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Day 22 - May 20, 2005 - Amsterdam, Netherlands

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For my last full day in Europe, I woke up at 7:30.  I ate breakfast at 8:00 and went out with Vince and Yoon.  We purchased our 24 hour tram passes with the assumption that that would be the best decision, financially speaking.  While compared to the subway systems in the other cities we visited, I prefer the trams.  While being above ground, you see more of the city when you are traveling through it.  They were also very convenient and somehow, they didn't seem to back up much traffic.
 
First, we made our way to the Anne Frank house, via the tram.  We met a couple Americans from another Contiki tour in line.  Unlike us, their tour had just started.  We assured them that they were in for an inexplicably amazing time.  It reminded me of when I was in London prior to my trip starting, and I was sitting with all the Aussies at the London Pub at the hotel.  Some of them had just finished their tour and they were giving me the same spiel that I was now giving these new faces.  I then imagined that, in three weeks, these new people will be taking our roll and telling even newer faces the same thing.  We referred to it as the Contiki circle of life.  It really is an endless cycle.
 
We proceeded in, and then through the Anne Frank house.  It was definitely informative and powerful at times.  For me, I think it was the reality of something like that happening in the exact spot I was standing.  When stories of the Holocaust are told, I think it's easy to take comfort knowing that, at least, it didn't happen in my own backyard.  At that point though, that comfort was nonexistent and it resulted in an uneasy feeling.  To the disagreement of others, I found the Anne Frank house to be slightly less thought provoking than the Concentration Camp.  The sheer numbers and statistics at Dacau just put it over the top for me.
 
On a lighter note, Shelley Winters' Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Diary of Anne Frank from 1959 was on display at the museum.  This marked the first time in my life I saw a real Oscar.  A plaque mentioned how Winters fulfilled her promise by donating her award to the museum, out of respect to Anne Frank and other Holocaust victims.
 
Upon leaving the museum, we went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Yoon wanted Burger King.  I told him that I didn't mind if he ate there, but there was no way I was.  He ultimately decided to eat with us in the Italian place.  I remember commenting how it felt bizarre to use the words, "ciao," and, "buonjourno" in the Netherlands.  Luckily, most of the Dutch spoke English, so we avoided having to get by in the allegedly difficult Dutch language.  The food was very good, although not among the best of the trip.
 
While we were eating, I noticed a beggar outside and I realized I hadn't completed my dare yet.  Again, my dare was to ask a gypsy for money.  Vince and Yoon both agreed it would be sufficient if I substituted a homeless guy for a gypsy.  Basically, I just needed to ask for money to someone who was asking for money. However, by the time we were finished eating, he was gone.  We did later see him in a casino but there was a security guard right next to him and I didn't want to cause trouble.  I took my chances in running into another beggar in Amsterdam.
 
Next, we went into a computer store so Vince and Yoon could check their email.  We simply walked in, they used the computers on display, and we left.  I don't think there are too many places back in the US that would allow you to do that, especially in the cities.  Also of note was an enormous dog in the store.  I don't know what kind it was, but it could have been mistaken for a small pony.  It was very calm and friendly to those who chose to pet it.

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ONE OF THE MANY CANALS

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YOON, ME AND VINCE

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THE DUTCH ITALIAN RESTAURANT

   

We decided, at that point, to take the tram to the Heineken brewery.  That place, simply put, is great.  In my opinion, it's a must see while in Amsterdam.  Among the most memorable parts was the simulator ride, "The Life of a Beer Bottle."  It was a 4D show, enhanced by a moving floor and lighting that was coordinated with the video.
 
We ran into a bunch of people from the tour there and had a few Heinekens with them.  Admission into the brewery got you three free beers.  We all discussed what we had done up to that point and I think we all agreed that the Heineken brewery exceeded our expectations.

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THE HEINEKEN BREWERY

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FAKE VATS AT THE BREWERY

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AND A FAKE DRUM SET

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GROUP SHOT AT THE BREWERY

Vince, Yoon and I left and proceeded to a park to meet his friends from college who were living in Amsterdam.  At that point, on what was the last day, I finally completed my dare.  A guy came up to me and asked me for money.  I pretended as if I didn't hear him and then asked him for money.  He started yelling and cursing, and I promptly walked away.  I actually felt bad for the guy but I was glad to get my dare out of the way.  Vince managed to get the following fabulous picture.

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We couldn't find Vince's friends.  He called them again and they came up with another place to meet.  I, however, didn't really want to spend anymore time there.  I didn't know Vince's friends at all and there were more things to do in Amsterdam.  Vince stayed in the park, while Yoon and I left for the Van Gogh museum. 
 
Yoon was unsure if he wanted to go, because he wanted to get a nap before the farewell dinner.  He decided that he would accompany me to the Van Gogh Museum but head back to the hostel while I went to the Rijksmuseum.
 
The Van Gogh Museum was great.  I loved the design alone.  There were four levels, each spanning the perimeter of the building.  The center was a huge, open area.  Unlike most galleries, this gave a sense of how far along we were, where we were and how much more we had left.  Something I found to be really interesting were stories of break ins and even thefts of some of the art there.  These incidents occurred as recent as 2000.  I found it bewildering that, given today's technology, major art heists still take place.  Since returning home from my trip, I've been motivated to read more extensively about major art heists.  Amsterdam seems to be a main hub for this for some reason.

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THE VAN GOGH MUSEUM

After a couple hours, we exited the museum.  Yoon made his way back to the hostel, while I proceeded to the adjacent Rijksmuseum.  On my way there, some Americans stopped me and handed me a brochure of Boom Chicago Comedy Club.  I actually read about that exact place prior to leaving for the trip and made a mental note to check it out.  I did consider looking into it on the way into Amsterdam, but I didn't think I'd actually locate it or have the time for it.  However, once that brochure was handed to me, all of the amazing reviews I had read online instantly came to memory.  We also had nothing really planned for that evening, so I assured the two guys that I would make an honest attempt in showing up.
 
I then entered the Rijksmuseum, mostly known for it's collection of works from the Golden Age, especially Rembrandt.  For some reason, I had more expectations for the Rijksmuseum than I did for Van Gogh, despite preferring Van Gogh over Rembrandt.  However, I thought it was inferior to the Van Gogh Museum.  The size of many of the works was strikingly impressive though.  It reminded me of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Those two places contained some of the largest pieces I've ever seen, not that size necessarily makes a piece good, mind you.  However, in these instances, I thought the immensity generally added to the aesthetic magnitude.
 
I spent a long time in the Rijksmuseum, realizing that it was probably going to be my last tourist attraction of the whole tour.  I left and went back to the hostel in the hopes of getting a nap before dinner.

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THE RIJKSMUSEUM

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DUTCH BICYCLES... THEY'RE EVERYWHERE

Upon entering my room, Yoon was asleep in his bed.  Matt and Neil were out drinking on the balcony.  I quickly got into bed and tried to fall asleep.  Matt and Neil were sporadically yelling the following words: yes, no, waiting, four run, and six.  I had no idea what to think of it, nor did I really care at that point.  Despite the yelling, I somehow easily managed to fall asleep.
 
After a short but adequate amount of time, I woke up from my nap.  Matt and Neil were still on the balcony, so I joined them.  I also satisfied my curiosity as to what it is they were doing.  They told me they were playing "Bicycle Cricket."  I loved how, for each of our many games that were invented throughout the tour, a name was always quickly issued to each one.
 
They went on to explain to me that they had combined the rules of Cricket with checking out the local Dutch biker girls.  Being an American, I had no idea of the rules to Cricket.  They told me that, after a ball is hit into the infield, if an infielder is able to catch it, the batter simply goes back to bat (unlike being thrown out in baseball).  When this happens, the official will yell, "No."  On the other hand, if the ball goes into the outfield, the official yells, "Yes."  When a girl rode past our balcony, they would yell, "Yes" for the attractive ones and, "No" for the unattractive ones.  Appropriate hand signals were included.  To further elaborate, if a Cricket official (I'm not sure of the correct terminology) is unsure whether an infielder will field the ball, he will say, "Waiting... waiting..." until it is clear what the outcome will be.  Likewise, if the girl was riding from far away, and her physical attributes were unclear, they would say, "Waiting... waiting..."  Did I previously mention several times in this travelogue that my tour mates were some of the most comically creative people I have ever met?
 
After participating in Bicycle Cricket with them, we all went to the Van Gogh Museum at 7:00 pm to meet the rest of the group for our farewell dinner.  It was a very bittersweet feeling during the drive to the restaurant.  For the first time of the trip, it felt like it was over.  I felt great about myself to think that I finally accomplished what I wanted to do for my whole life: to see Europe.  We did have one night left, however.  I promised myself that I would take full advantage and end it the best way possible.
 
We took the coach to our farewell dinner, which was at a Chinese Restaurant somewhere in Amsterdam.  I thought it was a strange place to eat in Amsterdam, but I was happy to be there with the rest of the group.  Also, after our meal in London, which was my only Chinese food in Europe, I was actually excited to try the food.  I ended up sitting with Matt, Neil, Steve, Aussie Justin, Vanessa, Sally and Team Canada (minus Karen).
 
Upon entering the restaurant, two vouchers were given to each of us.  Each voucher was good for one free drink.  Somehow I ended up with four.  I gave one to someone else (I think Aussie Justin) and ended up with three free drinks.  The food was placed in large portions on a rotating centerpiece.  The food was mediocre, and it was closer to the disgraceful Chinese food that we have in the states than it was to the delightful Chinese food we had in London.  All in all, it was a very disappointing final meal, as far as the food went.
 
Despite the disappointing food, the time spent at the restaurant was enjoyable.  Most of the night was spent reminiscing of our favorite parts of the previous three weeks.  I was a bit disappointed that, by the end of the dinner, there were no retributions for uncompleted dares.  I made sure to complete my dare and it was essentially unnecessary.  Nevertheless, the dares definitely resulted in many great memories.

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ME, MATT, NEIL, AUSSIE JUSTIN AND STEVE AT THE FAREWELL DINNER

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OUR TABLE AT THE FAREWELL DINNER

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NEIL'S SPOT AFTER FINISHING DINNER

After leaving the restaurant and waiting for Chris to open the bus, we played what would be our final European game of hacky sack.  During that short game, as if it were scripted, the hacky sack was kicked on the roof of that restaurant.  For the short remainder of our tour, that occurence became highly symbolic for us.  The loss of the hacky sack was strikingly representative of the end of the tour, at least for me.  Sorry Matt, but as I look back on our trip, I'm glad your hacky sack was lost on that roof.  It wouldn't have been right not to leave it in Europe.
 
After entering the coach for the final time, I went up front to show Rex the Boom Chicago brochure.  At some point during the dinner, I mentioned it to her, and she expressed her interest in seeing it.  On the way back to the hostel, she announced to everyone that some of us were going to Boom Chicago.  She was hesitant to stay out late that night, but she ultimately chose to join us.  She then instructed anyone who was interested to meet in the hostel's lobby at 10:00 pm.
 
After arriving at the hostel, we stepped off the coach.  I watched Chris pull it around the corner and conceded that I would never set foot on it again.  I thought about all the amazing conversations we had on it in the last three weeks.  I thought about the games we invented and the stories we told.  After mere minutes, I already missed it.
 
I proceeded into the hostel's bar, grabbed a drink, and sat with Steve and Nathan.  I asked if they were going to the comedy show.  Both were interested, but Nathan decided to do something else.  Steve and I went to the lobby to wait for Rex.
 
We ended up waiting for Rex just outside the lobby doors.  It was one of those perfect nights.  The temperature was absolutely ideal.  As I waited on the street corner, Kat invited me to smoke with her.  Assuming it would be my last opportunity to smoke in Amsterdam, I happily accepted.  I think Steve joined us as well.  Just as we finished, Rex finally came out.  We all walked to Leidseplein Square, where Boom Chicago was located.
 
I remember being glad that Rex was with us.  First of all, I thought she was a great tour manager.  I was happy to spend our last night with her.  Secondly, she knew where she was going, and I was too high to want to figure it out.  Much like it was following Kent through Florence, I thoughtlessly followed Rex.  It was great to mentally let loose.  I didn't have a single care or responsibility in the world (at least for one more night).
 
We arrived in Leidseplein Square significantly earlier than the show started.  So we went to The Bulldog, a popular coffee shop/bar/dance club located on the opposite side of the square.  After a few drinks, Rex and I went across the square to purchase tickets for ourselves and Steve.  When we got back to The Bulldog, Yoon was out front and he was sick.  It was apparently the first time he ever smoked marijuana, and it wasn't sitting well with him.  He voiced that he wanted to skip out on the comedy show and go back to the hostel, but he didn't remember how to get there.  The ever so generous Kale quickly offered to walk him back, assuring us that he knew the way.  After he and Yoon left, Rex went with Leoni to Boom Chicago once again, bought two tickets for themselves and went in to save a table.  I had the original three tickets and Steve and I waited for Kale outside The Bulldog.

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LEIDSEPLEIN SQUARE AT NIGHT

As we were waiting, we bumped into Matt and Neil.  They were in the process of getting to know some local Dutch girls.  Some very obvious innuendos were uttered, and I'm surprised the girls didn't get offended and leave.  I guess it is truly the liberal capital of the world. 
 
After Neil, Matt and their prospective dates for the evening left, Steve and I eventually agreed that the show would be more comical if we smoked yet again.  We pondered the probability of going back into The Bulldog, buying and consuming the drugs, and coming back out before Kale returned.  We made the selfish decision to test our luck.  We went back to The Bulldog.
 
What's interesting about The Bulldog is the arrangement.  The dance club and bar is on the first floor, while the coffee shop was in the basement.  I think there was also a second floor, but I don't remember what was up there.  So Steve and I headed down into the basement.  One of us somehow got the urge to try a space cake, which is basically a chocolate muffin containing hash.  We bought two space cakes and had a seat.  I was leery to eat a whole one myself because I was still fairly high from the previous endeavor and I didn't want to be joining Yoon back at the hostel.  After some convincing courtesy of Steve, I ate the whole thing.
 
We made our way back out to the square.  That space cake really did it for me.  I was feeling great and I wasn't feeling sick, which was exactly what I hoped for.  There was no sign of Kale and it was just about time for the show to start.  We entered the theater with Kale's ticket, and found Rex and Leoni.  The doorman assured us that we could hold his ticket and they would let him in anyway.  Did I mention how awesome the Dutch are?  Despite the doorman's reassurance, Leoni went out to wait for Kale.  He then immediately showed up, and they both returned to the table just in time for the start of the show.
 
The show was completely comprised of improvised skits, mostly with the help of topics or names from the audience.  It was very similar to Whose Line is it Anyway?.  The actors were incredibly talented and extremely hilarious.  Their comedic brilliance was of course enhanced by our impaired states of mind.  During the course of the show, both Rex' and Kale's names were used in the skits.  In between skits, we chatted with a couple Norwegian girls next to us.  They spoke very good English and their synopsis of their country made me want to visit.  Perhaps Norway will be added to my list of future vacation prospects.
 
The show was about two hours long and I laughed the entire time.  It was only 12 Euro and we got a free drink as well.  I must recommend Boom Chicago to anyone visiting Amsterdam.  It was an unarguably amazing experience.
 
After the show, the five of us walked back to the hostel.  I again basked in my laziness as I followed Rex.  I was totally disoriented as we walked through the city.  After we got back to the hostel, Rex thanked me for discovering and suggesting Boom Chicago to her.  She also assured me that she would recommend it on all future tours.  I even suggested that she inquire to Contiki that they add it as an optional.  Before going to bed, she made me promise that I would wake up early for breakfast the following morning.
 
I then went upstairs for bed.  Yoon was the only one in the room.  I felt bad that he got sick on his last night on the tour.  I thought to myself, despite how tired I was, I simply couldn't go to sleep.  It was my last night in Europe, and my last night with my tour mates.
 
I went downstairs to Neil's room, but no one was there.  I then remembered the local girls and wondered if he and Matt were still with them.  I ran into Steve once again, who had just finished calling home.  We sat in the lobby and chatted for about an hour.  I finally made it to bed at 2:00 am.