.
Europeans often look across the pond at our easy acceptance of violence as wrong. We hide sex, or make it dirty. We hide the human body. I tend to lean toward a more European view. America’s casual reference to violence in the media is more disturbing to me than the naked body. On the TV in Ireland one of the shows my roommates and I loved to watch was a health series dedicated to educating people on a variety of health issues. Censoring is so different across the pond that the show was able to show the human body entirely in the context of showing you what to look for disease/infection.
* Because of the strict policy and belief that the girls’ privacy is sacred, photos are not allowed to be taken in many areas of the city. So I don’t have many photos.
Just like in Munich, I took a 3-hour walking tour of the city. There I learned history about architecture, the plague and funny little stories about the tour guides own experience in the city. I learned that all of the buildings were built to tilt forward on purpose. Due to how high and narrow they are, and the silt underneath, this allows movement. All of the buildings at the very top have a large poll that sticks 5-feet away from the building. At the end of the pole is a pulley system. This allows people to move heavy/large objects in the narrow doored/stairs into the building. The buildings are also tilted to ensure that any object being pulled up will not crash, scratch or scrape along the buildings exterior. Our tour guide told us that while he was taking a tour through the city they stopped to watch a man and wife pull a new stove into the house. It seems the wife was in a mood and kept harping at her husband while he was pulling the stove up. He was so distracted from his job of pulling the stove up the side of the building that he accidentally let go of the rope. Resulting in their brand new stove falling 4-stories to the ground below. No one was hurt, but I’m sure the husband got an even greater ear full afterward!
Here is a picture of a front tilted building along the canal –
When the plague hit Amsterdam and relentlessly infected the population built upon canals, the people decided that cats were to blame. So, they killed off almost the entire population of cats. A very bad idea, because rats, the true carriers of the plague breed rampart and infected even more of the population. The people realized their mistake after two more years of the plague, and decided to ship in hundreds of cats from France and Spain. My tour guide joked that they all spoke with French and Spanish accents now, but, what I found most amusing was how cats were allowed to wander in and out of business in today’s world. Every store I went into, every restaurant and every coffee-house had their own cat! The cats were just allowed, and encouraged to walk around. As a cat person I loved this!
I learned that when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded and took over Amsterdam he gave the city to his brother. Upon doing this, Louis Bonaparte made the quarter, where the Dutch Royal Palace is, very French in architectural design. He built over everything, and upon his introduction to the people of Amsterdam he learned one piece of Dutch. He tried to say. “Amsterdam, I am your king!” What he actually ended up saying was, “Amsterdam, I am your duck!” No wonder Napoleon removed Louis from Amsterdam and gave Holland to someone else after only Louis ruled it for only one year.

Posing at the ‘I am Amsterdam’ statue was the last little bit of my trip there. I wasn’t there for long, but Amsterdam definitely gave me a different view to think about. Here is also a photo of the canals!


Munchen: Prost! (Munich)

My trip to Munchen, or Munich, the Anglo-Saxon translation, was an exciting whirl-wind event. Munich is the third largest city in Germany, but the capital of the regional territory of Bavaria.The two days I spent there was packed full of history, funny folklore, regional beer at the traditional beer halls, and the best shower I have had my whole semester in Europe!
Flying to London, and from London to an airport far outside of Munich was the cheapest way to go, followed by a bus into the city center that stopped at the main train/bus station. The hostel I chose for my trip there, the Euro Youth Hostel, was a perfect match! It was close to the station, the ending location for a Beer Tour (explained later), pretty cheap at 12 euro for a Friday night, very clean, great security and the BEST shower I’ve had in Europe!
You don’t understand how excited I am to take an American shower once I get home. The water heater in my apartment lasts 12-minutes, and requires you to turn a knob that “boosts” the system to get that 12-minute shower. That normally isn’t an issue, but every once in a while a girl just needs to drown herself in a hot shower to contemplate life – that doesn’t happen here! Anywhooo, the showers at the hostel were hot, clean, great water pressure and didn’t run out of water!
The rest of that day was pretty much a bust after traveling all day, so Bridget, my roommate, and I decided to eat a late dinner and crash so we would be able to get up early the next day.
First thing on the agenda, a 3-hour walking tour of the city! Almost every city in Europe has a free, 3-hour walking tour offered. It is a great opportunity to learn about the history, folklore and traditions of the city. The company that runs them (I can’t remember the name) employs college graduates who have moved to the city because they love it. I’ve taken tours with this company before and ever single tour guide is young, funny, energetic and full of stories. Our tour guide was Anna, a native or Florida who moved to Munich to complete her masters in german history. She is fluent in german, german by heritage and loves the city.
The tour started at 9:30 at the Marienplatz, the city center of Munich that was used for market, executions and home to the Glockenspiel. The Marienplatz is beautiful. Full of gothic architecture it was one of the few buildings of Munich that survived the bombings of World War II. It survived because a) it was too beautiful to knock down and b) it provided and air marker to identify the city’s location to pilots so they may bomb it.

The Glockenspiel is a percussion instrument, with three levels of turning figurines. The first level portrays revelers at a festival drinking beer and dancing. The second level is of a jousting tournament between a german man and a french man; they go around three times and on the third round the french man is unhorsed. The third, and final level, is of a king and queen drinking, what else, but beer. On the very top of the chimed clock is an owl, that on the final bell waddles forward and whoots once. All of this lasts a good ten minutes, and it is no wonder the Glockenspiel is rated the #1 most boring tourist event of Europe. It is BORING! However, when in Germany…

In the very center of the Marienplatz square is the column of Saint Mary. Built at the end of a war in 1638, it signifies the cities survival. The statue is pure gold. At the very base of the column, on each corner is a putti (statue). Each putti symbolizes the cities overcoming of the four great fears of the time – war, pestilence, hunger and heresy.
After leaving the Marienplatz, Anna, our tour guide, walked us through the city telling us much of the history. We learned about WW II, the stein, plague, religion and so much more. Munich is a completely rebuilt city. After WW II and the bombings almost nothing stood, and countless gothic buildings full of history were destroyed. Suspecting this would happen, the people of Munich went around the city before the bombings, and took thousands of pictures of their home so it could be rebuilt to its original glory.
Before WW II Munich had a large Jewish community. In 1932, Adolf Hitler was given a reason to pin his hatred on this community. One Jewish man struck a member of Hitler’s military, who fell and cracked his head open upon the street. This gave cause to a massive outright execution of all of the Jewish people within the city walls. Out of the approximate 1500 Jewish men, women and children in the city, 600 went to nearby concentration camps. 800 were murdered.
A nearby Catholic community learned of the planned massacre a day before it was to occur. Led by a priest they went to the local temple and warned them of what was to happen. Too dangerous to help them much more, the priest offered to take all religious relics and documents from the temple and put them into hiding. They promised and succeeded in returning these religious artifacts to what remained of the Jewish community in Munich after the end of WW II.
However, the Catholic church this community belonged to did not survive the air raids.
Fifteen years after WW II, the Catholic community was still trying to gain enough donations to rebuild its church. The Jewish Temple had already been rebuilt, subsidized by the government. However, the church was forced to attain donations, and during the hard economic times, few were able to donate enough to get the project in gear. In thanks for saving their communities religious relics and documents, the Jewish community donated enough money to help rebuild the Catholic Church. To this day, on the painted ceiling of the Catholic Church, there are symbols for each group who donated money to rebuild the church Up there, in gold paint, repeated throughout the church is a menorah. A symbol forever of the bonds of humanity surviving tragedy together, despite differences.
On the lighter side of the city’s history, many of the arch ways are pictured to have a friar with outstretched arms. In one is a bible, and the other is pointing. Locals will tell you, with a devilish smile, that he points to the local beer hall. This is not the case, however great that would be. The friar points to St. Mary’s column, the very center point of the city.
At this point in the tour we have come upon numerous Catholic Churches. Each one has a story to tell. A quick run down – one claims to hold the devil’s foot print. Turns out to just be the architects foot print, and a really cool local story. Another one holds a beer stein claiming to be a religious relic. Supposedly the cross at the top of the church fell down, and upon one brave man climbing up the tower, and replacing the cross, he pulled out a stein and drank deeply. After drinking the man threw down the glass stein to the street, and supposedly it did not shatter on the cobblestones. It is now considered to be a religious item – nevermind that when the man replaced the cross to its rightful location, he put it on wrong, and it points the opposite direction of all the other crosses in the city. Another church fails to advertise its stories, but it does have an intriguing sign across the entrances –
I get 1,2,3 and 5 – pretty standard. But, the fourth one to the right is a new one for me. There has got to be a story there, and that is all I am going to say about it.
After this the tour took a 15-minute lunch break, and Anna recommended a place to get a traditional quick german meal. I got a bratwurst with mustard on a hard crusted roll, and a beer, for 5 euro total. It was great! Munich has no open container law, so while walking the streets you will see many people on their lunch breaks walking with a drink in hand. The city asks you to be respectful, know your limits and place all glass containers on the outside of trash bins for recycling and returns purposes. Talking about this lunch is making me miss it. The spicy bratwurst was delicious, and the beer washed it down so well on the warm afternoon.
After the tour, Bridget and I did some shopping and wandered the city. We had a 10:30 p.m. train to Amsterdam to catch directly after a beer tour at 6:30 p.m. The train to Amsterdam was easily the most expensive transportation of the trip. It cost us 150 euro! Oh well. Back to the beer tour.
The free walking tour company offers a variety of tours that you must pay for as well. Bridget and I decided to take the beer tour. It cost 13 euro, went to four beer halls and gave you two free drinks. It ended at our hostel, which was conveniently across from the station in a familiar area of the city, since we had to catch a train at 10:30 p.m.
The first stop of the beer tour was outside the Hofbrauhaus, easily the most famous beer hall in Germany. You drink from beer steins, hear traditional music and meet lots of people. I tried the traditional beer. I have to say that steins – especially when full, are really heavy to lift. I don’t know how people drink out of them once they have had a couple of them. The beer was really good, but couldn’t compare to a Guinness. 🙂

After the Hofbrauhaus we went to a new beer hall and tried Augustina. I think if beer could be heavenly this would be it. It is called the “Pope’s beer.” Augustina, is Pope Benedict XVI’s favorite beer. Originally from Bavaria, Pope Benedict get this brew specially delivered to him occasionally. True Bavarian beer has no preservatives in it, from an edict in the 16th century which still holds today. This means it cannot be sent out beyond its borders for any length of time, or shipped out in massive quantities. So, the Pope has it specially delivered to him by plane. I have to say, Pope Benedict has great taste. I think Augustina is the best beer I have ever had, and I’m sad I will never taste it again.
I also tried Paulina – can’t say I was a fan. So I gave my half a liter to a fellow member of the beer tour. It was an amazing group to have this experience with, and I loved meeting all of them. There was a guy from Canada, a sister and brother from California, a guy from Denver and a sister and brother from Spain in our group. They were all so funny, and I wish I could have spent more time with all of them.
Too soon however, Bridget and I had to rush off to catch our train. Goodbye Munich and hello Amsterdam!