I can’t believe we’re halfway through January already. I’ve definitely become very comfortable here in Leiden, and I’m starting to think I would prefer it if I could just move everyone I love out here when the semester comes to an end. One of my favorite parts about it here is that nothing opens before 9am. Nothing. I mean…I guess if you looked hard enough you could probably find some office or something that opens before 9am, but probably only 8am at the earliest. On Sunday, you’re lucky if you can find anything open before noon. Mondays are like an extension of Sunday. Some businesses open later, and some don’t open at all. It’s so relaxed here. They promote sleep! I am in for a rude awakening when I get back to the US and I have to get up early for work and class. My earliest class here is 3pm. I’m in heaven.
Speaking of classes, there’s definitely a lot more busy work here. We only meet once a week for two hours at a time, so our teachers definitely like to come up with ways to keep us busy outside of class. It’s nothing too crazy, just things like weekly two-page reports and stuff. My classes also put more emphasis on discussions and papers than they do on exams, which I definitely prefer. All in all, I think I’m going to enjoy my classes here. The students and the teachers are from all over the world, and it creates a really cool class environment.
Now for the fun stuff! I took a trip to Amsterdam today with my roommate Maya. It was our first time actually using the intercity train system without an experienced Dutch person with us, so we were a little nervous. However, I am happy to say that we figured everything out just fine. Amsterdam is just a 30-minute train ride away from Leiden, and a train leaves every 10 minutes. So, we can really go to Amsterdam anytime we want, which is awesome.
We signed up for a walking tour of Amsterdam because…why not? We thought it would be a cool way to learn about Amsterdam, and we figured it would be easier than planning the sight-seeing ourselves. I am SO GLAD that we did it. Our tour guide (his name was Kor) was absolutely hilarious and he knew so much about the history of Amsterdam. He led us to so many different places and buildings and was able to tell us the history behind all of it (in the funniest way possible).
Our group was from all over the world. Only four of us were from the US. There were people from Scotland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Australia. The really neat thing is that Kor knew not only a ton about Amsterdam, but he also knew a little something about every place we were from. He was able to connect with all of us about one thing or another throughout the tour, and I thought that was really cool.
We learned about the history of The Netherlands and its high points and low points. The architecture of many of the buildings was just so gorgeous. Kor told us this was from The Netherlands’ “filthy rich” phase. He also walked us through the Red Light District, which was very interesting. Kor told us the philosophy of The Netherlands is this: “If it’s good for business, it’s okay.”
Yes, prostitution (with the proper permits and other paperwork) is legal in The Netherlands. Not only is it legal…but the prostitutes aren’t exactly shy about it. As we walked through the Red Light District, we’d walk past buildings with large window compartments. In each window compartment was a scantily-clad woman waiting for her next costumer. Some of them drew a curtain in front of themselves when they realized we were tourists, but most of them just watched as we walked by. Kor had warned us not to have any cameras out while we were in the Red Light District because the prostitutes would literally run out, chase us, and break our cameras. “They can run very fast in those high heels,” he said, “And I can do nothing to help you.”
Another controversial thing that I received many jokes about before I left the US was marijuana. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not legal in The Netherlands. It’s “tolerated in permitted areas.” Now, here in The Netherlands there are cafes and shops that sell koffie. That is where you would go to get a delicious vanilla latte. There are also “coffee shops.” Coffee shops are the places in which it is permitted to smoke marijuana. Some shops only allow you to smoke what they sell, and others don’t care. You’re not supposed to smoke it anywhere else (obviously people do). Here’s the interesting thing: Kor told us that The Netherlands is not even close to being one of the highest recreational marijuana users in the world. He listed several countries (France, Italy, and New Zealand are three that I remember) that use it far more often. “You want to stop something from happening, you make it boring. We’re allowed to do it, so it’s not fun anymore.” Food for thought!
One of my favorite parts about the tour was something I mentioned before: the architecture. Aside from people speaking different languages around me, this is the biggest indicator that I am no longer in the United States. I’ve just never seen so many gorgeous buildings in one place. And when I say gorgeous buildings, I’m not just talking about the gigantic churches and city halls. I’m also talking about the houses and other buildings that line the streets of Amsterdam (and Leiden). Kor also told us about how Amsterdam was actually built on a swamp, so many of the buildings have become crooked. Seeing some examples of that actually played tricks on my eyes a little bit. It felt like I was looking at some crazy modern painting.
After the tour we checked out the Anne Frank house. The line was extremely long, so we plan on buying our tickets in advance and going another day earlier in the morning when the line is shorter. Then we went to grab lunch at a place that Kor recommended. He told us about a typical Dutch winter dish that consisted of mashed potatoes, carrots, onions, and your choice of sausage or beef. Those of you who know about my obsession with mashed potatoes…you know I couldn’t pass this up. I am happy to say that it was absolutely delicious.
When we got back to Leiden, we stopped at our favorite cafe (The Catwalk) for delicious koffie. It’s such a cute little place. I recently tried the lunch there for the first time, and it turned out to be just as awesome as the coffee. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places in Leiden, but I guess considering they sell coffee that was bound to happen.
Next week I do believe I’ll be traveling to Brussels, Belgium! I look forward to trying Belgian waffles, chocolate, and fries! I’m headed to London February 5th-9th, and I haven’t quite decided what my second February trip is going to be. I have plenty of time to figure it out, though. I’ve spent several hours (probably anywhere from 3-6 hours) a day researching, planning, and booking trips. It’s a wonderful homework procrastination tool. I’m just so excited that I’ll be able to go to so many different places. If today showed me anything, it was that I have the opportunity to learn so much about the world in the next four months.